Things to know about porn and young people

Many adults are unaware of how pervasive pornography has become, the nature of the material young people see or how it is affecting young people’s sexual understandings and experiences.

In order to assist young people to navigate this new reality, parents, schools and community organisations must first understand the issues.

Porn is everywhere

With the click of a button, it is now possible to access a vast array of free pornographic images via the internet.
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* MJ Fleming, S Greentree, D Cocotti-Muller, K A Elias & S Morrison, ‘Safety in cyberspace: Adolescents’ safety and exposure online’, Youth and Society, vol. 38, no. 2, 2006, pp. 135–54.

Some young people actively search for porn, others are exposed to it inadvertently – through uninvited ‘pop-ups’, a word search for something unrelated or an image sent from a friend.

    Some young people are creating porn themselves, using mobile phones and webcams to create explicit imagery of themselves and others.


  • Over a quarter of young people have sent a nude or nearly nude image of themselves.
  • 42% of young people have received a nude or nearly nude image of someone else.
  • Half of sexually active young people have sent a nude or nearly nude image of themselves.
  • 69% of sexually active young people have received a nude or nearly nude image of someone else.

All sectors of the population are affected. Pornography’s reach crosses social, economic and cultural boundaries. It affects straight kids and gay kids. And it impacts on both boys and girls – although it impacts on boys and girls in different ways.

Young men are more likely than their female peers to use porn alone and in same sex groups, to view a wider range of images and to initiate its use rather than be introduced to it by an intimate partner.

The mainstreaming of pornography is reinforced by its influence on popular culture; in music videos, films, television programs, advertising and fashion.

Porn is no longer a centrefold

The shift of pornography from a centrefold in a magazine to moving images on a screen has been accompanied by a change in the nature of the material. Pornography is not just images of people having sex. It communicates a whole range of complex messages – including messages about men, women, sex and power.

    At the same time that pornography has become more mainstream, it has also become rougher, harder, more aggressive. A recent content analysis of the most popular porn found:


  • 88% of scenes included acts of physical aggression
  • 48% of the scenes contained verbal aggression.
    The aggressive acts included:


  • gagging in 54% of all scenes
  • choking in 27% of scenes
  • slapping in 75% of scenes.
    The aggression in mainstream pornography is overwhelmingly directed towards women.


  • In 94% of cases, the aggressive acts were directed at female performers.
    And viewers see more than sex, aggression and degradation. They also see the performers’ responses to these acts.


  • In 95% of incidents, the aggression was met with either a neutral or pleasured response by the woman being aggressed.

The message to viewers is that girls and women like it when men hit, choke or gag them.

These representations are giving a distorted view of sex and of men and women, including a sort of eroticisation of violence against women.

Porn has become a default sexuality educator

We have entered a new era… ‘Sex ed by porn’.

Many young people say they know that porn is make-believe, even if the sex is real. Nevertheless, they often go on to describe how their sexual experiences are shaped by what they – or their partners or peers – observe in porn.

As the most prominent sex educator for many young people, pornography is teaching some very problematic lessons – about bodies, sexual health, pleasure, consent, gender, power, aggression and performance. From its over-sized breasts and penises to its never-ending sexual stamina and loud, pleasured moaning in response to being gagged or choked, porn misrepresents reality.

    Pornography misrepresents what people – particularly women – really like. Porn is normalising its ‘signature sex acts’:


  • ejaculation on faces and bodies
  • what the industry calls ‘deep throating’ (fellatio with the penis in the throat, often inducing gagging or even vomiting)
  • heterosexual anal sex.

For example, while some women like anal sex, most women do not. Yet due to its normalisation in porn, young men are increasingly asking – or expecting – their partners to have anal sex, and to follow the broader pornographic script, in real life.

Young women commonly describe struggling to respond to pressure from partners. Sometimes young men are genuinely surprised that their partner does not want to do what they have tried to mimic from porn – the women in porn seem to love it.

Neither is gay and lesbian porn free from the kinds of stereotypes, aggression and degradation that are so common in heterosexual pornography.

While gay porn is often referred to as a source of liberation for same-sex attracted young people in a world in which their sexual orientation may be invisible or derided, its portrayals of gay and lesbian sex can be equally gendered, aggressive and limiting.

Young people need help to navigate this new reality

Porn is a poor and problematic sexuality educator. But its prevalence and influence create the impression that it is ‘normal’. Young people need help from adults who care about them to understand that porn is not reality. So, what do young people need to know about porn?

Porn can shape sexual tastes – and expectations.

Just as we can acquire a taste for a particular food or drink – even one that we initially don’t like – we also can develop sexual tastes.

When someone uses porn – particularly when they use it regularly to get off – they can learn to link what they see with arousal and pleasure. Lots of people – mostly boys or men – watch porn and then think that’s what they would like to do in real life.

But much of what is shown in porn doesn’t reflect what many people actually enjoy. Often it is not just unrealistic, but also aggressive and degrading. Porn is not a good place to have your sexual tastes shaped. It can leave you with unrealistic expectations that a real life partner is not likely to be keen on.

Porn bodies are not normal.

The bodies of porn performers – like those of models and sports stars – are not how most people look. The men in porn almost always have a huge penis. The women are usually young and thin. They may have over-sized breasts and their genitals often look small and even.

Porn performers do all sorts of things to make their bodies look like they do – like waxing, weight-lifting, bleaching or botox. Sometimes they’ve had surgery to make their breasts or penis bigger, or their vulva smaller! In reality, people come in all shapes and sizes – and adults grow body hair!

Porn sex is not safe sex.

Porn often shows people doing all sorts of unsafe things, such as anal sex followed by oral sex, or ejaculation in mouths and eyes.

Often porn shows multiple partners having unprotected sex. Only 10% of scenes show condom use. Porn performers often catch sexually transmissible infections. Some performers experience long-term damage to their bodies.

Porn is a performance. It misrepresents pleasure.

Porn ‘performers’ are just that – performers. And the porn script usually requires them to look like they’re having a great time – even when what they’re doing is uncomfortable, painful or degrading. For many performers, faking it is just part of the job.

Most porn gives a mixed up view of sex. It doesn’t show what most people enjoy and how they like to be treated.

Free and full consent is crucial.

If you watch porn, you might get the impression that everyone wants to have sex all the time. But they don’t. Working out if you and your partner both want to have sex, and what you both want to do, can be difficult – but it is really important.

Some people feel pressured to do what their partner has seen in porn. But doing anything sexual with a partner without their free agreement is never okay. And remember, a ‘yes’ to one thing is not yes to anything. Make sure they’re into it or give it a miss.

Sex is not a performance.

In porn, people perform sex for the viewer. They pout, talk and moan at the camera in positions designed to look good – rather than feel good.

In real life, sex is not a spectator sport – and it shouldn’t be something you just do for your partner. If you feel like you need to fake it or do things you’re not into, there’s something wrong. Sex should feel good – emotionally and physically – for everyone involved.

Violence and humiliation are not sexy.

Porn often shows men being aggressive and in control and women happily being dominated. Eighty-eight per cent of scenes in the most popular porn show physical aggression. Ninety-four per cent of the aggression in porn is directed at female performers.

Porn is made to sexually arouse its viewers, and from the industry’s perspective, it doesn’t matter how unrealistic, rough or degrading it is, as long as it sells. In fact, the industry is pretty open about the fact that the rougher stuff sells best.

Porn can make violence seem sexy, and something women like. But violence and humiliation aren’t sexy. Nor is it just fantasy. In reality, huge numbers of women all around the world experience violence from their partners.

Life for a performer can be pretty rough.

Being paid to have sex with beautiful people might seem like an ideal job. But in reality, being a porn performer is often far from glamorous.

Performers regularly catch sexually transmitted infections, find it hard to maintain relationships, can find themselves under pressure to do things they don’t want to do and can end up with serious and lasting damage to their bodies or emotional wellbeing.

Porn can make you a dud lover.

Even if you know that porn is fake, it can shape what you find sexy.

But in reality, much of what’s shown in porn is not what most people – particularly women – like or want. If you develop a taste for porn sex, you may be setting yourself up to be a dud lover – and no one wants that!

Porn reinforces stereotypes.

Porn commonly portrays – and reinforces – racial and gender stereotypes.

Stereotypes occur when a group of people is defined by simplistic, limited and unfair assumptions. Stereotyping reinforces prejudices and creates the conditions for other injustices. Ironically, while porn claims to be liberating, its portrayals of sex, race, sexuality and gender can keep people trapped in long-standing and oppressive views about how people ought to behave and relate.

Gay and lesbian porn is limiting.

Some people assume that gay and lesbian porn is liberating and free from the problems – such as sexism and aggression – that are so common in heterosexual porn.

But gay and lesbian porn communicate many of the same messages – about bodies, sexual health, pleasure, performance and consent – as heterosexual porn. Often it also communicates the same messages about gender, power and aggression – where a more masculine performer, known in gay porn as the ‘top boy’, acts aggressively towards a more feminine performer, or ‘bottom boy’, mimicking the male and female performers in straight porn.
Porn showing women having sex with women is most commonly made for male heterosexual consumers. This porn often misleadingly suggests that lesbians have sex with women for men’s pleasure, but they would really prefer to have sex with men.

Sex can have meaning.

Porn communicates that sex is something people do with just anyone.

But for most people, sex is something they do with someone they know – often with someone they care about or love. For many people, sex is a way of feeling close to someone, expressing love and enjoying each other.

Sex can be so much better than what you see in porn.

Sex can be fantastic, but it can also be awful – and everything in between.

If you want to be a good lover, don’t learn about sex from porn – or have your sexual tastes shaped by porn. You can do so much better than that.

The keys to good sex are communication, consent and respect.

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