Pornography

12 Sep 2018

Pornography is most commonly defined as any material (both images and written) that has explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, which is meant to cause sexual excitement.

The problem with defining pornography is obvious and often the cause of debate: what about material that has explicit content but isn't meant to sexually excite a person? What about material that intends to do so, but only has subtle descriptions of sexual activity? These are good questions, and there are no fixed answers. Although this definitely includes graphic online sites and stories, it could also include music videos and other media – since they intend to do the same.

It is best to err on the side of caution – if you think it might be considered pornography, it likely is.

Is pornography illegal in Singapore?

It is illegal to keep, distribute or sell pornographic materials, under the Undesirable Publications Act, as well as section 292 of the Penal Code. It is also illegal to keep, distribute or sell pornographic films under sections 29 and 30 of the Films Act. That means that even if you view pornography, it is illegal to download or share this material.

In Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) maintains a symbolic blacklist of more than 100 websites, mainly pornographic, that represents where the country has concerns over the type of content people view.

What are the consequences of looking at pornography?

Research on the consequences of adolescents looking at pornography is quite consistent. This is because of the nature of most pornography:

  1. Pornography is performed: it has actors, directors, producers, and even make-up and lighting crews
  2. Porn stars don’t look like real people: people are edited or photoshopped before they make it to your screen, and lots of actors have also had cosmetic surgery or other enhancements
  3. Porn sex is not real sex: the depictions of sex in pornography are often not realistic or authentic – in the real world, people have way more complex needs, and their language and attitudes are not going to be the same as in pornography
  4. Women in porn often don’t want to be there: a lot of pornography shows women who have little or no power to be in that situation and/or as victims of violence
  5. People have more feelings than they do in porn: in real life, respectful and consenting sexual partners often communicate to get consent before engaging in any sex, and also throughout the act – porn often excludes all other aspects of intimacy, like talking, kissing, cuddling, and checking to see if the other person likes what is happening

Dr Manning, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specialises in working with individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction, wrote a book  explaining the general outcomes of viewing pornography on young minds:

  • Distorts their views on sexuality
  • Desensitises them towards women
  • Increases their risk of developing a negative body image
  • Increases their risk of developing unhealthy romantic relationships
  • Increases their risk of developing sexually compulsive behaviour (including an addiction to pornography)

How can I stop my child from accessing pornography?

Your child might come across pornography both on purpose, by searching for it, or accidentally, if it pops up on screen. Accidentally finding pornography online is an increasing problem, since so many children’s games and websites have pornographic images and videos playing in advertisements. To stop your child’s access to pornography, you can take two approaches – targeting the technology and the child.

For the technology:

  • Install filters, which you can download by searching ‘family filtering software’
  • Use parental controls, which can filter content, allow you to monitor your child’s use, and even block the use of specific sites
  • Install an ad-blocker, as pornographic images often pop up in advertisements
  • Report offensive content to the site administrator, using ‘flag’ or ‘report’ links near the content

For the child:

  • Have an open, age-appropriate conversation about why pornography is inappropriate and why: if you are unsure what this should sound like, look below for some tips
  • Teach them how to react if they stumble upon inappropriate sites, like immediately closing the page, or clicking Control-Alt-Delete if the site doesn’t allow them to exit
  • Encourage them to talk to someone they trust, like yourself, if they have seen something online that upsets or disturbs them: reassure them that you will not take away their devices if they tell you that they have seen pornography
  • Remind them not to click on unfamiliar links: pop-ups with pornographic content are often also ways to infect someone’s digital device with a virus
  • Tell them not to respond if someone sends them pornography: explain to them how online groomers often use pornography to reach out to a child, and how this is wrong
  • Know what they are watching: although it is difficult to co-view all online content with your child, try your best to know what they are watching or reading (e.g., what books, movies, or TV shows) and the type of content these have

My child has seen pornography. What can I do?

  • Start by finding out if they accidentally found it or if they were looking for it: this might lead your conversation down different paths
  • Have an open conversation about what they saw and how they felt about it
  • Support your child and talk them through their emotions if they are upset or distressed: young children can be especially affected by such explicit subject matter
  • Block the site or report the content on the platform that it appeared: if it was an accident, this will help protect other young people from such content
  • If you think someone is targeting your child with pornography, which online groomers sometimes use as an approach, contact the authorities – there are laws in place in Singapore to protect young children from being sexually exploited
  • Tighten your control on their technology through stricter parental controls: you can even download apps that let you view all the messages your child sends on their phone

Should I start talking to my child about pornography now? But they’re so young!

In the digital age we live in, the question of your child finding pornography is a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ – thus, it is best to start talking to your child about pornography before they encounter it. The following tips might help you start this discussion with your child. Ultimately, each family is different – you understand the situation and your child best, so say what you think will work with your child.

My child is 3 to 7

You might think that there is nothing to say to your child at this age, but children can accidentally stumble onto a lot online, such as innocently clicking an interesting link that leads them down an unknown website or highly sexual photo advertisements that pop up on games.

When your child is so young, you might be worried about protecting your child and not giving them new ideas. But you want to give them ideas! Give them the idea that you are there as an open and honest source of information if they don’t know something – the idea that, no matter what they find online, you will not be unfair or mean if they bring it up. Have this conversation early so as to prepare them for the inevitability of finding such content.

Here are some tips to bear in mind:

  1. Don’t punish them for the things they have seen: at this age, it is very unlikely that your child purposefully sought out such content. Even if they did, punishing them for this might make them less likely to tell you the truth next time. Instead of banning them from using any digital device, try to co-view content with them more often and encourage open communication.
  2. Take the time to talk: these conversations can be uncomfortable, so try make it as comfy as possible by keeping it one-on-one (or two-on-one) in an environment that you both find safe, most likely your home.
  3. Ask lots of questions: your kids should be dominating the conversation, and that means asking probing questions as well as lots of comforting ones. We give examples below if you’re not sure what these sound like.

For the conversation, make sure they are open to talking to you (after a tantrum or right before bed time are not ideal) and check with them. Say you have heard from some other Moms and Dads about something, and want to know what they think.

  1. Explain what you want to talk about – they probably won’t understand what ‘pornography’ means and you might not want to introduce them to the word yet, so ask them, “Have you ever seen anyone online not wearing clothes?”
  2. If they say yes, you can follow up with, “How did you find it? Did someone show it to you?” At this point, remind them that they aren’t in trouble.
  3. Also ask them, “How did you feel when you saw it?” It is normal for a child to feel upset or grossed out by something like this, especially if it was unexpected. So take the time to comfort them with a comment like, “It’s normal to feel that way, I would too.”
  4. Let them come up with answers to, “What do you think you should if someone tried to show you something like this again?” Guide them to understand that it is bad to look at pornography.
  5. Remind them that you are always there to listen and answer their questions.

Use any ‘teachable’ moments that you encounter in your daily lives. For example, if you see some adult content on a TV show or in a movie, take the opportunity to ask your child what they thought, how they felt, and what they understood. Then, begin explaining to them that this sort of content is very common on TV or their tablet, but that it is not real. It is also a good time to explain to them a few things about sexual intimacy:

  1. Tell them that their body is theirs and explain the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ touches
  2. Teach them how to say ‘no’ and to listen when someone else says it
  3. Point out examples of healthy relationships around them, e.g., a successful romantic relationship and a close friendship

Since your child is still so young, it is best to take other measures to prevent them from viewing such content. Consider installing parental controls on the devices they use. Also try your best to co-view all content with them.

My child is 8 to 13

It is quite natural for a child this age to be curious about things, especially when they hear about them from their friends. These might even be things that they know they shouldn’t be looking at, like pornography. However, a young girl innocently searching ‘kissing’ on YouTube might not expect the explicit videos that pop up.

It might be awkward to start these conversations. But it is better for your child to come to you for guidance than the Internet, and having open discussions makes it more likely for them to do so.

Here are some tips to bear in mind:

  1. Take the time to talk: these conversations can be uncomfortable, so try make it as comfy as possible by keeping it one-on-one (or two-on-one) in an environment that you both find safe, most likely your home.
  2. Ask lots of questions: your kids should be dominating the conversation, and that means asking questions. But be sure not to turn the discussion into an interrogation.
  3. Stay calm: you might be confronting sensitive issues and your child might reveal something that upsets you, but stay calm so that you don’t overreact to anything in the moment.

For the conversation, make sure they are open to talking to you and check with them. Say you have heard from some other Moms and Dads about something, and want to know what they think.

  1. Ask them, “Have you ever seen anything online that looked pornographic?” If they don’t know what pornographic means, you could say sexual, indecent, or even just describe ‘naked people on screen’.
  2. It can be easier for your child to talk about someone else than themselves, so ask, “Has anyone at school or tuition ever mentioned seeing something like this?” 
  3. If they say yes, you can follow up with, “How did you find it? Did someone show it to you?” Remind them that they aren’t in trouble so that the conversation continues.
  4. If they say yes, also ask them, “How did you feel when you saw it?” Your child might feel upset or confused, so comfort them. But they might also be curious, so be prepared to answer some questions if they come up.
  5. Explain to them what they have seen, and why you think they are not old enough to view it.
  6. Ask them, “What do you think you should if someone tried to show you something like this again?” Let them come up with a few answers, and guide them to understand that it is bad to look for such content.
  7. Remind them that you are always there to listen and answer their questions.

Since your child is approaching teenage-hood, you are able to answer their questions honestly and discuss more uncomfortable issues with them. Depending on how mature they are, you could also start talking about a few issues:

  1. Introduce them to what consent means, such as we always need permission to hug, kiss, or touch someone, and that if someone says ‘no’, we need to listen
  2. Explain what an online groomer is and how they prey on young people online
  3. Discuss the importance of respect in a relationship

The best way to protect your child from pornography is to talk to them about it. Keep this talk brief, but reassuring. At this age, you can still install parental controls on their digital devices, particularly to keep track of their existing (or very-soon-to-be-existing) social media accounts.

My child is over 14

At this point, chances are your teenager has already seen pornography. They are figuring out many things and the Internet provides them an infinite amount of information to guide them in that process. However, pornography is not a useful guide to sex – this is the risk of teenagers viewing it, as it impacts and reduces their views of complex issues.

Keep your conversation open and build on the trust you already share. Start by asking them if they’re open to such a conversation – and if they say no, ask them when they would be okay with such a talk.

  1. Ask them, “Do your friends look at pornography?”
  2. Also ask them, “Have you ever seen it?”
  3. If they say yes, you can follow up with, “How did you find it? Did someone show it to you?” Remind them that they aren’t in trouble so that the conversation continues truthfully.
  4. Also ask them, “How did you feel when you saw it?” Focus less on what they saw and more on how they felt when they saw it, because this will tell you more about what sort of impact it has on them.
  5. Talk to them about the impact of the content, “Do you ever want to do the things you see online? What about your friends?” Encourage them to consider the sort of effects this content can have on people – watching pornography can create very unhealthy relationships in teenagers
  6. Ask them, “What do you think you should if someone tried to show you something like this again?” Let them come up with a few answers, and then tell them that you don’t think they should view this content.
  7. Explain why you think they should not view pornography, and discuss ways you can come to a compromise (if they disagree) and ways you can enforce it (if they agree), such as through enabling safe-search options on their digital devices or installing parental controls which block certain websites.
  8. Remind them that you are always there to listen and answer their questions.

With your teenager, their maturity is growing at the same rate as their curiosity to see more of the world. Let this talk be one of many talks you have with them as an on-going discussion so that you are there to answer their questions or deal with any issues that suddenly spring up. Consider talking about:

  1. Introduce the topic of sexting and the risks that it carries
  2. Explain how social media can impact their body image
  3. Identify different types of relationships that may occur, e.g., healthy and abusive relationships, and the importance of being around people they are comfortable saying ‘no’ to for anything
  4. Point out how the pornography industry is targeting people like them to profit

Your teenager might bring up a dozen other related topics too. You can expand on these topics based on how responsive and mature your teen is.