New Report Reveals Truths About How Teens Engage with Pornography
National survey by Common Sense Media provides new insights into how teens interact with online pornography, from how old teens were when they first encountered pornography to how it impacts their views on sex and sexual relationships.
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 10, 2023—Today, Common Sense Media released a new research report that confirms some startling truths about how teens engage with pornography. The report, "Teens and Pornography," found that 73% of teen respondents age 13 to 17 have watched pornography online—and more than half (54%) reported first seeing pornography by the time they reached the age of 13. And, for better or worse, online pornography is shaping their views about sex and sexual relationships, as nearly half (45%) of teen respondents said that they felt online pornography gives "helpful" information about sex.
For this report, "online pornography" refers to any videos or photos viewed on websites, social media, or anywhere else on the internet that show nudity and sexual acts intended to entertain and sexually arouse the viewer. Researchers surveyed a demographically representative set of teens in the United States to better understand how they interact with online pornography. Teens were asked how often they viewed pornographic content, if they intentionally sought it out, themes in the pornography they have viewed, and how it has impacted their feelings toward sex and relationships. The report also emphasizes the importance of parents and caregivers initiating healthy conversations about their teens' interactions with online pornography.
"Engaging with pornography has been part of many teens' exploration of sex, but the unfettered access to pornographic content online has stoked concern, leaving parents wondering how to approach the topic with their kids," said James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. "But this research confirms that it's time for parents to have conversations with teens about pornography, the same way we talk about safe sex and drug use, to help them build better knowledge and healthier attitudes about sex. Schools also play a crucial role in teaching kids how to critically interpret what they're seeing online."
The report's key findings highlight why it's imperative for parents and caregivers to talk with kids about pornography sooner rather than later.
- 15% of teen respondents said they first saw online pornography at age 10 or younger. The average age reported for first viewing pornography is 12.
- While the vast majority of respondents said they have seen pornography, nearly half (44%) indicated that they had done so intentionally, while slightly more than half (58%) indicated they had encountered pornography accidentally.
- Unintentional exposure to pornography could be a common experience for teens, as 63% of those who said they have only seen pornography accidentally reported that they had been exposed to pornography in the past week.
- The majority of the teens who reported in this survey that they had seen pornography said they feel "OK" about the amount of pornography they watch (67%). Still, half (50%) reported feeling guilty or ashamed after watching pornography.
- There were significant differences by gender in terms of intentional consumption. Overall, 52% of cis boy respondents said they had consumed pornography intentionally, compared to 36% of cis girls.
- Pornography may play a larger role in exploration for LGBTQ+ teens than for other teens. Two-thirds of LGBTQ+ teen respondents consumed pornography intentionally.
But parents and caregivers should be encouraged by some of the report's other findings, which confirm that teens are turning to adults for guidance about sex. Even as teens acknowledged learning about sex and sexuality from pornography, they were far more likely to say they had learned a lot about sex from a parent, caregiver, or trusted adult (47%) than from pornography (27%). And while less than half (43%) of the teens in the research reported they've had conversations about pornography with a trusted adult, most who had these conversations said it encouraged them to find other ways to explore their sexuality besides pornography.
"We hope that this data will push national, local, and family conversations about pornography past assumptions about what we think teens are doing to a fact-based foundation that accurately depicts teens' experiences," said Dr. Supreet Mann, Research Manager at Common Sense Media and co-author of the report. "In doing so, the parents, educators, and providers in children's lives can better meet their needs."
Benenson Strategy Group (BSG) conducted a quantitative online survey of N = 1,358 teens age 13 to 17. This demographically representative national sample included n = 1,007 teens who have been exposed to online pornography. The sample also included n = 259 LGBTQ+ teens, which was achieved via quotas to ensure representation. Participants were recruited from online panels from September 12 to September 21, 2022. Note: It is not possible to calculate a margin of error for a non-probability-based sample. This study was approved by the Advarra IRB to provide additional protections for children as research subjects.
Find the full report here.
About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.