• Stuart Sheldon

My 5-yr-old Just Watched Hard-Core Porn. Now What?


THE HORROR!

Last month, poolside at the home of good friends, our host gave his sons, same age as ours, permission to have some screen time on his laptop. A few months earlier, one of my 7-yr-old’s classmates had suggested googling “naked” … which is exactly what the four boys did, huddled upstairs, unsupervised on a computer that, most regrettably, had no filters. As we adults sipped Coronas on floaty rafts beneath the mango tree, the entire world of hard-core porn was delivered to the incredulous eyes of our darlings on a silver platter. And I mean all of it

Lost innocence. Too soon. Arrows in my heart.

Lying beside them and scratching the smooth tan skin of our sons’ backs, we did our best to explain that we don’t want them watching or seeking out videos like those, just like we don’t want them watching violent TV or video games. Because it’s for grownups. And we emphasized to our youngest that if he ever found himself in a situation that made him uncomfortable, to immediately leave the room and seek us out. What more could we say?

I’ve read that the average age of exposure to pornography is down to eight. Before the Internet, children were typically eleven to thirteen, viewing soft-core pornography found in magazines.

I was 12 or so, stealing glances at my dad’s Playboys, perusing mostly boobs and relishing wisps of pubic hair. But I knew times were changing when, circa 1999, seeking an innocent photo of a little girl atop a pony for a funny birthday invite, I searched “pony ride,” only to be assaulted by a parallel universe of leather-clad, bridle chomping fetishists. Who knew?

Ahhh … cute pony


“Your child is going to look at porn at some point. It’s inevitable,” says Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a national sex-education organization dedicated to helping children and educators navigate these tricky waters.

The greater potential harm — and shame — can come from a parent’s reaction. “If we flip out, freak out or go crazy about it, we’re giving a very set message,” Schroeder said, one that may prevent children from feeling they can ask their parents questions without being judged or punished. Parents may wonder what is wrong with their child or if what the child has seen will forever traumatize him or her. Neither assumption is correct, she said.

The most common mistake parents make with older kids, some experts say, is to wait to have the conversation until some incident precipitates it. But how much conversation can parents have with 5 and 7-yr-olds? I think we pretty much covered it. We have since added parental controls on our devices, as everyone should.

Have our boys been traumatized? I really can’t say for sure. I do wonder what, if any, effect this will this have on their sexual curiosity. On their comfort with sexuality in general. Will fear play a larger factor than it otherwise would? Or will this fade like so many seemingly massive moments … into nothingness? 

A week after the incident, our youngest mimicked the moaning sounds he heard a woman make in one of the videos. Hearing that from his adorable little mouth was just … ewwww. The following week, he whispered to my wife, “You would never suck a man’s penis, would you, Mommy?” Just shoot me.

Still, I don’t feel serious harm has been done. It’s now been a month, and there’s been no further mention or hint of any psychological residue. It still hurts my heart to think their innocence might have been shortened by even a few minutes. But, like so much of life, it is what it is …

Lucky, acrylic, 19th Century journal pages, paper, cardboard on canvas, 30″x24″, 2005, Stuart Sheldon


Around our house, nothing has changed. We four still walk around nude, skinny dip and laugh, comfortable as ever in our skins. Hopefully, that total absence of awkwardness will not end any time soon. 

Going forward, Plan A is to be more vigilant in our defense against smut – keep the kids as “clean” as we can for as long as possible. Shame on us for letting them surf the Internet without supervision. The hard truth is that all the dirt on earth is just one auto-correct away. So, we’re girding for Plan B, which every modern parent must – the 21st Century version of the sex talk, complete with pony rides. 

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©2020 Stuart Sheldon.