The Elephant in the Room

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Two years ago, I was in Charlotte, North Carolina for the national convention of Health and PE teachers. I attended workshops on alcohol and drug prevention, nutrition, physical fitness, mental health, sex ed, you name it. Basically, it was a health teacher’s dream... especially for a curriculum dork like me.

The last session I attended was presented by a peer-based sex ed group, and while I was impressed with what they were doing, I still felt like there was something missing. So when they asked if anybody had any questions, I couldn’t help but pose one to the room.

When are we going to talk about porn?

Not like, in this session necessarily, but as health teachers in general. Seriously.

Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, which I suspected they all might do.

Maybe it wasn’t the right time to bring it up, but when was that going to be? Just the afternoon before, I had presented a session on technology balance, focusing on the impact—both positive and negative—of the Internet on the social and emotional health of our kids—and even I didn’t bring it up.

Why not?

I guess I was scared, and in a way, I think we all are. But if we’re too scared to talk about it with each other, then how are we going to talk about it with the kids?

Recent estimates tell us that nearly 90% of 8- to 16-year-olds have seen online pornography, and while the long-term impact of this exposure has yet to be seen, one can only imagine what it might do to their sexual development and future relationships.

Parents don’t know how or when to bring it up, or if they ever will at all. Sex ed teachers aren’t sure how much they’re allowed to say, and kids, well they’re too scared to say anything for the fear that we’ll take their devices away.

We’ve gotten ourselves into this “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation that is only making our problem worse. Meanwhile, all of this secrecy and shame are sending some of our kids down a rabbit hole that could lead to some very adult issues like porn addiction or sexual dysfunction before they’ve even had their first real kiss.

Last week in the New York Times there was an article, Parenting in the Age of Online Pornography, that made me feel confident enough to pose the question again.

When are we going to talk about porn?

If the parents are ready to talk, then we should be too… if not with the kids, then at least with each other.

In the U.K., the government stepped in to offer support and guidance to schools as they updated their curriculum, but it’s tricky in the U.S., where standards can vary from state to state.

So at the very least, we can get the conversation up and running, and act as a resource for parents as they’re trying to have the conversation at home.

To start, here are a few useful articles to share with your parent community:

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.51.34 AMAbout the author: Amy teaches Middle School Health at the Shanghai American School and has a passion for curriculum that is current, relevant, adaptable, and shared. She has presented at conferences in Asia as well as the AAHPERD and SHAPE America National Conventions. You can access her blog and resources at and find her on twitter at @teaching_health.