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

Dear Stupid,
A few weeks ago I got a letter from a woman who had abruptly broken off a close friendship that left her abandoned friend confused and bereft. The reason was that the letter writer had had an affair with the other woman’s husband. This is an explanation for some mysteriously severed connections. But there are many other alternatives, and you present a compelling and likely more common one: being a giant doofus. We’ve all put aside the social task that we wanted to take the time to do well, postponed the email that should be long and full, only to realize we never did it at all. The dashed-off note that gets sent is preferable to the heartfelt missive that dies aborning. But here you are, having destroyed a wonderful friendship because you never finished the note acknowledging your friend’s wonderfulness—calling O. Henry! I agree that there are no amends that will set you up for a joint 60th birthday celebration. But even now your friend deserves an explanation. She must have gone over every exchange of that birthday weekend wondering what in the world she did or said that so offended you. Write her address on an envelope today and enclose this column with a cover letter saying that “Stupid and Cowardly” is you. Say you make no excuse for your behavior, but you finally wanted to do the right thing, thank her for her kindness, and let her know why you disappeared.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My wife has a huge crush on a famous celebrity. She and I met in college and she used to have posters of him all over her room. She has DVDs of every movie he’s been in. When he's on TV she won’t talk to me and watches him entranced. I'm not jealous because there’s no possibility of her meeting him. But I feel weird hearing about my wife's crush so frequently in my own home. Am I being petty for wanting her to stop talking about him to me? Am I going to turn into a control-freak husband if I ask her to get rid of some of his memorabilia?

—Not a Fan

Dear Not,
As Princess Diana once said of her husband Prince Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” You married your wife knowing it was just you, her, and Brad Pitt. Ever since you and your now-wife got together, she’s probably been imagining that you are Brad and she’s Geena Davis being ravished in Thelma & Louise. You are not going to extinguish this obsession, and as long as your home is not an open pit dedicated to Pitt memorabilia, her collection is her business. But it is fair for you to tell her that while you understand that she’s Brad’s (or whoever’s) most devoted fan, you’d appreciate hearing a little less about him. If she can’t put a lid on it, maybe it’s time you started collecting Angelina dolls.

—Prudie

More Dear Prudence Columns
"A View to a Thrill: Neighbor boys peep at my scantily clad daughters. Should I have them cover up?” Posted June 30, 2011.
Loving Thy Neighbor: I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?” Posted June 23, 2011.
Fatherly Advice: Dear Prudence advises a dad whose wife fears he'll abandon the family in favor of his long-lost daughter—and other Father's Day advice seekers.” Posted June 16, 2011.
Businessman on the Road to Ruin: My wife doesn't know I visit strip bars and porn theaters while away on business. But that's not cheating, right?” Posted June 9, 2011.

More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

All Dogs Go to Heaven: Dear Prudence advises a dying husband on whether to confess his infidelity—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 27, 2011.
Sloppy Stay-at-Home Mom: Prudie advises a man whose wife is great at everything except keeping the house neat—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 13, 2011.
The 40-Year-Old Mean Girl: Prudie advises a former bully whose kids are being mistreated by her victim's children—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 6, 2011.
The Accused: A young neighbor's unfounded claims put my family in danger. Should we allow the girl back into our lives?” Posted June 2, 2011.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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