Sugar is to porn as broccoli is to masturbation

There are topics we know through and through, things we can discuss comfortably and confidently, and others which are more intimidating because we talk and think about them less.

 

We all hesitate to talk about what we can’t articulate clearly.  And we can’t articulate it clearly because we lack experience or perspective or simple practice.

 

But it might be a topic we aspire to be talking about, especially with our own kids.  Maybe our parents didn’t, and we’ve realized that was a mistake.  A mistake we’d prefer not to repeat.

 

How do you bridge that gap?

 

One way is by using analogies.  Analogies are powerful because they capture some truth.  It’s not the whole truth – there’s lots of nuance left out – but it’s a start.  It’s memorable and it directs the conversation towards comfortable and familiar topics.

 

I’d like to explain one I recently used in response to a parent’s question.   But first, allow me to explain…

 

The 10,000 year test

 

I can’t help but give you an evolutionary perspective again, cuz, you know, I was a biology teacher.

 

Our bodies and brains have evolved to give us the best chances of survival and reproduction.  You are perfectly adapted to the world as it was 10,000 years ago.

 

Here’s the 10,000 year test.  Was it in our environment 10,000 years ago?  If so, we’re probably well adapted to it.  If not, we’re babes in the woods.

 

Cars? Guns?  Knives?  Meth?  Distilled alcohol?  AIDS?  Nope, nope, nope.  They weren’t there.  We’re not adapted to those, so we can’t trust our own internal signals like fear or revulsion.  They won’t protect us, so we have to educate instead.

 

Wine? Fist fights? Liars? Bullies? Rape?  Yup.  We’re adapted to deal with those, so trust your inner signals.

 

So, on to my analogy.  Broccoli and masturbation existed 10,000 years ago.  Sugar and pornography not so much…at least, they were very different than their current forms.

 

Sugar is to…

 

10,000 years ago, our craving for sugar could be satisfied by honey or fruit, both of which are 100% natural, containing vitamins and minerals, some protein (honey), and some fiber (fruit).  Satisfying that craving gave us the sweet and the good stuff too.

 

Fast forward to modern day.  We reach for jelly beans and we get the sweet, but not the rest. Did you know there’s evidence that processing sucrose (modern sugar) actually depletes the body of vitamins and minerals?  So then we need more…and where to get it?  Fruit, of course!

 

The craving for sweets returns, and the “addiction” to sugar is born.  It’s old programming which used to fit our environment, but our environment has changed.  Babes in the woods.  Wolves like diabetes lurk nearby.

 

…Porn as…

 

Now consider sex.  We have a natural drive for sex, closeness, intimacy.  10,000 years ago, we had to woo a partner, practice relationship skills, and navigate cultural and personal boundaries. Satisfying the craving gave us the sex and the good stuff too.

 

Fast forward to modern day.  The device in your pocket provides the fastest and easiest sex.   There’s no need to do tricky things like courting another person and navigating boundaries.  The craving for sex is satisfied, but not the need for intimacy.

 

The craving for intimacy returns, and the choice: to work on a relationship or watch porn?  For our youngsters, they may be actively discouraged from being sexual with a partner (little opportunity, too young, STDs, pregnancy…), so porn may seem like the prudent choice.  Besides, everyone’s doing it…

 

But there’s a porn addition factor here too.  The adolescent brain is learning how to be sexual, how to be aroused, how to orgasm.  Those neural pathways are discovered for maybe the first time, practiced, cemented.

 

It’s like a stream.  As the water flows over the land for the first time, it creates a path.  The more times the water follows that path, the deeper a groove it cuts, the more likely the water will follow that path again.

 

A habit is formed.  It might be very hard to rewire that arousal pathway towards, say, a real partner with a normal body and normal preferences.

 

(Did you notice another analogy?  Neurobio is pretty unfamiliar to most, but streams we totally get.)

 

…Broccoli is to…

 

Broccoli is firmly on the healthy list.  We’ve eaten it forever.  It’s hard to do damage eating too much.  We know when we’ve had enough.

 

At the same time, if you hate broccoli and never partake, that’s a-ok.

 

…Masturbation

 

Masturbation?  Old as the hills, older than humanity.  The animals masturbate, so we’re surely adapted to it.

 

Trust your internal system (and your child’s).  You’ll know if you’re “doing it too much” through your body’s natural mechanisms: pain, fear, horror.

 

In fact, masturbation has been shown to be highly beneficial.  It reduces stress, improves sleep and menstrual cramps, enhances body image and self-esteem.

 

Masturbation is correlated with less sexual shame and better relationships. People who masturbate know their own bodies, so they are better able to encourage pleasurable touch from a partner.

 

 

Pros and Cons

 

Analogies certainly over simplify, so they’re not the be-all end-all.  It’s the start of the conversation, the warm up, so that some foundation is created to build upon.

 

There’s certainly more to be said about porn, and it seems to be similar to sugar for adults, but quite a bit worse for kids.  That’s why some go further and compare porn to rat poison: both artificially manufactured, the internal destruction they can do, how they spread from one individual to another, and so on.

 

Have a favorite analogy you like to use for a difficult topic?  Comment below!  Let’s crowdsource and learn from one another.

 

In support of you,

 

Anya

 

P.S. More analogies and talking points are included in the Talking with Kids about Porn webinar, just one of several webinars included in the video library membership.  Beyond the webinars, you’ll get the interviews.  If you’re looking bridge that gap, talk about a taboo subject, it sure helps to see the experts model it for you.

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