How to Talk to Kids About Porn: Navigating Difficult Conversations With Confidence

“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” John Wayne

By: Milena J. Wisniewska

Talking to your kids about porn is about as graceful as assembling IKEA furniture without an Allen key. But if you don’t equip them with the right info, the internet will.

Sure, you’d rather explain Cardi B’s “WAP” lyrics to your grandparents, but talking to kids about porn is inescapable in this Information Age.

I’ve consulted experts and scholarly publications to discover the secrets to talking to kids about pornography.

So, grab a cup of coffee, take a deep breath, and let’s explore how to tackle this tricky topic with confidence, a sprinkle of humor, and plenty of honesty.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Talking about porn with your kids is vital for their healthy sexual and social development.
  • Porn can lead to distorted views of sexuality as well as addiction and unhealthy relationships.
  • Use parental controls, promote internet safety, and encourage positive offline activities.
  • Foster open, age-appropriate discussions in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.

Talking Your Kids About Porn

In today’s digital world, talking to your kids about porn isn’t an “if,” it’s a “when.” 

With explicit content just a click away, you want to shield your child from its negative impacts, and in the words of author Dr. Gail Dines, a leading subject-matter expert,

“The best defense against the harmful effects of porn is good sex education, which should start early.”[1]

And hey, I get it — no one prepared you for this. Raised by boomers, you were probably left with a legacy of cluelessness and secrecy about sexuality, but you can break the cycle. Here’s how to talk to your kids about porn.

Creating a safe space for open dialogue

Begin by creating a safe, nonjudgmental space for open dialogue. 

In her book Talking to Your Kids About Sex, Dr. Laura Berman says that kids are more likely to talk about sensitive topics if they feel heard and not judged.[2] When they feel safe to ask questions, they won’t be compelled to search for the answers online. 

So, how do you make this magic happen?

  • Begin with simple talks about body parts and online safety.
  • Use everyday moments to slide into the topic. (A steamy scene in a movie? That’s your cue!)
  • Be straightforward.
  • Listen actively. Nod, empathize, and no lecturing.
  • Make it clear this is an ongoing chat.
  • Leverage resources designed for this (like those cited in this article).
  • Stay calm and patient.
  • Normalize the topic.

It’s a tall task, I’m not going to kid you. But someday, they’ll appreciate it.

Age-appropriate discussions: Tailoring the conversation

Berman also explains that “giving age-appropriate information simply means talking about the body in a way that fits the age and maturity level of your child.”[3]  

Start early by using the proper names for body parts. This sets the stage for future chats when curiosity kicks in. 

Beyond that, frame your conversation around the information you want them to know.

For little ones (ages 5–7), keep it simple: “Private parts are private.” 

For older kids (ages 8–12), expand a bit: “Sometimes people look at pictures or videos of naked people online. It’s not for kids and can give wrong ideas about real relationships.” 

Teens (13–19) need the real talk: “Porn shows things that aren’t real and can mess up how you see sex and relationships.”

It’s not that difficult, Berman argues. She says, “If you pause and think of how to answer these questions age-appropriately, they lose much of their intimidation factor.”[4] 

Addressing the unrealistic nature of pornography

Porn portrays sex about as realistically as Michael Bay movies portray police work — a fantasyland where everything is exaggerated, and nothing is real. 

Dr. Dines points out, “Pornography sets up unrealistic expectations that can distort a young person’s view of healthy sex and relationships.”[5] When kids consume this content, they might think it’s the norm, leading to warped ideas about intimacy. 

Genuine relationships are more like Nick and Jess from New Girl — awkward, and with much less coordination. 

Exploring the risks and consequences of excessive porn consumption

Even for adults, excessive porn consumption can lead to addiction, desensitization, and seeing people as objects. Imagine how it affects kids.

But the negative effects of excessive porn consumption don’t stop there.

For example, a recent study published in Psychological Medicine reported that men who watched porn frequently were more likely to experience erectile dysfunction and less likely to be satisfied with their sex lives.[6] 

The stakes are even higher for kids, whose brains, bodies, and sexual identities aren’t yet fully developed. 

Promoting healthy relationships and consent

Where there’s no consent there is no healthy relationship. Full stop. 

Therefore, it’s never too early to begin talking to your kids about consent.

Even if porn had any memorable dialogue, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t consist of eloquent discussions of consent. Instead, it often showcases nonconsensual scenarios and normalizes harmful attitudes about boundaries and respect.

You can introduce the concept of consent by teaching your kids to ask permission before borrowing their sibling’s favorite crayon and only taking it after getting a clear “yes”!

Another great way to teach your kids about consent is to dispense with the notion that anyone is entitled to a hug or kiss from your child. 

Forcing children to show physical affection is tantamount to laying a building’s foundation on quicksand. 

How can they learn to speak up for their bodily autonomy when they were taught from a young age that anyone is entitled to their body?

How can they learn to advocate for their own healthy relationships if they’re taught someone else always gets to dictate the terms?

The answer is they can’t.  

Encouraging critical thinking and media literacy

By encouraging critical thinking and media literacy, you help your kid differentiate between fact and fiction. In a “fake news” era, thinking critically is as essential as a good Wi-Fi connection.

Don’t just plop your kids down in front of Bluey and hope they borrow scruples from the characters (although I will admit that Bluey has taught even me some profound life lessons). 

Consume media with your kids so you can talk about the storylines and help them apply the topics and lessons broached by kids’ shows to their own lives.  

Encourage your child to ask questions: “Is this real? What’s the message here? What would you have done differently?” Show them how to spot problematic tropes, exaggerated portrayals, and “Hollywood magic.” 

Seeking help and support

If you fear that your child may have been negatively impacted by pornography, here are some resources to support you: 

  • Fight the New Drug: provides information on the harmful effects of pornography and offers resources for individuals and families
  • Your Brain on Porn: offers educational material on how pornography affects the brain and provides support for those looking to quit
  • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): provides guidelines and advice for parents on how to address the issue of pornography with their children

Impact of Porn on Teens or Children

Letting kids learn about sex from porn is like letting them take relationship advice from The Twilight Saga. Sure, the movies are fun, but their vision of love is troubling, to say the least. 

Jokes aside, the impact of porn on young minds can be profound, skewing their views on sex, love, and intimacy. 

Distorted views of sexuality and relationships

Kids will inevitably seek answers online without a trusted adult to talk to. And let’s be real; they’re not going to search for scholarly articles on adolescent sexuality. Nope, they will head straight for the land of X-rated content, mindlessly absorbing the messages it feeds them.

Those messages can seriously distort their views on sexuality and relationships, making them think on-screen fantasies are real-life norms. And why wouldn’t they? If someone showed you a workout video where Miley Cyrus gets toned by eating donuts and drinking soda, you’d be heading straight to Dunkin’ Donuts! (Pro tip: It’s HIIT and lean protein, not donuts and Coke.)

Donut workout videos may mess with your fat-to-muscle ratio, but the use of porn by kids and teens has much more profound, psychological implications. 

According to an Australian study conducted in 2017, consumption of porn at a young age can lead to many troubling results:

  • Stronger permissive sexual attitudes (e.g., premarital sex, casual sex)
  • Performing common sexual acts seen in dominant hetero pornography
  • Unsafe sexual health practices, such as unprotected sex
  • “Sexual uncertainty” about sexual beliefs, sexual dissatisfaction, anxiety, and fear 

And maybe worst of all, porn usually reinforces stereotypes of an active male and a passive female. The same study shows that 

. . . both male and female consumers of pornography had increased levels of self-objectification and body surveillance. Male teens who view pornography frequently are more likely to view women as sex objects and to hold sexist attitudes such as women “leading men on” . . . Adolescents who consumed violent pornography were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive compared to those who viewed non-violent pornography or no pornography.[7]

Yikes!

Increased risk of addiction and compulsive behavior

Ever just had one Oreo? Yeah, right! Who can resist those delicious little devils? But it’s not your fault — your brain’s just looking out for you, trying to keep you alive by craving more of that dopamine-inducing comfort food. Blame it on evolution!

Porn functions the same way.

Porn stimulates the brain’s dopamine system, getting it hooked on instant gratification.

In her article Why Is Porn Addictive? certified addiction professional Amber Biello-Taylor explains, “When someone has an orgasm, the body releases endorphins and there is a spike in dopamine levels, causing the person to experience feelings of pleasure similar to when someone uses drugs or alcohol.”[8]

Over time, a tolerance for porn builds up, just like it would for alcohol or drugs (or Oreos). This means that an addict might need more and more stimulation to get the same level of satisfaction. And that could lead some people to seek out riskier sexual activities in real life. 

Without learning healthy ways to create dopamine through positive behaviors, like outdoor activities, exercise, or listening to music, kids are at a very high risk of developing addictions. 

Late George Washington University researcher and clinical psychologist Dr. Victor Cline warns that pornography is a trap — a never-ending cycle that feeds on itself, distorting reality and making healthy, intimate relationships increasingly difficult.[9] 

Negative impact on mental health and self-esteem

If Kim Kardashian could single-handedly inspire an entire BBL industry, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to imagine the negative impact of porn on mental health and self-esteem. But of course, just for you, I’ve found a study that confirms your suspicions. 

A study on the risk of porn on adolescent well-being conducted by the University of Zagreb, Croatia, and the University of Southern Ontario, Canada, shows that 

pornography use may contribute to personal insecurities about adolescents’ bodies, their appearance, or their sexual performance and it may undermine attachment functioning, leading to relationship dysfunction, and social isolation. Furthermore . . . pornography use is related to . . . lower life-satisfaction and self-esteem, and more symptoms of depression in adolescents.[10]

After watching porn where all bodies are plastic surgery artworks, your child may struggle with body image, thinking they’re supposed to meet these impossible standards. 

In this context, another study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, authors Tamarit et al. define body self-esteem “as one’s evaluation of their own worth through the use of internet and social media.”[11]

In the formative years, a lot of identity exploration for kids and teens is comparing themselves to what they see around them. So, if all they see is filtered, picture-perfect bodies, no wonder their self-worth is plummeting. 

And who can blame them when their role models are practically CGI? 

Interference with healthy sexual development

Interference with healthy sexual development boils down to age-appropriate content. While adults can spot what’s fake, kids and teens don’t have the experience to figure it out. 

Children need to discover their sexuality at the pace of their own forming minds and bodies. Too much explicit content too soon can mess with that, leading to unrealistic, harmful perceptions of sex.

In a 2019 study published in Education and Health, authors Ainsworth-Masiello and Evans found that

. . . young people highlight concerns regarding sexual expectations from relationships, including body image, duration of sex and the “need” to perform certain acts with partners. Alongside this, they would also mention watching pornographic material and feeling pressure to emulate this.[12]  

Watching porn early is like trying to learn to cook from a Top Chef episode — nobody cooks like that, and who even has that many knives at home?

Whether it’s an inability to produce an edible meal or a failure to engage in a healthy sexual relationship, it’s crucial that kids don’t develop expectations based on misrepresentation.

Increased risk of engaging in risky sexual behavior

Kids’ brains aren’t great at recognizing danger. Remember Tide Pods? Adolescent executive functioning skills aren’t always the best.[13] 

This leaves them vulnerable to various problematic online behaviors. 

Take sextortion, for example. 

In a 2018 article in the journal Sexual Abuse, authors Patchin and Hinduja explore the dangers of this crime on young lives. 

They define sextortion as the “threatened dissemination of explicit, intimate, or embarrassing images of a sexual nature without consent, usually for the purpose of procuring additional images, sexual acts, money, or something else.”[14]

It’s a serious and growing crisis. 

In fact, between 2021 and 2023, there were “over 13,000 reports of online financial sextortion of minors” reported to the FBI and DHS, cases which led to “at least 20 suicides.”[15]

Now, I truly hope you and your kid never have to deal with sextortion. But it’s crucial to teach kids about safe sex practices and online dangers. That way, they can make smarter choices and understand the importance of consent and protection. 

Knowledge and awareness are the shields that will protect them against the internet’s villains!

Strain on social interactions and relationships

In some respects, life was easier pre-internet. Back then, the closest you’d come to seeing porn was sneaking a peek through the curtain at Blockbuster’s “adults only” section or stumbling upon a dusty box full of pinups in your uncle’s basement. 

Times have changed. Sexually explicit content is so ubiquitous these days that dodging it feels like an Olympic sport! 

Its impact, however, is one to be reckoned with. 

Gustavo Mesch, in his 2009 study on the social effects of porn on teens, found that “greater quantities of pornography consumption were significantly correlated with lower degrees of social integration . . . and aggressiveness in school, with higher degrees of consumption related to higher levels of aggressiveness.”[16]

The same study, however, indicates that

kids who have close friendships and high-quality social interactions are far less likely even to be interested in viewing porn.

So, maybe instead of worrying about what your kids are watching, focus on getting them to hang out with their friends more often and build a strong social network.

Encourage the good instead of fretting over and punishing the bad!

Protecting Your Kids From Pornography

Want to protect your kids from porn? Get ahead of the game! Play defense before the offense even starts.

You can’t stop your kids’ curiosity. It’s their nature! 

Children are far more likely to try something if you simply forbid it. Remember Simba’s excursion to the elephant graveyard? Would he have been so excited to go there if Mufasa hadn’t explicitly forbidden it? We’ll never know. 

But let’s treat Mufasa’s parenting error as an invitation to explore alternative tools to simple prohibition (which is ok to a degree but surely not enough). 

As a parent, you’ve got a whole bag of tricks to keep your little explorer from venturing into the shadowy place. 

Implementing parental controls and content filters

You childproof your house, so why not childproof your internet? 

You already know that the best defense is a good offense. Parental controls and content filters like Net Nanny, Qustodio, and Norton Family can block explicit websites and monitor online activities. 

These tools guard your young padawan like the Mandalorian protecting Baby Yoda, keeping your kids on the light side of the internet. 

Promoting open communication and trust

As much as the vision of your child asking you about porn makes you cringe, keeping communication open is key. 

Now, I’m not suggesting you implement a system like that of Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, whose system of “accountability” means he and his teenage son monitor each other’s porn usage because that’s . . . extremely weird.[17]

What I am suggesting is that you create a safe space where your kids feel comfortable discussing anything, even porn. Think Phil Dunphy from Modern Family. Genuine, authentic, the perfect dad. 😍

Educating children about internet safety

Knowledge is key. You can’t protect yourself or your child from dangers you don’t know exist.

Porn isn’t the only online danger; there’s also cyberbullying, identity theft, and who knows what else lurking just around the next click. 

Hopefully, your child will be spared from these threats, but being aware of them helps kids make smarter decisions. 

Talk to your kids about their internet use, teach them about online dangers, and learn everything you can about the internet to make informed decisions.

When everyone’s in the know, it’s easier to stay safe and have fun online!

Encouraging healthy offline activities and hobbies

If you grew up roaming the neighborhood and climbing trees, you already know how awesome it is to experience the world as a free-range kid. 

While it may not look as liberated as it did growing up in the 80s, cultivating your kids’ offline hobbies and activities is your best defense against them getting bored and stumbling into porn.

Enroll them in ballet, football, martial arts, swimming, music lessons, or a reading club. Keep them busy and entertained — anything to keep them off that darn screen. 

Need more convincing? 

A 2019 report in JAMA Pediatrics found that “team sports participation during adolescence was significantly associated with better adult mental health outcomes, especially for males, including lower likelihood of having ever received a diagnosis of depression or anxiety and having current depressive symptoms.”[18]

If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. 

Modeling responsible digital behavior

Kids learn by example. If they see you munching on kale and jogging like Rocky Balboa every morning, they’re likely to follow suit. 

Want your kiddo to act right online? You’ve got to lead by example. Simple as that. Show them what good internet behavior looks like by practicing it yourself. 

You do this by waiting until they’re not around to glue yourself to your phone, doom-scrolling or fighting trolls, or whatever you do on Instagram in the middle of the night.

I’m not telling you not to conduct content research on your high school frenemies — just don’t do it when the kids are watching.

Consistency between your words and actions will reinforce the lessons you’re teaching.

Seeking professional help when needed

If you see your child struggling with porn addiction or related issues, please don’t make it about yourself. It’s not about your being a bad parent, or your child being deficient. Shame and judgment won’t get either of you anywhere. 

Seek professional help instead.  

Look into resources like counseling, therapy, and support groups. Organizations like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation offer guidance and services to help families in these situations.

Conclusion

You can’t 100% guarantee your child will never view porn; curiosity is part of growing up — and it’s everywhere. But you can lay the groundwork to prevent its harmful effects by learning how to talk to kids about pornography.

Normalize sex education as an ongoing part of your kids’ upbringing, like teaching them to tie their shoes or make pancakes. Help them build a strong sense of self-worth, and, when in doubt, activate those parental controls.

But most importantly, you’ve got to talk to your kids.

You may want your baby to stay innocent forever, but it’s just not how the sausage is made. 

It’s a toe-curling convo, but it’s one worth having — not only for your kids but for society at large. Burying our heads in the sand and hoping for the best won’t prepare our youth for healthy, safe adulthood. Cultivating healthy sexual behaviors, relationship patterns, and body image now is the way to achieve it. 

So, let’s make the world a better place one cringeworthy sex talk at a time! 

FAQs

How to talk with children who’ve accidentally seen pornography?

When you talk with children who’ve accidentally seen pornography, ask what they saw and how it made them feel. Be curious, not critical. Reassure them they’re not in trouble. Explain why that content isn’t for kids and discuss healthy relationships. Make it clear they can always come to you with questions. 

Keep it light, open, and supportive — turn the awkward into a learning moment!

What to say when children deliberately view pornography

When children deliberately view pornography, ask them in a nonjudgmental manner why they looked it up. Was it curiosity or peer pressure? Explain how porn can distort their view of sex and relationships. Real talk, no scare tactics. Firmly set rules about internet use and reiterate that you’re there to talk about anything. 

Where do pre-teens see pornography?

Pre-teens see pornography on all sorts of digital hangouts, such as social media (Instagram, Twitter, TikTok), video sites (YouTube, Vimeo), file sharing (BitTorrent), messaging apps (Snapchat, WhatsApp, Discord), or web searches. 

References

1. Dines, G. (2010). Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality. Beacon Press.

2. Berman, L. (2009). Talking to your kids about sex: Turning “the talk” into a conversation for life. DK.

3. Berman, L. (2009). Talking to your kids about sex: Turning “the talk” into a conversation for life. DK.

4. Berman, L. (2009). Talking to your kids about sex: Turning “the talk” into a conversation for life. DK.

5. Dines, G. (2010). Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality. Beacon Press.

6. Sommet, N., & Berent, J. (2023). Porn use and men’s and women’s sexual performance: Evidence from a large longitudinal sample. Psychological Medicine, 53, 3105–3114. https://doi.org/10.1017/S003329172100516X 

7. Quadara, A., El-Murr, A., & Latham, J. (2017, December). Online

Pornography: Effects on children & young people. Australian Institute of Family Studies. https://aifs.gov.au/sites/default/files/publication-documents/online_pornography-effects_on_children_young_people_snapshot_0.pdf

8. Biello-Taylor, A. (2024, February 22). Why is porn addictive? Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/porn-addiction/why-is-porn-addictive/#:~:text=Like%20drugs%2C%20alcohol%2C%20video%20games,someone%20uses%20drugs%20or%20alcohol

9. Cline, V. B., & Wilcox, B. (2002). The pornography trap. Marriage and Families, 9, 3. https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/marriageandfamilies/vol9/iss1/3 

10. Kohut, T., & Štulhofer, A. (2018). Is pornography use a risk for adolescent wellbeing? An examination of temporal relationships in two independent panel samples. PLoS ONE, 13(8): E0202048. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0202048

11. Tamarit, A., Schoeps, K., Peris-Hernández, M., Montoya-Castilla, I. (2021). The impact of adolescent internet addiction on sexual online victimization: The mediating effects of sexting and body self-esteem. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 4226. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18084226

12. Ainsworth-Masiello, R. & Evans, D. T. (2019). Expectations vs reality: In which ways might watching porn online, as male and female adolescents, contribute to poor emotional health? Education and Health, 37(4), 109–116. http://sheu.org.uk/sheux/EH/eh374ram.pdf

13. Sturman, D. A., & Moghaddam, B. (2011). Reduced neuronal inhibition and coordination of adolescent prefrontal cortex during motivated behavior. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31(4), 1471–1478. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4210-10.2011

14. Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2020). Sextortion among adolescents: Results from a national survey of U.S. youth. Sexual Abuse, 32(1), 30–54. https://doi.org/10.1177/1079063218800469

15. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024, January 17). Sextortion: A growing threat preying upon our nation’s teens. FBI. https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/sacramento/news/sextortion-a-growing-threat-preying-upon-our-nations-teens

16. Owens, E. W., Behun, R. J., Manning, J. C., & Reid, R. C. (2012). The impact of internet pornography on adolescents: A review of the research. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 19(1–2), 99–122. https://doi.org/10.1080/10720162.2012.660431

17. Levin, B. (2023, November 6). Mike Johnson said he and his son monitor each other’s porn usage, and yeah, it’s exactly as weird as it sounds. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2023/11/mike-johnson-covenant-eyes

18. Easterlin, M.C., Chung, P.J., Leng, M., Dudovitz, R. (2019). Association of team sports participation with long-term mental health outcomes among individuals exposed to adverse childhood experiences. JAMA Pediatrics, 173(7), 681–688. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1212