The Impact of Pornography on Teens
The digital age has changed many things in our culture, including the prevalence of pornography. Once a taboo, porn has become more common and easy to find on the Internet. In fact, in the United States, 79% of men, age 18-30, view porn at least monthly. Unfortunately, research shows that exposure to significant amounts of pornography causes people to think and act differently. For example, research has shown that people who view a lot of porn are more likely to:
- feel less reward in response to sexual stimuli.
- think sex with animals and violent sex are common behaviors.
- exhibit dominating and harassing behavior toward women.
- not feel compassion for rape victims.
- cheat on their romantic partner.
Adolescent boys are particularly vulnerable to these effects of pornography. Their sexual identities are just forming, and they are understandably curious. Research shows that, on average, an American boy’s first exposure to pornography occurs when they are only 12-years-old. Before the age of 18, 90% of boys and 60% of girls have been exposed to porn online. In a 2014 survey from the United Kingdom, 70% of teens said porn is seen as normal by their peers at school. The problem is that pornography is not real life, and it’s changing the sexual behaviors and attitudes of boys.
For example, in a recent survey taken in Australia, teen girls reported that ‘online sexual abuse and harassment were becoming a normal part of their everyday interactions’ and described boys pressuring them to engage in acts inspired by porn. They felt that boys act like they are entitled to girls’ bodies and that girls are there for their pleasure. Teen girls also reported feeling pressured for naked images they didn’t want to send, but were resigned to send them anyway because of how normal the practice has become. Of course, once the boys have the photos, they often use them in humiliating ways, sharing them with friends.
What Should Parents Do?
These sad statistics can make almost any parent feel hopeless, but there are ways parents can help.
First of all, as with all aspects of your child’s life, you should be monitoring their activities. Most teens live their lives online, so make sure you’re aware of where they visit, who they engage with online, and what accounts they have. We are not suggesting spying – your teen should know that you are monitoring them. That alone provides some accountability and may help prevent a number of problems, including porn. There are filtering and monitoring software available if you feel you need help in keeping track of your teen’s online life.
Unfortunately, monitoring alone will not work. There are always loopholes. Teens are extremely tech savvy and can get around some of your best efforts. Additionally, your teen may have friends whose parents aren’t as vigilant as you. That leads us to the most important thing that parents can do: talk to your teen.
The most important thing that you can do is talk to your teen about sex and pornography.
Instill your values about sex and healthy relationships. Make sure that you let your teen know that sex is not just a physical act, but also very emotional in nature. In addition to letting them know your values about sex, describe the indicators of a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship. Be sure to articulate that people in healthy relationships respect each other and work together to reach compromise. They can talk honestly and freely to each other and share decisions. They can disagree on something, but still support their partner. They trust each other and respect each other’s independence.
Discuss the statistics, facts, and impact of pornography. Your teen should know that porn stars are actors and actresses, and the filming is edited to look exciting. Nothing about porn is realistic, and it does not reflect a typical sexual encounter. Porn stars are paid to make their lives look fun and glamorous, but many of them are unhappy. Some of the actors and actresses report that they were abused as children or resort to taking drugs to be able to get through the film scenes. You should also explain how porn can change the viewer’s attitudes about sex. Be sure to tell your teen that porn is unrealistic, that the types of acts porn shows are uncommon, and that viewing porn can actually desensitize them to a real sexual experience.