Three-quarters of teens say they’ve viewed pornography online, and more than half say they were exposed to it by age 13, a new study suggests.
The “Teens and Pornography” report, released Tuesday by the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media, found that the average age reported for first viewing online pornography is 12 years old.
But 15% said they had seen online pornography at age 10 or younger. The report surveyed more than 1,350 teens aged 13-17 in September 2022.
The survey helps address a lack of research on teens and their exposure to pornography “and sets an extremely important baseline,” Common Sense Media founder and CEO James Steyer told USA TODAY.
The report also emphasizes that parents should discuss pornography in discussions about sex, relationships, birth control and other difficult topics, he said. “It’s time for all parents to start these tough conversations and help kids navigate online spaces more effectively,” he said.
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What is Online Pornography?
Common Sense Media defined online pornography in its report as nudity or sexual acts in videos or photos viewed on websites and social media apps such as Instagram or TikTok. Pornography often contains explicit images of body parts, including the genitals and sexual acts.
How likely were teens to have viewed online pornography?
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed said they had viewed online pornography.
Exposure can be relatively common: 63% of those who reported only accidentally viewing pornography said they had been exposed to it in the past week, the survey found.
Online media has led many teens to inadvertently view pornographic content, the report said. Just over half (58%) of those surveyed said they had accidentally come across pornography, while 44% said they had intentionally viewed online pornography. (Note: Percentages add up to more than 100% because many respondents viewed pornography both accidentally and intentionally.)
Where did teens watch pornography the most?
Among teens who said they deliberately watched porn:
- 44% said they found it on porn websites like Pornhub.
- 38% used social media such as TikTok and Instagram.
- 34% used video sites like YouTube
- 16% used subscription sites like OnlyFans.
- 18% used live streaming sites.
How did teens feel about online pornography?
- The majority of teens who reported viewing pornography in this study said they felt “OK” about the amount of pornography they watched (67%). Still, half (50%) reported feeling guilty or ashamed after viewing pornography.
- Nearly half (45%) of teens said they thought online pornography provided “useful” information about sex, while fewer (27%) thought it accurately portrayed sex.
- About half (47%) of teens said they had heard about sex from a parent, caregiver, or trusted adult much more often than about pornography (27%).
- Less than half (43%) of teens said they had conversations about pornography with a trusted adult, but most who had these conversations said it encouraged them to find other ways to explore their sexuality outside of pornography, so the research revealed.
LGBTQ+ teens were more likely to intentionally watch pornography
Two-thirds (66%) of the LGBTQ+ teens in the study said they deliberately consumed pornography, a finding that suggests pornography may play a greater role in exploration for them than for other teens, researchers said.
Also, boys were more likely to say they deliberately consumed pornography, with 52% saying they had, compared to 36% of girls.
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Are there laws against pornography and its access by minors?
Federal law protects children from obscene or harmful material on the Internet and makes illegal content depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct.
The state of Louisiana also recently passed a law requiring commercial porn sites to verify that their users are 18 or older or face prosecution.
Similar legislation, introduced in the US Senate, requires the Federal Communications Commission to enforce rules on commercial porn sites to prevent children from accessing the content.
“The landscape has changed a lot with the rise of online pornography and there is access to these online spaces in ways that kids have never had before,” Steyer said. “The platforms themselves need to take a lot more responsibility to keep our kids safe, and the platforms need to be held accountable.”
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.