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Is It Normal For Teens to Watch Porn & What Are The Effects?

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If you’re a teenager reading this article, the chances are you’ve already watched porn. It may have been on your phone, laptop, tablet, or – as the classic response goes – you happened to maybe see some pictures on your friend’s phone that one time.

Whatever the case may be for you, research shows that about 67% of 13-year-old boys and about 40% of 13-year-old girls have seen at least one pornographic image on some sort of digital device in the past year. Those numbers jump up toward the end of adolescence. Research shows that by the age of 18, over 90% of boys and over 60% of girls have seen porn in some form or other.

But you already know that, since you’re a teenager. You don’t need our data to tell you what you just (maybe) experienced last week (on your friend’s phone).

Is It Normal For Teens To Watch Porn?

The internet and smartphones have made pornographic images more prevalent and more accessible than ever. By age 18, most young people have been exposed to pornography in some form.  

Teen sexting, or the sharing of sexually explicit images online or on smartphones, is also becoming more common. Despite the fact that nearly a quarter of teens have sent or received sexually explicit content through text, it is a highly serious crime that carries very severe consequences. 

While this answers the question is it normal for teenagers to watch porn, it begs another. Is watching porn bad for teens?

Most studies say yes.

Exposure to pornography in early adolescence is linked with many negative outcomes including:

  • Lower academic performance, especially among boys
  • Unrealistic and unhealthy views of sex and intimate relationships
  • Risk of extortion or becoming a victim of trafficking

How Many Teens Watch Porn?

A study from 2014 estimated that nearly 70% of boys and 40% of girls have seen a pornographic image online by the age of 13. By 18 years old, these figures jump to 90% of boys and more than 60% of girls. 

However, as smartphone access has increased since then, it is possible that the percentage of teens watching porn has grown considerably.

Why Watch Porn

There are plenty of reasons to watch pornography or view pornographic images. You probably didn’t expect this article to go in this direction, but let’s not fool ourselves: people and teens watch porn for the same basic reason people have sex.

It feels good. There are more reasons, but that’s pretty much it.

Sex education in this country often fails because we don’t recognize the totally obvious. Sure, sex – in terms of evolution – is for making babies. Sex is also a way to express love, experience intimacy, and mark the passage from adolescence to adulthood.

Sex also has different meanings in different religions, mostly related to marriage. They’re very serious about it, but we won’t go there in this article.

Why Porn Education Fails

Porn education often fails in this country for a reason similar to why sex education often fails. Educators aren’t willing to say what everyone knows: people mostly watch porn for the feeling it gives them. It’s also a way to have a new experience and break the rules in a way that seems like it doesn’t have serious consequences. You may watch and then share porn with your friends to show how mature or worldly you are – also, for the most part, without consequences.

The thing is, watching porn does have consequences.

How Watching Porn Can Change You

Time to pull back the curtain on this article.

There’s a person here, writing these words – me. When I write articles like these, I typically use the third person “we” pronoun, or avoid using it altogether, and simply convey useful information on a topic. I do research, I try to construct smart-sounding sentences, and I offer real facts backed by links to peer-reviewed journal articles, like I did above.

But for this article, I want to talk straight to you. Like I talked to my nephew last Thanksgiving. When I talk to him about sex and drugs, I don’t pull out journal articles and spew facts about neurobiology and adolescent development.

Well, I do talk facts, but who walks around with articles? Not me. I’m a grown-up. I’ve watched porn and I’ve had sex. I also studied neurobiology and writing in college. I can talk and write about these topics just fine without making a bunch of references or needing to check them.

So here goes: your brain on porn.

Your Brain on Porn

Right now, as an adolescent, your brain is in the process of growing at an astronomical rate. Right this second, your neurons are multiplying, connecting, and forming millions upon millions of connections that will shape the way you see and experience the world for the rest of your life.

You probably know that much already – great.

But here’s my question for you: did you know that when you watch porn, you’re teaching your brain to connect those images to how you experience sexual pleasure? And if you’re watching them on a computer or phone, did you know you’re training your brain to include those devices in the way you experience sexual pleasure?

In the future, you want to be able to have an orgasm without a phone in your hand or a screen in your face, right?

Sorry to be so blunt, but that’s what I said to my nephew. I hadn’t seen him blush in years, but blush he did.

If you watch a ton of porn, your brain will change. Then both porn and how you watch it will be part of how you experience sex – for the rest of your life.

There are a couple more reasons I’m stepping out and speaking directly in this article. First, I want you to know – really know – the way they have sex in porn is not real. Regular people don’t have sex like that. Sure, a very small percentage do, but for most people on earth, sex is not some kind of circus-style gymnastics workout.

I’m not going to say what sex is or tell you how most people do it – that’s for you to discover on your own, in your own way, with a real human, in real time, when you’re ready. And when you’re ready will depend on a lot of things aside from this article: mostly your family and probably your religious faith, if that’s the type of upbringing you’ve had.

Next thing.

I’ll just offer these facts for you to take how you will:

  • The average male penis is 5.8 inches long.
  • The average porn penis 8 inches long or over.
  • Most female porn actresses have all kinds of enhancements: breasts, lips, etc.
  • Most women walking around out in the world are not enhanced.

(Okay, so I didn’t randomly know those first two things – I found them here while researching this article.)

When you watch a ton of porn you start to form unrealistic expectations of how people actually look. It’s part of that brain development thing. You start to wire those images into your brain. And you start to connect those images to how you experience sexual pleasure, and connect them with who you might want to have sex or become intimate with.

My question for you at this point is this: what if your body is not like porn bodies? Are you going to start feeling crappy about yourself? And what if you fall in love with someone who doesn’t have a porn star body? Are you going to not love them because they don’t look like some ultra-enhanced sex pro in a video?

All that would be pretty bad, if it happened to you.

Connecting the Dots

In answer to the first part of the original question, “Is Watching Porn Really All That Bad?” I’m going to tell you what I told my nephew: porn in and of itself is not inherently evil. I’m not an anti-porn crusader. But – and this is a big but – what it can do to your brain has the potential to be very bad.

Very, very bad.

It can form connections in your brain you probably don’t want there. That’s me talking, pulling no punches. Here’s what I actually said to my nephew:

“Dude, that sh!t ain’t real. And it can mess you up. Like almost permanently.”

Seriously. I can’t say that to you, so I won’t. Here’s what I will ask you, though.

Do You Want These Consequences?

Do you want sex to be connected, in the default wiring your mind, to a phone or computer screen? Because when you watch a lot of porn while your brain is in the process of creating that wiring, that’s what can happen.

Do you want to walk around feeling bad about your body because you don’t look like a porn star? Because when you watch a lot of porn while you’re forming your personal (and sexual) identity, that’s what can happen.

Do you want to create unrealistic ideas about what sex is and how it should happen in real life before you actually have sex? Because when you watch a lot of porn before you start having sex, that’s what can happen.

Do you want to be disappointed and confused when you fall in love with someone who doesn’t look like, have sex like, or do anything at all in life like a porn star does? Do you want to derail your chance of making a genuine romantic connection with another person? Because that’s what can happen if you watch a lot of porn before you become intimate or fall in love with a real human being.

Are My Parents Just Tripping

I’ll end by answering the second part of the initial question, “Are My Parents Just Tripping?” with a “Yes, your parents are probably tripping a little bit.” At this point in this article, maybe you can see why they’re tripping. I’m not telling you what to do or not do. You’re going to have to decide that for yourself. You’re going to find a way to watch porn if that’s what you want. Because, let’s be honest – it feels good. So you might. If you choose to watch, here’s the last thing I’ll ask: please do it with the fully informed awareness that it can really mess with your head.

Parental Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Porn

Many parents feel apprehensive about talking to their teens about sex. However, the subject will come up, most likely sooner than later. Young people today have far more access to explicit material than ever before. Parental controls for pornography can block some of this content, but technology savvy teens can find ways around them. 

The best way to protect your child from the effect of porn addiction is through frank and open dialogue. While that is easier said than done, here are a few therapist-recommended tips for talking to your teens about porn. 

Acknowledge the Awkwardness

Both teens and parents do not look forward to talking about sex or pornography. Address the awkwardness of the conversation right away, and let your teen know that the discussion is difficult for you too. Show them that you are open to hearing what they have to say, and you are not there to judge, shame or preach. 

Understand Their Curiosity

Research has found that many teens watching porn are doing so out of curiosity and a lack of understanding about sexuality. However, porn is not the most accurate place to learn about healthy sexual interactions. Ask open-ended questions and give your child space to talk about what they are trying to understand.  

Discuss Surprises

Young people may uncover new aspects of their sexuality from watching porn. This can cause feelings of confusion or uncertainty. Be ready to discuss surprises with your child and provide reassurance if necessary. 

Explain the Addiction Risks

Since porn is so normalized, teens may not realize that watching pornography can come with risks. Let your child know that while some porn use is healthy and normal, explicit material has the potential to become addictive. Comparing porn to addictive substances like alcohol or drugs can paint a clearer picture for your teen. Also, describe the effects of porn addiction in a factual and judgment-free manner. 

Check Judgement at the Door

Some parents strongly object to pornography use. However, imposing your beliefs on your teen will only damage their trust and shut down communication. When talking about the effects of porn with your teen, try to keep the conversation neutral and open. You want your child to see you as a source of support, not a source of judgment.

Discuss How Future Relationships Could Be Affected

One of the most damaging effects of porn use is its influence on developing young minds. Teens who explore their sexuality through internet pornography are inadvertently training their brains to respond to exaggerated and unrealistic images. 

Porn use is also linked with unrealistic expectations about body types and sexual performance. Young people of all genders are also more likely to view women in a more sexualized manner. 

All of these effects can make it more difficult to form real relationships. Inform your child about the dangers of porn use, especially for adolescents.

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