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The truth 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.
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.
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:
How were you first exposed to porn, and how old were you?
— Fight the New Drug (@FightTheNewDrug) May 30, 2019
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.”
It’s not exactly clear how these numbers compare to previous generations, but what is clear is that exposure to porn is happening earlier than it ever used to, and it’s more hardcore and 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.
Finding porn is easier than ever
The images in these types of magazines were far tamer than the content that’s available today with one simple click or misspelled search term, and there was another major difference too—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.
And consider this. If 60% of 10 and 11-year-olds have smartphones, is it really all that surprising that, sometimes, they encounter porn online whether they’re looking for it or not?
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 that 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 can be more likely to want to repeat what they’ve seen without exactly understanding the meaning or the impact of what they’ve seen. That’s led to scenarios in which younger and younger girls and boys are being pressured into sexual acts by their peers and learning that sex is about fear, violence, and domination—not love, intimacy, and connection.
At the same time, limiting access to porn is much more difficult than it’s ever been. Even if the home computer and family mobile devices are safeguarded, there’s always a friend with a smartphone or unchecked internet access, and 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.
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 anyone can get help 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.
And like never before, there are also amazing resources for those who might be struggling with an obsession or compulsion to porn. Now, more than ever, there is hope.
With our comprehensive understanding of exactly how porn can harm and why it isn’t healthy to watch, 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 watching. Running away from the issue won’t help to equip the next generation 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.