My 11 year old son became very withdrawn and quiet last year for several weeks. I asked many times if he was doing ok, imagining that friendship issues or school worries could be to blame. Eventually one evening as I said goodnight he started crying and explained that he had been incredibly scared and upset by something that he had seen online. He loves researching laptops and gaming kit and had been hunting for info about the new “X” box when an upsetting sexually graphic image popped up on his screen. We talked it through and I was at pains to reassure him that he was ok and that the content was fictional. No one was really being hurt and that this was not what a loving relationship looked like in real life. He thought that “he” had done something wrong and seemed genuinely very scared. The content of that image had impacted on him massively, so much so that he wouldn’t describe it to me fully. A few months earlier I read the chapter on boys and porn in Glennon Doyle’s book “untamed”, and was impressed by her powerful argument for not leaving our boys alone to navigate this content because we are embarrassed or uneasy about discussing it pro actively. Emboldened by the case she made I spoke to my son at that time about the existence of porn before he came across the content himself. I do think that having that advance conversation helped him to admit what had happened sooner and own up to how scared he was. We had already established a framework for being open about it and he knew that it was not taboo.
My internet filters are locked down tightly so I was still very confused, about how this content appeared, but he went on to explain that it happened at his dads house where he stays every other weekend. Despite repeated requests on my part, his dad had left his internet content filters wide open. Only this incident persuaded him that he needed to lock them down to protect our son and his younger sister. A year on I now check in with my son regularly. Just yesterday the two of us were driving along when the radio mentioned misogyny in porn and I let the report play. When it ended I asked if he or any of his friendship group had been exposed to porn since our last chat. I am aware that on phones with 4g internet access he could be shown anything at any time so I want his channel of dialogue with me to be just as freely available as that.

TRIGGER WARNING: “Please be mindful when deciding on whether to read these stories that they are emotionally impactful and may be triggering. Within people’s accounts, there is mention of rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child sexual abuse, other forms of abuse and violence, self-harm and suicide. There are various helplines available for support.