Well-Being Mental Health

Most teenagers exposed to online pornography by age 13: survey

The average age of exposure to online pornography was 12.
Youth on phones.

Story at a glance

  • Previous research has detailed the negative effects of pornography on young people.

  • The new poll surveyed more than 1,300 teens between ages 13 and 17. 

  • Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they’ve seen online pornography. 

The online proliferation of pornographic material has made it easier for youth and teens to consume explicit content, whether they intentionally seek it out or not. 

According to a new survey from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit child advocacy organization, 54 percent of teens report having first seen online pornography before age 13, while 12 is the average age when children first consume the content.

Findings are based on a nationally representative poll of more than 1,300 youth, carried out in Sept. 2022.  

For years advocates have raised concerns about easy access to online pornographic content, while some worry those who view the content may be too young to understand it. Exposure at too young an age may lead to poor mental health, sexual violence and other negative outcomes. 

However, older teens who consume pornography may have unrealistic or dangerous expectations of healthy sexual relationships, report authors wrote. Less than half of those who consume the content say it provides helpful information about sex, and more than a quarter said the content accurately depicts how most people have sex.

Although the average age of pornography consumption is 12, 15 percent of youth said they’ve seen the content as young as 10.

America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.

Recently, concerns about children’s exposure to online pornography have prompted some states to take action. In Louisiana, those looking to visit and view pornographic websites are now required to present proof of age, like a government-issued ID. According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R), the new law aims to “protect children from the dangers of online pornography.”

The Common Sense survey — which queried youth between the ages 13 and 17— found 44 percent have watched pornography intentionally, while 58 percent saw it accidentally. 

In addition, the majority of those who consumed the content were exposed to aggressive or violent forms of pornography, data show, and only 1 in 3 respondents said they’ve seen content that included someone asking for consent before engaging in sexual activity.

Exposure to racial and ethnic stereotypes in pornography was also common.

Among those who intentionally seek out pornographic content, nearly three-quarters said they’ve viewed it in the last week. Meanwhile, 63 percent who’ve only seen it accidentally report they’d been exposed to it within the past week. 

Teens can be exposed to explicit content through websites, social media and other outlets, while the proliferation of smartphones may make it easier for children to share content with their peers without parents finding out.

“Worryingly, most teens responding to this survey who said they have only ever seen pornography accidentally also reported that they had been exposed to pornography accidentally in the previous seven days, suggesting that unintentional pornography exposure may be a frequent experience for teens who aren’t seeking it out,” authors wrote. This type of exposure can come in the form of an online ad, social media post or search engine results.

Overall, 73 percent of teens under the age of 17 said they’ve seen online pornography, though rates differed by gender and sexuality.

More cis-boys than cis-girls reported consuming pornography, while more half of cis-boys say they’ve watched the content intentionally compared with just 36 percent of cis-girls. 

Rates of consumption were also higher among LGBTQ+ youth, including transgender and nonbinary respondents, data showed. 

“LGBTQ+ respondents who consume pornography were more likely than other groups to have said that they view pornography ‘to find out what arouses and excites them,’ suggesting that pornography may play a larger role in exploration for LGBTQ+ teens than for other teens,” authors wrote in the report. 

The survey also assessed teens’ feelings about the content. The majority of respondents reported they feel “OK” about the amount of pornography they watch, but half reported feelings of guilt or shame after consuming the content. 

During teenage years, conversations with parents and caregivers about sex are common. But the new findings show less than half of teens discuss pornography with trusted adults. 

However, among those that did broach the subject with adults, most indicated the discussions lead to positive outcomes.

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Changing america