What is pornography?

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

It includes images of people who are naked or partially naked and who are having sex or look like they’re having sex, or who are doing sexual things.

How pornography affects children and young people

For children aged 5-8 years, seeing pornography is usually accidental. It can be uncomfortable, upsetting and confusing because they see things they don’t understand.

Pornography can influence young people’s attitudes to sex, sexual tastes and relationships. For example, a lot of mainstream, easily accessible pornography can send 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. It’s important to talk with both your sons and your daughters about pornography.

Talking with children about pornography

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

Talking with your child about pornography is one of the best ways to protect her from the influence of pornography. It’s good for this to be part of talking with your child about sex and sexuality. You can also talk with your child about pornography when you’re talking about how to be safe on the internet.

You could start talking about pornography when your child is around seven years old, but it depends on how mature your child is, whether you think he’s ready and how he uses the internet. For example, if your child is using free children’s games sites, it’s a good idea to talk with him. These sites often have sexualised advertising.

When you’re talking with your child about pornography, it’s important to work out what your child already knows and to clear up any confusion. To do this, you could start by asking some questions. For example:

  • Have you heard about pictures of naked people on the internet?
  • What have you heard about these pictures?
  • Does anyone talk about these kinds of pictures at school?
  • Have you ever come across, or been shown, pictures of adults naked?
  • Do you have any questions about things you’ve heard?

Here’s a way of explaining what pornography is, why it’s online and why it’s best to avoid it: ‘Pornography is pictures or videos about sex. Usually the pictures are of adults who are naked. Some grown-ups like to look at these pictures, but they’re not for children. They show things that you’re too young to understand. I’d like you not to look at the pictures if you come across them online’.

If your child has questions, it’s best to answer them briefly and honestly but without going into too much detail. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s OK to say so – just tell your child you’ll think about it and get back to her.

It’s a good idea to regularly go online with your child to play games or search for things that interest you both. If you come across pornographic or sexual images, this is an opportunity to talk about why the images are there and what your child should do if he sees them.

Avoiding pornography at home: practical tips

Here are some tips to help your child avoid coming across pornography accidentally at home:

  • Encourage your child to use computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones in family areas of the house, so you’re aware of when she’s online.
  • Tell your child not to click pop-up ads or sidebars.
  • Bookmark a child-friendly search engine for your child to use, or set it as your browser’s homepage. Search engines like Google’s Kiddle filter out adult content and promote child-friendly sites.
  • Make sure that you’ve set up parental controls on social media, online games and browsers.
  • If you watch TV shows with sexually explicit content – like Game of Thrones – make sure your child is asleep or out of the house when you watch them. Make sure your child can’t access them using your streaming or pay TV service.

What to do if children see pornography

If your child sees pornography, it’s important to stay calm. Take time to think about what you’re going to say. When you’re calm, you can talk with your child in a caring, constructive and supportive way.

Talking with your child about pornography teaches your child how to respond to inappropriate content. It also sends the message that your child can talk to you at any time about upsetting or confusing things, and you’ll help him feel safe.

How to talk with your child
You could start a conversation by reassuring your child that she’s not in trouble. For example, ‘I’ve heard that someone at school was showing a group of you some sexual images. You’re not in trouble, but can we talk about it?’

Or if your child tells you he has seen something upsetting or nasty on the internet, here are some questions that can get your child talking about it:

  • What was it about the image that made you feel upset?
  • Where was the image when you saw it?
  • What did you do after you saw the image?

You don’t need to ask your child to explain the details of what she saw. You could ask your child to show you instead. Or the details might come out in other conversations later on.

It’s also a good idea to say that it feels much better to talk about things that are troubling us. For example, ‘Big secrets like that can make you feel sick in the tummy – the thoughts keep churning and you can feel lonely’. This will help your child understand what he’s feeling and feel safe again.

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 to see, so your child should look away quickly or cover his eyes.  You could also show him how to turn off the screen and use the back button. Also, if he sees something that makes him feel uncomfortable or confused, he should talk about it with you or another adult he trusts.

It’s a good idea to talk with your child about sexting. Sexting is different from just looking at porn, because it usually involves sending or posting sexual images of yourself or people you know. The UK’s Share Aware website has some great resources that can help you explain the dangers of sharing images.

Where do children see pornography?

Children mostly see pornography online. There’s a lot of pornography on the internet, and fast internet connections and smartphones mean you can get to 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, this could happen if a child searched for pictures of cute cats by typing in the word ‘pussy’
  • 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.