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How Porn Hurts Kids and Teens

Minors are extremely vulnerable to pornography.  We now have over a generation of young people who have grown up with computers, the internet, email, chat rooms, social media, cell phones, etc.  Kids are encountering pornography at younger ages and more teens are becoming addicted to it.  Thus, we must find ways to protect youths.

Most communities have obscenity laws which are designed to protect minors from purchasing or viewing pornography.  Unfortunately, because of the internet, these laws are now virtually unenforceable.   However, the fact that obscenity laws have been around for decades shows that society has always believed that pornography was harmful to minors.  Modern research supports this belief.  Pornography has been proven to have detrimental effects on children and teens.

Effects on Children

Because kids today are so technologically savvy, they are at a greater risk of encountering pornography at younger ages than previous generations.   The average age when a child first encounters hard-core pornography today is 8.  Their use of the internet, email, texting, social media websites, video games, and chat rooms make them more vulnerable to exposure to pornography and to sexual predators.  Nearly 1 out of 5 children are regularly approached online to have sex (Conner, 2005).

Because of the violent nature of much of the pornography on the internet, exposure to it can be traumatic for children and may be considered a form of sexual abuse.  Exposure to pornography can affect a child’s psychosexual and spiritual development.  They are introduced to a world they are unable to understand.  Many develop a warped sense of sexuality and relationships.  Pornography sends very distinct messages to children.  For boys, the message is that “women are to be used for men’s sexual pleasure.  Women enjoy abusive sex and never say no.”  For girls the message is that “men are to be feared and mistrusted because they want to hurt women.”  

Children often act out what they see in the media.  This can clearly be seen in the sexual ways children behave with each other.  While some adults may think this is cute, it can have devastating effects.  There is a positive correlation between children’s exposure to pornography and aggressive behavior.  When taken to an extreme, this can be dangerous for children.  An example of this is a news story where an 11 year old boy rapes a 7 year old girl.  

A parent who is addicted to pornography may ignore or neglect his children.  This can leave a child feeling rejected and abandoned.  Often pornography addicts will become negligent and leave pornography where a child can find it.  This is often how children discover internet pornography.  Children who live in a home where pornography is used are often subjected to intense conflict between their parents.  They may also be victims of a broken home.  Pornography plays a significant role in over 50% of all divorces.

The devastating effects of pornography on children are too numerous to list here.  The fact is that we need to protect children from any exposure to porn.  For effective ways to protect your children, click here.

Effect on Teens

Teenagers are at an even greater risk for experiencing the negative effects of pornography.  We all know that puberty is a highly sexually charged time in a person’s life.  Sexuality is new and exciting.  There is a strong desire to explore and experiment with sex.  This is a time when Catholic morality is needed to help teach kids about healthy sexuality and relationships.

Many parents are aware of the dangers of internet pornography, and monitor computers closely.  However, today, the home computer is not the main source of pornography for teens.  It’s portable devices, such as the cell phone, iPod, MP3 Player, iPad, Tablet, or any device that has access to the internet, or can download porn.  Currently, over 50% of pornography is viewed on cell phones.

As with children, we need to examine the messages pornography sends to teenagers.  For boys, the message is that “women are to be used for one’s own sexual pleasure.  Sex has to be part of a relationship.  Intimacy and responsibility are not needed in a sexual relationship.”  For girls, the message is that “in order to be popular and attract a man, one must look and act like a porn star.”  These messages have given rise to the practice of “sexting” where teenagers email nude photos of themselves to each other from their cell phones.  In past generations, it was the man who usually pursued the woman.  However, these new beliefs about sexuality have led women to become just as aggressive in pursuing men.  This has led to greater sexual promiscuity in young people.

Society’s sexualization of women has had an extremely harmful effect on adolescent girls.  According to the APA (2007), the sexualization of women leads to girls and young women feeling bad about them selves.  There is evidence that sexualization contributes to impaired academic performance, and can contribute to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, and even physical health problems in high-school-aged girls and in young women.

The pornography industry has successfully managed to reduce sex to a recreational activity, and teens have bought into this.  Many are developing relationships purely for the purpose of having sex.  They are called “friends with benefits.”  The internet had facilitated the development of these relationships through social media and chat rooms.

Pornography use can damage a teen’s ability to relate to the opposite sex.  This is especially true for boys.  When a boy views porn, he comes to believe that women are there for his pleasure.  The women in porn don’t have thoughts and feelings, they never say “no,” and they enjoy abusive sex.  When a teenage boy then decides to date a real woman, he quickly learns that she does have thoughts and feelings, can say “no,” and does not enjoy abusive sex.  What’s more, he quickly learns that she is somebody’s daughter.  This is very confusing for a young man.  He does not know how to relate to women in a healthy manor.  This can lead to anxiety, depression and anger.  It can even lead him further into pornography use, preferring the women on the internet, whom he can control, to real women whom he cannot control and must respect.

Additional harmful effects of pornography on teenagers include:

  • Developing a tolerance toward pornography, so that increasingly novel or bizarre porn is needed to maintain the same level of interest
  • Misperceptions of exaggerated sexual activity among men and women
  • Overestimating the popularity of sexual practices such as group sex, bestiality, and sadomasochism
  • Diminished trust in intimate partners
  • Abandoning the goal of having a monogamous marriage
  • Believing sexual promiscuity is normal
  • Believing sexual chastity is harmful to one’s health
  • Developing cynical attitudes about love and fidelity
  • Believing superior sexual satisfaction is attainable without love or intimacy
  • Believing marriage is sexually confining
  • Believing that having children and raising a family is confining
  • Developing a negative body image, especially for women
  • Increased risk of developing sexual addiction
  • Increased risk of exposure to “incorrect” information about human sexuality (e.g., bestiality, pedophilia)
  • Increased exposure to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Exposure to age-inappropriate sexual material [Editor’s note: One should ask here whether the authors of this study consider erotica ever to be “age-appropriate,” or whether this is simply a way of avoiding judgment on adult consumption of erotica.]

(Manning, 2006)

While it is important to protect young children (ages 0 – 10) from encountering pornography, it is equally important to train teens (ages 11 and older) on how to deal with pornography when they encounter it.  It is an unfortunate reality in our society that teens will encounter porn.  It will find them.  They need to be taught that pornography is a highly addictive substance, similar to drugs and alcohol, and should be avoided.  They also need to be taught that pornography will have a detrimental effect on their future relationships, and no good can come from using pornography.  Furthermore, teens need to be taught about healthy sexuality and intimacy.

Altogether, pornography has had a tremendous impact of sexual beliefs and practices among teens.  Many parents and schools have also given into this.  Instead of teaching adolescents about the dangers of pornography, and about healthy relationships and sexuality, teens are being taught about birth control methods.  Here is where Catholic teaching is so helpful.  It can be used to teach teens God’s plan for healthy relationships and sexuality.  This in turn could make them want to stay away from anything that would hinder God’s plan, including pornography.  For more information on resources to help teach teens about the dangers of pornography, and about healthy relationships and sexuality, click here.