How pornography affects children and young people

Pornography is sexually explicit material that aims to arouse people who are looking at it.

For children aged 5-8 years, seeing pornography can be uncomfortable, upsetting and confusing.

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 his 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 her to see
  • why pornographic content is not OK
  • what to do if she sees pornographic content.

You could start talking about pornography when your child is around seven years old, 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 music video, movie, TV show and so on. Or you could ask your child some questions. For example:

  • Have you heard about rude pictures of people on the internet?
  • What have you heard about these pictures?
  • Do kids at school talk about these kinds of pictures?
  • Have you ever seen rude pictures of grown-ups without their clothes on?
  • Lots of people have questions about these kinds of pictures. Is there anything you’d like to know?

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 him.

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. Usually the pictures are of grown-ups who are naked. Pornography isn’t real life – it’s a kind of make-believe. Some adults like to look at these pictures, but they’re not for children. I’d like you not to look at the pictures if you come across them by accident.’

Talking about pornography can be part of talking with your child about sex and sexuality. You can also talk about it when you’re talking about how to be safe on the internet.

Avoiding pornography at home: practical tips

The most practical way to prevent 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.

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 her
  • send the message that your child can talk to you any time about upsetting or confusing things, and you’ll help her feel safe.

How to talk with your child
Start by reassuring your child that he’s not in trouble.

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

  • Where did you see the picture – was it on a phone, or somewhere else?
  • How did you feel when you saw the picture?
  • What was it about the picture that made you feel that?
  • What did you do after seeing the picture?

You don’t need to ask your child to explain the details of what he 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 your child can do in future
If your child knows what to do if she comes across pornography again, it can help her feel less frightened or worried.

For example, you could explain that some things aren’t for children, so your child should:

  • look away quickly or cover his eyes
  • turn off the screen or use the back button – you might need to show him how to do this
  • tell you or another adult he trusts.

Where do children see pornography?

Children mostly see pornography online, including on pay TV and streaming services. There’s a lot of pornography on the internet, and fast internet connections and smartphones mean children can come across it quickly and easily.

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

  • click 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 cat pictures 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.