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You can hardly blame parents for being anxious about cellphones and screen time. They contribute to a host of modern ills, including distraction, bullying, and the steady erosion of family life. All of that is bad enough. But what we tend to avoid – or take for granted, or ignore, or discount – is a much more uncomfortable truth. Our screens and cellphones are direct conduits to gushers of pornography on demand, in forms and volumes that are simply stupefying.

What is this doing to our kids?

To find out, check out last week's New York Times magazine cover story, "What teenagers are learning from online porn." For many kids, pornography is their main source of sex education. Parents vastly underestimate the porn-viewing habits of their teenagers, according to research cited in the story. Needless to say, they're not watching Debbie Does Dallas. Today it's anal, facial (look it up), fisting, gang-banging and a bunch of stuff you've probably never heard of and don't want to.

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The internet is a delivery system for mainlining hard-core porn. The messages of porn are clear. One is that girls absolutely love rough, aggressive, even abusive sex – especially the practices listed above. Everything is centred on male pleasure. Tenderness, connection and sensitivity to your partner are entirely irrelevant. All that matters is performance.

Thanks to porn, a lot of boys think this is what girls want. And a lot of girls think this is what boys want. As one boy confided to The New York Times writer, Maggie Jones, if you don't do it like the guys in porn, "you fear she's not going to like you." Another said, "It gets in your head. If this girl wants it, then maybe the majority of girls want it."

Older girls think this stuff is gross, one girl said. "[B]ut they say you gotta do what you gotta do."

There is a chasm between the sexual practices and expectations of today and the ones I grew up with in the late 1960s (and I considered myself liberated). Since when did blow jobs become a sex act you were expected to perform five minutes after you said Hello? The answer is: since internet porn became ubiquitous.

All this stuff is about two clicks away. The biggest online site, Pornhub, boasts 10 million videos. Since 2009, its viewership has grown from 10 million to 75 million daily visits. I'm not a prude and I don't believe in moral panics. But it's impossible to deny that the massification of pornography has not coarsened the human fabric.

So here's a question. Why are feminists and other liberals so indifferent to – and in denial about – the malign effects of porn? Why are people so censorious of crude, misogynous male behaviour in real life, but so reluctant to draw a link between that behaviour and the ubiquitous availability of the crudest kind of porn? Why are they so quick to assert that endless images of men ejaculating onto women's faces are completely harmless?

The answer is that feminists and other liberals would rather be caught dead than be caught on the same side as Christians, conservatives, and other social reactionaries. After all, they believe that sexual expressiveness is among the greatest of human freedoms. That leaves them in the uncomfortable position of condoning massively misogynistic messages to the young, at the same time as they condemn young males for treating young women like sex objects.

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And when someone raises the idea of actually banning porn – as Ross Douthat did in his New York Times column last week – the denial machine kicks into full gear. "Porn itself isn't a social ill; misogyny is," insisted Christina Cauterucci at Slate. "Men don't foist unlubricated anal sex on semi-willing women in porn in a vacuum." She blames porn's misogynistic messages on society itself, and conjures up an alternate universe filled with the "good" kind of porn, "the kind that affirms minority sexualities and female pleasure."

In the meantime, New York Times readers have no doubt that it's a social ill. "Porn teaches people to experience a deep intimacy as a private-self-regarding act," says a top-rated comment on its story "Porn is really bad training for good sex."

How, then, can you proof your kids against pornography and help them develop a healthy sexuality? Don't expect the schools to do it. Not many schools are about to offer courses in Porn Literacy, like the one described in the article. I'm afraid it's up to you.

And that means you will have to wade into this malignant swamp yourself. Once you do, you may wind up agreeing with Ross Douthat that banning porn is a good idea. If you think an outright ban is impossible (as I do), then you may at least agree that we should do the best we can to drive it to the nether regions of the internet. Then at least your kids wouldn't be able to get it with a click. Is that such a repressive thing to ask? I don't think so.

Toronto-area parents with vastly different backgrounds discuss “the Talk,” the first sex-ed conversation they experienced with their own parents, and the lessons they plan to pass on to their kids Globe and Mail Update
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