How pornography affects young people

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

Both softcore and hardcore pornography can send negative messages like:

  • mutual consent and safe sex aren’t important
  • violent sexual acts are normal and appealing
  • the point of sex is to satisfy men
  • loving relationships aren’t important
  • aggressive behaviour towards women is normal and OK.

Talking with teenagers about pornography: why it’s important

Talking about pornography is one of the best ways to protect your child from the influence of pornography.

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 people talking about pornography? What did they say?
  • Do you know people who look at pornography?
  • Have you ever seen pornography?
  • Have you seen it when you were with friends?
  • Do you have any questions about things you’ve seen or 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 him.

What to say to teenagers about pornography

Once you’ve started talking with your child about pornography, you might find talking gets easier the more you do it. Here are some important things you could talk about.

Why does online pornography exist?
Explain that some adults like looking at pornography, so people film or take photos of sex to make money. You could mention that some people choose to take part in making pornography, but others do it because they can’t find another job.

Is porn sex like real sex?
Young people might think that pornography shows them what sex and bodies should look like.

You can explain to your child that actors in pornography are being paid. They have to do what they’re told and look like they’re having a great time – even when the sex is violent, disrespectful or non-consensual.

And real bodies aren’t the same as porn actors’ bodies. For example, the actors might have had their bodies modified or enhanced in various ways.

What are the risks of pornography?
Teenagers who look at pornography regularly might develop unhealthy views about women, sex and sexual performance. These views can make it harder for them to develop respectful and enjoyable sexual relationships.

It’s important for your child to know that fulfilling relationships are about emotional closeness and trust as well as sex. You can help your child understand this by talking about what respectful relationships look and feel like.

For example:

‘Pornography can make violent sex and disrespectful relationships seem normal. You might think that’s what you should do in real life. But in real life it’s important to show care and respect when you’re intimate with someone. You should always be certain you’re only doing things that both of you really want to do.’

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

When teenagers view pornography

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

  • talk with your child in a caring, constructive and supportive way
  • try to understand whether your child is viewing pornography alone or with friends
  • try to understand why your child is interested in viewing pornography
  • work out the best way to handle the situation.

It’s important to let your child know that it’s normal and OK to be interested in sex and sexuality and that she’s not in trouble.

If your child is regularly seeking out pornography while alone, consider talking with your child about why he’s looking at pornography, whether he thinks it’s a good idea, and why.

If your child is looking at pornography to find out more about sex, you could help her find better information sources.

If your child is looking at pornography for sexual arousal, you could talk with him about how often and what sort of pornography he’s looking at. You can tell your child that it’s OK to be interested in sex and seek sexual arousal, but that using pornography regularly can get in the way of forming and enjoying positive relationships.

If your child is concerned that she can’t control her pornography use, suggest that you can help her seek professional support. Your GP is a good place to start.

Why young people view pornography

Young people are naturally curious about sex and relationships. They might look at pornography for sexual arousal, out of curiosity, or to find out more about sex.

Both boys and girls watch pornography with their friends. This might be to build closer bonds with friends, to boost social status, or to encourage someone they like to have sex with them.

Often boys suggest looking at pornography, rather than girls. Also, boys are more likely to look for pornography and view it on their own than girls.

Where teenagers see pornography

Children and teenagers mostly see pornography online. There’s a lot of pornography on the internet, and fast internet connections and smartphones mean it can be accessed quickly and easily.

There are also simulated sex acts or violent sexual content in TV programs like Game of Thrones or video games like Grand Theft Auto.