‘Dear Lala, my partner watches teen porn and I’m worried’

In a new twist on Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.

Here, she offers advice to a reader who's partner is watching teen porn.

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Dear Lala,

I discovered just over a week ago that my partner likes teen porn. He has been watching stepdaughter porn and I feel disturbed about it.

We have a 6-month-old daughter together and he is stepdad to my 7-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. I’m not anti-porn but I’m not okay with him viewing this type of porn.

He’s obviously sexually attracted to teens and is aroused at the thought of incest? I want to read more on the subject in order to process and work out what I do with this information that I have found out about him. Do you have any advice or content on this? Or any other resources or research you could point me to?

I see a lot of defence online as “it’s just fantasy” but I have a real problem with men sexualising teens, viewing them as objects and that the teen genre is basically sex abuse fantasy—teen incest with dads, stepdads, stepbrothers, stepmothers; students with teachers; and what isn’t abuse themed is barely legal college girls. I’m not comfortable with porn that fetishises and eroticises teens as well as trivialises abuse. Or am I blowing this out of proportion?

The women in these films, aside from being very young, typically look very young, they’re skinny/petite with small boobs—very girl-like faces and bodies. I know people have types and might be into bums, big boobs, small boobs etc, but for the blokes jerking off to this stuff it’s not a huge leap for them to imagine these young women are really school aged girls.

Besides being disgusted by that and the rest of the concerns I raised, ultimately, I’m worried if my kids are at potential risk. If not now, in their teens? Particularly my eldest daughter given that he’s watching stepdaughter porn and she is not his biological child. Can use of this type of porn escalate further to a preference for younger? Sorry, I have so many questions!

Lala says…

My immediate instinct on reading this, as a mother and a social worker, is to tell you to run and not look back. However, making big life decisions or changes based on immediate instinct isn’t always the right thing to do. So, I’m glad that you are asking this question and seeking out answers from research, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that running isn’t the best thing to do.

My opinion on adults who watch teen porn is the same as yours. I feel incredibly disturbed by it. I also worry that many of the mainstream porn sites are poorly regulated and are known for hosting videos of real abuse and rape.

It concerns me that ‘teen’ and ‘barely legal’ porn creates a supply and demand issue and that viewing it contributes to a market demand that is likely to result in more teenagers and children being exploited for the purposes of porn so there is something very morally corrupt about adding to that.

If you look on any mainstream porn site, the trending videos on the front pages are always a mix of teen and incest. I’ve just googled a mainstream porn site now and ‘I f**ked my teen stepdaughter while she slept’ and ‘Stepdaughter pretended to be my wife’ are just two of the disturbing titles that have appeared on the front page. This turns my stomach and the thought of clicking on to either of those things makes me feel very sick.

I think that most of us assume that if you’re not feeling disturbed by those titles then there is something wrong, and that if you can click on those and become aroused then you’re an outright big old concerning red flag of a person. But research shows that it’s a bit more complex than that.

I spoke to Dr Kate Dawson, Post-doctoral researcher on the Active Consent programme NUI, who studied porn for her PHD, she explained that the reason that ‘teen porn’ features so high up in porn searches is because teenage boys are some of the biggest users of porn. This pushes teen right to the front and it means that when someone is going on to a porn site looking for some material to get off to, it is often the first thing they see.

A lot of porn users don’t read the title of the film, they just decide what to watch by looking at the still image attached to the film. So, one of the first things that you need to know is whether he happened to click on incest and teen porn because it was the first thing that appeared or if he actively searched for it? If he actively searched for it then that is a very large red flag.

Dr Kate says: "Paraphilia research shows that people who are sexually violent and aggressive are more comfortable with watching violent porn than other people. But there has been no specific research with regards to incest, however, we could assume that it may be the same, in that people may be more comfortable with watching incest porn if they have an interest in it.

"There is some research around disgust though, for example – rape scenes in a film. People who are disgusted by it are uncomfortable watching it and therefore wouldn’t seek it out and would likely switch off. So perhaps the fact that he isn’t disgusted by it could be a risk indicator. It is impossible to give a definitive answer on this as there is no research looking at preference for incest style porn and actual inter-familial sexual behaviour.

"Going from the small number of studies that look at paraphilia preferences in porn and real behaviour, we can hypothesise that a small percentage of people who watch incest porn may also want to engage in that behaviour in real life. There is also a greater likelihood among men than women, that they will replicate their paraphilic interests."

I also spoke with Dr Justin Lehmiller – a Kinsey Institute Fellow, author of Tell Me What You Want and host of the Sex and Psychology Podcast. He said: "There’s a common tendency for people to assume that what someone fantasises about or looks for in porn necessarily reflects what they want to do sexually, but this isn’t necessarily always the case.

"Many people are aroused by things in fantasy and porn that they have no desire to ever do in the real world and never would do. Given the research and also how common these porn searches are, we can't automatically assume that this person has a proclivity toward sexual offending. However, I can’t say what his actual interests and desires are, so it’s important to look toward other potential risk factors.

"For example, if he’s actually looking at child porn with underage performers, that’s obviously both illegal and a major red flag. Also, if there’s a history of abusive behaviour or other warning signs, there would be added cause for concern. Seeking counselling from a certified sex therapist may be useful in this case to more fully explore the situation and get a professional risk assessment. Even if all of this is fantasy, there may be lingering distrust and hyper vigilance over every interaction he has with children, which can lead to ongoing distress that needs to be addressed in some way."

Whilst the current research into porn doesn’t clearly show that watching teen or incest porn means that you are actually into those things, I think it’s important to think about the fact that research into fauxcest and incest porn hasn’t really been done. And also, that research into these things is only as good as the answers that are given – what I mean by this is if you study a number of people who watch teen porn or incest porn and then ask them whether they rape their stepchildren and teenagers in real life, are they really going to say yes?

How can we really be sure that what they look for in porn isn’t what they really want to do in real life when those real-life things are disturbing and illegal and unlikely to be things that people would admit to? I’m not dismissing the incredible work of researchers in this field, but I think that when children are involved you need to be extremely cautious and sceptical.

My first questions as a social worker would be around how long he has been in your daughter’s life? What is their existing relationship like? Have there been any changes in her behaviour? Some indicators for sexual abuse are: behaviour changes at home or at school (lack of focus and ability to concentrate in class), bed wetting, vaginal discharge or a change in toileting like frequent urination, UTIs, redness and trauma to the vulva or anus, changes in sleep patterns, sexualised behaviour, being frightened of your partner or being overly affectionate with him, seeking his validation and attention, and violent or aggressive outbursts that are out of character.

It is very important for you to think about whether any of these indicators are present and if they are I would urge you to seek immediate professional support from your local children’s service who will likely contact the Police and complete an assessment.

You may also wish to contact your local police to request a criminal record disclosure under Sarah’s Law. Sarah’s Law is in place for people who have concerns about a person who has contacted with children, if he has a record of offences against children then you will be informed. However, it’s important to be aware that just because a person is not known to police for offending doesn’t automatically mean that they do not pose a risk – it may just mean they’ve never been caught.

I would be interested to know what his response was when you told him that you had found his porn searches. Was he defensive and dismissive? Did he gaslight you and turn it around on you for breaching his privacy? Did he make you feel that you were blowing it out of proportion? Did he deny it and pretend it didn’t happen? These responses would all be red flags to me. If he expressed completely understanding why this would worry you and was willing to engage in an extremely frank and honest discussion about it and was also willing to seek the services of a sex therapist as a couple, then I’d be less concerned, but I still wouldn’t want to take any risks.

I would also want to know what your relationship with him is like. There are significant links between domestic abuse and child sexual abuse. If there is any history or pattern of abusive behaviour towards you, including emotional abuse, control, aggression, intimidation, physical violence, manipulation, or coercion, then this is a very big red flag for the likelihood that his porn fantasies may overlap into real life.

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You are in an extremely difficult position, especially if none of the red flag indicators are met. I think if they are then it’s very clear cut that you need to leave him and ensure that contact with his daughter is supervised. You will need support from social services and the courts to implement this. But if none of the red flags are indicated and he is generally a wonderful loving partner and Father then you have a lot to think about.

Whilst you are considering what to do next, I would urge you to ensure that he is not left alone with your eldest daughter and not allowed to do bath times or personal care. Abuse is far higher in households where children are living with a stepparent. Stepfathers are a risk factor in themselves (not all stepfathers obviously), but stepfathers are reported to commit child abuse at far higher rates than biological Fathers, so again, extreme caution is advised.

In my personal opinion, as the mother of a 10-year-old boy, if I found his stepfather to be watching stepson porn, I would be loath to stick around to find out whether he just happened to watch that kind of porn but had no intention of acting on it. It’s just not worth the risk. I think I would also find it very difficult to not be absolutely disgusted by his porn choices, even if I didn’t have a child who he could potentially harm. But I also understand that it’s just not that simple, especially as you have a baby together.

I think that it is really important for you to get some support to deal with this. You may wish to contact The Lucy Faithful Foundation for further discussion and support. You are in such a difficult position, and you are going to have a very hard journey ahead of you. Keep your children at the forefront in any decision you make and be risk averse, but also get support and look after you while this is all going on.

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