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What Do Teens Learn from Online Porn?

According to a survey of U.S. teens, 84% of 14 to 18-year-old males and 57% of 14 to 18-year-old females have viewed porn. What are they learning?

Research shows that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13. And according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens, 84% of 14 to 18-year-old males and 57% of 14 to 18-year-old females have viewed pornography.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY Wright PJ, Paul B, Herbenick D. Preliminary Insights from a U.S. Probability Sample on Adolescents' Pornography Exposure, Media Psychology, and Sexual Aggression. J Health Commun. 2021 Jan 2;26(1):39-46. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980. Epub 2021 Feb 24. PMID: 33625313.COPY 

That means that most young people are getting at least some of their education about sex from porn, whether they mean to or not.

Related: 20 Stats About the Porn Industry and its Underage Consumers

In fact, one study shows that approximately 45% of teens who consumed porn did so in part to learn about sex. Similarly, survey results also show that 1 in 4 18 to 24-year-olds listed pornography as the most helpful source to learn how to have sex.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY Rothman, E. F., Beckmeyer, J. J., Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2021). The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(2), 629–646. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01877-7COPY 

That’s concerning—especially considering how toxic porn can be.

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One 2021 study, for example, found that 1 out of every 8 porn titles shown to first-time visitors to porn sites described acts of sexual violence. Not to mention, at least 1 in 3 and as many as 9 in 10 porn videos show sexual violence or aggression.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A descriptive analysis of the types, targets, and relative frequency of aggression in mainstream pornography. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(8), 3041-3053. doi:10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C., & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: a content analysis update. Violence against women, 16(10), 1065–1085. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801210382866COPY 

Also, porn often promotes a number of other problematic sexual narratives. Porn sites are full of videos that portray, normalize, and fetishize incest, racism, sexism, and a variety of situations where marginalized or vulnerable people are abused or taken advantage of.

Related: How to Discuss Porn When You Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Despite all of this, teens report trying to copy porn in their own sexual encounters, where pressure is often an aspect of unhealthy relationships. And according to a UK survey of over 22,000 adult women, nearly 1 in 6 reported having been forced or coerced to perform sex acts that a sexual partner had seen in porn.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 Taylor, J., & Shrive, J. (2021). ‘I thought it was just a part of life’: Understanding the scale of violence committed against women in the UK since birth. VictimFocus. Retrieved from https://irp.cdn-website.com/f9ec73a4/files/uploaded/Key-Facts-Document-VAWG-VictimFocus-2021a.pdfCOPY 

All in all, pornography actively spreads harmful misinformation about sex. Research even suggests that the more someone consumes porn, the more sexually illiterate they tend to become.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Herbenick, D., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography vs. sexual science: The role of pornography use and dependency in U.S. teenagers’ sexual illiteracy., 1-22. doi:10.1080/03637751.2021.1987486COPY 

The research is clear—porn normalizes and perpetuates toxic messages about sex that are harming young people. But the good news is that we can limit those negative effects by raising awareness on this issue.

So how can you help?

Conversation Blueprint

Fighting to educate those around us

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 more information than ever 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.

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding of Healthy Sex

And like never before, there are also amazing resources for those who might be struggling with an obsession or compulsion to porn. 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 is the perfect time to step up and speak out about the harms of porn—especially with the young people in your life.

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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