Pornography and Teenagers: How to Critically Understand Online Porn

digital safety Nov 27, 2023
Pornography and Teenagers: How to Critically Understand Online Porn

By: Lola Bessis, Lead Intern | Digital4Good


“My first experience with porn was with a seemingly innocent video game (Five Nights at Freddys) and I think I'm traumatized by it “ 


“In middle school, all the boys were talking about Mia Khalifa and I wanted to be a part of the discussion. I then looked her up and entered a world of pornography. It really messed up my sexuality, made me get sexually active too young, and made me believe I had to be like those women online in my relations with men.”


Did you know that studies find that 84.4% of 14 to 18-year-old males and 57% of 14 to 18-year-old females have viewed pornography? And that over 46% of young people reported that they saw online porn for the first time when it just “popped up”, and 22% reported that someone else showed it to them when they weren’t expecting it


Other findings suggest that 1 in 3 kids say they’ve seen explicit, hardcore porn by age 12, which equates to roughly 25 million children in the U.S. alone. In the majority of cases, they’ve stumbled upon it accidentally.


Pornography has become a normal part of teenagers' every lives, particularly their online lives. Given its prevalence and normalization, how can teens navigate this taboo topic? And how can the adults in their lives help?


For Teens: Porn is not Sex

Although studies have found that 1 in 4 (24.5%) listed pornography as the most helpful source to learn how to have sex, the world of online pornography is far from what real sexual encounters are. Online pornography is full of incestual and violent themes, particularly degrading toward women. 


The sex in pornography places the emphasis on dominance rather than intimacy. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, healthy sexuality is “free from coercion and violence” and is “rooted in consent and respect,” yet a 2021 study found that 1 out of every 8 porn titles shown to first-time users on porn home pages describe acts of sexual violence. 


A teen vogue article mentions that “porn is entertainment, which means the actors and producers are doing what looks best — not necessarily what would feel best in real life.” Pornography, like other media, is performative. Bodies, positions, sounds, etc, are faked to create a film, but it is not depictive of real life. 


Viewing pornography can also have negative effects on the watcher’s health. Its consumption has been linked to poor body image, increased loneliness, lower self esteem, and poor mental health. Studies have also found that frequent porn consumers can become so accustomed to the exaggerated forms of sex they see in porn, that they may have a difficult time becoming aroused in real-life sexual encounters unless porn is also present. Research further shows neurological similarities between substance addiction and compulsive pornography consumption.


If you are trying to quit consuming pornography, please reach out to a trusted adult in your life.


For Adults: Porn is Everywhere

Although 1 in 3 kids report they’ve seen porn by age 12, only 50% of parents thought their 14-to-18-year-olds had seen porn and had in fact watched it. Depending on the sex act, parents underestimated what their kids saw by as much as 10 times. Porn sites get more monthly visitors than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined and 44% of males ages 11–16 who saw hardcore porn said it gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try. Young people need trusted adults to help them build resilience and resistance to hypersexualized media and porn. As a parent or caregiver, you play the most critical role in offering your children alternative, healthy messages about sex that instill respect in themselves and others. 


A survey sent out to the Digital4Good + #ICANHELP student team found that 67% said they would find it helpful to have open dialogue about pornography with trusted adults in their life. 

This is why we have partnered with Culture Reframed to share their groundbreaking courses with you. 


Educators: Porn-Critical Sex Ed Curriculum

This customizable curriculum incorporates into sex education programs the harmful effects of widespread, hardcore pornography. It’s designed for educators and other professionals who teach sex ed to young people, specifically ages 13 and up.


FREE Parents of Tweens course

Designed for parents and caregivers of kids 9 to 12 years old, this totally free, self-paced course is divided into five sections. As you move through the modules, you’ll develop the confidence to help your tween navigate the rough terrain of hypersexualized culture.


FREE Parents of Teens course

Guides parents of kids ages 13 to 18 through topics that provide skills to build teens’ resilience and resistance to hypersexualized culture and the impacts of pornography.




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