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. Some pornography can send 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 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 them.
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 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. 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 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 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. 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 normal 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 positive 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.
If your child is 13-14 years, it’s OK to ask them to avoid pornography. You can check on how they feel about this and work together on reducing their chances of seeing pornography. If your child is aged 15-17 years, it’s best to ask them what they think they should do about their pornography use.
Why teenagers view pornography
Young people 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 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.
Where teenagers see pornography
Children and teenagers mostly see pornography online.
There are also simulated sex acts or violent sexual content in TV programs like Game of Thrones or video games like Grand Theft Auto.