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.

Also, pornography can send negative messages like:

  • 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.

A lot of easily accessible pornography sends messages that can negatively affect both boys and girls. Looking at it regularly can influence children’s and teenagers’ attitudes to sex and sexual tastes. This can affect their ability to form healthy, respectful relationships.

Talking with children about pornography

Talking about pornography won’t rob your child of her innocence.

Talking is one of the best ways to protect your child from the influence of pornography. That’s because talking about pornography teaches your child about:

  • what content is not OK for him to see
  • why pornographic content is not OK
  • what to do if he sees pornographic content.

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 ask your child some questions. For example:

  • Have you heard about pornography?
  • What have you heard about it?
  • Have you ever seen any pictures or videos of adults naked?
  • 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, it’s best to answer them briefly and 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 her.

It’s a good idea to go online with your child regularly. If you come across pornographic or sexual images while you’re online, this can be an opportunity to talk about pornography.

How to explain pornography to children

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. Pornography isn’t like real-life relationships. It can show people doing things they don’t really want to do, but they pretend because they’re paid. I’d like you not to watch it if you come across it.’

Talking about pornography can be part of talking with your child about sex and sexuality and respectful relationships.

Avoiding pornography: practical tips

The most practical way to prevent from your child from accidentally coming across pornography at home is by following internet safety guidelines.

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 someone started looking at pornography during a sleepover?
  • What would you do if your friends said, ‘Look at this site – it’s really great’?
  • What would you do if you wanted to find out more about sex and bodies?
  • What would you do if you accidentally came across porn online?

What to do if children see pornography

If your child sees pornography, it’s important to stay calm. Staying calm will help you:

  • talk with your child in a caring, constructive and supportive way
  • make sure that what your child has seen doesn’t traumatise him
  • send the message that your child can talk to you any time about frightening or confusing things.

How to talk with children who’ve accidentally seen pornography
Start by reassuring your child that she’s not in trouble and that you’re glad she’s telling you about what she has seen.

Then try to get your child talking about what he has seen. These questions might help:

  • How did you feel when you saw the picture?
  • What did you do after you saw it?

You don’t need to ask your child to explain the details of what she saw. Your child might tell you at the time, or it might come out later.

Praise your child for telling you and explain that it’s better to ask questions and talk about things that might be scary or confusing than bottle them up.

What to say when children deliberately view pornography
Your child might have deliberately looked for pornography, or 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 sex. Then you could explain what pornography is and why it isn’t good for children to see it.

What your child can do in future
If your child knows what to do if he comes across pornography again, it can help him feel less frightened or worried.

For example, you could tell your child that some things aren’t meant for children to see, and it’s best to:

  • look away quickly or cover her eyes
  • turn off the screen or use the back button
  • tell you or another adult she trusts as soon as she can.

Where do children see pornography?

Children mostly see pornography online, including on pay TV and streaming services.

Most young children who see pornography come across it by accident. For example, they might:

  • click on sidebars or pop-up ads on children’s 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, if a child searches for pictures of cats by typing ‘pussy’ into the search bar
  • see pornography when friends show it to them
  • see simulated sex acts or violent sexual content in TV programs like Game of Thrones or video games like Grand Theft Auto.