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For Parents: Understanding How Early Porn Exposure can Impact Children

Porn is often called “adult material,” but many of its consumers are well under the legal age. How are the children who see it impacted?

By October 8, 2021No Comments
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Many times, kids don’t have a choice of when they’ll first see porn.

While porn is often called “adult material,” many of its consumers are well under the legal age.Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Adolescents and pornography: A review of 20 years of research.53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441COPY  Studies show that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13,British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  and according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens, 84.4% of 14 to 18-year-old males and 57% of 14 to 18-year-old females have viewed pornography.Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary insights from a U.S. probability sample on adolescents’ pornography exposure, media psychology, and sexual aggression. J.Health Commun., 1-8. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980COPY 

Science and research have shown how porn can have negative effects, but is it well-understood the power pornography can have over children who are exposed at a very early age, and typically not by choice?

The American College of Pediatricians talks about three ways that grade-school children are most likely going to be exposed to pornography in their early years:

Related: For Parents: How To Spot Online Child Predators And Protect Your Teen From Them

Do you notice a common theme here? What about the word, accidentally? This is not a choice but truly a cultural and accessibility issue.

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Exposure to any of these experiences can result in some form of anxiety, and often shame.

Children have reported suffering from feelings such as shock, anger, fear, disgust, and sadness after stumbling across these pornographic images. In some extreme cases, there have been instances of children sexually assaulting their own peers as they reenact what they see in porn.

Related: Parents: This Is How Teens Find Porn Through Social Media

This is truly impacting our culture and the next generations whether we are aware of it or not.

Most kids haven’t even hit puberty yet

Early exposure to internet pornography can have an impact on a child and truly can have negative impacts on the brain.

Consider how these harmful images can impact and transform the way a child learns about sex.

Related: Parents: What’s Better Than Internet Filters? Actual Conversations About Porn

Many young people’s expectations regarding sex have been affected by porn without even realizing it. As one young woman related to us when talking about being sexually intimate with her partner, “We were having sex when, out of nowhere, he spit on me. I didn’t know how to react. He was embarrassed when he saw that he wasn’t getting the reaction he was expecting…. What he’d seen [in porn] had created unrealistic expectations for what sex would be like. He saw people do things to each other and get certain reactions, and assumed they’d transfer into real life.”Fight the New Drug. (2019). True story: What porn taught my husband to do during sex . Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/what-porn-taught-my-husband-to-do-during-sex/COPY 

It’s no secret that porn is wildly unrealistic and often incredibly toxic, yet survey results also showed that over half of 11 to 16-year-old boys (53%) and over a third of 11 to 16-year-old girls (39%) reported believing that pornography was a realistic depiction of sex.Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J. R., Davidson, J., Leyva, R., & Horvath, M. A. H. (2016). 'I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it'. London: NSPCC. Retrieved from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2016/i-wasn-t-sure-it-was-normal-to-watch-itCOPY 

In fact, 44% of boys who watched porn reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try.Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J. R., Davidson, J., Leyva, R., & Horvath, M. A. H. (2016). 'I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it'. London: NSPCC. Retrieved from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2016/i-wasn-t-sure-it-was-normal-to-watch-itCOPY 

Remember that porn is primarily produced for entertainment purposes, not education, but the ideas porn sells are not conducive to a healthy understanding of sex, sexuality, or mutual pleasure.

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Additionally, porn often depicts and profits from blatantly racist narratives. According to researchers who performed a content analysis of more than 1,700 scenes from two of the world’s most popular porn sites, videos featuring Black people disproportionately emphasize violence and aggression, perpetuate harmful racist stereotypes, and often depict Black people as “worse than objects.”Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2021). Worse than objects: The depiction of black women and men and their sexual relationship in pornography. Gender Issues, 38(1), 100-120. doi:10.1007/s12147-020-09255-2COPY  The porn industry often fetishizes race, reducing people of color to sexual categories that often focus on damaging stereotypes.xHamster. (2018). xHamster trend report 2018. Retrieved from https://xhamster.com/blog/posts/745297COPY 

Related: Parents, This Study Shows Kids As Young As 7 Are Accessing Porn

Seeing pornography can often be a traumatic experience in itself for a child. But there is so much hope through being open with developing kids through open, honest, and ongoing conversations with a trusted adult to counteract any false ideas porn has implanted in their understandings about sex and love.

It’s important for parents to try their best to talk to their kids about porn before they see it for the first time, and keep the conversation open, shame-free, honest, ongoing, and loving.

Instilling a total fear of porn in a young child may work for a short while, but it’s not a long-term help to keeping the lines of communication open. If kids feel their parents are open to listening to their struggles or questions, they’ll be more likely to approach the subject whenever it comes up instead of hiding their curiosity and searching for it on their own.

Click below to explore our free, comprehensive conversation guide so you can be equipped to talk about porn whenever the time is right.

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Keep kids safe on the internet

The internet’s dark places can be harmful and dangerous, and it’s all too easy for kids to stumble across things that are harmful without them realizing it.

Related: 6 Things Every Parent Should Consider Before Talking About Sex With Their Kids

We fight to educate and make others aware of the harmful effects of porn because we believe everyone should make an educated decision for themself, when they’re ready. Children, of course, aren’t ready to make decisions for themselves on porn, which is why education and awareness, as well as open, honest, and ongoing conversations with trusted adults are so important.

With the normalization of porn, there is also an increasing amount of resources available to anyone who wants to tackle this issue. Keep it real, keep it factual, and fight for real love.

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