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What’s the Average Age of a Child’s First Exposure to Porn?

Every child's experience will be unique to them, and every child deserves to learn about sex and relationships from healthier sources than porn.

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The fact is, it isn’t completely clear exactly how old most kids are when they’re first exposed to porn.

Also, every child’s experience will be unique to them. But regardless of the average age, every child is different, and every child deserves to learn about sex, sexuality, and relationships from healthier sources than porn.

Based on available data, the likely age of a child’s first exposure to porn is around tween years. The majority of kids are exposed to porn by age 13, with some exposed as young as seven, according to a 2020 survey.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCopy 

Related: How Early Porn Exposure Traumatizes Boys And Fuels An Unhealthy Perception Of Masculinity

But no matter how young, these incidents aren’t isolated cases, and it’s not like early porn exposure only happens to a small slice of people—in fact, in the United States, it happens to almost everybody before they leave their teens. A nationally representative estimate of U.S. youths (ages 14 to 18) exposed to pornography: 84.4% of males and 57% of females.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., 26(1), 39-46. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980Copy 

Conversation Blueprint

If you’re curious to see some anecdotal evidence for early porn exposure being the rule and not the exception, check out this tweet of ours and the dozens of responses we got:

The responses range from, “6 years old. My older sisters found our mom’s boyfriend’s tape and played it,” to, “I tried to go on YouTube but ended up spelling it wrong by accident and launched a porn site. I was 8.

Porn is more hardcore and more accessible than it ever used to be. For previous generations, the story was almost always the same—a young boy or girl finds an adult magazine found on the side of the road, taken from the garbage, or swiped from an older sibling’s “secret” hiding place. But today, an endless amount of porn is available anywhere where there’s an internet connection.

Related: 9 Serious Issues Porn Culture Fuels In High Schools

Finding porn is easier than ever

Back in the day, the images in explicit magazines were far tamer than the content that’s available today with one simple click or misspelled search term. Not to mention, hardcore or explicit content wasn’t available everywhere.

It’s an obvious difference, but porn has quite simply become far easier to find in many more places than it ever used to be, which makes the likelihood of early exposure much higher.

RelatedParents: If You Don’t Teach Your Kids About Sex, Porn Will

And consider this. If most 11-year-olds have smartphones,Rideout, V., and Robb, M. B. (2019). The Common Sense Census: Media Use By Tweens and Teens, 2019. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.Copy  is it really all that surprising that, sometimes, they encounter porn online whether they’re looking for it or not?

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Early exposure and real consequences

It’s not surprising that these numbers have skyrocketed, but that’s only half of the equation. Young people are being exposed to porn much earlier, but porn is often much more extreme than it ever used to be.

That can be worrying because studies have shown that kids who have been exposed to hardcore images and videos report wanting to repeat what they’ve seen without exactly understanding the meaning or the impact of what they’ve seen.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'. A quantitative and qualitative examination of the impact of online pornography on the values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of children and young people. London: Middlesex University. NSPCC. Retrieved from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/media/1187/mdx-nspcc-occ-pornography-report.pdfCopy  That’s led to scenarios in which kids are being pressured into sexual acts by their peersRothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). 'Without Porn … I Wouldn't Know Half the Things I Know Now': A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of sex research, 52(7), 736–746. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.960908Copy  and learning to associate sex with violence and domination—not love, intimacy, or connection.Davis, A. C., Carrotte, E. R., Hellard, M. E., & Lim, M. S. C. (2018). What behaviors do young heterosexual Australians see in pornography? A cross-sectional study.55(3), 310-319. doi:10.1080/00224499.2017.1417350Copy 

Related: Can Women Get Addicted To Watching Porn?

At the same time, limiting kids’ access to porn can be incredibly difficult. Even if the home computer and family mobile devices are safeguarded, there could always be a friend with a smartphone or unchecked internet access. Not even the most diligent parents can be 24/7 watchdogs. With the way things are right now, early exposure to porn is almost impossible to control completely. But, it’s not all bad news.

Get The Facts

Fighting to educate those around us

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Even if porn consumption is happening earlier than ever and at an all-time high rate, parents shouldn’t be entirely discouraged. We live in a time where there is less of a deafening silence around this issue, and there is help for anyone who might need it.

There are tons of resources for parental figures to navigate talking to their kids about sex and porn, and talking about it early.

Related: 20 Mind-Blowing Stats About The Porn Industry And Its Underage Consumers

And like never before, there are also amazing resources for those who might be struggling with an unhealthy habit or addiction to porn. Now more than ever, there is hope.

With our comprehensive understanding of how porn can be harmful, we can more effectively equip those around us to understand why they shouldn’t go looking for it, and even if they’ve already seen it, it’s not worth keeping the habit. Running away from the issue won’t help to equip young people to think critically about porn and make educated decisions.

Now more than ever is the perfect time to step up and speak out about the harms of porn.

To explore our comprehensive step-by-step conversation guide that will help you navigate how to talk to your kids about porn, click here.

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