How Does Porn Effect Kids?

By Cath Hakanson 

In this article, I have pulled together the latest research and expert opinion on the dangers your child faces. 

So, we'll be looking at what porn actually is and why we need to talk to kids about it. You’ll find out how much porn has changed from when we were kids, how much of it is out there and the sort of sex acts that kids are finding. We’ll also look at how many kids have seen porn, where they find it, how they found it, why they go looking for it and how it makes them feel. And we’ll finish up by looking at what the experts and research tells us about the impact of porn on our kids. 

I have only included research that I could find the primary source for (unless it came from a Systematic Review which usually always have strict guidelines and high standards). There are widely circulated claims that I could not find reliable support for, so I haven't included them in this blogpost. 

So, this is a pretty heavy blogpost. Lots of stats and figures and research and expert opinion from around the world. 

But I promise to not overload you with too much information! 

I’ve found that too many stats and figures about porn can be overwhelming. So overwhelming that it can stop you from ever talking. 

So, I’ll provide you with enough information to understand why you need to talk to your child about porn. So that you fully understand why you need to talk to your child about porn. 

What is online porn like? 

So, what sort of porn, is your child likely to stumble upon or find? 

The type of porn that kids are exposed to is very different to the type of porn that you may have seen growing up. There is a very good chance that kids today will stumble upon porn that is less affectionate and more aggressive. 

In 2010, researchers looked at 50 of the most popular pornographic videos and found that 88% of them were physically aggressive (gagging, spanking, choking, hair pulling etc) and 49% showed verbal aggression (mainly name calling) towards women.  

95% of this aggression is received with perceived pleasure, as porn stars are paid to act as if they’re enjoying it. The type of sex in porn is also changing, with anal-to-mouth sex in 41% of videos and three or more partners in 28% of the videos.  

Porn doesn’t often include consent, coercion is present in 10% of the videos and condoms are only used in 3% of the heterosexual sex scenes.  

So as you can see, the type of porn that kids are seeing is very different to what porn was like when we were younger. 

How much porn is out there? 

So how much porn is out there? A lot! 

In 2019, Pornhub, one of the most popular porn sites today, had 115 million people visiting it each day (42 billion visits that year). With over 6.83 million new videos being uploaded that year.  

A lot of it is also free and easy to access as minor. How many kids have seen porn? And at what age? So how many kids have actually seen pornography? 

We don’t have exact figures on how many kids have viewed sexually explicit material, but we do know that the older your child, the more likely it is that they will see it. 

A 2013 analysis of research from around the world, suggests that anywhere between 43% to 99% of children have seen porn. With their first exposure often happening at around 10 to 11 years, and increasing with age.  

Australian research suggests that 69% of boys and 23% of girls have seen porn by the time they were 13 years old.  

United Kingdom research suggests that more than half of 11 to 13 year olds (51%) have seen pornography, rising to 66% of 14 to 15 year olds.  

There is also some research that suggests that children as young as 7 have been exposed to porn.  

So yes, a lot of kids have seen porn, but not all of them! 

Who is looking at porn? 

Males are more likely to seek out porn than females, and to do so frequently.   

Females are still watching porn, but nowhere near as much. 

How much porn are kids viewing? 

Not surprisingly, research tells us that most parents underestimate how much porn their kids are actually watching. 1 Parents will often overestimate how much porn younger kids are watching, and underestimate how much porn older kids are watching.  

Research suggests that nearly half of 9-16 year olds experience regular exposure to sexual images. Of these, 16% had seen images of someone having sex and 17% of someone's genitals.  

Where do kids find porn? 

So where are all the different places that kids may find porn? 

The majority of kids are finding porn online. Either in the home or outside the home. Like at someone else’s house (friend, relative), from free WiFi (library, shopping centre, café) or on someone else’s device. 

And the older kids get, the more likely they are to be online. In Australia, 79% of 5-8 year olds, 96% of 9-11 year olds and 98% of 12-14 years old are going online. In the United Kingdom, 39% of 3-4 year olds use the internet. In the United States, 60% of 3 to 7 year olds use the internet at home.  

You would be surprised at the number of different places that kids can find porn. And most of the time, they are finding it at home. 

But there is a basic rule to remember. If it can connect to the internet, then porn can be found. 

Here’s a list of some of the most common ways that kids can access porn: 

  • Handheld tablets 
  • Mobile phones 
  • Computers 
  • Smart TVs 
  • PSP, X-box, Wii, Nintendo ie gaming consoles 
  • Computer games 
  • iPods and MP3 players that play videos and audio (you can access porn sounds on spotify) 
  • Emails 
  • Social media sites 
  • File sharing or opening email attachments 
  • Instant messaging -skype and other apps 
  • tv, movies, cable, Netflix, DVDs 
  • Stealth sites, expired webdomains 
  • Search engines 
  • Online games with private rooms or where people can chat 
  • Youtube (even the Youtube kids app can have cartoon porn in it, or porn inserted into cartoons) 
  • Books and Magazines (not as often but it can still happen) 

And if you’re not sure about a device or a game/app, just type this into google to find out if it’s a risk - ‘Can I watch porn on (name of device or game)’ Consider installing parental control filters so that you can decrease the chances of your child finding online pornography. You can learn more in the blogpost, about how parental control software works. 

How are kids exposed to porn (for the first time)? 

So how are kids actually finding porn? 

You’d be surprised at how easily it happens, but there are two main ways that kids are exposed to porn. 

They either find it unintentionally or intentionally. 

Let’s talk about this in more detail. 

Unintentional exposure 

Unintentional exposure is when kids find porn by accident ie without meaning to find porn. Research suggests that most kids find porn for the first time accidentally.  

Unintentional exposure is more likely to happen with younger kids, with research from the United Kingdom finding that 60% of 11 – 13 year olds found porn unintentionally. And as they get older, the chances of them finding porn unintentionally decreases to 53% of 14 - 15 year olds and 46% of 16 - 17 year olds.  

There are a number of different ways in which this type of exposure happens. 

Find porn whilst searching for something else 

Your child might type a word into a search engine and porn pops up. Now, this isn’t as common as it used to be. Google is getting a lot smarter and is much better at working out what exactly it is that you are searching for, but it can still happen. 

Kids who use the internet to look up information of a medical or health related matter are at a greater risk of accidentally finding porn. It isn’t uncommon for kids to turn to the internet for this type of information, especially with teenagers who may be looking for sexual health information.  

Your child might be curious about sex or bodies and type their questions into search engines. And instead of finding answers, they find porn. I have heard from many parents with kids who found porn when typing questions like ‘how to kiss boys’ or ‘girls breasts’ into google. 

Your child might mistype a web address or go to visit a favourite website, and instead find a porn. That happened to me as I was writing the Porn Talk Formula. I went to a website that had the most amazing information about porn. And instead of finding all this great information, I found gay porn. The owners of the website must have let their registration expire, and a porn site grabbed it. 

Someone shares porn with you 

Your child might open up an email (or a message on your phone or in social media) and there is a sexually explicit image inside it. It might be from someone they know or it might be from a complete stranger. Or someone sends you an image or video through social media, whilst you are on Instagram or Facebook (even Pinterest). 

Or it might be spam, where an email with sexually explicit images or an invitation to view porn when you click the link, is sent to millions of people worldwide. My email spam folder is filled with these. 

Click a popup or add on a website 

Your child might see a bright and colourful pop-up whilst on a website, like when on a news site, Youtube or even an app. 

My son often sits on the computer next to me, and watches YouTube on his dad’s computer. One day I glanced over and noticed a pop-up add for dating women. It was there for weeks until it went away, but it doesn’t happen on my computer (LOL, maybe I need to have a chat to my husband about where he really is, when he comes home late from work). 

Some of these adds, when you click them will take you to a porn site. Not all of them, just some. But the challenge is in knowing which ones… 

Someone showed them porn 

Another common way that kids find porn unintentionally, is when someone shows it to them. 

Researchers from the United Kingdom looked at the circumstances that lead to kids viewing porn. They found that 26% had received online pornography or links to it, and 19% had online pornography shown to them by someone else without asking for it or expecting it, and 4% of kids had either sent porn (or links to porn) to other kids.  

Intentional exposure 

Intentional exposure is when kids actively seek porn. Where they seek porn because they are curious about what it is or they want to look at pictures of naked bodies or find out how sex works. 

Researchers from the United Kingdom looked at the circumstances that lead to kids viewing porn, and found that 19% of kids had searched for it on their own.  

How does porn effect kids? 

So what effect will porn have on kids? 

There is a growing body of research that suggests that porn can be harmful for children. Younger children in particular, are more likely to be distressed or upset by pornography. 

This what a 2017 Australian review of the effects of pornography on children and young people tells us about the effects of exposure to porn.  

Knowledge, awareness and education 

  • Pornography can act as a source of information about sexual acts, sexual practices and diverse sexualities. In the absence of other explicit information available, research suggests that pornography can be the main source of sex education. The impacts of this element alone are unclear. 

Attitudes, beliefs and expectations about sex 

  • Consistent evidence that adolescents’ use of pornography is associated with stronger permissive sexual attitudes (e.g., premarital sex, casual sex). However, it is not clear that permissive sexual attitudes are inherently problematic or harmful. 
  • Research suggests that the behaviours and practices in pornography can influence expectations about sex, e.g. what men find pleasurable, expect their partners to do and vice versa. This can be a source of anxiety and fear. 
  • Research also suggests that the gaps between expectations and reality can produce “sexual uncertainty” about sexual beliefs and values and may also be related to sexual dissatisfaction.  

Sexual behaviours and practices  

  • Some evidence that exposure to pornography can increase the likelihood of earlier first-time sexual experience, particularly for those adolescents who consumed pornography more frequently. 
  • Evidence suggests that pornography can shape sexual practices, with studies finding that young people may try performing common sexual acts seen in dominant hetero pornography such as: 
    • anal intercourse; 
    • facial ejaculation; 
    • sex with multiple partners; and 
    • deep fellatio.  
  • Pornography is also associated with unsafe sexual health practices such as not using condoms and unsafe anal and vaginal sex. 
  • Some research finds that young men themselves say that pornography is shaping their sexual practices.  

Attitudes, beliefs and expectations about gender  

  • Research suggests that adolescents’ pornography use is associated with stronger beliefs in gender stereotypes, particularly in relation to sex. This association is stronger for males. 
  • Male adolescents who view pornography frequently more likely to: 
    hold sexist attitudes and views of women such as them “leading men on”; and view women as sex objects. 
  • Some research finds that not only does the content of pornography reinforce double standards of an active male sexuality and passive female receptacle, but the expectations about porn consumption do this also.  

Sexual aggression 

  • Studies show a strengthening of attitudes supportive of sexual violence and violence against women. l Evidence of an association between consuming pornography and perpetrating sexual harassment for boys and sexual coercion for college men. 
  • Adolescents who consumed violent pornography, at follow-up were six times more likely to have been sexually aggressive compared to those who had viewed non-violent pornography/no pornography. 
  • There is a range of intersecting risk factors that increase the likelihood that male consumers of pornography will perpetrate sexual aggression or have a predisposition towards sexual aggression.  

Mental health and wellbeing 

  • Distress or upset particularly among younger children (those aged 9–12). 
  • Girls more likely to find pornography distressing, demeaning or disgusting. 
  • Increased self-objectification and body surveillance among both male and female adolescents. 
  • Sexual preoccupation, compulsive consumption and “addiction” can be associated with the frequency of viewing pornography and also the purposes of using pornography (e.g., as a way of relieving negative states). 

But not all kids will be harmed by porn. Whether a child is harmed by the pornography they see is heavily influenced by the type of porn they see, and how often they use porn. As well as the conversations that have already been happening in the home. 

Justin Hancock, an English sex educator who works extensively with teens, believes that we should be giving young people more credit as many of them are already making smart decisions about porn.   

Summary 

I hope you haven’t found this glimpse into the current porn climate and it’s impact on kids too overwhelming. 

Yes, porn is a serious problem for kids. 

But it doesn’t have to be a problem for your child if they have a parent who is willing to talk to them about porn. 

It is recognized that the best approach for parents is to encourage open communication, discussion and critical thinking in their children, whilst increasing their own knowledge about the internet and social media.