"I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it" The impact of online pornography on the values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of children

Girl using a laptop computerThe online world has created incredible opportunities for young people to explore, experiment, socialise, create and educate themselves in ways which were previously undreamt of. But it has also exposed children to the risk of harm, including seeing extreme pornography and sexting.

The NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner asked Middlesex University to look into how many children have been exposed to pornography and the impact for them of viewing such content.

The research consisted of an online survey of 1001 children and young people aged 11-16 across the UK, an online discussion forum and online focus groups.

Authors: Elena Martellozzo, Andy Monaghan, Joanna R Adler, Julia Davidson, Rodolfo Leyva and Miranda AH Horvath
Published: 2016, revised May 2017


    • Just over half of 11-16 year olds surveyed (52%) had never seen any pornography online.
    • The majority of 11-12 year olds (72%) had not seen online pornography.
    • Nearly two thirds (65%) of 15-16 year olds had seen online pornography.

Of those who had seen pornography online

    • More boys (59%) view online pornography, through choice, than girls (25%).
    • Children were as likely to stumble across pornography (28%) as to search for it deliberately (19%).
    • Substantial minorities of older children (42% of 12-16 year olds) wanted to try things out they had seen in pornography.
    • A greater proportion of boys (44%) wanted to emulate pornography than the proportion of girls (29%).

Sending and receiving pornographic material

    • Pornographic material had been received by a quarter (26%) of young people.
    • A minority of young people had generated naked or semi-naked images of themselves; some of them had shared the images further.
    • Repeated viewing of online pornography may have a desensitising effect with young people feeling less negative over time and generally less anxious or disgusted by what they are seeing.

Young people’s perceptions of pornography

    • Most young people (49%) saw pornography as unrealistic however a minority rated it positively.
    • Young people who rated pornography positively were more likely to be: boys; younger respondents; or those whose families and/or schools had not engaged with them about online pornography.
    • Most young people thought pornography was a poor model for consent or safe sex and wanted better sex education, covering the impact of pornography.
    • Young people wanted to be able to find out about sex and relationships and about pornography in ways that were safe, private and credible.
    • Young people 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.
Foreword from the research commissioners 1
Authors’ preface to the revised report, May 2017 Acknowledgements 3
Table of contents 4
List of figures 5
List of tables 6
Executive summary 7
Objectives and methods 16
Research findings 20
Young people’s feelings and attitudes about online pornography Risks and harms 32
Risks and harms 41
Young people as critical consumers 54
Dataset limitations 65
Policy implications 66
References 68
Appendices 71

Please cite as: Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J.R., Davidson, J.,  Leyva, R. and Horvath, M.A.H. (2016) I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it. London: NSPCC

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