On the verge of tears, a school principal tells us that several of her 4th grade students were making inappropriate comments to other students at recess. Remarks that suggest these 9- and 10-year-olds had been watching pornography.
No one said parenting in the digital age would be easy, but I don’t think any of us expected websites like Pornhub to be so easily accessible – especially not to 4th graders.
According to a 2020 study, half of 11-to-13 year-olds reported having seen pornography in some way. Out of the children who admitted intentionally searching for pornography, nearly two-thirds of them said they had done so for one or more of the following reasons: 1) ideas for new things to try sexually, 2) learning about sex generally, 3) learning how to get better at sex, and 4) learning what people expect from them sexually. Girls in particular mentioned using pornography to learn how to meet boys’ expectations.
These images and videos are not sex ed. They are staged, scripted, and performed by paid actors, and it’s important that children understand that most of the time these are not realistic sexual situations or examples of healthy relationships.
Seeing sexually explicit images and videos at a young age can have many negative effects. Media can set unrealistic expectations around relationships and sex. This can lead young people to develop poor body-image, cause low self-esteem, engage in sexual acts that they are not comfortable with, or even have difficulty with arousal later on in life.
In addition, here are a few other conclusions that young people can come to when pornography is used as their tool to learn about sex:
- Sex is spontaneous: no time for protection
- Anything goes: all sex acts are enjoyable
- Clear verbal consent is not necessary
- Violent acts during sex are fine & normal
- Harassment & pressure are normalized
- Men are dominant, women are submissive, unless men want otherwise
- Gender stereotypes are perpetuated
Now, what is the solution?
Parent-child dialogue is very important and impactful when teaching and modeling healthy relationships. Find an opportunity to talk to your child about relationships and consent, and if it doesn’t seem like your young adult is cringing yet, there may be an opportunity to talk about sex more directly.
In addition to parent-child dialogue, sex education programs also give young people the tools they need to combat what they may be seeing online. Depending on your state laws, sex ed programs include discussing consent, healthy relationships, boundary setting, and internet/social media use. Ideally, these classes will reinforce the parent-child dialogue that is already happening at home, and give students a more formal, age-appropriate, and medically accurate lesson on sex education.
More about Candor Health Education
For tips on how to navigate these conversations with your young people, visit the Sex & Technology portal on their website. This portal provides parent tips on how to talk to your teens about internet and social media use and how these channels can impact the developing brain.
If you would like to learn about the programs they provide to schools, see the full program list here.