I used to think men were the primary consumers of porn, though I’ve known a few women over the years who admitted to their own porn habit. The Fifty Shades “Mommy porn” phenomenon has changed the conversation in our culture. Women, you may think that the dreck you’re reading on your Kindle during naptime – or the movie you’re planning to see this weekend to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day – is between you and (maybe) your husband or boyfriend, but it’s not. It spills into your kids’ lives in ways you can not imagine.
In 2011, I wrote about the effect my dad’s porn habit had on me when I was growing up for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog . With all the buzz surrounding the movie, I thought it worth revisiting this story. Please feel free to pass it on to someone you know who might not have considered what his or her taste in adult literature has on the kids in their lives.
Not Just Everyman’s Battle
My father taught me how to ride a bike, the value of a great punchline, and what a woman was supposed to look and act like.
My dad was a great guy with a bad habit.
When we consider relationships negatively impacted by a pornography addiction, most of us first consider the addict’s spouse or girl/boyfriend. It is not just the adult partner who is affected by a porn habit. Even if the addict believes he or she has the habit under wraps, porn’s toxicity leaks into other relationships in an addict’s life.
When I was growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, porn made its way into our home in the form of Playboy magazines on our coffee table, next to copies of my mom’s Redbook and Ladies Home Journal. My parents had come of age in the Mad Men era, when Hugh Hefner’s magazine was a signpost of cool in the same way that other sophisticates of their generation smoked cigarettes in the doctor’s office, slow-danced to Sinatra, and imbibed a dirty martini before dinner.
The coffee table reading was only the tip of the iceberg in our home. I can still remember the shock waves that hit me when I discovered the cheaply printed hard-core erotica stashed in my parents’ bedroom. I was 11 or 12 when I discovered a stash of the stuff in my dad’s dresser drawer and nightstand. Whenever my parents left the house, I pored over each plain-wrapped volume. I didn’t fully understand what I had read, but I knew that I’d been initiated into the world of adulthood at an age when I barely understood the mechanics of how babies were made.
I thought these books and materials encapsulated what it meant to be an adult. Porn taught me that the single most important thing to grown-ups was this mysterious world of fantasy, pain, and animalistic impulses too powerful to ignore. I was jarred by the difference between the sexually ravenous Barbies I’d met in the books, and the skinny, frizzy-haired, braces-wearing preteen I saw staring at me in the mirror. By 8th grade, I was determined to do what I could to close that gap. I used some of what I’d learned from the books and magazines with some willing neighborhood boys, which I later discovered is a very common response in children who are exposed to porn.
However, it wasn’t just the early exposure to porn and the resulting sexual experimentation that left dark smudges on my soul. It was devastating to realize that porn was an additional partner in my parents’ marriage. The discovery of my dad’s stash stripped away a sense of trust from me. From that point forward, I was a little uncomfortable around my dad. I was uncomfortable around my mom, too – but the awkwardness was definitely more pronounced whenever I was around my dad. It was as if I’d accidentally seen him naked, though that was never the case. I was left with questions I didn’t have the words or the nerve to ask: How did my dad view my mom? Other women? Me? Was my dad disappointed in me because I didn’t look like the women in Playboy? [read more]
Image: Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0