It’s no secret there’s pornography (sexual pictures and videos of adults) on the internet.
You might have seen it yourself – by accident or on purpose.
More than half (66%) of 14 to15 year olds have seen pornography. For most young people, their first time watching porn was accidental (BBFC, 2019).
If you look at porn, or have friends that do, it’s worth knowing a bit about it.
What’s the impact of porn?
What young people say:
In a survey of young people in 2017, 27% said they felt shocked the first time they saw porn. However, as they watched more, they felt less anxious or disgusted by it. Five out of ten boys, and four out of ten girls, thought porn was realistic. And more boys than girls wanted to copy what they saw in porn (NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner, 2017).
The young people in the BBFC research believed porn could influence future sexual behaviours and attitudes. So what does the science say?
What science says:
Your Brain on Porn is a website designed to share science-based research about porn’s effect on the brain. Here’s what some of the scientific research says:
- Watching porn can make real-world sex less enjoyable.
- Porn can make people feel less happy in their relationships.
- Porn can lead people to think about sex a lot more. This can make it harder for them to enjoy their friendships and other interests.
- Porn can lead to people viewing others, especially women, as ‘sex objects’. This means they only see other people as things to have sex with, not as people with intelligence and feelings. This means they respect them less.
- Over time, porn can shape the types of things you get turned on by. There’s some pretty weird porn out there so if you train your brain to be turned on by the things you see, you could have trouble enjoying real sex.
Porn presents fantasies but can have a big impact on our real lives. It can affect our relationships, sex lives, and our ability to feel good about ourselves.
How does this happen?
The sex you see in porn is very different from what makes good real sex.
That means that if you’re going to look at porn, you need to know it’s not like real sex.
Despite what people do in porn, good sex isn’t about the positions you can get into, or how long you can last.
In real sex, people need to feel a lot more than just sexual arousal. They should feel good about themselves and comfortable with the other person.
Sex is usually better and more pleasurable if the two people feel comfortable talking about it, respect each other and want to do the same things.
Sex is also most satisfying when it’s with someone you find attractive in lots of ways – what kind of person they are as well as what they look like.
Most importantly, in good sex both people want to be having sex and are happy with whatever sex acts they’re doing.
5 porn fantasies
Porn is not just pictures or videos of sex. It is a particular type of sex. Most of the time this isn’t the same as real sex.
Fantasy bodies, fantasy sex
Real breasts and real penises are usually smaller than those in porn. Most women don’t shave off their pubic hair. Most men don’t have penises that can stay erect for long periods. And most people take some time to be aroused and don’t want sex the whole time.
Expecting any of these things in real life can makes people feel pressured and insecure.
Though porn actors are having ‘real’ sex, porn doesn’t focus on them as real people with real characters and feelings. It only focuses on the ‘body’ bit of sex, not the ‘feelings’ bit.
For most people, the most intense sexual experiences come from ‘chemistry’ with someone else. That’s about who that person is as much as what they look like.
Porn actors are usually paid to do what they do in front of the camera. That means they agree to do things which often aren’t what most people would agree to do in their day-to-day sex lives.
Putting pressure on someone to do things seen in porn will usually lead to them feeling uncomfortable, under-confident, and less sexually satisfied.
Some porn is violent, usually towards women. This gives the message that sex is an aggressive act. When it is violent it suggests that the woman receiving it likes it. Remember that she is acting.
Good sex is about harmony between two people. For most people, most of the time, violence towards them makes them feel bad.
Sex for men
Sex in porn is like junk food. It’s mainly about giving men an instant sex high and women doing things to instantly turn men on.
In good sex each person’s feelings and arousal should be equally important.
Worried about your porn use?
If you want to stop watching porn but are finding it difficult, there are some things you can do to help yourself.
Talk about it.
Is there an adult in your life or even a friend you could talk to about your worries? A conversation can help sort out the way forward and make the problem feel more manageable.
Think about your hopes
for your romantic or sexual life now and in the future. Think about whether porn fits or doesn’t fit with these hopes.
Write down all the reasons
that you can think of about why you want to stop watching porn, and rate out of 10 how important each one is. If you are tempted to watch it, look back at what you have written.
Make porn less accessible.
This might involve starting new interests like a new sport, going out more, and keeping your mobile or laptop out of your room at night.
Deciding not to watch porn is a decision made in lots of small steps about how to live life, not just in the instant before you go or don’t go to a porn website.
Sexual images of under-18 year olds are illegal
It’s important to be aware that pornography always features adults.
Sexual images or videos of under-18 year olds are not pornography – they are images of child sexual abuse, and they are illegal.
If you have viewed a sexual image/video of someone you think may be under-18, you should report the image/video anonymously to the Internet Watch Foundation, an organisation which works to remove child abuse images from the internet. If you know that sexual images of an under 18 you know are being shared around, read the advice on our 'When nudes get shared around' article.
Stop It Now! is a helpline offering support to anyone who is worried about child sexual abuse, including if they are thinking about looking at child sexual abuse images. Callers to Stop It Now! can choose not to give any personal details at all if they do not want to.
More help and advice
If you’re worried about your porn use, or a friend’s, there's lots more advice out there.
The Ask Brook 24/7 tool is there to help you with whatever question you might have about your sexual health or relationships, including advice on porn.
Bish UK provides lots of advice and information about sex, relationships and porn.
Your Brain on Porn
Your Brain on Porn is a website designed to share science-based research about porn’s effect on the brain. It’s mainly for adults, but also includes lots of videos, research and articles on how pornography can shape people’s brains and sexuality.