In the recent March 18-19 District Conference in the Shanghai International District of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the adults attending a Saturday afternoon session heard an inspired presentation from Catherine Humpherys on how parents can help their children cope with the problem of pornography. With her kind permission, I’m sharing her talk here.
Discerning Truth: Teaching Our Children About Pornography
by Catherine Humpherys, Shanghai, China, March 18, 2017
very long ago, the discussion around pornography was how to avoid it:
computers in a common living space and making sure you have the right
filters. Today, it is no longer about if my child will see pornography, but when will my child see pornography and what choice will they make in that moment?
wish for each of you, no matter the age of your children or even if you
have no children at all, is for you to be prepared to address this
important topic with the children and youth in your lives.
With this goal in mind, I want to first educate each of you about pornography, before we discuss how we educate our children.
2 Nephi 2:26 we are taught that knowledge of good and evil frees us:
“And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he may redeem the
children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from
the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act
for themselves and not to be acted upon…” again in Heleman 14: 30, 31
“…for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for
behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.”
In our search for knowledge there are two primary questions I think we must wrestle with when it comes to pornography:
- Why is pornography evil? In this question, I do not use the world evil
lightly. Pornography is evil, but can we articulate why? And most
importantly, can we articulate why to our children?
- Why do so many of us get caught in its trap?
So, why is pornography evil? Let me give you three reasons:
it inhibits, and in some extreme cases completely annihilates, the
ability to form a mature, intimate relationship with another person.
Research as found that frequent use of porn is associated with greater
cynicism about love, less trust in romantic partners, and the feeling
that marriage is confining. The ability to engage in an adult intimate
relationship and to even have the desire to engage in such a
relationship is the foundation for a healthy marital relationship.
Doctrinally we know that a successful marriage is necessary for our
Second, it destroys our ability
to see the divinity within ourselves and the divinity in those around
us. Research has found that male and female viewers of pornography
experience higher rates of anxiety, body-image issues, poor self-image,
insecurity, and depression. In a nutshell: we begin to hate ourselves
when we look at pornography. Pornography also teaches that a person’s
value is based on their appearance and the pleasure they can provide. It
also teaches viewers that it is okay to hurt someone
it quickly becomes addictive. Pornography isn’t the brownie on the
counter calling your name. It is the heroin in the syringe. Our brains
become neurologically dependent on pornographic images to maintain a
feeling of normal.
If pornography is so evil, why oh
why then, do so many of us (even in this room today) get caught in its
trap? Of course, one obvious reason is that it is made to be attractive.
Pornography manipulates our God given desire to be sexual. I think,
though, that there is also another reason our youth are having such a
hard time looking away. Perhaps we as parents and the community are not
giving them the knowledge they need to discern truth; to see what
pornography really is.
In a letter from the first presidency in 1991, parents are advised to “teach their children the sacred nature of procreative powers and
instill in them a desire to be chaste in thought and deed. A correct
understanding of the divinely appointed roles of men and women will
fortify all against sinful practices.”
knowledge do we need to give our children and youth that will give them
the freedom to choose wisely when they are exposed to pornography?
we must teach our children that our homes are safe places to reveal
themselves and to ask questions without feeling ashamed. Too often the
topic of pornography and sexuality is avoided or only addressed once
during “the talk”. This way of relating to the subject creates an
atmosphere of shame. A clear, nonverbal message is sent that these
topics make us uncomfortable and should be avoided.
learn from the story of the Garden of Eden, however, that shame leads us
to hide ourselves from God (Genesis 3: 8). We don’t want to create an
atmosphere of shame that will lead our children to hide from us, or look
to other sources for information.
Here are some tips on creating an open atmosphere free from shame:
- We teach our small children that their bodies are wonderful: we hug,
kiss, and tickle them. We teach them correct terms for all their body
- By age 8 we teach our children the basics of
reproduction, that it is a gift from God that allows us to create life
just as he does in the responsible setting of marriage. It is a gift
from God that allows us to show our deep love for a spouse, and for our
spouse to show us deep love in return.
- Between the
ages of 10-12, before puberty, we help our children anticipate the
attraction they will begin feeling for others. This is good and
exciting; it means they are on the road to adulthood. These feelings are
important for wanting to choose a marriage partner when they are older.
- 12+ we teach our children about puberty and how to date, the family rules for dating, etc.
we are consistently and proactively dialoging and education our
children about their bodies in these ways, we teach our children that we
can handle these conversations and that they are okay.
how do we address pornography specifically? We teach our children about
pornography by age 8. Why? The average age of exposure is 9 or 10 years
old. This falls naturally in with the age to teach reproduction. Many
of the items I will now list can be found in the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures by Jenson and Poyner.
Our children must know the following:
- Pornography is pictures, videos, or cartoons of naked people
tricks our brains: It tricks a part of our brain called the feeling
brain. The feeling brain helps us fall in love when we are adults. Our
feeling brain wants to look at these pictures because it doesn’t know
they aren’t real.
- Pornography hurts our brains: looking at pornography will make it harder to love someone real someday.
- When they see pornography they need to label it “that’s pornography”
- They should look away
- They should tell a trusted adult what they have seen
- If the pictures come back in their minds they can distract themselves by doing something they enjoy or singing a song.
them know if they feel like they have already been tricked by
pornography and are having a hard time not looking at more pictures that
they should tell an adult! Together we can figure out how to keep their
I believe that as we
recognize the important role as mentors and educators in our children’s
lives, we will feel more empowered and have less fear. I know that as we
pray to apply the knowledge we gain that the Lord will guide as in all
things as he as promised.