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Youth and Pornography: Why and How to Talk About It

Whether we like it or not, adolescents are viewing pornography - intentionally and accidentally - at increasing rates. Sexual curiosity is a normal part of adolescence, but some neuroscientists argue that the brains of adolescents are more sensitive to highly stimulating reward responses. In other words, it is more difficult for adolescent brains to make smarter decisions when presented with potentially harmful, but sexually rewarding possibilities.

Research indicates that frequent pornography viewing can have significant negative effects on adolescents. These may include distorted views and expectations of sex; sexually permissive attitudes and engagement in unsafe sexual activity; confusion and misinformation about the importance of consent in sexual relations; oppressive views toward women; a tendency to view women as objects; possible sexual aggression; body image issues; and sexual insecurities.

So what can parents do?

Here are some tips to keep in mind when broaching the subject with your teen:

Be aware. This is paramount! Too often parents say, “Not my kid” or “My kid would never do that.” Hiding behind fear and discomfort regarding this topic only perpetuates the issue. Parents need to recognize that it is more a part of our youth’s lives than ever before. Parents must take active steps to educate themselves about the risks their children face, become aware of the various ways porn can be accessed, and how the industry specifically targets youth. This puts parents in a much better position to offer advice and support.

Be open. A common myth surrounding ‘the talk’ is the assumption that if you openly discuss the topic with your teen, they will become curious and more likely to seek it out. The opposite is true. If parents don’t educate their kids about pornography, the porn industry definitely will. Youth are naturally curious about sex and will look for ways to learn more about it and they don’t have to go far. Avoid judgment and shame, and your teen will feel more comfortable coming to you if they have questions. Don’t assume that a youth who hasn’t asked questions about sex or pornography has no curiosity about it. They may be embarrassed or self-conscious. Normalize these feelings by saying, “It might feel embarrassing or hard to talk about these things, but I think it’s important.”

Family values and facts. Family values define who we are and what’s important to us. We rely on them to make good decisions and get through challenging situations. However, teenagers often want to explore new horizons and question everything they’ve been taught. They start to rely less on family values and rely more on peer and media influences. When educating teens, they need the ‘why’; otherwise, they’ll start rejecting what they are told. They need to know why pornography is harmful and how it can negatively impact them. Parents can incorporate family values with scientific evidence. The more concrete reasons kids have not to participate, the more likely they won’t. It is important to communicate that porn is a performance and not real life. It can also help to explain how frequent pornography viewing can actually rewire the brain, leading to possible addictive behaviors and/or sexual and relationship difficulties.

Establish an agreement and supervise devices. Parents should establish an agreement with their teenager with regard to Internet use. Whether that means setting time limits or parental controls, that’s a decision for each household. Even the most defiant teen recognizes that rules generally exist for their safety, even if they don’t like those rules. Keep in mind that monitoring electronic devices should be done with the right intent and in a way that still respects your teen’s privacy. If youth feel policed, then the effectiveness of supervision can have a negative effect.

Don’t feel pressured to discuss the entire topic and answer all of your teen’s questions in one conversation. Discussions about sex and pornography can take place intermittently over time. Opportunities arise or can be created as young people grow and develop. Just remember that a relationship based on open and honest communication is the best way to start.

Good luck!

Katie Domries is a Registered Provisional Psychologist, Family Therapist, and Owner/Operator of Birds Bees &  Beyond Education and Consulting. You can find out
more about her upcoming seminars and workshops at

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