Talking to Your Son About Porn

with Dave Willis | March 25, 2020

When should you talk to your son about the dangers of porn? Author Dave Willis talks to parents about raising boys who respect girls. Women are to be cherished, and that is contrary to the message porn sends. Willis recalls his past struggles with porn, and offers dads some valuable insight into broaching this topic with their sons.

Show Notes and Resources

When should you talk to your son about the dangers of porn? Author Dave Willis talks to parents about raising boys who respect girls. Women are to be cherished, and that is contrary to the message porn sends. Willis recalls his past struggles with porn, and offers dads some valuable insight into broaching this topic with their sons.

Show Notes and Resources

Talking to Your Son About Porn

With Dave Willis
|
March 25, 2020
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: We know that, as parents, we want to do all we can to help steer our sons and our daughters away from pornography. Dave Willis says he remembers when it dawned on him the subtle impact that pornography can have in the life of a young man.

Dave: I saw this guy at a wedding when I was a young adult. He was off by himself; he was hitting the bar pretty heavily. I watched him as he watched women, and it was the most discouraging and disgusting things that I had seen. Every woman that walked anywhere near him, he would just gawk at her. I watched him, just sad and alone, standing in a corner, objectifying every woman that walked by. It was like the Holy Spirit was tapping me on the shoulder and saying: “That’s where porn leads. Is that what you want for your life?”

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 25th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There is an inevitable impact on a man’s life if he’s looking at pornography: it will impact how he views women/whether he respects women. We’ll talk more with Dave Willis today about how to protect our sons from pornography. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, the conversation we’re having this week about raising sons, who respect girls in the MeToo era, we tend to focus on respect as being one issue: respect means how you treat a young woman in terms of your sexual relationship with her/your physical relationship with her. Respect is really bigger than that; a woman feels respected when she’s honored in that area, but there’s more to it than that; isn’t there?

Ann: I think so. I think it has a lot to do with that; but it also has to do with how you treat her and respect her mind, her thoughts, and just being courteous and kind. Every person/every human wants that.

Bob: She wants to know that she is an equal image-bearer—

Ann: Exactly.

Bob: —that she is valued and esteemed, and that she has a voice and a presence, and is not being disregarded.

Dave: My wife has told me, Bob, the word is “cherish.” I don’t know about every other guy, but I know me; I cherish stuff. I have a few guitars; it’s like, “You’re not touching those guitars.” I have a motorcycle—it’s easy for a guy to cherish his stuff. I’m an expert on those things: I take care of those things; I talk about those things.

It’s like, “Well, what would my wife feel like if she was cherished?—she was seen?— she was protected?—she was applauded? I studied her in such a way I knew that she was like an acoustic guitar and needed to be in a humidified room—I’m kidding—but you know what I’m saying? [Laughter] It’s just like, “Oh, if she felt, every second of every day, her man was protecting and taking care of her,”—that’s what Ann has taught me—“that’s what a woman longs for.”

Bob: Yes.

Dave: It’s not just sexual; it is partly sexual—it’s way beyond that—that they would feel valued by their men.

Ann: I think that is true; but also that yes, what you’re saying, Bob, too, is that we’re respected and we’re co-heirs. You know, we’re side by side in this battle together—that we’re seen and we’re valued—all of those things. I like this conversation, where we’re going! [Laughter]

Bob: I think the reason that we gravitate in the MeToo direction here is because we live in a hyper-sexualized culture—and everything from music videos, to movies, to—

Ann: —to video games.

Bob: —to what’s going on in culture—is sending a message to boys, saying: “You should view women as sex objects. You should view women as somebody who is there for your delight and your pleasure.”

As parents, we need to make sure that we’re sending a countercultural message to our sons.

Dave Willis is joining us this week on FamilyLife Today; Dave, welcome back.

Dave W.: Thanks for having me!

Bob: Dave is a dad/a husband. He and Ashley live in Texas and are raising their four boys. Dave works with MarriageToday® and has written a book called Raising Boys Who Respect Girls.

In the area of respecting them physically, one of the issues in our culture today that every little boy is confronted with, at some point in his growing up, is the issue of pornography and the destructive message that that is sending when it comes to how to respect a young woman.

Dave W.: Yes, yes; without a doubt. I just kind of came to a place, early on—Ashley and I both—as we were talking about: “What does a win look like in parenting?” I’m seeing all these stories in the MeToo era of guys, that I’d looked at and revered from a distance, who were falling in, really, public ways. I said: “You know, if we raise sons, who are outwardly successful in every way imaginable, and yet they are secretly disrespectful toward women or users of women, then I feel like I would have failed as a father. This is something we have to get right.”

One of the biggest weapons against that message that’s really creating a toxic impact in the minds and hearts of young men is pornography, so that’s kind of the frontline of this conversation. I know that, from the work that Ashley and I do in marriage ministry, seeing how porn is unraveling and causing wedges in so many marriages, both current porn use and baggage from past porn use—and just knowing the world our boys are growing up in, where it is everywhere, and exposure is happening earlier and earlier—that this has to be a big part of the conversation.

I know from personal experience. I was a young man/I was exposed to porn in early adolescence—probably 14 years old or so—when I really kind of found hard-core pornography. I would wrestle in this terrible cycle of staying away from it for awhile, out of shame, then falling back into it—never following the biblical path of healing; which is to repent, to get accountability, to take action, to not only ask forgiveness from God but to walk the path of healing. I was trying to do what pride says to do; which is, “Deal with it on your own.”

I stayed in bondage in that area for a long time, and it created a ton of baggage. It really warped my view of women, and of sex, and of myself. I so, so, so want to protect my boys from that and help them see the right path; because I didn’t feel like I could talk to anybody about it when I was in the midst of that. It took a long time for me to come out of that, and damage was done that I want to prevent, not only my boys, but this whole generation of boys from having to walk through.

Bob: There was a study you mention in your book, where parents were watching their kids—like was this behind a/they were behind a two-way mirror?—is that how it worked?

Dave W.: Yes, it was a two-way mirror deal—sociologists sitting down with kids—just trying to understand the kind of the world they’re growing up in and porn they’ve been exposed to. These parents, on the other side of this two-way mirror, were horrified, listening to their kids—boys and girls—talk about the normalization of porn and horrendous aspects of pornography that objectify people in the worst kind of ways—I mean, in ways that aren’t even appropriate to talk about in this setting.

It was so eye-opening for these parents to say: “My kids have seen this stuff,” and “They look at this as entertainment, and they laugh about it with their peers.” These are their kids that they looked at and said: “These are good kids. These are kids that wouldn’t gravitate toward that kind of thing.” But it was eye-opening for them to see the culture they’re being raised in, the ever-present nature of some of this stuff. It’s the world in which they’re growing up.

A lot of times, parents are unaware of that, or have no idea how to talk about it or how to deal with it, or they’re afraid that having the conversation will create some awkward questions that the parents themselves will have to answer about maybe some of their own past mistakes the parents don’t feel equipped to answer. So we have to have the courage.

I think one of the biggest responsibilities we have, as parents, is to have the courage to lead these conversations—even though it might seem awkward at first/even though it might reveal some parts of our own past that we might prefer to have hidden—but we might need to bring out into the light for the sake of building an honest relationship with our kids, and helping them from repeating some of the same mistakes we might have made. We have to go there; we have to dive into the mess that our kids are living in and help pull them out.

Ann: I think that this isn’t just a conversation as a one-time conversation; and it doesn’t just have to be with the dad, because we have a lot of moms that are spending more time with sons—or even moms that are raising their sons alone, and their daughters.

I had a conversation with our boys. I think they were eight, six, and three. I remember we were driving and some topic came up; and I said, “Hey, boys, have you by chance seen any magazines or pictures that your friends have shown you of naked men and women together?” They were like, “No!” I said, “Well, there might be a day that you’re with one of your friends and they pull out something in a magazine or online.” They were like: “Why would anyone want to look at that?! That is so gross!”

I said, “Well, you’re going to come to an age, where you might desire/you probably will desire, and that’s not wrong to desire that; because God’s given you that desire for your wife in the future. But God made it so that that is for your wife. But I want you to know that that’s something that God doesn’t want you to go into, because it’s going to be around in the future; you’ll probably see it.”

I said, “I want you to know that you can talk to Dad and [me] about it. I don’t want you to feel guilty if you desire to look at that later, as your hormones change.” Of course, the three-year-old’s doing whatever; but I’m really talking to the eight-year-old.

Bob: Right.

Ann: It was interesting—because another day, on the way home from school, probably a year or two later—that oldest son says, “Hey, Mom, remember when you said that I might have that desire?” Well, the whole situation did happen, where he was at a home, where that came up. He said, “Mom, I really did want to look at that; but I didn’t, because of what you had said.”

I think, as parents, we just need to open the door of conversation so it’s not weird or awkward; and it’s not just a one-time thing.

Bob: Here’s the question: “When did you say to your sons, ‘This is something I struggled with’?”

Dave: —teenage years.

Bob: —when they were teens.

Dave: Yes, I can tell you the day, with my oldest son; I’ve shared it here before. We found porn on our computer at home. Ann first came to me and said, “Is this you?” I said, “No.” I’m like, “Oh my goodness; it’s one of our boys.”

He’s given us permission, obviously, to share this. As I sat across from CJ, and we talked about this, I wept and I said: “CJ, here’s why I’m weeping. You have just opened a door to something I’ve opened. This is going to be a battle the rest of your life.”

It was the beginning of a relationship with him—and I’m not saying it’s perfect—but we can battle this together. Here is at 33, and all three of my sons, we’ve talked about this. We started talking about it when they were 12, 13, 14 years old; and it’s still going on—it’s still something you want to continue to talk through.

Bob: Your story’s in your book, Dave.

Dave W.: Yes.

Bob: You’ve shared it publicly. Do your boys know?

Dave W.: My two older boys do; they are 14 and 12—that’s been fairly recent.

We’ve talked to them, from an early age, in age-appropriate ways, about sex; but to get really specific into my porn struggle, that’s been more recent—just to help them in the world they’re navigating, and even to respond to some of the things that I was starting to see pop up in search histories, in YouTube and different places—where I could tell that their minds and curiosities were starting to lead down a road.

The conversations for us, as it related to sex and respecting women—and Ann, like you said, it’s not just having the talk—it’s really the talks, plural—it’s building that bond of conversation and trust that extends on out, like the way you guys have done with your kids, which is really the goal. It’s what I hope for my kids when they’re grown.

One of the early conversations I remember—I think I share this story in the book—was when our son, Connor, was seven at the time. We were at the barber shop, and they had magazines at the barber shop. I wasn’t really paying attention; because I think, “Well, it’s a safe place,”—right? —it’s Field & Stream and that kind of stuff. I look over, and he’s looking at a magazine. I won’t say which one; but it’s a magazine known very specifically for provocative images—not nude images—but very provocative, objectifying images of women. He was looking at this in wonder; and he was like, “Oh my goodness; this is amazing!”

I’m like, “Well, buddy, let’s talk about this.” I closed the magazine; and we had a conversation very similar to some of the things you’ve said, about how God put this desire: “It’s a healthy desire to appreciate a woman’s beauty and be drawn to her; and one day, that’s going to be for your wife. But to just look at a woman that way, it’s really…”—and trying to explain, in age-appropriate ways, the concept of disrespect.

He said that he got it, so I kind of put the magazine on the bottom of the stack. I went over there, and I look back a few minutes later. He’s holding up the actual Field & Stream, but his eyes are really wide again. I walk over there—and my seven-year-old has taken that magazine from the bottom of the stack, put it inside Field & Stream—and was looking at it again. I’m like, “Buddy, we just talked about this!” He goes, “I know, but…”

In moments like that, sometimes you can’t plan for it, you just have to join him in the moment and say, “Alright, here’s God’s plan for these kinds of things.” In an age-appropriate way: “God made you a boy; it’s a beautiful thing. He made girls; you’re going to appreciate their beauty; but He has a plan for you and your future wife. If we’re just looking at women as just an object to look at, that’s not showing them the respect that they deserve.”

We have to start, sometimes, earlier than it feels—it’s awkwardly early in the world that we’re in—just because of what our kids are being exposed to.

Dave: How do you negotiate that world that we live in now, as fathers, and as sons, and daughters?

Dave W.: It requires constant conversation, constant vigilance. The technology—which, again, I’m not demonizing technology—it is a gift that can be used for so much good. Right now, you’re listening to this broadcast because of technology and learning tools to help you in your faith and in your family. But technology is also being used by people that have very, very toxic intent, as it means getting to the hearts of our sons and daughters and polluting their mind with the wrong kinds of imagery.

Even in Texas, where I live, recently there was a news story: the first robot brothel has opened up. That’s technology taking this natural next step in this sinful progression of looking at sex as a commodity and looking at human pleasure as it relates to sex as just a commodity, where we can use one another instead of respecting one another. That’s where porn leads.

I try to start the conversations about porn and sex by helping my sons see where it leads. One of my friends, when I was growing up—his dad had this legendary stash of pornography—that as young teenage boys, everybody wanted to go and sleep over at their house to raid this porn closet, so to speak. I saw this guy at a wedding, when I was a young adult, and he was off by himself. He was hitting the bar pretty heavily. I watched him as he watched women, and it was one of the most discouraging and disgusting things that I had seen. Every woman that walked anywhere near him, he just would gawk at her and give her the up/down. You could tell, in his mind, he was objectifying and fantasizing about every woman as if she was nothing but an object.

I watched him just sad and alone, standing in a corner, objectifying every woman that walked by. It was like the Holy Spirit was tapping me on the shoulder and saying: “That’s where porn leads. Is that what you want for your life?” It ostracizes us; it cuts us off from healthy relationships; and one day, you’re just a creepy guy in the corner, that is objectifying every person that walks by, without any meaningful relationships in your life.

Porn gives the illusion of intimacy in relationship, which is, in its purest form, something we crave. We all want intimacy in relationships, but porn cheapens all of it—it cheapens it. Someone once said, “The problem with porn isn’t that it shows too much; it’s that it shows too little.” It shows too little; because it makes us think, “This is all sex is,” when God created it to—not only be a physical act—but emotional, spiritual, physical happening in this beautiful oneness within the covenant of marriage. To use sex in any way outside of God’s perfect design for it, it always, always causes harm.

Ashley teaches the boys that: “It’s like fire in a fireplace. If the fireplace is marriage and fire is sex—when it stays in the fireplace, it gives warmth, and light, and heat to the whole home—but when you take that same fire, and you put it places it doesn’t belong—you take it outside the protection of that fireplace—it burns the house down; everybody gets hurt. It’s the same with sex.” We have to teach our kids where it leads—not just the instant gratification of the quick pleasure hit—but where that leads if they continue down that path.

Ann: Our kids are growing up on a battlefield. There’s a target on their backs, where the enemy of our souls would like to take all of us under—our marriages/our kids. It’s so deceptive, and it’s so sly; and there’s this slippery slope that our kids can just go down and be lost.

I think for us, as parents, we need to be vigilant in praying for them. We need to be vigilant on our knees—not being distracted by everything else, because it does draw us away—to beg God for the sake of our kids: for their purity, for their wellbeing, for their spouses for the future. God hears those prayers.

I’m thinking of Ephesians 5, where Paul is saying in verse 1: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not be named among you,”—just even be named among you. So to fight for that purity and to fight, on our knees, for our kids/for ourselves as well. We have to cling to Jesus for these things.

Bob: I remember talking to a young man, who purposed, as he was growing up, that he wanted to treat women with respect. As he started dating/taking women out, he was very circumspect and was very careful not to try to press the boundaries of the relationship, physically, which meant that he wasn’t trying to kiss these girls. We think, “That’s pretty innocent”; right? He was like, “No; I’m not going to go out, and on the third date, try to have a goodnight kiss.”

What he realized was that most of the girls, growing up in this culture, were thinking, “He must not like me, because he’s not pressing things.” They were so used to associating, “If you like me, then you will press the boundaries physically.” The fact that he wasn’t, they were thinking, “You must not like me.”

He said: “I had to realize, early on, if I do like a young woman, I need to say to her, ‘I just need to tell you, I’m going to keep some boundaries here; because I respect you.’”

Ann: We had a son that went through that same thing. He was 16-years-old. He had determined in his heart that: “I’m not going to kiss a girl until I know that I’m going to be married to her.” He had mentioned that to someone in high school. Well, that rumor started going around.

I was thinking, “Oh, these girls are going to love him!” No! It was the opposite; he was made fun of—remember that, Dave?—in high school. It was a rough time.

Bob: Yes; these girls, even when this young man would say, “I respect you,” what they were hearing was, “You don’t really like me.”

Ann: Yes; “I’m not attractive to you.”

Bob: Yes. It’s hard for a young man in this culture to say: “I want to honor God with my body. I want to honor you with what a relationship looks like”; because the culture has sent the message so strongly, “This is what’s normal…”

I don’t envy the young men, who are trying to do this; but I will tell those young men and their parents, “God will reward and protect.” Your son, who’s now happily married, and in ministry, and has a wife, who is grateful for the fact that he did that. This young man I know is in a similar situation.

Dave: I would just add to the mom or dad listening: “Today, before you put your son or daughter to bed—your eight-year-old/your twelve-year-old—have the courage to talk about these things, because they really are longing for someone to talk to them.” I mean, Dave, you’ve given us a book that gives us a guideline for how to do that.

I look back and think it was much easier, for me, to talk about sex, or temptation, or struggle to the congregation in a sermon than it was, in a bedroom, with a 14-year-old son. It was intimate; it was scary. It was much easier to pray and walk out.

But I just want to say, as now a grandparent: “Don’t miss this opportunity. Somebody’s talking to them about this stuff. They have questions; they don’t know where to go. You bridge that gap or open this up. You become safe, and you can start a conversation that can literally change their life, and your legacy, and their legacy.”

I would just say: “This is the night. Do it today; don’t wait until tomorrow. Today, step into that fear; have the courage to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to talk about this,’ and trust God where it goes.”

Bob: If you think, “I don’t know how to even do that,”—

Dave: There you go.

Bob: —get a copy of Dave’s book, Raising Boys Who Respect Girls. Read it, and highlight it, and start to apply some of this stuff.

Dave, thank you for writing the book. Thanks for the conversation this morning.

Dave W.: Hey, guys—thank you. I’ve so enjoyed this. Thank you for the great work all of you are doing.

Bob: We have copies of Dave’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online to request a copy of Raising Boys Who Respect Girls. Our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Order from us online; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. So again, online, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com; if you’re calling, the number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” The book, again, is called Raising Boys Who Respect Girls: Upending Locker Room Mentality, Blind Spots, and Unintended Sexism.

David Robbins, who’s the president of FamilyLife®, has been sitting in on our conversation today, just listening to what we’ve been talking about. You and your wife, Meg, and Dave Willis and his wife, Ashley—you all have kids about the same age; right?

David: They really are almost exactly the same. He has four boys; I have one girl mixed in. He has four; I have four. He’s been a good friend to process some things with. As I seek to raise my kids to navigate the world we’re in, there are landmines today that I didn’t grow up with.

Bob: —everywhere!

David: Yes; I just keep coming back to what I’m convinced parenting boils down to: “Day in and day out, in the everyday-ness of life, it comes down to courageous faith.”

Think about what we’ve been hearing today. Dads, who aren’t even sure that they  measure up or are living up to the definition of manhood, are supposed to regularly initiate with our sons to talk about vulnerable issues like sex and pornography. We need to lead our sons in a conversation about God’s Word shaping us when sometimes we probably don’t feel like we’re being that great of a model; it just keeps piling up. We should do all this with the appropriate amount of vulnerability to talk about our own struggles, even our current ones.

For a lot of us, it’s just a really tall order. You may be thinking about this conversation, going: “Man, this does take remarkable courage.” We don’t have to find some unknown reservoir of courage before we start, because this is where faith enters; it’s courageous faith. Faith reminds us that God can use our conversations with our boys, even if they’re awkward. Faith believes that God uses our brokenness and our struggles to bring fruit in the lives of others, especially our kids. It requires courage and faith to trust God to step out when you aren’t sure you’re up to the task; but God loves using us when, in our weakness, we are radically dependent upon Him.

Bob: Walk by faith: just take the steps; go out there/do it; and God will go with you and bless your efforts. Thank you, David.

I hope our listeners will be able to join us tomorrow, because we’re going to continue this conversation. Vicki Courtney’s going to be back with us tomorrow to talk about important conversations that parents need to be having with their sons. We’ll continue the dialogue on this and talk with Vicki tomorrow. I hope you can join us.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

 

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