Pornography: why, how and when to talk to your kids about it

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Pornography: why, how and when to talk to your kids about it

Health and Safety

Pornography: why, how and when to talk to your kids about it


I know. It’s awkward as hell, and we don’t want to do it. Who would?

Impacts of porn usage on children

Credit: Giphy

But here’s the deal: Kids today live in a digital world, and it’s easier than ever to access porn.

Ten years ago, 40 percent of teens viewed porn intentionally or accidentally each year, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Boys were more likely than girls to view it, and use increases with age, the report said.

More recently, 2013 data reported in The Journal of Sex Research puts the number at 68 percent of American teens viewing porn accidentally and 37 percent intentionally.

It’s no surprise. I see more kids with Internet accessibility today than ever before, be it through cellphones, tablets, laptops or whatever.

A teen lays on his bed in the dark looking at his computer screen.

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Regardless of your personal viewpoint on the explicit content, there’s no denying pornography is intended for mature, adult audiences.

Now, it’s entirely up to you to decide how to broach the subject with your kids. But hopefully, you’re not deciding if. Because studies have shown pretty intense links between pornography use and child development.

Early-age porn exposure linked to sexism

This may startle you, but kids as young as 5 are starting to watch porn. It’s not always intentional; it may be the youngest sees an older sibling watching it and simply follows the path.

But a 2017 APA study of about 330 men, primarily white and straight, from a Midwestern university showed that the earlier a man watched porn, the more likely he was to conform to sexist attitudes later in life.

Specifically, he would be more likely to want to assert dominance and power over a woman.

The later a man was introduced to porn, the more likely he was to want to engage in “sexually promiscuous” behavior, the study found.

Further, porn warps boys’ perspective on purpose of sex. And we’ve known this for awhile. Going back to the APA 2007 article, we learned that teens who view porn regularly are more likely to view sex as a “purely physical” or “recreational” activity and women as objects. They are more likely to hold these beliefs the more realistic the content was.

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

It’s important to note that while many of these studies have strong correlations, it doesn’t imply causation.

Pornography's impacts on kids is a chicken and egg scenario.

Credit: Giphy

Is porn causing these feelings? Or is it simply that boys with these dispositions tend to watch porn more?

Most experts say there isn’t enough research to decide. But until then, here are some correlations to chew on:

  • Porn viewership was linked to a belief that people don’t have to be affectionate toward each other to have sex.
  • The more explicit (online video) content a viewer watched, the more likely that person was to see woman as “sexual play things.”

So what do you tell kids about porn?

There isn’t enough evidence to say porn will turn your kid into an unfeeling sexist. And if we’re following the golden rule, then we shouldn’t lie to children.

APA suggests providing kids with porn education instead of lying to them for "their protection."

Credit: Giphy

The APA suggests education over protection. Research has shown that puberty is beginning to start earlier in boys and girls today, sometimes as young as 7. The APA notes that many parents think 13 is the “magic age” to talk all things puberty, but that’s usually much too late.

Puberty occurs most commonly between ages 10 to 12. Consider having a conversation just at or before then to prepare kids for the upcoming changes. 

Let them know what the research says, and let them know what you think, but don’t try to force them to believe one way or another. The truth is, they’re competent enough to find porn whether you want them to or not. So it’s best they come to conclusions on their own.

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