Parents can help their children to find orgasm less addictive by praising them for asking questions, and avoiding all suggestion that sex is cause for shame or guilt.
“To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.”—Josh Billings
If you explain how the mammalian brain works, and what its goals are, your child can begin to separate his or her will from his or her urges. It’s also helpful to explain that orgasm is a powerful learning reinforcer, not unlike gambling, drugs or alcohol, and that it’s the high part of a longer cycle. The lows can actually increase the need for relief, which means that choosing to masturbate is normal—but somewhat self-defeating as a solution for uncomfortable sexual tension. So, for example, settling for wet dreams and letting one’s body set its own schedule can mean less overall frustration. This course of (in)action doesn’t inflame the search for sexual satiation in the same way that scratching the itch does.
In addition to explaining how the forced pursuit of sexual satiation can lay down ruts (pathways) in the brain, you can emphasize the importance of nourishing connections with peers, and perhaps even suggest alternative ways of easing frustration.
Kids need this information early on, so they can make their own investigations, chart their own course, and avoid several different, but equally potent pitfalls: fearful repression, guilt-free—yet destructive—hypersexuality, and compelling “sinful” behavior.
My husband and I were asked to write an article addressed to 11-year olds, because "that's when most boys begin viewing porn" according to the founder of No Porn Northampton. When challenged by a father who questioned that claim, I found some 2007 research from Alberta, Canada, which said that by age 13/14, one third of the boys surveyed reported accessing porn "too many times to count." (Strictly speaking porn is not always a “male” problem. In the Alberta survey, 8 percent of girls were also accessing porn "too many times to count.")
Since porn/masturbation rapidly creates attention-grabbing pathways in the brain, which can foster compulsion, it’s good to educate kids early on. Remember, even if your child is sexually naïve, his friends may not be.
Porn is crueler than substance addiction in some ways. Vivid, unsettling images can remain in the brain long after someone stops using it.
Kids also need to know that the brain is particularly susceptible to becoming hooked on novel thrills on demand, such as porn or video games (many of which have a lot of erotic content). In fact, access to anticipation may be a bigger factor in the compulsion behind Internet porn use than visuals of naked bodies (which are certainly compelling). Using Internet porn is like having a slot machine at home. Recovering users report that it's very hard to resist finding out whether there's a new picture at a porn site.
For example, consider this experiment, in which a man challenged site visitors to abstain from porn for two weeks. The Great Porn-Off. Of 94 subjects, 52 (or 55%) failed to go just one week without porn.
Age of experimentation may play a role, too. Some of the porn-addicted visitors to our site, who desperately want to escape their compulsions, discovered the over-stimulation of masturbation and porn as early as 7-9 years old. In other words, they were hooked on orgasm, and focusing on related cues (that is anything their brains had associated with orgasm) years before they could even ejaculate. As the rational part of the brain is not fully developed until age 25, it is very likely that the earlier one begins to pursue the ready stimulation of erotic images, the more likely one can - quite innocently - fall into extreme patterns of behavior. Also, the age of puberty has been dropping steadily in girls. Are boys also affected?
A heart-to-heart discussion about porn is the perfect occasion to explain more about how all addictions and compulsions affect the brain. Kids need to know that there is a window during which it is relatively easy to let go of any intensely stimulating thrill. Yet if they keep going back for more easy gratification, they are likely to find it much harder to quit down the road. It's not clear how long the average progression is from casual use to full-blown addiction. Natural reinforcers (such as orgasm and sugar) are believed to take more time to create strong pathways in the brain than recreational drugs. However, a recent experiment revealed that sugar, at least, is highly stimulating. Even rats addicted to cocaine preferred intensely sweet substances – sucrose and saccharine – to cocaine.
In general, friendships with both genders, and bonding behaviors with caregivers, can ease the need to masturbate. (In the Alberta survey, rural, more isolated kids had bigger porn habits than those in cities.) It is natural for kids to begin to bond with “new tribes” at adolescence, but bonding behaviors (from parents), such as careful listening and lots of eye contact, are still soothing.
(Age 20) I know that when I have the uncontrollable need to masturbate, it’s because I’ve passed up an opportunity to connect deeply with someone.--Jason
(Age 40) I think my parents were far more enlightened than their peers, and they tried their best not to make me feel ashamed of my sexuality; nevertheless, I was still a basket case of misery and shame during my high school years.—Darren