I don’t want to normalize porn, I don’t want to give a positive view on porn, I want to normalize the conversation around porn, making it possible to talk, even making it one of the things necessary to talk about, trying to provoke and inspire both our society and the family and the schools to talk about the problems and challenges of the net, our digital society, our digital days.
In my ignorance and naiveté, we never had any conversation about porn when my children were young. I simply did not know porn was available for children then. We had the birth control talk, yes, the sex conversation, too, but no talk about web pornography. I'm probably not the only parent having avoided this issue. Porn is one of the big taboos in our society. And probably the most uncomfortable, I guess. Although there is porn everywhere in our digital society, it's hardly a theme. Nobody’s raising their voice against porn, it is just simply accepted! It's porn on laptops, mobile phones, ipads, but little awareness about it.
When should we start talking to children about porn? How are we to prepare our kids for what they can stumble over in the digital world? It’s not just the porn, it’s beheadings, it’s corpses, it’s war, it’s torture. And it’s all kinds of porn, some kinds that are very scary and brutal. When do children stumble across porn for the first time? The counselor in forum "the Babysitter" reveals that in a fourth grade there were distributed links to porn pages among the kids, among the 9-year-olds!
In our age of enlightenment, there are few children who are as ignorant and naive as I was in my adolescence. Most have seen porn online. The large, child focused organization "Redd Barna" and the FMSO (Community Against Sexual Assault) have conducted surveys that show that many children down to the 5th grade see porn. «Redd barn»’s survey says 95% of the kids in fifthe grade has seen porn. For me this was shocking! I was informed about the numbers during my work with the book The Octopus, a picture book about incest, and I asked myself: Why doesn't anybody talk about this? Where is the media? Parents? Teachers? Why doesn't the porn talk stand on school and health care programs?
Today's children wonder a lot about sex and body. And porn turns out to be part of everyday life, a large part of the children's culture. Something I think is really surprising and really shocking, but not my daughter. She tells me she saw children sitting at the school library watching porn. And in the classroom! In my time as a child and youth, porn was something out of our reach, some boys talked about magazines found in the woods. And in Sweden, where they had porn magazines at gas stations. When I was 12 years old, I thought boys and girls who loved each other wanted to have children together, peed in two cups, emptying the each cup in the same bucket. And then the girl drank the mix, and she voilá became pregnant! I was shocked when a friend described in-depth how girls really became pregnant. I became nauseous, uneasy. Was this how grown up life was?
Head full of questions!
Children in our enlightened time come surprisingly with the same questions after seeing porn, that I tumbled with after my friend revealed what sex was, only anonymously and on digital sites: Must I do this too? Is this how it is to be girlfriend and boyfriend? Is this love? Is this romantic involvement? So even if the world has changed and porn is everywhere, children and young people have the same confusion, turmoil, shame - and the scare that they may also have sex one day, worry about that they are not fine, pretty enough, cool enough, sexy enough, have a big enough dick, big enough tits. A maze of confusion and turmoil.
In my last picture book, Open Sesame, we are in Alibaba's google world where the chambers are flashing. The internet is wide open behind the gates. But little Alibaba, Al, does not know that all this exists and is just following Kassim, his big brother, discovering wide eyed things he had no idea existed – inside the computer in the kid's room. Password: Sesame, open! And up the elaborate gates open and the adventurous inside reveals itself, Babylon itself! It glitters, glitters and glows of colors, naked bodies! The whole net full of greedy secrets! It's hard to stop clicking, difficult to just simply click away, stop the flood. Al doesn’t click out, clicks in. And then Mom is standing there. Mom has seen everything! Everything!
Many believe that picture books are toddler books, just because there are big pictures in them and color and little text. An artistic picture book is a separate medium in line with comics and animation films, and directed to adults, young people and big children and sometimes also to the youngest. But no I have not thought of Sesame Sesam as a book for kindergarten children! I'm neither an educator nor an expert – but a poet. My picture books are not educational-psychological tools. They can be used as such, but are first and foremost art and story, emotions, conflicts and poetry, scenes and secrets, magic and contrasts. Sesame Sesame is not porn for children, but a fable; emotional and humorous, fictional and visual, where the child falls head first inward and inward into the caves of pornography, stumbling into the internet's huge cave system - and is found out by his mother. Shrinking, sinking. It has been important for me to take the child's experiences seriously, but also appeal to the youngster and the adult with humor and a relateable situation, something everyone in some way has been afraid of or maybe also experienced in some way or other – to be discover doing something they should not have done, being caught.
The porn industry itself is an absolutely terrible industry, but this is not a book about the porn industry, it's about the conversation about porn and around porn, the talk. I think the porn industry's views on people, gender roles and relationships are unhealthy and dangerous. I think it is a catastrophy with all this porn on the net surrounding us. Children know that horror movies, monster movies and computer games are fantasy, but what about porn? Is it fantasy and acting? A guide to sex and relationships? What about birth control? Are porn stars going to be role models? What should children do with their feelings? With the confusion, the anxiety, the shame? I am sure there are lots of worry and lots of questions about porn.
But who should they ask? The ones at home? The ones at school? Children sometimes ask each other. And sometimes anonymously online. I do not think it's so hard to protect children from porn, even though porn is available everywhere. It's about how adults deal with the phenomenon, how we can give them security so they can help children handle the impressions they get - and dare to ask - and how we can meet them in their media reality, talk about media habits and media attitudes,talk about what to avoid, what to keep away from, talk about porn. This may give children and youths better media habits and better and stronger opinions, which may help them deal with the ocean of porn online.
But what should be said and how? I gathered advice from different specialists and let the mother in the book say these things in a safe and harmless way. The mother's word can be an example of such a conversation, a temporary situation. I think maybe the porn conversation is one of the necessary conversations - in the family, at school, in the community.
Anyhow, these are some of my thought around this sjubject.
Smiles from Gro