Talking to your teen about porn

Estimated read: 11 minutes 

It isn’t a case of if a young person will be exposed to pornography but when. According to research commissioned by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) it shows that children and teenagers are watching and stumbling across pornography from an early age - in some cases as young as seven or eight. The survey also showed that 51% of 11 – 13 years olds had seen pornography at some point, rising to 66% of 14 to 15 year olds.

Key points: 

  • Don’t believe young people don’t want you to talk about it. It’s important to chat about the impact of porn and the negative effects it can have in a general sense
  • Avoid dishing out punishments if you have found out that your teen has watched porn. The most important thing is to keep the channels of communication open and have a conversation with them
  • If you do think there are addiction issues, see your GP and get help. It could affect their concentration, studies and views on sex and relationships
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In a report by the NSPCC, it showed 44% of boys and 29% of girls said that pornography had given them ideas about the types of sex they wanted to try. It also showed that teens wanted to be able to find out about sex and relationships and about pornography in ways that were safe, private, and credible. They also highlighted the need for materials that are age and gender appropriate. Some also touched on lack of teacher awareness of the potential additional vulnerabilities faced by young people who do not identify as either male or female in a binary manner.

Curiosity or seeking it out

Finding porn online is easy with free porn sites that do not require credit cards.  Young people nowadays can access the internet on their phones, tablets, computers, which gives them even more of a chance of stumbling across porn sites.  Young people are naturally curious, if they see a pop-up window, they might click on it and be led to a porn site. They may feel under pressure by their peers to look at porn too. They might be feeling curious if they hear their friends talking about what they saw and want to look themselves. They might also feel it is a way of learning about sex without having to ask awkward or uncomfortable questions to an adult.

Before internet access became commonplace, the average age that boys first saw porn was 11. That is now much lower, according to the Sexualisation of Children report. It adds that one in four young people had received pornographic junk mail or instant messages, and one in eight had visited violent pornographic websites.

Is porn harmful?

Some people claim there’s no difference between sexual images on the net and looking at soft porn magazines – which have been around for generations. Sex addiction expert Paula Hall says that watching fast-moving sexual images online “can lead to a trance-like state and can certainly become addictive – in that sense paper porn is safer than online porn.

It’s important for young people to understand that porn is like junk food or chocolate – not ultimately very satisfying.  Porn is just there to stimulate and arouse, while real sex is quite different. It leads to unrealistic and exaggerated expectations of sex, body image and relationships.

Research carried out worldwide shows that people who grow up on a diet of porn have more difficulty forming relationships.  It doesn’t teach you about emotions and love, and it desensitises young people to violence and rape. Men and women are just seen as sex objects and body parts.”

EU Kids Online, a study by the London School of Economics and Political Science, found boys appeared more likely than girls to seek out offensive or violent content, to access pornographic content or be sent links to porn websites. It is not uncommon for young people who are viewing porn to get used to the general stuff and not get aroused as much and therefore have a need to seek out much more taboo porn.

Why is porn so accessible?

Remember that your teen could access porn anywhere as long as they have internet access.  Young people are naturally curious and are constantly sharing things via social networks or messaging apps that they’ve seen online, pornographic or not. There are situations where adults in the family have been looking at porn and accidentally left the link open on their screen.  Be aware that the problem isn’t confined to computer use.

One show found that an alarming number of teenage girls felt they should imitate pornographic scenes they had seen on the web, and a growing number of girls felt pressured into stripping on webcams for their boyfriends. These images were then sometimes circulated via mobile phone or online. This is a form of sexual bullying and can have horrific consequences for the young people involved.

“I picked up my son’s phone and was horrified to see a very revealing sexting shot of his best friend’s girlfriend as his screensaver,” says 44-year-old mum Becky. “He was very embarrassed, and admitted he knew it was wrong. I was upset that his friend had circulated the image and that my son had put it on there in the first place. The good thing is that we did talk about it and about porn generally, and I hope he now sees it differently.”

Why do teens watch porn?

It is not uncommon for teens to feel pressured into watching porn because it is something that their friends do too however there are young people who watch porn because they like it.  Some teens have said they watch porn to learn about sex and it answers questions that perhaps they do not want to ask.  However, what they may be learning from porn is not going to reflect real life relationships.

Is real sex like it is in porn?

No, sex in porn films is very unrealistic and nothing like sex with someone in reality. These actors starring in these films, are being paid to star in a porn film to depict a sexual fantasy for their viewers. Porn films do not reflect sex in real life as it doesn’t even consider how people feel emotionally, whether a person feels ready, is the sex a part of a loving relationship, etc.

The actors in porn films or on porn sites often have their image manipulated digitally or they are required to look a certain way, for example, oily chests, no hair on the body, six packs, large manhood’s, big boobs, perfect make-up, etc.

During sex in a porn film, it may look like the sex and foreplay lasts for hours, the hair and make-up is never out of place, there is no mess or stains anywhere, etc. However, this is never the case, people come in all shapes and sizes and if they were to compare themselves to porn actors, it could affect the way they view themselves and their self-esteem. 

In reality, sex can be messy, hair and make-up will get messed up and penetration doesn’t last as long as it does in these porn films as there is no editing in real life. It is important to remember that porn should not replace sex education, as it is just fantasy version of sex.

Sexual bullying and porn

Many young people we speak to has said that porn can increase sexual bullying as sexual expectations can become unreasonable and young people feel pressured to carry out sexual acts that replicate what has been shown on these films.  It is important to ensure young people know that they have the right to say no if something makes them feel uncomfortable and to withdraw their consent at any time. Unfortunately, people who watch too much porn can find it hard to relate to others in the real world in terms of sex and relationships which is unfortunately one of the other consequences of porn.

What if your child has viewed porn?

Don’t automatically assume that your child has been seeking out porn if you see sexual words on their search history. They may have been looking for information on sex education or sexual health matters or clicked on a link from another site.

A lot of young people use the internet for sex education and health concerns, so if you decide to put parental controls on their computer, do your research. Choose one which blocks porn but still permits access to sexual education sites.

Don’t believe young people don’t want you to talk about it. It’s important to chat about the impact of porn and the negative effects it can have in a general sense. Ensure they know the difference between realistic sex and sensationalised sex.

Sometimes it helps if you say: “What do your friends think about so-and-so?” rather than asking them directly for their view. Try: “I’ve heard people can get porn on their mobiles – what do you think about that?”

Remember that this also applies to girls. Don’t make the mistake of thinking only boys watch porn. If you discover them watching porn, don’t over-react.  It’s important to stay calm. Say gently; “Can we turn it off?” Then go and do something else until you feel ready to talk.

Avoid dishing out punishments if you have found out that your teen has watched porn. The most important thing is to keep the channels of communication open and have a conversation with them. Try asking: – what did you learn from watching that? Is it something that taught you more about love? Stress that porn doesn’t teach about emotional relationships, and it is unrealistic.

Some teens do post sexual videos of themselves online and may be unaware that they could be breaking the law as it is an offence to post sexual images of anyone under the age of 18, even if it is themselves. This is  time to put your foot down as they are putting themselves in harm's way.

If you do think there are addiction issues, see your GP and get help. It could affect their concentration, studies and views on sex and relationships.

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. 

What do young people think about viewing porn?

This page was updated on September 2021

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