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Unchartered Territory

Unchartered Territory

You might consider this week's subject—talking to kids about sex and pornography—slightly off-topic for a tablecloth and tabletop shop, but we think it's right on-topic. Life's big conversations happen around the table, and we aim to equip you (and your table) for every situation.  

We first encountered entrepreneur Cindy Gallop at the 2009 TED talk where she launched 'MakeLoveNotPorn' - the movement she's since spent years building, which aims to dispel the misconceptions people have about sex due to our society's over-reliance on pornography.

By talking about "real world sex" vs. "porn world sex" and highlighting the differences, she's making sure that pornography doesn't become our society's de-facto sex education.

We thought she might have a few tips for how to open up lines of communication with kids and teens about these somewhat loaded topics.

We're so thankful to Cindy for her thoroughly thoughtful answers, below.


[Interview with Cindy Gallop
How to address the topic of sex & pornography with kids

We all know it’s much easier for kids to come across pornography than ever before. On average, at what age are kids first being exposed these days?  What are some of the consequences that come from seeing pornography at a young age? 

The average age today at which a child first views hardcore porn online is eight, though a Bitdefender survey done 3 years ago indicates that age may actually be as low as six. This isn’t because eight year olds and six year olds go looking for porn. It's a function of what is inevitable in the digital world we live in today and cannot be prevented, no matter how hard you try: They stumble across it. It’s what they’re shown on someone's cellphone in the playground; what they see when they go round to a neighbour's house. It doesn't matter what parental controls you have in place at home, your kids live their lives in other places.  This is the most wired generation ever, and in many privileged households, very young children have access to phones, iPads, laptops...They do something cute and innocent: They learn a new naughty word, they google it, and one or two clicks away is something they never expected to find. And that’s why, as I discovered for myself in my own dating life, young men and women who grow up today watching hardcore porn online for years before they ever have their own first romantic or sexual experience, assume that is what sex is and that is how you do it for real. This is why MakeLoveNotPorn exists.

The Economist wrote this in-depth piece on us and our reason for being,  and all you have to do is read some of the emails we get from young people to see the impact.

 I am my own research lab. I’m open about the fact that I date younger men, and I see for myself all the time how this plays out in the real world. I would also like to stress that MLNP is gender-equal because this cuts both ways. I talk to plenty of young men who say to me, “My girlfriends are doing everything they see in porn, and it’s getting in the way of a real connection.”  Incidentally, I wish society understood the opposite of what it thinks is true: girls enjoy sex just as much as boys, and boys are just as romantic as girls.

What’s the question you get the most from parents?
“How on earth do I talk to my child about all of this?"

How would you explain pornography to a child?    

It’s very easy.  Just say to them, when you talk to them about sex, ‘You know when we watch movies and TV together, we see things that aren’t real, or things that are exaggerated and extreme? Well, that happens with sex too. People make movies and videos for entertainment that aren’t real, that are exaggerated and extreme. These can be quite confusing and so it’s a good idea not to watch them till you’re older—but if you come across these or anyone shows you anything that confuses you, do come and tell us and we can talk about it and explain it.’

At what age would you recommend parents broach the topic of sex with their children?  
I tell parents they cannot begin having this conversation too early, by which I don’t necessarily mean, ‘Talk about sex’, but more what you do the very first time your child asks where babies come from or asks anything else sex-related.

The most important thing isn’t even what you say as much as how you say it. Never get visibly flustered or embarrassed; never get irritated or angry; don’t shut them up, close the conversation down or leave the room. Instead, respond to them openly, honestly and straightforwardly. By doing that, you open up a channel of communication between them and you that will always be there for them as they grow older, and trust me, no matter how much they might appear to squirm when you talk to them frankly about sex and how to have a rewarding, healthy sex life, they will be secretly grateful to you for doing so.

When our kids come home with questions about positions and sex-related phrases they’ve learned elsewhere, how explicit should we be in answering their questions? 
Very.  Obviously, the degree of explicitness will vary with age, but parents need to be aware that however explicit they’re being, kids are encountering far worse explicitness in the things they see online and being passed around by their friends. The most helpful thing you can do for your children is to be uncompromisingly straightforward. A friend of mine with three teenagers who has educated them thoroughly about sex said to me, "I know what kind of misinformation gets disseminated in the playground. I’m making sure my kids are the source of accurate information for all their friends."

How do we help teens understand and be assertive about what their needs/wants are vs. what pornography/media/other people tell them they should be?  
I recommend that parents approach the conversation in this way: Everything in life starts with you and your values. I regularly ask people, ‘What are your sexual values?’ and no one can ever answer that question, because we’re not brought up to think that way. Many of us, if we’re fortunate, are born into families and environments where our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic, a sense of responsibility, accountability.  Nobody ever brings us up to behave well in bed. They should—because empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness are as important there, as they are in every other area of our lives and work where we are actively taught to exercise those values. So for parents, this is simply a matter of translating the values you set out to bring your children up with, very directly into how you educate them on expectations of behaviour around sex. In the same way you teach them to do the right thing in life generally—to speak up if they don’t feel good about what’s going on, to step in and intervene if a friend or a stranger is being treated badly, to be true to themselves and what they know is right—teach them exactly the same things in a sexual context.

More on MakeLoveNotPorn from Cindy Gallop 

Please tell us a little bit more about MakeLoveNotPorn and all the work you're doing with this organisation.   

MakeLoveNotPorn was an accident that came out of direct personal experience. I date younger men, predominantly twenty-somethings. About 9 or 10 years ago, I began realising that I was encountering an issue that would never have occurred to me if I had not experienced it so intimately: what happens when total freedom of access to hardcore porn online, meets our society’s equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex, and results in porn becoming by default the sex education of today, in not a good way. When I realized what I was encountering, I decided to do something about it. So 8 years ago I put up a tiny, clunky little website, which posts the myths of hardcore porn and balances them with reality – ‘Porn World’ versus ‘Real World’ -  in a straightforward, non-judgemental, humorous way.  

I then launched MakeLoveNotPorn at TED in 2009 and the response was extraordinary, in a way I’d never anticipated. It resonated with huge numbers of people globally – young and old, male and female, straight and gay, from every country in the world.  They wrote and poured their hearts out to me. They told me things about their sex lives and their porn-watching habits they had never told anyone else.  Receiving those emails, day after day, made me feel I had a personal responsibility to take MakeLoveNotPorn forwards, in a way that would make it more far-reaching, helpful and effective.

Importantly, MakeLoveNotPorn is not anti-porn. Our tagline is ‘Pro-sex. Pro-porn. Pro-knowing the difference.’ The issue I’m tackling isn’t porn, but instead, the complete lack in our society of an open, healthy, honest dialogue around sex in the real world, which would then, amongst many other benefits, enable people to bring a real-world mindset to the viewing of porn as artificial entertainment. Our message is simply ‘Talk about sex’ – openly and publicly, and privately and intimately with your partner. Great sex is born out of great communication, all around.

I decided to pursue our mission of ‘Talk about it’ by deploying the dynamics of social media to socialize sex; to build a platform to act as sexual social currency, with the aim of making  discussion around real world sex more socially acceptable and socially shareable. Three and a half years ago, after several very long hard years working to make it happen, my team and I launched an extension of MakeLoveNotPorn, an entirely user-generated, crowdsourced site where anyone from anywhere in the world can share videos of themselves having #realworldsex. We’re very clear what we mean by this. We’re not porn. We’re not ‘amateur’.

We’re building a whole new category on the internet – social sex. #realworldsex videos on MLNP are not about performing for the camera. They’re simply about doing what you do on every other social platform, which is capturing what goes on in the real world, as it happens, in all its funny messy beautiful silly glorious wonderful humanness, and so badly needed as the real world counterpoint to porn. 

At MLNP you are developing a branch called Academy to help parents talk to kids about sex and pornography—what have you found to be some of the most essential tools for making open communication about sex attainable at home?  
Parents and teachers write to us all the time asking for help, which is why we are working to raise funding to enable us to launch MLNPAcademy, which will provide tools and materials for talking to kids about sex and porn, crowdsourced from sex educators worldwide so that they are globally and multiculturally applicable, and segmented by age-appropriateness.  

I recommend to parents that they use what we plan to supply: Outside prompts. It’s difficult for parents to embark on this dialogue out of nowhere; they need jumping off points. So that can be anything that you and your kids come across, eg. something that happens on a TV programme or a movie you’re watching, or something that comes up with one of your kids’ friends.  Use it as a springboard along the lines of, “As we’re watching this, I just want to make you aware that…”   Parents already use MakeLoveNotPorn and my TED talk in this way. I have had parents say to me, ‘Thank you so much for your site, I could just send it to my kids without having to have the conversation’ (although obviously I’d rather you did have the conversation!). A mother wrote to tell me, ‘My teenage son had a bunch of friends round last night. I made them all sit down and watch your TED talk. There was lots of squirming and wriggling around to begin with, but it gave rise to two hours of fantastic discussion.’

And now for the dinner table portion of the interview...

What is your go-to meal when you’re entertaining at home?
I hate to cook, but I love to eat. So I generally persuade friends who love cooking to cook – but occasionally I do cook myself, and it’s always the same thing: Steak. I adore steak. I like my steak seriously rare – so rare a really good vet could get it back on its feet in five minutes...
But I’ll cook steaks in whatever way my dining companions like them. I’ll do something very simple on the side dish front—green veg like broccoli or peas. I’m a total carnivore and as far as I’m concerned it’s all about the meat.

If you could have any 5 – 10 people around the table with you, who would they be? 
My favourite dinner companions would always be my family: my mother, father, my three sisters Annabel, Eve and Melanie, and beyond that their assorted spouses/children.

How do you make sure conversation flows around the dinner table – any good conversation starters you rely on? 

I have a very wide network of friends who move in many different circles, and at both dinners and parties I like to bring together people who’ve never met each other before. I explain they all have one thing in common—they all know me—and that means they are bound to get on! And I’ve never encountered any problem with conversation not flowing accordingly.

Do you have any favourite accessories/flowers/etc you like to use to decorate the table when you have friends over for a meal?     

I use the same crockery and cutlery I’ve been using for years. When I was working in Singapore in the late 90s, I bought a bunch of crockery in Hong Kong by designer Alan Chan, who makes beautiful Chinese-themed things. 

I have a set of dinner plates and side plates that feature a pattern of gold Chinese characters on white, that I love. My cutlery is by Ferran Adria, ordered some years back from the Spanish store Vinçon (now closed) in both the Baroque and Basic patterns. I love the curviness of the shapes and how satisfying they are to hold and use.

A huge thank you to Cindy for her wisdom on some rather uncharted territory for S&B.  
We will continue to host more lively and stimulating conversations like these around the Meanderings table.

[You're Invited]

Join us on Wednesday 29th June 2016 from 7 – 10pm
for the Clarendon Cross Summer Jazz & Shopping Party. 

Hosted by Summerill & Bishop, The Cross, L Maison, Myriad, Cowshed, Stephen Ryan,
Lacey Contemporary Art Gallery and Harper & Tom’s.

We will be open late, offering discounts and enjoying the jazz ensemble on the square.  

With delicious summer salads by Grace Berrow (available to order in advance), sweet treats by Hen's Clean Cakes and Juices by the Healthy Juice Company for sale on the evening. Come one and all to share this wonderful evening under the twinkly lights of Clarendon Cross.  

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