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Watching Porn Can Hurt Teens’ Self-Esteem and Body Image

“[Porn can] give an unrealistic view of sex and our bodies, make us self-conscious, and question why our bodies are not developed like what we see online.”

May is National Teen Self-Esteem Month, and that means it’s time to discuss some of the issues affecting young people’s self-esteem—including porn.

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 porn.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 

Related: Why Not Watching Porn Can Boost Your Self-Esteem and Confidence

According to reviews of dozens of studies exploring how porn affects teens, porn was found to be associated with:

  • Poorer self-esteem
  • Poorer body image
  • Poorer social development
  • Poorer mental health Owens, E. W., Behun, R. J., Manning, J. C., & Reid, R. C. (2012). The impact of internet pornography on adolescents: A review of the research.19(1-2), 99-122. doi:10.1080/10720162.2012.660431COPY Koletić G. (2017). Longitudinal associations between the use of sexually explicit material and adolescents' attitudes and behaviors: A narrative review of studies. Journal of adolescence, 57, 119–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.04.006COPY 

As one teenage girl explained to researchers, “[Porn can] give an unrealistic view of sex and our bodies, make us self-conscious, and question why our bodies are not developed like what we see online.” -Female, age 13Martellozzo, 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 

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Whether they mean to or not, many teens learn about sex, bodies, and relationships from porn. And unfortunately, they often internalize toxic messages.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  Rothman, 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 

Porn often sends the message to young people that their value in this world is almost entirely dependent on their looks and sex appeal.

Related: What Do Teens Learn from Online Porn?

Another teen explained, “Boys expect that from you as standard if they watch porn. They expect you to look and act sexier than you are and will compare your body to them [girls in porn]… Sometimes I worry I don’t look or act sexy enough during sex.” -Aoife, age 18British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY 

The research is clear—porn is not conducive to the development of self-esteem, healthy body image, or positive relationships.

You are enough, just the way you are. Do your self-esteem a favor and consider before consuming.

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