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 7-8 years, seeing pornography is often uncomfortable, upsetting and confusing.
There are different 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. Looking at it regularly can influence children’s and teenagers’ attitudes to sex and sexual relationships. This can affect their ability to form consensual, healthy and respectful relationships.
How to explain pornography to children
Here’s how to explain pornography in a way your child can understand.
‘Pornography is usually pictures of grown-ups who are naked. Pornography isn’t real life – it’s a kind of make-believe, like a movie. Sometimes pornography shows people acting weirdly or hurting each other and that’s not good for children or adults to see.’
Talking with children about pornography
Talking is one of the best ways to protect your child from 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, ‘Watching videos of people with no clothes on isn’t good for children and it might upset you’
- what to do if they see pornographic content – for example, ‘If you see something that makes you feel uncomfortable, tell me’.
You could start talking about pornography when your child is around 7 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 YouTube video, movie, TV show and so on. Or you could mention pornography when you and your child are talking about sex or internet use.
You could also ask your child some questions. For example:
- Have you ever seen anything online that has made you uncomfortable?
- What was it that made you feel uncomfortable?
- Have you ever seen people online without clothes on?
- A lot of people have questions about pictures of people without clothes or people having sex. Is there anything you’d like to know?
It’s important to listen and be open to what your child says. 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 tough topics like pornography, it might help to know that talking often gets easier the more you do it. And talking about pornography now will 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 at home: internet safety and technology use
The most practical way to prevent your child from accidentally coming across pornography at home is by following internet safety guidelines and creating a family media plan. 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 helps you talk with your child in a caring, constructive and supportive way. For example, ‘I’m sorry you saw that. Those videos aren’t for children. Let’s go outside and play’.
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 your child
Start by reassuring your child that they’re not in trouble and that you’re not going to take away their 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?
- 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 they saw. Your child might tell you now, or it might come out later.
Praise your child for telling you and explain that asking questions and talking about scary or confusing things is always better than keeping things to yourself.
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 – you might need to show your child how to do this.
- Tell you or another trusted adult.
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.
Some children see pornography when friends show it to them. But most children who see pornography come across it by accident. For example, they:
- click bars 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, a child searches for cat pictures 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.