Help! My 19-Year-Old Niece Has Made a Porno. Should I Tell Her Mother?

Advice on manners and morals.
May 3 2012 6:00 AM

A Dirty Debut

My 19-year-old niece just confessed to me she's made a porn film. Should I tell the family?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
Recently I took my 19-year-old niece for our first trip to New York City. One night a man approached us on the street, and when we said we were from Los Angeles he said he wanted to move there to get into the porn industry. I thought it was strange but shrugged it off. I figured he approached us for the most obvious reason: My niece is 6 foot 2 inches and beautiful. She seemed paranoid about it, and later she confessed that she had made a porn film that was available on a popular porn site. When she left the hotel room to smoke, I checked the site and my heart sank when I saw her having sex with a porn actor. She told me a former friend was using social media to bully her about this. She has long been written off as a tattooed, weed-smoking, wild child. But entering the porn scene is taking things to another level. I don't want to be the only person who knows her secret. It’s a heavy burden and I’m angry that she put it on me. But if I tell her mother or the rest of the family, it’s just going to lead to strife.

—She’s Not Ready for Her Close-Up

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Dear Not,
You are the one adult to whom this wild child feels she can unburden herself about the debut (and let’s hope finale) of her new career. So instead of being angry about the burden she’s put on you, step up and help your niece. She has made a terrible decision that she now sees exposes her to the fantasies of creeps and the venom of former friends. She is young and gorgeous, but unless she extricates herself from this ugly industry, in a few years she’ll be another used-up female who’s got a lot of degrading and indelible images of herself floating around. I spoke to Chris Hoofnagle of the UC-Berkeley School of Law to see if your niece, especially since she is still a teenager, has any legal remedy for getting the video off the porn site. He said that since she doesn’t own the copyright, and if she was not a minor when she filmed it, she has virtually no recourse. As for the nasty friend, assuming the social medium used to spread the news is Facebook, your niece should report this to them—they have an anti-bullying policy—with the hope of getting the offending comments taken down. She should also block the former friend and up her privacy settings to the max. Let’s hope your niece used a pseudonym for her theatrical adventure. If not, information-security expert Andrea M. Matwyshyn of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania says your niece might consider changing all or part of her name so that search engines don’t forever link her with it. I’m sure your niece has heard a million lectures from disappointed adults. But maybe if you take her hand and tell her how concerned you are, she will listen this time. If you think informing your sister will result only in recrimination and further alienation, reassure your niece that you’ve decided that for now you will keep her confidence. Say that you think that awful New York stranger was a version of the Ghost of Christmas Future, and it’s time for her to make sure a miserable future doesn’t come to pass. Perhaps your statuesque niece has what it takes to be in front of the camera in less scandalous circumstances. If not, tell her you want to help her turn her focus on schooling or the kind of work that won’t leave her terrified that every stranger who gives her a second look knows about her secret life.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Lewd Poolside Parent

Dear Prudence,
I recently met a girl and we've been on a number of dates over the past two months. We're both in our late 20s. I've had a lot of relationships and sexual experiences. I assumed she had, too. But she just revealed that she was a virgin, hadn't so much as kissed a guy or ever had a boyfriend. She's expressed interest in doing all of those with me, but her lack of experience makes me want to run. She seems genuinely to like me a lot and I think she's really great, too. But I don't want to be her "Intro to Sex" instructor because likely after she gets the hang of things, she'll want to go get more experience before she's ready to commit. When I was in the Marines, I’d see friends marry their high-school sweethearts, lose their virginity to each other, then both start wondering what they missed. What should I do?

—I Like a Virgin

Dear Like,
And some women go through life thinking, “What does a girl have to do to get laid?” For more than a decade your poor date has watched her contemporaries pair off and fall into bed, while she increasingly wonders if there’s a neon sign over her head, visible only to those with a Y chromosome, that’s flashing the warning: “Not This One.” I can understand a sophisticated lover’s reluctance to take on an innocent, but she would be lucky not to have to fumble her way through a maiden voyage with another neophyte. She’s spilled her embarrassing secret, and there’s something cruel about your saying in response to this woman whose company you so enjoy that you, too, are going help her maintain her record of never having been kissed. It sounds as if you are starting to think about looking for a serious relationship. But when you consider becoming intimate with someone you’ve known for only a couple of months, you know there’s no guarantee that she will be the one. I disagree with your premise that if you give this woman a healthy dose of what she’s been missing, her impulse will be to seek more of it elsewhere. It’s just as likely that if you are a patient and attentive partner, she will feel, at long last, that the wait was worth it. Julia McWilliams was a virgin in her early 30s when she met the worldly Paul Child. By all accounts their marriage was devoted, satisfying, and lusty. 

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
The year I turned 50 one of my oldest friends asked me to come visit so we could celebrate our mutual 50th birthdays with a jaunt to a coastal city. All I had to do was fly to where she lived and she took care of the rest. She paid for the hotel; I had only to cover my own meals. The entire trip was sweet of her to do and we had a lovely time. When I got back home I had every intention to write a thank you card and get an appropriate gift. To my shame I never completed the note nor sent the gift. I got a couple of letters from her that I never replied to. I don't know what made me be so stupid. It’s now been eight years. I miss my friend but I don't think she would like much to do with me at this point. I'm miserable about all this and don’t know what to do.

—Stupid and Cowardly

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