Melanie Sykes has revealed she had a frank discussion with her 20-year-old son about the pitfalls of watching porn.
The TV presenter was opening up on John Bishop and Tony Pitts' podcast Three Little Words after revealing on Instagram she had chosen 'sex' as one of her three words.
When comedian Bishop talked about how some young men struggle to maintain an erection because porn has distorted the way they view sex, Sykes said she'd had a conversation with her eldest son Roman, 20, about the realities of porn.
Kicking off the pornography discussion, Bishop said: "There's this phenomenon now where young men are struggling to maintain erections, because they've become so overexposed to pornography.
"They don't understand sex as an intimate thing."
Sykes replied: "Oh my god, I know. It's just an action. I remember having this conversation with my eldest.
"I just said to him: 'If you are watching porn, just know that not all women look like that and not everybody wants to do those things'.
"Of course anything is on the menu if it is mutually alright, but just don't expect it to look like that."
Sykes went on to say that girls could face a similar issue with watching porn and believing it to be the reality of sex.
"It's the same for girls, having to look at that and thinking, 'Well I don't want to do that and I don't want to look like that'," she said
With parents reporting a 39% increase in sharing of sexual images since January 2020 and a recent report by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) revealing more than half (51%) of 11 to 13-year-olds have seen pornography, it's clear the subject of pornography is something parents need to address.
"Pornography today is more prevalent and easier to access online than ever before and it is changing the way people perceive sex within a relationship," explains Cathy Press, psychotherapist and author of When Love Bites: A young person's guide to escaping harmful, toxic and hurtful relationships.
"Porn can be too easily viewed by children and young people long before they reach sexual maturity."
Press says much of the porn available is hardcore with many of the sexual acts totally removed from the context of any caring relationship.
"There is no storyline and no conversation or communication taking place between the people involved and this has changed many people’s expectations of what sex in a relationship should be like," she adds.
"This is especially true for young people, many of whom will have viewed porn before having had sex in a relationship. Today, many people’s early experiences of sexual intimacy are not intimate and loving at all because they are either required or are expected to perform a ‘sexual’ act, or somehow the expectation of this has been instilled in them."
With that in mind, it's important that parents open up the conversation surrounding pornography with their children, but it isn't always an easy discussion to have.
"Talking about porn is tricky particularly if you find it difficult to talk about sex and relationships or emotive issues generally," explains Press. "However, just because it feels awkward doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any discussion at all."
So how should parents approach the topic of porn with their children?
Find the right time
According to Press, talking about sex when it is naturally introduced by your young person or when their bodies start to change in the early stages of puberty is a good time to start.
Dr. Amanda Gummer, child research psychologist and founder of www.goodplayguide.com agrees there is no set age to approach the subject, as children's maturity levels vary greatly, although it's likely to come up as they reach puberty.
"As children start to learn about their changing body and the different feelings that go with that, it's common for them to be curious," she explains. "They may discover porn, either through some online searches or via their friends, although it can be a good idea to raise the subject before this happens."
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Though it may not be a conversation you ever wanted to have with your children, the reality is that children are much more likely to stumble across porn than when you were a child and it pays to be aware if they have.
"Try to look out for signs that your child may be hiding their phone or being a bit secretive," Dr Gummer suggests. "They may also come across porn that upsets or disturbs them, so keep an eye out for behaviour changes such as withdrawal, and gently let your child know that you're there if they want to talk about anything.
"Parental control apps that allow you to check your child's phone can be helpful, as you will be able to spot if your child is looking at porn and react accordingly."
Explain the difference between sex and porn
Press suggests pointing out that pornography is not a realistic depiction of sex and sexual relationships.
"Porn isn’t real," she says. "It is staged and people are performing acts.
"Hardcore porn is showing sexual gratification for one or a few people at the expense of the other. Humiliating and degrading the person you are having sex with is not sexy!
"Hardcore porn is often aggressive if not violent," she continues. "This is not what sex looks like in relationship. Sex has a quality of intimacy and warmth, care and is attentive to sexual pleasure."
Be open and approachable
Dr Gummer says encouraging open communication can help your child to feel like they can open up to you about anything, even sensitive topics like porn.
"You can do this by making sure your child has the chance to talk to you, for example, while driving or walking somewhere, or over dinner," she says. "Making time when both of you are away from screens can give you a chance to talk, when they know they have your full attention.
"They might also approach you for a late night chat over a cuppa and, while staying up late on a school or work night isn't ideal, this may be the best time to have a real heart-to-heart."
Let them lead
When discussing porn, Dr Gummer recommends letting your child lead the conversation to make sure you are giving them the information they want.
"To make your answers age-appropriate, first clarify what your child is asking about; then give them an answer as best you can; and then discuss it to work out how they can handle it.
"For example, they might ask 'What is porn?', so you might ask more questions to clarify – do they mean why does it exist, why do people make it, or why do people watch it? Then you can answer the question and discuss whether it's appropriate to watch porn.
"Decide what your stance is on porn before any conversations, so you can confidently discuss it with your child," she adds.
Be their role model
"As parents, modelling to your kids care, love, attentiveness, communication, negotiation and an ease in each of their company can help to subliminally support what a healthy relationship looks like," Press explains.
Discuss boundaries and consent
Talk about what consent is and what boundaries are, advises Press.
"Let your kids know they don’t need to perform ‘sex’ or do things of a sexual nature they don’t want to and that they have an absolute right to say NO!" she says. "Saying ‘no’ doesn’t make you bad, annoying or unsexy."