Online porn

Advice on how to talk to your child about the risks of online porn and sexually explicit material.

Children and young people are now able to access porn online very easily. Whether by accident – website popups and misleading links, or because they are actively looking, it's important for us to help young people understand the impact porn can have on them and their relationships.

As a parent, it is important to understand the risks associated with watching porn at a young age so that you can talk to your child about how to stay safe and what to do if they ever feel concerned or uncomfortable about something they've seen.

It is normal for young people to be curious about sex and relationships. The internet gives them a way to access information and get answers to questions they may feel uncomfortable about asking you. We know that there are a number of other reasons young people may be accessing porn online.

74% of 11-18 year olds said that porn should be discussed in sex education.

In 2013 ChildLine launched an online survey which asked young people key questions about their experience of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in school. Of the 378 responses, 74% of young people aged 11 – 18+ felt that pornography should be addressed in sex education.

Why children and young people look for sexual content online


  • learn about sex and sexual identities
  • curiosity
  • want to be sexually aroused
  • for "a laugh"
  • break the rules
  • to be disgusted
  • "freak out" their friends

 

How to talk to your child about porn

Talking to your child about online porn is something that you may find challenging but it's important to be open and honest.

Finding the right time to talk to your child about porn can be tricky but you know your child best and will know when it's the right time to have these conversations.

Things to talk about

Acknowledge that your child might feel embarrassed or worried about talking to you. Reassure them that it is ok to feel curious about sex and that they can always talk to you. Remember that they may have seen something online by accident or been pressured to look/watch by another person or group.

Explain that sex in porn is often different to how people have sex in real life. People are acting and putting on a performance so things are exaggerated and the lines between consent, pleasure and violence are often blurred. It's important for young people to know the difference.

Talking about healthy relationships can be a way of pointing out the differences between how actors and actresses in porn interact and how we do in our day-to-day lives.

It is important for your child to understand that relationships they see in porn are very different, often not realistic, compared to real relationships.

Talk to them about what makes a positive and healthy relationship.Ask them what they think makes a good relationship. You can prompt them by discussing respect, personal boundaries and consent. This conversation may vary depending on your child's age.

Healthy sexual behaviour in children and young people

Useful advice on what is normal sexual behaviour, warning signs that suggest there may be a problem, and how best to react.
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There is a growing body of research looking into the impact that porn has on the brain. Watching porn can become "a high" similar to the way addicts feel when they take drugs (Voon et al, 2014). Scientists are discovering that excessive porn use can have a negative impact on key parts of the brain (Kühn and Gallinat, 2014). For children and young people, these effects can be greater as their brains are still developing (Voon et al, 2014).

Sometimes children and young people feel pressured to watch porn. Explain to your child that whilst some people watch porn online, not everyone does and it's definitely not something they have to.

Let them know it's OK not to want to watch or do something that makes them feel uncomfortable and they should never be pressured or forced into anything. Explain why you think that online porn may be inappropriate for them. Use reference points - news stories or tv shows - as a way to frame the discussion.

If you feel that there are some things about sex and relationships that your child would feel uncomfortable talking to you about, there are safe places online where they can get information.

    • ChildLine - the website provides young people with information and advice about online porn. The information is for young people aged 12 and above and aims to answer any difficult questions or concerns they may have.
    • Think U Know - offers age appropriate advice for young people, with content broken down from ages 5-7 up to 14+. They also have content for parents and other adults responsible for the wellbeing of children.
    • Brook - the UK's largest young people's sexual health charity. For 50 years, Brook has been providing sexual health services, support and advice to young people under the age of 25.
    • BBC Advice - helps young people with a broad range of issues. The information on the site is based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups.
    • The Site - content on The Site is aimed at young people aged 16+. They offer "real world" advice on a range of subjects including sex and relationships, drink and drugs, and health.

Suggest practical things that you can do to manage what they see online and help keep them safe. Talk about parental filters that you can set up and reporting tools they can use. 

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Risks of online porn to children and young people

ChildLine has seen a 6% increase in counselling sessions where the young person specifically mentioned concerns about online porn or websites containing harmful content. (NSPCC, 2015) Concerns related to addiction and worries about forming relationships in the future:

"I'm always watching porn and some of it is quite aggressive. I didn't think it was affecting me at first but I've started to view girls a bit differently recently and it's making me worried. I would like to get married in the future but I'm scared it might never happen if I carry on thinking about girls the way I do."
Boy, 12-15

Studies have also shown that when children and young people are exposed to sexually explicit material, they are at greater risk of developing:

  • unrealistic attitudes about sex and consent
  • more negative attitudes towards roles and identities in relationships
  • more casual attitudes towards sex and sexual relationships an increase in 'risky' sexual behaviour
  • unrealistic expectations of body image and performance.

Below is the research we used in creating this list.

Häggström-Nordin, E., Sandberg, J., Hanson, U. and Tydén, T. (2006) 'It's everywhere!' young Swedish people's thoughts and reflections about pornography. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Science, 20(4): 386–393.

Häggström-Nordin E., Tydén T., Hanson U., et al. (2009) Experiences of and attitudes towards pornography among a group of Swedish high school students. European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care, 14(4): 277–284.

Horvarth, M.A.H., Alys, L., Massey, K., Pina, A., Scally, M. and Adler, J.R. (2013) 'Basically... porn is everywhere': a rapid evidence assessment on the effect that access and exposure to pornography has on children and young people (PDF). [London]: Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC).

Lofgren-Mårtenson, L., and Månsson, S.A. (2010) Lust, love, and life: a qualitative study of Swedish adolescents' perceptions and experiences with pornography. Journal of Sex Research, 47(6): 568-579.

Mattebo, M., Tydén, T., Häggström-Nordin, E., Nilsson, K.W. and Larsson, M. (2013) Pornography consumption, sexual experiences, lifestyles, and self-rated health among male adolescents in Sweden. Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics, 34(7): 460-468.

3 in 4 young women believe porn has led to pressure on women to act a certain way.

In June 2014 the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) surveyed 500 18-year-olds to find out their attitudes to sex and relationships and their opinion of the education and support they had received. 75% of the young women surveyed said 'pornography has led to pressure on girls and young women to act a certain way' (see p.4).

The impact that porn can have on a young person depends on a number of factors, including:

    • the age and gender of the child
    • the type of porn that is being viewed
    • how often they are watching porn
    • what their relationships are like at home and with their friends
    • existing beliefs and values on sex and relationships

What the law says

You can legally buy porn magazines and videos at 18, and all regulated porn websites try to prevent under 18s from accessing them. The government has recently clarified existing obscenity laws to ensure that materials rated only suitable for 18 year olds (and above) have controls in place to stop children under 18 from accessing them.

There are certain types of porn that are illegal – even for an adult to be in possession of. These are called "extreme pornographic images", and include acts that threaten a person's life, acts which are likely to, or, result in serious injury, degrading porn, violent porn (which includes rape and abuse) or anything involving those under the age of 18.

It is illegal for a person under 18 to send explicit images or films of themselves, or of another young person. By sending an explicit image, a young person is producing and distributing child abuse images and risks being prosecuted, even if the picture is taken and shared with their permission.

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