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.
There are different types of pornography. Some pornography can send 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 healthy, respectful relationships.
Talking with children about pornography
Talking about pornography won’t rob your child of their innocence.
Talking is one of the best ways to protect your child from pornography. That’s because talking about pornography teaches your child about:
- what content is not OK for them to see
- why pornographic content is not OK for them to see
- what to do if they see pornographic content.
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 ask your child some questions. For example:
- Have you heard about naked pictures of people on the internet?
- What have you heard about these kinds of pictures?
- Do kids at school talk about these kinds of pictures?
- Have you ever seen pictures of grown-ups without their 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 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 them.
If you take an open and non-judgmental approach to talking about pornography now, it will help your child feel more comfortable to talk about it with you in the future.
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.
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, like a movie. 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 helps you talk with your child in a caring, constructive and supportive way – for example, ‘I’m sorry you saw that. Those videos are for adults, not children. Let’s find some better sites for you to look at’.
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.
Then try to get your child talking about what they’ve 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 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.
Children might have spent more time online during COVID-19 lockdowns. This means they might have had more opportunities to come across pornography.