Talking to your teenager about pornography

6min read

It isn’t a case of if a young person will be exposed to pornography but when. A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner on young people and pornography found that the average age at which children first see pornography is 13. By age nine, 10% had seen pornography, 27% had seen it by age 11 and half of children who had seen pornography had seen it by age 13. 38% of 16-21-year-olds said that they had accidentally come across it online. In focus group discussions, young people told the researchers that accidentally viewing pornography for the first time made them feel ‘confused’, ‘insecure’, ‘troubled’ and ‘curious’. 79% had encountered violent pornography before the age of 18.

The report had key pieces of advice for parents, given by young people that included having pro-active, age-app conversations about pornography, ideally before your child is given their first phone. Be aware of new technologies and trends and know where to go for external support if you are concerned about your child. Ensure that your child knows that they can turn to you for non-judgemental advice and support if they come across something distressing online.

Key Points:

  • Don’t believe young people don’t want you to talk about it. It’s important to chat about the impact of pornography 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 this. 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

Curiosity or seeking it out

Finding sexual content online is easy with free adult sites that do not require credit cards or on social media. Young people are naturally curious, if they see a pop-up window, they might click on it and be led to an adult site. They may feel under pressure by their peers to look at this content too. They might be feeling curious if they hear their friends talking about what they saw and want to look themselves. As most young people have smartphones now, a lot of adult content is shared via messaging apps and they may feel under pressure to continue to share this content too. They might also feel it is a way of learning about sex and relationships without having to ask awkward or uncomfortable questions to an adult.

Is this sexual content harmful?

Some people claim there’s no difference between sexual images on the net and looking at soft pornography 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 graphic content is safer than online content.

It’s important for young people to understand that this is like junk food or chocolate – not ultimately very satisfying. It 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 pornography 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 these websites. It is not uncommon for young people who are viewing this to get used to the general stuff and not get aroused as much and therefore have a need to seek out much more taboo content.

Why is it so accessible?

Remember that your teen could access adult content anywhere as long as they have internet access or data. Young people are naturally curious and are constantly sharing things via social networks or messaging apps that they’ve seen online. There are situations where adults in the family may have been looking at sexual content and accidentally left the website open on their screen or in the search engine history

The One Show on the BBC 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 sexting for their partners. These images were then sometimes circulated. This is a form of sexual bullying and can have horrific and legal consequences for the young people involved.

“I picked up my son’s phone and was horrified to see a very revealing sexting image 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 pornography generally, and I hope he now sees it differently.”

Why do teens watch it?

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

Is real sex like it is in pornographic material?

No, sex in these films is very unrealistic and nothing like sex with someone in reality. These actors starring in these films, are being paid to star in this type of film to depict a sexual fantasy for their viewers. Pornographic 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 these films or on adult 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 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 these type of 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 adult films as there is no editing in real life. It is important to remember that pornography should not replace sex education, as it is just fantasy version of sex.

Sexual bullying

Many young people we speak to has said that access to pornography 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 of this content 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.

What if your child has viewed pornographic material?

Don’t automatically assume that your child has been seeking out this content 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 this content 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 pornography 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 pornography 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 this content. If you discover them watching it, 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 this. 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 this sexual adult content 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 support. It could affect their concentration, studies and views on sex and relationships.

Further resources

If you would like further support and advice, call our helpline on 0808 800 2222 or email us at You can talk to us online via our live chat service, which is open, Monday to Friday between 10.30am and 9pm. You may find it helps to find out how other parents and carers have coped with this on our online forums. We also have a range of free online parenting courses that can help through the ages and stages of parenting. 

Watch our video made by young people discussing pornography, fantasy vs reality and how it can impact on teenagers.