How to Talk to Kids About Pornography

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As parents, the idea of our children watching pornography—and us needing to discuss it with them—is likely the last thing we want to be thinking about.

Unfortunately, the world looks different now than it did when we were growing up. Back then, access to pornography was very different than it is now. It was something you needed to actively seek out, not something that could accidentally appear on one’s iPad with the wrong click of a button.

The idea of a child either unintentionally or deliberately viewing porn seemed extremely remote.

Nowadays, having the “porn talk” is something all of us need to do at some point—and the sooner the better. Although we should all take actions to minimize the chances of our children accidentally encountering pornography, the fact is that they may encounter it no matter what we do, and this risk increases as they get older, when they might actively seek it out themselves.

While this discussion won’t likely be easy, it doesn’t have to be exceedingly uncomfortable or intolerable either. Let’s talk about how to discuss pornography with your children in a healthy and helpful way.

Are My Kids Really Going to Encounter Pornography?

Before we go any further, you may still be wondering if any of this is actually necessary. You’re sure that there is no way your child will encounter pornography. After all, you watch them like a hawk and you’ve set up parental controls on their digital devices.

The reality is that your child will likely encounter pornography (which may include video or still photos) at some point during their childhood, and this increases as they enter adolescence

Pornography is so ubiquitous on the internet that even the best digital parental controls can’t always filter it. Your child may type in a website wrong on their browser, for example, and a pornography site may pop up. They may receive an unintended text message or video link. And the fact is, as your child gets older and becomes interested in sex, they may very well actively seek out pornography or have it shared via their social circles.

Statistics back up these facts. According to The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), “42% of 10 to 17-year-olds have seen pornography online, with 27% saying they intentionally viewed such materials.”

In addition, the AAP explains that “[a]n examination of 15 to 18 year olds found 54% of boys and 17% of girls admitted to intentional viewing.”

Note that is is the number of teens who have admitted to intentionally viewing pornography: the number who have actually viewed it very well may be higher.

As the Journal of Pediatric Healthcare points out, child access to pornography can be both accidental and intentional, and can escape some of the firewalls parents put in place to block pornography.

For example, your child may encounter pornography when:

  • Opening a spam email or text
  • Typing in a web address incorrectly
  • Doing a web search for a nonsexual term that may actually have a sexual meaning
  • Clicking on ads

Your child isn’t always under your watch, either. They may encounter porn while at another’s child’s house. As your child gets older, they may encounter pornography that has been shared from a peer, an older sibling, or via their own searching and interest in sex.

While sexual exploration is normal and healthy, it’s important that children know that that sex that is depicted in pornography is not realistic and often depicts unhealthy forms of sexual expression.

Why the “Porn Talk” Is Important

The explosion of online media consumption as well as online socializing among kids, tweens, and teens is an uncharted territory for many of us.

While the subject of pornography may be something some of our children’s teachers breach (for example, a health teacher), there is no guarantee that this will happen. Just as it’s our responsibility to have the “sex talk” with our children, in this day and age, having the “pornography talk” must be a given for parents everywhere.

The bottom line is this: We can’t get away from the fact that our children very well might encounter pornography. As such, having a “safe” person who can discuss their feelings, fears, and confusion about it, is vital.

We also need to educate our children about how sex is depicted in pornography so that they can learn to distinguish these images from what real sex may one day be like. We need to educate them on how to have safe and responsible sex.

Finally, our children need to know that they have someone to come to if they see any disturbing depictions of sex in pornography.

Tips For Talking to Your Children About Pornography

Knowing that you will need to talk to your children about pornography can be stressful, so having some “talking points” in mind can really help you! Keep in mind that there is no one “right” way to do this. You know your child best, and the way you approach the subject should be in a way that you both will be comfortable with.

For Children Under 10

For younger children, it will not usually be necessary to have a detailed discussion about pornography specifically (that’s a relief, right?). However, talking about sex in a general sense, and bringing up the idea of pornography as something they may encounter, is something you should do. Still, these discussions do not have to contain intricate details.

The main idea is that you want your young children to be able to approach you if they do accidentally encounter pornography, so you can help them process what they experienced. The “porn talk” can be part of your large talk about sex and sexuality.

Here’s what to emphasize in a discussion about sex and pornography with younger children:

Normalize Healthy Exchanges of Affection

All children can understand the concept that hugging and physical closeness are enjoyable. You can explain that sex—specifically between two consenting adults—simply takes that concept a step further. This will help make the idea of sex less scary or incomprehensible to your child.

Talk About Sex in a Simple and Direct Way

When you talk about sex with your younger child, use the correct terms for body parts (“penis” and “vagina”) and explain in a direct way what sexual intercourse and sexual encounters entail. They will likely have questions, and may express shock or disgust. Help them to understand that their feelings are normal, and answer their questions honestly.

Talk About What They May Encounter Online

For young children, you do not need to discuss pornography in detail. However, your children need to know that adults sometimes share images of sex on the internet and sometimes it accidentally may be seen by children. Many of these images are scary or uncomfortable for kids.

Your children need to know that if they encounter images of pornography, they can come to you, and that they will not be in trouble if they encounter it.

They also need to feel comfortable telling you if any adult or older child intentionally shows them pornography: this, unfortunately, happens sometimes, and your child needs to know that they are safe to share this information with you.

They also need to know that it's imperative that they share this information with you, and that they won't get in trouble by doing so.

Share Age-Appropriate Material About Sex

You don’t have to navigate these discussions alone. There are many great books about sex for younger kids: find a book or two that you think your child could relate to and that has a tone that they would find informative and assuring.

For Middle School-Aged Children and Older

The closer your child gets to puberty, the more likely they will encounter pornography, either accidentally, on their own, or because a peer has shared it with them. If you haven’t already had a discussion with pornography with your tween or teen, it’s not too late to start now. Here’s how to navigate this:

Choose a “Low-Stakes” Time

Sitting your tween or teen down for a serious talk after dinner is probably not the best way to begin this discussion. The more “casual” the talk, the better. You might want to try chatting in the car (this also means your child doesn’t need to look you directly in the eyes, which can help minimize embarrassment), during a walk or a hike, or late at night, when teens are most likely to be open to casual conversations.

Set Up a Judgment-Free Zone

Your child needs to know that there is no judgment here. You are not accusing them of looking at pornography, nor are you warning them of future punishment if they are discovered doing so. If you set things up in a punitive or judgmental way, it is very unlikely that your tween or teen will even engage in a discussion with you at all.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Tweens and teens like to think they “know it all,” and you can allow this, to some extent. Don’t give them a list of information, and don’t necessarily ask them too many probing questions. Let them direct the conversation when possible.

Make It an Ongoing Conversation

As with any conversation about sex, the “pornography conversation” should be an ongoing one. Besides the fact that your child may continue to have questions and experiences with pornography throughout the years, it can be helpful to break the conversation into smaller chunks rather that one heavy conversation.

Talk About Pornography vs. Real Sex

In your discussion with your tween or teen about pornography, it’s important that you help them understand the ways in which pornography differs from real-life sex; otherwise, they may expect their first sexual encounters to resemble pornography, which will be problematic.

Make sure they know that pornography is a fantasy, that bodies are often altered for entertainment, that pornography is staged to look a certain way, and that what they are viewing is not a private encounter but a curated one.

Talk About Consent and Personal Boundaries

Sometimes pornography depicts non-consensual sexual encounters—some of these encounters may include violence or rape.

It’s vital that your child understands that these types of encounters are never okay in real life.

Discuss the fact that consent during sex must be clear and enthusiastic, and that your sex partner’s desires and well being must always be respected.

Normalize Feelings of Sexual Arousal

In your discussion of pornography, it’s important that your child knows that their potentially positive reactions to pornography are normal. It’s common for adolescents to feel sexually aroused when viewing sex or sexual images.

If you shame your children for these feelings, they are less likely to be willing to discuss the other issues surrounding pornography.

Make Sure to Include the “Safe Sex” Talk

Most pornography does not include safer sex precautions such as condoms or other birth control. Make note of this to your child, and use this as a springboard to discuss ways to make sex safe, including methods for preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

A Word From Verywell

Most of us expect that we will need to have “the birds and the bees” talk with our child, but it might take us by surprise that we need to have the “pornography talk” with our child as well.

Yet, try as we might, this is a reality we can’t get away from. Our children are going to encounter pornography at some point during their lives, whether we like it or not, and as parents, we need to discuss this with them in a healthy and educational way.

That said, this isn’t necessarily something we need to do alone.

If you are unsure about how to approach the subject with your child, you can discuss it with their pediatrician, school counselor, or your own therapist or counselor. If you are concerned your child may be consuming pornography in an unhealthy manner or in a way that may endanger them, this is something you can bring up with their pediatrician, school counselor, or law enforcement when necessary.

These are unsettling times we are living in, but we parents have more power than we might realize to help our children navigate these uncharted waters with knowledge, safety, and support.

 

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Brown J, Collins R, Donnerstein E, Lenhart A, Strasburger V, Ward L. Sexual Media and Childhood Well-being and Health. Pediatrics.

  2. Hornor G. Child and Adolescent Pornography Exposure. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. 2020;34(2):191-199.

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