This piece is a compilation of responses to the following question:
What are the real dangers of pornography as you see them? How can pornography have a negative effect on teenagers? All comments welcome.
Our goal here is not necessarily to argue that teenagers should be shielded from pornography, or that you should give up pornography. But as pornography is so common these days and extremely easily available, we feel that the potential dangers of pornography should be known and considered. If you’re a parent of a teenager or you regularly watch pornography yourself, I encourage you to read some of the great responses we’ve collected for this question below.
The best comment we received here, in my view, is by Kimberly KP Lovejoy of PornFreeCO who wrote over 1,000 words detailing the harmful effects of pornography on teenage brains (read it here – it’s the first one listed below). Beyond that, here are the main points people have made:
- Teenagers may try dangerous things with friends, and pornography can also set them up for unrealistic sexual expectations (Katie) (231 words) (regarding unrealistic sexual expectations, see also this comment and this comment)
- Pornography is primarily catered to males, which can skew sex so that the main objective is pleasing the male (Stacey) (229 words)
- Pornography can be addictive (especially for teenagers) and can lead to the objectification of people (Nancy) (93 words)
- Can lead to unrealistic body expectations for how women should look (Lauren) (336 words)
- Men addicted to pornography may find it difficult to perform during real sex (Meagan) (128 words)
We will continue adding to this article as we do more research and more contributions come in. If you have input to share on this topic, please also make a submission.
Because I was exposed to pornography at 8 years old, it opened the door for a lifetime of sexual exploitation and abuse that almost ended in my death. As a violence prevention expert, my thoughts on the real dangers of pornography and the negative effect on teenagers come from nearly 4 decades of research. The trends point to a number of negative impacts porn has on individuals of all ages, relationships, and societies.
According to recent trends, the majority of children will see sexually explicit material, including hardcore pornography, prior to leaving elementary school. In a study conducted by PornFreeCO last year, we found that 29% saw porn before their 10th birthday and nearly 100% by the age of 14. More alarming, 13% contemplated suicide because of their involvement with porn. The dangers of pornography overlap into risks that affect every aspect of teenager well-being - mental, physical, relational, spiritual, financial, and educational health and wellness.
Because teen brains are not fully developed, pornography has an impact on cognitive function, wiring new neural pathways that condition the brain to want more porn and less of everything else. This makes it difficult to focus on school, sports, hobbies, and activities that help teens succeed in life. While most porn can be accessed for free on any smartphone, gaming system, tablet, laptop, or other device, many paid sites, including camming sites, offer paid content that can put teens in financial trouble when their desire for porn outweighs their financial capacity. Further, because many teens are lured into sextortion, revenge porn, or human trafficking, predators may manipulate vulnerable teens. All across the globe, teens are sextorted to pay them to make nude images go away, invited to take part in “camming” or “sugaring” and even be trafficked as a means of making money.
Particularly vulnerable to body image distortions, both boys and girls who view porn are shown to have negative views about their own bodies as well as the bodies of their partners. Further, when teens view porn, research shows them to be more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior such as having sex sooner, engaging in sex with more partners, taking part in riskier kinds of sex, and ending up with greater chances of catching and spreading sexually transmitted infections.
While most teens haven’t had authentic and ongoing conversations with parents about the consent, mutual pleasure, love, respect, empathy, and connection that can happen in healthy lovemaking, their sex ed is typically received from porn. And when surveyed, most teens agree that porn hasn’t helped them understand consent as they want to copy the trends of what they are viewing online. Porn fosters interactions based on domination, disrespect, violence, and detachment which can impair the development of emotional intimacy as well as decreased interest in sex with a real, live partner.
Themes in porn make it harder for teens to understand how to connect with real romantic partners in an intimate way as they are urged to exchange bodily fluids and leave – noting sex “doesn’t mean anything.” This often results in teens having less sex or even no sex at all, especially when porn is linked to erectile dysfunction due to porn’s impact on the brain.
Typical trends in porn highlight non-consensual sex, violence, racism, degradation, and dehumanization that normalizes sexual violence. In fact, since the advent of internet porn, trends like public sex, sex with strangers, drunk sex, sex while sleeping, group sex, sex with animals, BDSM, and anal sex for virgins are glorified rather than consent, intimacy, mutual pleasure, etc. Many teens who view porn feel shame for what they watch and/or how it impacts their treatment of others, so they may choose to disconnect with their spiritual practice of choice.
When brains are not fully developed, teens don’t understand the cause and effect of porn’s novelty and risk taking that porn encourages. Studies show the younger a boy views porn, the more likely he will have a limited capacity for intimacy, a decreased empathy for rape victims, and an increased likelihood of risky and even illegal sexual behavior.
According to the American Psychological Association, early sexualization through porn also has significant negative mental health consequences for underage girls. Female teens and younger girls viewing porn are denied the chance to learn about healthy relationships because the script of porn teaches that sex equals violence, domination, infidelity, and abuse. We are raising a generation of girls and boys to believe that sex equals pain, crying, name-calling, dehumanization, multiple partners, racism, and ends with the proverbial “money shot” that is typically to the face.
Finally, on one particular porn site last year, the most common search term was “amateur.” Also, common searches for “step-mom” and “teen” open further doors that lead to the inherent dangers of risky and illegal possibilities lurking online. Data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) found that last year there were nearly 70 million images of child sexual abuse online. Note that child sexual abuse images may include sexts that were consensually or non-consensually shared with classmates or strangers met online, even pedophiles posing as fellow students. “United States federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (a person less than 18 years old). Outside of the legal system, NCMEC chooses to refer to these images as Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) to most accurately reflect what is depicted – the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.” – NCMEC website.
It is highly unlikely that most teens understand the impact of creating their own sexually explicit images which can result in having to register as sex offenders for creating, distributing, and having CSAM in their possession. When teens have a natural desire to want to fit in, they don’t always understand the risks associated with sexting. Both coerced and non-coerced sexts of minors end up in the hands of pedophiles, predators, and law enforcement where further dangers of sextortion, human trafficking, and legal action take place across the globe with teens and children who just wanted to be liked. In a study conducted in 2019 by PornFreeCO, it was discovered that nearly 100% of the surveyed teens were solicited for nudes, and the majority were from strangers through social media. In an older study, 28% of the sample reported sending a naked picture of themselves through text or email. 31% reported having asked someone for a sext and over half (57%) were asked to send a sext.
--Kimberly KP LoveJoy, pornfreeco.com
The dangers of pornography are that teenagers may try dangerous things with friends. For instance, a few years ago, we had teenagers soaking tampons and alcohol and sticking them in their anus. Teenagers are learning about sexuality in the world, and it’s new. They might not feel comfortable talking to a parent about what they’ve seen in pornography, and then will want to try it and experiment with on their own. Anal sex always requires lubricant, and many teens who are bisexual don’t have this knowledge. Having your teenager work with a therapist, a professional outside the family, can help you gain information because they may tell a therapist things they won’t tell a parent. Pornography also set adults up for unrealistic sexual expectations, such as a man having performance anxiety around “making” a partner orgasm and comparisons around penis size, which really don’t even matter is actually. Pornography can quickly lead to a sexual addiction because of the pleasure that masturbation provides. If teenager cannot get a romantic relationship going, often times, they may fall to masturbation, and compulsive masturbation where they might be hurting themselves because they’re doing it so much. Sex addiction is a real thing and so is porn addiction. You can limit the websites that your teenager has access to by putting parent controls on your Internet, and having open discussions about sex positive family talks.
--Katie Ziskind, Wisdom Within Counseling
Because teens do not have fully developed brains until about the age of 21, the imprinting of such trash can truly affect how they think of sex and what they expect from sex when they are in a relationship. Although girls also look at pornography, most of it is geared towards the male mind. Let's start with how unequal most pornography is. Generally, there is about 95% of the video content where the woman is satisfying the man and 5% where he is satisfying her. These scenarios can subliminally teach boys/men that they should be satisfied and catered to. Poor girls and women can be affected too, thinking that their main job is the performance on the male.
In the brain, pornography excites the pleasure center of the brain much like sugar, drugs, or nicotine. Like any drug, your need for it increases with use. In the case of pornography, most addicts need more and more risque storylines until the true meaning of sexual relations becomes somewhat blurred.
In addition to parents attempting to put controls on the screens their children use, they should also have a talk as early as possible about what pornography is and why it is not part of their family values. Having open discussions is the only way teens will understand the implications behind the sex and pornography industry and hopefully avoid it.
--Stacey Greene, StaceyGreeneCoaching.com
As a licensed clinical psychologist, I share:
1. Pornography can be highly addictive, particularly for teens as their hormonal spikes and brain development are ripe for this instant gratification, that seems like a harmless act.
2. Pornography can lead to objectification of people. Chronic porn users many times have great difficulty with true intimacy....always focusing on the perfect body and willingness of sexual objects.
3. Sometimes this can lead to an inability to have sex without pornography. They grown dependent on it, and are unable to connect emotionally through sex with a partner.
--Nancy B. Irwin, PsyD, C.Ht., drnancyirwin.com
Mainstream pornography can be quite damaging to teens. Young people essentially learn about sex through this. For girls, it puts extremely unrealistic expectations in their minds for both how they should look and act during sex. For one, many pornstars have perfect vaginas (they have often have had surgeries as labia reduction is common). Growing up, I definitely had this idea in my mind. I was even looking into labia reductions at age 15 because I wanted to look like these perfect pornstars! I wanted a huge round booty and huge boobs with the flattest stomach ever, which is really difficult to achieve without operations. Even when I was at the point where my body was pretty sexy, I would still focus on that tiny bit of stomach fat that naturally comes with curves.
Anyways, this damage often remains throughout life unless you're educated enough to realize the standards you've developed *and* take action to remove them. Many don't make it this far. It wasn't until recently that I've finally begun to focus on healthy growth rooted in self-love (i.e. becoming the best version of myself), rather than doing crazy things to reach unrealistic standards and pretty much become a different person.
On the other side of the spectrum, male teens who watch this type of porn often develop their own set of expectations for how they want women to look and act. Since most porn focuses on male pleasure, they expect to receive hours of blowjobs and rough sex, with very little in return for their partner. They don't know how to please women, and many young girls don't know either because natural female sexuality is oppressed, whereas male sexuality is embraced.
Some boys/men even develop problems with masturbation or porn addiction, which leads to lower quality sex with partners and plenty of other issues.
Finally, there is the unethical side of porn as well. There are people making money on unconsented porn, videos of minors, videos of people trafficked into sex work, etc.
--Lauren, Stay Sexual
I was just talking to my husband about this the other day. I’m in a master’s program for clinical mental health counseling and getting a certificate in sex therapy. He asked me if it is true that men his age (30s and younger) are being diagnosed with erectile dysfunction because he thought only older men struggled with ED. Research shows that with the rise of pornography use, its ubiquitous nature and constant availability, men are able to get the spike in dopamine the brain creates with an orgasm easily without a partner. Because they can do this all day every day, theoretically, when it comes times for them to perform with their partner, often times they are unable to without the visual and auditory stimulation that porn provides.
Reference: Park BY, Wilson G, Berger J, et al. Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences (2076-328X). 2016;6(3):bs6030017. doi:10.3390/bs6030017.
--Meagan Turner, LinkedIn profile
One problem with pornography is that it habituates us to an unrealistic pespective on sex and sexuality. People who watch porn get used to being aroused by bodies and faces that have been made to look perfect with makeup and airbrushing, by theatrical screams of pleasure, by positions and acts that are painful (usually to the woman), and by other aspects of the show that don't mirror what real sex is like. It then becomes increasingly difficult to enjoy the real thing, which is rarely as perfect as shown on the screen. Research has shown that heavy porn users are less satisfied with their real-life sex lives than people who refrain from watching it.
--Raffi Bilek, Baltimore Therapy Center
Being exposed to pornography before being sexually active or even experiencing any sexual stimuli in person is unhealthy for sexual development, especially hardcore pornography. Teenagers who are exposed to hardcore, extreme, and unrealistic sexual stimuli at a young age will have a hard time adapting to having a healthy sexual relationship with a partner in the future. Especially early in their sexual experiences, they will have a difficult time adapting to ‘real-life’ sex. This is largely due to the fact that it’s not clear to teenagers that pornography has people *acting* in it. They are conditioning themselves to only be able to orgasm to extreme sexual stimuli that will be difficult or impossible to find in real life. What's more, is that these sexual stimuli aren’t present in a healthy relationship. Impotence and sexual performance issues will likely plague individuals who expose themselves to hardcore pornography in their teenage years, if not heavily inhibit their ability to have a healthy sex life later in life.
--Katie Dames, Feely Feelings
Many teens — mostly boys, but girls too — regularly view mainstream internet porn. It’s free, hardcore, and undermines their healthy sexual, emotional, and cognitive development.
Youth are not simply exploring sexuality by viewing the Playboy pinups of past generations. They’re repeatedly watching scenes that contain violent sex acts. The most respected and cited study on mainstream pornography content found that 90% of scenes contained at least one aggressive act. And it’s not their fault — kids are targeted by the porn industry, and some kids can get hooked.
Researchers from across disciplines have shown that the earlier a boy views pornography, the more likely he is to develop increased anxiety and depression; demonstrate poor academic performance; show decreased capacity for empathy, connection, and healthy relationship skills; lowered empathy for rape victims; have an increased likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors; and experience increased erectile dysfunction.
With respect to hypersexualized media and girls, over twenty years of research show that exposure to sexualized images contributes to girls’ self-sexualization, leading others to objectify them and causing girls to experience feelings of shame, appearance anxiety, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depressed mood.
--Samantha Wechsler, Culture Reframed
Pornography is alluring and destructive, especially to teenagers. They start their education and experience with a total misinterpretation of reality. Pornography can easily change their attitudes toward their own and others’ sexuality, and their sexual expectations and behavior are shaped accordingly. It disorients them during that developmental phase when they have to learn how to handle their sexuality and when they are most vulnerable to uncertainty about their sexual beliefs and moral values.
--Sirarpi Sahakyan, Self Development Secrets
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