Q&A: grandfather surfing naughty sites

Rebecca writes:

"Frankly, I can't believe I'm asking this question, for so many reasons. One is that I have a vague feeling that I'm being naive. Second, it's embarrassing to ask about porn. But here goes.

I just discovered that my father in law spends a great deal of his time on the internet watching porn videos, photos, etc. I discovered this because we were staying with them for almost a week and were allowed liberal use of their computer. I am an email and Google junkie so I spent time checking messages and Googling things like where I could find an urgent care center in Albuquerque for my 4-month old with an ear infection. Anyhoodle, my FIL's version of Firefox shows you the most frequent Google searches when you begin to type in the URL bar. And that's how I found that the most frequent search is a porn site. This lead me to a slightly unethical search of his internet history. And *that* lead me to promise myself never to look at his history again, a) because it's so clearly none of my business, and b) I don't want to know any more than I know now, considering I want to continue the lovely relationship we currently have.

My question is this: is there any reason to be concerned for my daughter's safety? My gut tells me that I don't have anything to worry about. But my gut also tells me, as I'm the child of a rape victim, that you really and truly never know. The statistics are there to prove it.

My daughter spends maybe one weekend every month or two with her grandparents, largely with us around as well. But my husband and I do occasionally go out to dinner while we're visiting them (in NM, we live in TX) and leave the baby with her grandfather and grandmother.

The porn habit seems to be a daily event, from what I can glean from the history. It seems that he checks his email and watches some porn. My feeling is that sexual desires, even the raunchy ones, are perfectly, beautifully normal. Meeting your needs is also perfectly normal. But something about daily dates with porn on the internet plus caring for my baby makes me squeamish."

Boy are there a whole lotta issues in this question! Let's start with the issues directly involving your daughter. I am NOT NOT NOT an expert on sex or sexuality or porn or sexual abuse. But it's my understanding that sexual proclivities don't cross. So a man who's looking at porn of adult women is not interested in little kids. I'd hazard a guess that the majority of men who would definitely cross the street to check out Playboy would be absolutely repulsed by the idea of a little kid in a sexual way. So, in your situation, I don't think I'd be concerned about your FIL hurting your daughter directly.

However, that doesn't mean that she couldn't be hurt by accidentally being exposed to porn. Showing kids pornographic and sexual material while they're still children is a form of sexual abuse.(and it can be testing/prepping behavior if the person is intending to molest the child.)  Even if your FIL would never ever intend it, the fact that you could get to it so easily when you weren't trying means that any kid using his computer could get their easily, too, without trying. Your daughter's going to be at the age pretty soon when she's going to want to do Neopets or that penguin game or whatever, and she'll want to do it while she's visiting them, and probably show it off to her grandparents. Two misplaced clicks and she's seeing something she really shouldn't be seeing.

Here's the part of the post when I'm supposed to talk about whether porn is good or bad or whatever. Personally, I think it's damaging to the people who make it more than to many of the people who use it. But I know people on both sides of the issue who work(ed) in the porn/sex industry. Some say it's degrading and coercive; others say it's empowering and liberating. I think for users it can be harmless in some situations, but extremely damaging in others. Using porn if your partner doesn't know is, to me, a problem. And avoiding your partner in order to use porn is a very very serious problem.

The other aspect to worry about is addiction. If he's doing it every day, then he could be addicted. If he's choosing porn over other activities, that's definitely addiction. As with other addictions, it could cause him to act irrationally, but the bigger issue is the isolation there's going to be between him and the people he's distancing from (by using the porn) and hiding it from.

I'm wondering if there's a problem in your in-laws' marriage. If it's something physical, maybe they've chosen porn for your FIL as a way to live with it as well as they can. If they haven't chose the porn together, though, this could be something that's going to come out and be a problem. And you may end up having to deal with some fallout.

So, to recap this super-long post: The porn could be a problem either for your FIL alone, or for your FIL and for his marriage. So just be prepared that it could blow up and involve the whole family. Or perhaps it's just a pragmatic way of dealing with some physical side effects of getting older.

Your immediate concern should be making sure that your daughter doesn't see the porn. The most direct way to do this is to make sure your FIL keeps it where she can't see it. You shouldn't have to have this conversation with him (I cannot think of a conversation that could possibly be more awkward between FIL and DIL!). Instead, get your husband to mention it. He can use the computer and pretend that he came upon the sites, and say something like, "Dude, can you hide your porn? What if my daughter sees it??" and it'll be one of those nudge-nudge Guy Things. And if your FIL is a decent guy he'll rush to shield your daughter from anything too old for her, and problem solved.

Keep your eyes and ears open, and trust your instincts. It wouldn't hurt to reread Protecting the Gift. And good for you for poking around to protect your baby.

Anyone think I'm totally off the mark? Other opinions? Experiences? Anyone worked in the sex industry who wants to comment? Agreement?