How to talk to your child about pornography 

Many parents are worried about what their children might see online, particularly pornography and indecent images. While the idea of talking to your child about porn might make you feel uncomfortable, the more you have these conversations, the easier it becomes. 

When and how children access porn

One in 10 children have viewed pornography by the time they are nine years old, according to research by the Children’s Commissioner for England. 79% of young adults have seen porn by the age of 21.

They may look out of curiosity, as a way to explore their sexuality or they might say it is funny or entertaining.

It’s not always the child’s choice to look at porn. Images and videos are shared around on social media or they may click on a link from something else they are viewing.

The negative effects

Some might view pornography as harmless, but it’s important to understand the harm it can cause, particularly to children: 

  • Porn can be addictive. Watching porn regularly can lead to watching more or more extreme content – children and young people are particularly at risk of porn addiction because their brain isn’t fully developed yet and they find it harder to turn it off. 
  • Porn is not real life. The performers in porn look and behave in a way that is different from most people in real life. This can give children an unrealistic idea of how their bodies should look or how to behave in sexual relationships. For example, consent and contraception are rarely shown in porn.  
  • A lot of porn is aggressive. This can normalise violence and may even lead to sexual abuse. 
  • It might be illegal. It’s not illegal for people under 18 to access porn, however it is illegal for an adult to show or sell porn to a person who is under 18. There are also certain types of pornography that are illegal for anyone to watch. 

Advice for having conversations about porn with children

These tips will help you to have open conversations with your child and allow them to open up to you. You know your child best, so you’ll know which tips will work best for you. 

  • You don’t need to approach this as a big conversation. Think about it more as creating a safe space where porn isn’t a taboo subject. 
  • Talk about it every now and again. Don’t wait until you think they have already seen something or if it has become a problem. If possible, start talking about it before they have access to a smartphone or tablet. 
  • Make the conversation age appropriate. You can discuss more as they get older.  
  • Acknowledge the awkwardness. Your child will probably feel embarrassed that you’ve raised it, let them know that that’s ok.  
  • Think about what you want to talk about and don’t try to do too much in one go. Try not to bombard them with information or quiz them about what they may have seen. Leave things with them to think about or come back to you with.  
  • Reassure them that it is ok to feel curious about sex but explain that porn is unrealistic and that it can be harmful for them to watch it.  
  • Communicate in a way that feels natural to you and your child. If you text, email or video call, you could have the whole conversation over that. It doesn’t have to be a sit-down conversation. 

    Conversation starters

    You might find it helpful to start the conversation by sharing something you’ve seen or read. 

    In the Friends episode, The One with the Free Porn, Joey and Chandler accidentally get access to porn on their TV and won’t turn it off in case they lose it. You could use this to talk about: 

    • How the way people access porn has changed and how much more available it is now.
    • How addictive porn can be, talk about why they couldn’t turn it off.
    • How the men felt societal expectation to want to watch it. 
    • How it affected the way they expected women to interact with them in the real world. 

    you could also share these articles for young people: 

    Keeping your child safe

    You might want to review your house rules around technology. Do you limit your child’s technology use to certain times of day or only in family rooms? Try to involve your child in discussions about what is fair and appropriate for their age. Make sure you have parental locks on your internet settings where children are unable to access sites. 

    It is a good idea to have age appropriate conversations about sex and relationships regularly. Find out how to talk to your teenager about healthy relationships and consent. You could also ask your child’s school to share what they are learning in their personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons so that you can cover the same topics at home.  

    For more support

    If you have concerns that your child may be addicted or have an unhealthy interest in pornography, you could talk to your GP or a sexual health clinic.  

    You can also speak to one of our parent coaches on a 1:1 Live Chat. 

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    This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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