How pornography affects young people
Pornography is sexually explicit material that aims to arouse people who are looking at it.
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.
- The point of sex is to satisfy people with sexual or other kinds of power, often men.
- Sexual relationships in which women have no power are normal and OK.
- 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 raise the issue when you’re talking about relationships.
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 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.
What to say to teenagers about pornography
Here are some important issues to talk about.
Why does online pornography exist?
You can explain that some adults like looking at pornography, so people film or take photos of sex to make money.
Is porn sex like real sex?
You can explain to your child that pornography isn’t real life. It’s often exaggerated and unsafe. You can explain 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, non-consensual, boring or unenjoyable.
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 or stereotypical views about gender roles, sex and sexual performance. They might also be more likely to behave in the sexually aggressive ways that they’ve seen in pornography, like choking, gagging, slapping and spanking.
This means that watching pornography can make it harder for your child to develop healthy, respectful and consensual sexual relationships.
It’s important for your child to know that healthy relationships are about emotional closeness, trust and consent, as well as mutually enjoyable sex. You can help your child understand this by talking about what respectful relationships look and feel like.
For example, you could say, ‘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 ask for consent, so you can 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. If you find it hard to talk about difficult topics like sex and pornography, it might help to know that talking gets easier the more you do it.
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. It will also help you to work out:
- whether your child is viewing pornography alone or with friends
- why your child is viewing pornography
- how to handle the situation.
It’s important to let your child know that it’s natural and OK to be interested in sex and sexuality and that they’re not in trouble.
If your child is regularly seeking out pornography while alone, consider talking with your child about why they’re looking at pornography, whether they think it’s a good idea, and why.
If your child is looking at pornography to find out more about sex, you could help your child find better information sources.
If your child is looking at pornography for sexual arousal, you could talk with your child about how often and what sort of pornography they’re 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 healthy relationships.
If your child is concerned that they can’t control their pornography use, suggest that you help your child seek professional support. Your GP is a good place to start.
Where and why teenagers view pornography
Children and teenagers mostly see pornography online.
Teenagers are naturally curious about sex and relationships. They might look at pornography for sexual arousal, out of curiosity or for information about sex.
Teenagers might also watch pornography with their friends. This can be to build closer bonds with friends, to boost social status, or to encourage someone they like to have sex with them.