Parental quandary: How do you steer a teenager away from the worst porn? morphed, in comments, into a multitude of spin-off questions.

What’s “porn”? Does the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated count, or not? Does placing the lesser evils of pornography, however you define it, within a teenager’s sphere constitute endorsing it, or is such an interest in your child’s sex life “horrifying” and “helicopter parenting at its worst”?

“What is wrong,” as Mouse writes, “with leaving your kids alone to find their own way (with the help of their friends) through adolescence”?

What’s wrong, many agreed, is that what’s easily available to any teenager with an interest in exploring any aspect of sex, be it pornography, erotica or even images of the naked human form in art, is so vastly different now than it has ever been.

But many readers, and even the sex columnist and podcaster Dan Savage, weighed in from vacation via Twitter (where he’s known as @fakedansavage).

Savage wrote, “Sex isn’t porn and porn isn’t sex. Porn is an exaggerated, stylized representation. Bears no more resemblance to real life sex than action comedies resemble real life. You can offer your kid perspective, a critical eye/understanding. But he’ll ignore your porn recs from mom and dad and he’ll find the fact you made ’em very deeply creepy. Face it, mom & dad: you can’t control your child’s erotic inner life, preferences, tastes, etc., whether you’re talking partners or porn.”

So without “steering” or resorting to in-home magazine placement, what’s the role of a parent here?

To have the conversation — however that conversation works in your family — about the presence of pornography, the risks and uses of it, and the ways both genders, but women most particularly, are portrayed in pornography.

Talking with teenagers about sex has been a “parental quandary” since long before the bits and the bytes complicated the birds and the bees.

I’m a practitioner of the captive audience sneak attack in the car, and I leave books lying around about the science, the mechanics and the emotional aspects of sex and puberty — not to replace the conversation, but to add to it.

What’s most important is that we don’t skip the talks because they’re awkward. I’ll take the commenter Julie as a model:

“Three teenage boys — and I have survived! Interestingly enough, my Catholic-raised husband shies away from down & dirty sex talk with the boys so it falls to me. Frank, frequent, and honest is the way to go.

“We have one openly gay son (our ‘sex rules’ are the same whether gay or straight: Show respect for yourself and your partner, and also for how we raised you), one who is off to college (I am thinking of buying him a carton of condoms) and one almost 16 yo with steady girlfriend & I KNOW they are active. He was shocked to learn (from me) that you can get someone pregnant without actually ‘going in’.

“All three were ‘busted’ looking at porn on their computers and all three got the same message from me: Nothing wrong with the human body, definitely nothing wrong with sex, watching too much can potentially de-sensitize you to what is real, and when you finally find that true love, you will not need to watch porn anymore to rock your world!”

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