How pornography affects children, teenagers and young people
Pornography is sexually explicit material that aims to arouse people who are looking at it.
For children aged 9-11 years, pornography can be confusing and upsetting.
There are various types of pornography. Most pornography sends negative messages like these:
- Mutual consent and safe sex aren’t important.
- Violent sexual acts are normal and appealing.
- Loving relationships aren’t important.
- Aggressive behaviour towards women is normal and OK.
- Sexual relationships in which women have no power are normal and OK.
A lot of easily accessible pornography sends messages that can negatively affect children and teenagers. Looking at it regularly can influence their attitudes to sex and sexual relationships. This can affect their ability to form healthy, consensual and respectful relationships.
How to explain pornography to pre-teens
Here’s how to explain pornography in a way your child can understand:
‘Pornography is pictures or videos about sex. Some adults like to look at pictures of people having sex, but these pictures are made for adults not children. Sometimes pornography shows people acting weirdly and hurting each other, and that’s not good for children or adults to see. Pornography isn’t like sex in real life. Pornography can show people doing things they don’t really like doing, but they pretend because they’re paid.’
Talking with pre-teens about pornography
Talking is one of the best ways to protect your child from the influence of pornography. Talking helps your child learn about and understand important issues like:
- what images and other content are OK and not OK – for example, ‘This picture of people kissing at their wedding is OK. But pictures of people kissing without their clothes on are not OK for you to see’
- why pornographic content is not OK – for example, ‘People in porn videos are acting. What you see isn’t what sex in a healthy relationship looks like’
- what to do if they see pornographic content – for example, ‘If you see something that makes you feel uncomfortable, turn the screen off and tell me’.
Now could be a good time to start talking about pornography, if you haven’t already. But it depends on your child’s maturity and access to the internet.
You could start a conversation by talking about something you and your child have seen in a movie, TV show, YouTube video and so on. Or you could mention pornography when you’re talking with your child about sex and sexuality, respectful relationships or internet use.
Or you could ask your child some questions. For example:
- Have you ever seen anything online that has made you uncomfortable? What was it?
- Have you ever seen people online without clothes on?
- Have you heard about pornography? What have you heard about it?
- Do you have any questions about the things you’ve heard?
It’s important to listen and be open to what your child has to say. If your child has questions, try to answer them honestly. If you don’t know the answers, it’s OK to say so. You can tell your child you’ll think about it and get back to them.
If you find it hard to talk about difficult topics like pornography, it might help to know that talking often gets easier the more you do it. And if you take an open and non-judgmental approach to talking about pornography now, it'll help your child feel more comfortable to talk about it with you in the future. These conversations send the message that your child can always come to you if they have questions or have seen something upsetting.
It’s a good idea to go online regularly with your child, because that’s where your child is most likely to come across pornography. If you come across pornographic or sexual images while you’re online together, it can be a good opportunity to talk.
Avoiding pornography: internet safety, technology use, playdates and sleepovers
And if you use a streaming or pay TV service, make sure you set it up with a passcode. This will help to prevent your child from accidentally accessing mature content on this platform.
You can also talk about what your child could do in situations outside your home. For example:
- What would you do if you were over at a friend’s place and saw something online that made you feel uncomfortable?
- What would you do if someone started looking at pictures or videos of nude people at a playdate or sleepover?
- What would you do if you wanted to find out more about sex and bodies?
- What would you do if you accidentally came across pornography online?
What to do if pre-teens see pornography
If your child sees pornography, it’s important to stay calm.
Staying calm helps you talk with your child in a caring, constructive and supportive way. It also helps you make sure that what your child has seen doesn’t traumatise them. And it reinforces the message that your child can talk to you anytime about upsetting or confusing things, and you’ll help your child feel safe.
How to talk with children who’ve accidentally seen pornography
Start by reassuring your child that they’re not in trouble and that you’re glad they’re telling you about what they’ve seen. Let them know you won’t take away their phone or other technology.
Then try to get your child talking about what they’ve seen. These questions might help:
- How did you feel when you saw the picture or video?
- What did you do after you saw it?
You don’t need to ask your child to explain the details of what they saw. Your child might tell you now, or it might come out later.
Praise your child for telling you and explain that it’s always best to ask questions and talk about scary or confusing things.
What to say when children deliberately view pornography
Your child might have deliberately looked for pornography, or they might have found it unexpectedly by putting words like ‘kissing’ or ‘bum’ into a search.
If this happens, you could tell your child that it’s OK to be curious about bodies and sex. Then you could explain what pornography is and why it isn’t good for children to see it. It’s important to emphasise that naked bodies and sex aren’t wrong or bad. Then you could suggest looking for information together.
What your child can do in future
If your child knows what to do if they come across pornography again, it can help your child feel less frightened or worried. Here’s what your child should do:
- Look away quickly or cover their eyes.
- Turn off the screen or use the back button.
- Tell you or another trusted adult as soon as possible.
Where do pre-teens see pornography?
Pre-teens mostly see pornography online, including on pay TV and streaming services.
Some pre-teens deliberately look for pornography, and some see it when friends show it to them. But most pre-teens who see pornography come across it by accident. For example, they:
- click on bars or pop-up ads on games websites – these can contain advertising material that includes sexual images and links to more explicit content
- search for information online and accidentally get images with sexual content – for example, a child might search for pictures of cats by typing ‘pussy’ into the search bar
- see simulated sex acts or violent sexual content when adults are watching TV programs like Game of Thrones or playing video games like Grand Theft Auto.