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Pornography: talking about it with teenagers 12-18 years

12-18 years

Most teenage girls and boys see online pornography at some stage, either by accident or on purpose. You can help protect your child from the possibly damaging effects of pornography by talking with your child about what pornography is.

What is pornography?

Pornography is sexually explicit material that aims to arouse people who are looking at it.

It includes images of people who are naked or partially naked and who are having sex or look like they’re having sex, or who are doing sexual things.

How pornography affects young people

Pornography can influence young people’s attitudes to sex, sexual tastes and relationships.

A lot of mainstream, easily accessible pornography can send messages like:

  • mutual consent and safe sex aren’t important
  • violent sexual acts are normal and appealing
  • loving relationships aren’t important
  • aggressive behaviour towards women is normal and OK.
A lot of easily accessible pornography sends messages that can negatively affect both boys and girls. Regularly viewing pornography can affect the ability of all children to form healthy relationships. It’s important to talk with both your sons and your daughters about pornography.

Talking with teenagers about pornography

You might feel embarrassed talking with your child about pornography, but it can just be part of talking about sexuality and respectful relationships. And it’s the best way to protect your child from the influence of pornography.

You might find it helps to plan the conversation by thinking about what you want to say to your child. You could use a movie, TV program, advertisement, news report or website to start the conversation or to help you explain. But even when you have a plan, it’s important to be open and ready to listen to what your child wants to say.

Here are some questions that can get a conversation going and give you a sense of what your child knows and thinks about pornography:

  • What do you know about pornography?
  • Does anyone talk about pornography at school?
  • Do you know people at school who look at pornography?
  • Have you ever seen pornography?
  • Have you seen it when you were with friends?
  • Do you have any questions about things you’ve heard?

If your child has seen pornography, it’s important to let her know that it’s normal and OK to be interested in sex and sexuality and that she’s not in trouble. And if she has questions about sex and pornography, try to answer them as honestly and openly as you can.

Once you’ve started talking with your child about pornography, you might find talking gets easier the more you do it. Here are some important things you could talk about.

Why is online pornography there?
It’s good to get your child thinking about why pornography is there. You could explain that some adults like looking at pornography, so people film or take photos of sex to make money. You could mention that some people choose to take part in making pornography, whereas other people do it because they feel they don’t have other ways to support themselves.

Is porn sex like real sex?
Young people might think that pornography shows them what sex and bodies should look like. They don’t always understand that the sex in pornography is not like real sex – it focuses on the mechanics of sex and not the feelings and relationships.

You can explain to your child that actors in pornography are being paid. So they have to look like they’re having a great time even when they’re not – and even when the sex is violent, disrespectful or made to look non-consensual. And real bodies aren’t the same as porn actors’ bodies. For example, the actors might have had their bodies modified or enhanced in various ways, just like in magazines and ads on TV.

What are the risks of pornography?
A lot of easily accessible pornography:

  • shows women doing things that many women don’t enjoy in reality
  • makes painful or violating sex look normal and desirable
  • makes it look like the point of having sex is to satisfy men
  • makes disrespectful relationships seem OK and normal.

If young people regularly view pornography like this, they might start developing unhealthy and sexist views about women and sex. This can make it harder for them to develop respectful and enjoyable sexual relationships.

It’s important for your child to know that fulfilling relationships are about more than physical closeness or mechanical sex. They’re also about emotional closeness and trust. You can help your child develop this understanding by talking about what respectful relationships look like and feel like.

It’s also important to be a role model for healthy, respectful relationships and self-worth yourself by treating your partner with respect.

Sharing your concerns about pornography

If you have concerns about the influence of pornography, you could tell your child that it’s OK to be curious about sex. Then you could explain your concerns and why you’d prefer your child not to look at pornography.

The best approach is talking with your child about having healthy and respectful relationships.

For example, you might say, ‘Watching pornography can make violent sex and disrespectful relationships seem normal. You might think that’s what you should do in real life. But in real life it’s important to show care and respect when you’re being intimate with someone. You can do this by making sure you’re both doing things that you really want to do’.

You could also ask your child to promise only to do things that show care for himself and others. For example, ‘I’d like you to promise that if you’re having sex or doing something sexual, you’ll check that the other person wants to do what you want to do, and that you’ll stop if they ask you to or if it looks like they’re uncomfortable or not having a good time. I’d also like you to promise that what you watch online is respectful of both women and men’.

When teenagers view pornography

If your child views pornography, it’s important to stay calm so you can talk with your child in a caring, constructive and supportive way. This approach will help you find out why your child is viewing pornography. It will also help you work out the best way to handle the situation.

For example, is your child clicking pop-up ads or is she deliberately looking for porn? Is your child looking at porn alone or with friends?

If your child is clicking pop-up ads, you can reduce the risks by changing your internet security settings.

If your child is looking at pornography with a particular friend at the friend’s house, you could suggest the friend comes to your house instead. This way you can monitor things more carefully.

If your child is regularly seeking pornography out alone, you need to talk with your child about why he’s looking at pornography and whether he thinks it’s healthy.

If your child is looking at pornography to find out more about sex, you could find more accurate sexual information for her.

If your child is looking at pornography for sexual arousal, you could talk with him about how often and what sort of pornography he’s looking at. You can tell your child that it’s OK to be interested in sex and seek sexual arousal but that you’re worried about pornography becoming a habit.

If you’re concerned that your child is watching pornography regularly and is addicted to it, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. Your GP is a good place to start.

Video

Tricky conversations

3:27

Discussing tricky topics can be uncomfortable and sometimes happens unexpectedly. This short video demonstrates various ways that parents might handle tricky conversations with teenagers, by staying calm and really listening, and using these opportunities to help a teenager make responsible decisions.

It’s best to avoid using surveillance apps that let you secretly monitor your child’s online activity. This kind of monitoring sends the message that you don’t trust your child, and it could damage your relationship with your child.

Why young people view pornography

Young people are naturally curious about sex and relationships. They might view pornography for sexual arousal, out of curiosity, or to find out more about sex.

Both boys and girls watch pornography with their friends. This might be to build closer bonds with friends, to build social status, or to encourage someone they like to have sex with them.

Often boys suggest viewing pornography, rather than girls. Also, boys are more likely to look for pornography and view it on their own than girls.

Where do teenagers see pornography?

Children mostly see pornography online. There’s a lot of pornography on the internet, and fast internet connections and smartphones mean you can get to it quickly and easily.

There are also simulated sex acts or violent sexual content in TV programs like Game of Thrones or video games like Grand Theft Auto.

If you’re concerned about your child’s wellbeing or use of pornography, speak to your GP.

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Last updated or reviewed
08-12-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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