How much sexual content in media is appropriate for kids?

Kids are growing up surrounded by sexual images and messages. They're exposed to sexual imagery in advertisements, on TV, in movies, in books, in video games, and on the Internet. Many of these images are played for shock value, so they often contain graphic or violent sex. Even mild shows use sexual situations for humor, and sexual humor is a mainstay of adolescent entertainment.

The more prevalent sexual situations are, the more normal they seem. Highly sexual images inform kids' view of sex long before they've experienced it. Nobody wants his or her kids to learn about sex from the media. But, of course, talking about sex can be awkward.

Still, it's important to challenge the exaggerated notions of sex they're exposed to, as well as to share your own values to help kids develop a normal, healthy perspective about sex.

Here are broad guidelines to follow:

Tips for parents of elementary school-age kids

  • Keep sexual content out of their media. We often think it's harmless, but young kids imitate what they see and repeat what they hear, even if they don't understand it.
  • Use safe-search filters on search engines. Kids look for images on Google and Yahoo. Even the most benign search terms can surface something you don't want them seeing.

Tips for parents of middle school-age kids

  • Be aware and share your values. By middle school, most kids know the facts. They're also surrounded by sexual humor that is especially appealing because of how embarrassed and curious they are by the whole topic. This humor makes kids see sex as a laughing matter. Make sure you explain your values and balance the sexual examples kids see everywhere with your family's values.
  • Don't let kids use TVs and computers behind closed doors. Seeing what your children are watching will make it easier for you to enforce your own rules. When possible, watch and listen with your kids so you can answer -- and ask -- questions that might come up.
  • Look for teachable moments. A TV show in which a teen considers having sex with her boyfriend, or a song featuring sexy lyrics, can be the perfect opening for you to talk. Ask your kids about what they're seeing, hearing, and thinking about. They would rather talk about a movie than their own sexual thoughts.

Tips for parents of high school-age kids

  • Talk about the difference between scripted sex and reality. At this age, your children are moving into the sexually active zone. Discuss consequences and risky behaviors, and repeat your values. Point out that sex gets everyone's attention, so in the media, sex is often used to sell something.
  • Point out safe sex. We know that media influences kids. When characters practice safe sex, that sends a healthy message.
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Comments

Kid, 11 years old

Sexual innuendo and dirty jokes are fine. But kids should probably be educated on the subject. Sexual Intimacy is a need, and eventually kids will do it. Educate them on safe sex and things like that.
Adult written by Manish A.

I mean if there is no PP or BB then I'm fine. Sexual innuendo can be fine at times unless it's really noticeable.
Kid, 11 years old

Okay, here's the deal. Your kids will find out no matter what you do. When I was ten, I realized what "that's what she said" meant without the internet or other media. My friends and I make really dirty jokes all the time. Kids aren't THAT stupid.
Uncle of a 12 year old written by andreiairiscord...

im 12 year old, talking about sex with kids and tweens right, now 3-5 to 5-9 to 10-13 too now full 13 year old its kid not teen :3
Teen, 13 years old written by hannabananalol911

I found out cuz my friends were whispering so I asked what they were talking about, and they me an extremely detailed explanation. I was 8. TMI.
Adult written by Mariah B.

As a 19 year old, I know that kids know about sex. When I was a kid I was made to close my eyes whenever a naked person was on TV, and to be honest, it made me curious. I would google things, I would make my barbies hug naked. I knew what sex was. It's natural. We all have the same biological need, even at a young age as our bodies develop and hormone levels change. Also, be honest when your kids ask where babies come from, because I went 4 years thinking that babies came out of buttholes because Timmy in 1st grade told me he saw a movie about a baby coming out of a butt.
Teen, 13 years old written by znicolas6

Honestly, a lot of kids know everything at a young age. I knew about everything when I asked my mom the question "Where do babies come from?" She gave me a straight answer.
Teen, 14 years old written by nadiathoughts

basically all the comments are kids and 13 yr olds saying they know everything about sex so yeah thats just about it
Teen, 14 years old written by horrorfan123

well don't shield it from hem its pointless i found out when i was like in 5th grade and then in 6th grade i knew everything
Teen, 13 years old written by evrska9

I learned what I know from the books I would read. (Seconds grade and I was reading at high school level.) I personally would not let my child read about this type of stuff until 6th grade or maybe 7th. I wouldn't keep them under a rock but I wouldn't really want them to know about it in elementary school just for practical reasons.
Kid, 10 years old

I'm 10 years old, going into middle school soon, and I have no idea what sex is. A bunch of my friends are calling me "so innocent" so I'm guessing that I'm the only kid in my class who doesn't know. Literally nothing. All I remember is that I got "the talk" in third grade and then forgot because my brain was being overstuffed in 4th grade. All I'm saying is do not tell your kid before you think that they're mature enough to play rated T for teen video games. Because if you do tell them, they'll be throwing up for the 1 time in their life, right into their cereal.
Kid, 12 years old

Most kids are play MA video games like GTA and the majority of the time kids are partially fascinated by sex and then majority of them will NOT throw up
Teen, 13 years old written by ladyarctic4ral

Okay, so I knew what sex was when I was 6. I then pretended that I didn't when my mom had the 'talk' with me. I knew what porn, Masterating, everything was by the time I was 12. I Used (still do) to make VERY sexual jokes when I was 12. My friends and I all know what everything is and was. There's no point in trying to hide it fro your children. They're goung to find out one way or another. Better to let them be and and talk to them when you feel you need to.
Kid, 12 years old

My parents try to keep me from it entirely, and are really successful. Do the same with your children.
Teen, 14 years old written by TheAlmightyCastform

No. Kids know what sex is whether they get the info from their parents or not. If you shield them entirely, they begin to see it as a forbidden fruit. That's not healthy.
Kid, 11 years old

To be honest i feel like sexual/iffy content should be avoided as much as possible until the kid is older. When I look up celebrity pictures, I guarantee you I've seen a site that has a porn-related video on it. I feel like porn is not good for children. If something is sexy (like muscles or a tight shirt)(which isn't scarring or extremely terrible), it can be different from sexual (private parts, porn, etc.) . Like in Disney movies when characters kiss, I might wince or say "ew" because it's so sudden. I knew about sex in 4-ish grade. I never have seen porn (although numerous times I have been redirected to sites that I had to close out/report in the past) and I would never like to. Luckily, one of my health books "Its Perfectly Normal" warned me about the dangers of that kind of stuff.
Teen, 13 years old written by ISpeakForTheKids

Kids have seen far worse. Let's say this: There is a commercial on youtube advertising FaZe clan so Jimmy types in FaZe clan because he was curious. He watches a few videos. But now little Jimmy is still curious. He sees a FaZe member that he likes on one video named FaZe Rain. So Jimmy types in Rain on YouTube and well he watches Rain's videos. But look, he sees a person called VapeLordNord. He wants to check out his videos and look. What is on VapeLordNord's hat? A website called PornHub. Now Jimmy is confused about "PornHub" so he goes to google and BAM. He searches it up. Well, he clicks on the first website he finds. AND BOOM. He is exposed not Jimmy is clicking around and finds out he has an erection. But it's too late. The damage is done.
Teen, 17 years old written by LokiDaGod

Okay. Parents. Im going to put this as simple as possible. When I was 7 years old I knew what sex was. when I was 8 I was introduced to porn, masturbation and sex toys. Your kid may pretend they know nothing about sex, but they know everything. The minute they are introduced to the internet, they will find out. its in their nature. While your watching a ovie with your kids and a character kisses another character, chances are your kid will say "eww" and look away. its acting. Your kid already knows everything so technically, it doesn't matter what you show them. They've seen worse. Don't block their websites. When you block a website, they become curious. They will do anything possible to get on that website. When I was 9 I saw porn on accident. That just proves that your kid has probably already seen it.
Teen, 14 years old written by Atlanta

I think that at the point in time when parents are banning media for being "too sexual" all that happens is that it makes it seem more desirable for being forbidden, both through the idea of wanting what you aren't allowed and through natural teenage rebellion. All that happens is that these kids are going to seek out this media anyway, and be exposed to it anyway, but if it's happening behind parents' backs the parents lose the chance to sit down and talk to their kid. As it stands, people are being exposed to sexual content in the media incredibly early on, and a lot of this exposure is negative -- objectifying women, perpetuating rape culture, etc. -- but the negative impacts can be "counteracted" by parents sitting down and having a conversation with their child about sex and everything that entails. Kids are always going to see sexual content in the media, so it's up to parents that the messages they take away are positive ones. As soon as this material is banned, exposure is going to continue (if not increase -- again, teenage rebellion) but parents will have completely lost control of the messages their kids take away from it.
Teen, 14 years old written by eric.fernandes.01

My suggestion is to tell your kids everything about sex by the time they are in grade six. There is no point making it seem like a big deal because that just makes it more awkward. It's better for your kid to learn about sex from you rather than their friend. Also by the time guys are in grade seven they have already watched porn so it is important for them to be educated before grade seven. Also when you talk to your kids about sex put the emphasis on safe-sex rather than abstinence this makes the child feel more trusted and teaches the more important message.
Adult written by jane1000

If a parent still thinks their children are innocent by the age of 8 they are lying to themselves. Im going into 5th grade the year we learn about sex but ive already seen it and I dont even own a phone while most 1st graders do. Kids in my class dated and smoked pot in the bathrooms in 4th grade. Im the smartest kid in my grade so ive already read novel that invole sex and violence and have watch tv shows with sex and violence and not gotten nightmares like most adults say you will. Adults say that if we see the stuff we will do the stuff but thats not true I wont do drugs, smoke, have sex before collage, or drink before 21. Sex is not bad because if everyone stopped having it we as a species would die out. Crime and violence happen they are real the world isnt full of hugs and kisses you cant sit on your mothers lap for ever. I hope parents soon realize that their kid knows and that its not bad that they do.
Adult written by Monera

The whole topic is quite overblown. The media and TV shows do play up sex just for shock value and not to enhance any plot line, which I believe is the real issue. The way quote "healthy" material on sex is presented, in these big books and videos devoted to the subject make it over dramatic and maybe even more mysterious and enticing. People are so squeamish to bring it up out of their own embarrassment for the subject. Honestly, what's wrong with children knowing about sex? I'd recommend just teaching about sexual reproduction in the wider context of life in general. Everything living must reproduce, I'd present the different ways life reproduces, such as asexual reproduction, spores, pollen, sexual reproduction and the like. Humans simply reproduce like other animals and carry live births like the mammals they are. Take away the drama, and none of this sex hype" needs to happen. Talk about sex in a social context when they get older, but why shouldn't kids know how they were born? Plus, it's human nature to have sexuality, why must it be such a threat for kids to have it too? If we take away the mystery, then people won't blow it up to be this big thing in their mind. One always wants what they feel they can't have...
Teen, 15 years old written by karlyblair7

I asked about sex when i was 4 years old. And by the time I was in 4th grade I knew it all. So did 95% of the kids. then in 6th grade kids were watching pornography. Then in my 7/8 grade years people were getting sexually active-- having sex in 7th grade. My point is that kids know things and no one can stop that from happening. There are ages when things can be inappropriate. for example, if your in 3rd/4th grade and watching a R rated movie or watching tv-ma shows (tv-MATURE -- 17+) than thats a different topic. You still have to use common sense. I think when your child is in 5th/6th grade than maybe they can start watching some pg-13 movies and watching TV-14 shows because if they find out about sex in school they may be uncomfortable. Maybe it can be a opportunity to talk to them about sex.
Teen, 17 years old written by Daniel Ellis

I want to point out that censoring sexuality from kids more than often sheds a negative light on sex in general. It's neither possible or productive in the modern world to keep sexual material from the eyes of teens. The end product is usually that kids only experiences with sexuality are in situations associated with dishonesty and disobedience. Additionally, these experiences almost always depict sexual exploitation, objectification, and violence. I don't believe it's possible to keep any of this out of the hands of children and teens, but at least we could give them some perspective so that they don't believe it's reality. To give them a fighting chance at having positive sexual relationships we don't need to shelter kids from sexual material, we need to flood their worlds with media depicting healthy, loving sex.
Teen, 13 years old written by Muncher24

Though this topic may be hard for parents to tell young kids, tell them early enough so they will hear it from you versus friends/peers.
Kid, 11 years old

alright, here's to clear this up for all the parents who think their child is this cute, innocent little thing. most kids ages 8 and up know what sex is. some might be younger and know about it. i'm just now going into middle school and i have seen clips of porn before. a lot of kids my age have and if they haven't seen that, they have at least seen an image of a vagina, a penis, or boobs before. if you let your child on the internet or allow them to watch television, they probably know what sex is and have seen a graphic/minor sexual image before. my mom attempted to have a talk about what sex is with me before, but i already knew. i know what masturbating is, i know what sex toys are, i know all that stuff. if you expose your child to the media, THEY. WILL. FIND. OUT. it is inevitable, especially once they get into middle school. there will be health class. deal with it. all of it, most of the time, is natural. i was staying at my best friend/cousin's house with my other best friend/cousin and they found a sex toy showcase on the television! we didn't care. we already knew what it was, so we just looked at it, giggled a bit, and moved on. it's not that hard, it's all based on your child's maturity level and if they can handle what you're showing them.
Teen, 14 years old written by rssk6801

Ok... So I'm in 8th grade and want to point out that when you go into middle school you can't hide this kind of stuff from your kids! Weather they learn a lot from health class or hear it in the hallways they're gonna learn a lot! So I think once your kids get to middle school let them see R rated movies and read romance novels because they've already heard it! And what really bugs me about this article is that they say in middle school sex is a laughing matter... Sure maybe in 6th grade it is because they're just now getting the facts, but in 7th and 8th grade you need to make sure they've been informed about safe sex because there are some groups of kids who do start to become sexually active in middle school!
Kid, 10 years old

seriously kissing (as long as it doesn't lead to sex) is not sex big surprise right sure full out nude people in a sexual manner isn't appropriate for young kids but seriously if you and your husband/wife kiss it's just as bad as the media and movies!
Teen, 13 years old written by Keah

Personally, I think it has nothing to do with the age of the child, rather, how mature your child is and what your family values are. And I completely disagree about the no-internet-behind-closed-doors thing.... yes, it is important that your child is safe on the internet but it is also important to give them some privacy... especially the older middle school kids (13/14). If you shelter them too much, they won't be able to deal with the outside world and will end up hurt. We don't live in a world of cushions and doors and warm hugs. They will grow up. You have to let them. They have to learn to cope and deal with things that are a) natural, b) necessary for survival and c) reality. Moderate exposure to sexual topics etc. will help them become more accepting of other people as well and will also, potentially, create a much more culturally-aware child. But, I will repeat, it depends on the child. Some people are ready to know what sex is at 10 or 11 and some not until they're 14 or 15 (I would say later but um.... sex ed in school is a thing from 7th grade... in my school every 7th grader has to learn how to use a condom at the end of the year....)
Kid, 10 years old

Alright, I am going into fith grade next year and at my school, this is Middle School. We start to have health class. The thing is, a bunch of the kids in fourth grade say their "dating". Now some, of this is just what they say because they've seen it all the stuff they read. However, some of the kids are sorta dating. I mean this is like asking them to the movie theater. I assume this is NOT because of what they are seeing in media, it is probably because they wan't to seem grown up. I can't imagine what these kids will be like in fifth grade. Another problem which doesn't have to do with media, more lie seeming grown up, is that lots of kids think that if you hang out with someone of the opposite gender, your in love. I think we really need people to start knowing that boys can be friends with girls and girls can be friends with boys without having a crush or being boyfriend, girlfriend.
Kid, 10 years old

OK, I completely agree with 12 year old kid who said that we've already seen much, much worse. Now you may thin that he is 12 and I am 10, but I still have seen a lot. I mean I found out about all this sexual content in third grade. I also hate to say it, but 95% of the fourth grade at my school already knows about most of this stuff (but 15% of the kids also are dating IN FOURTH GRADE, so this might not quite be a good example). So yes, I totally agree, Miley has been there and done that.
Adult written by WishfulWanderer

Sexual content in media is bad for everyone as its normalization is creating a more promiscuous society. Kids and teens in America don't just imitate media; they imitate their parents and adults because that is what they are trying to become. If there wasn't such a big difference between what it meant to be an adult and what it meant to be an adolescent, there wouldn't be such a thing as a rebellious teen. My parents never stayed out late with friends, clubbing or otherwise, drank, smoked, dressed promiscuously, watched porn or R rated movies, or had a boyfriend/girlfriend. Growing up, the only difference between my teen self and my adult parents was that they had degrees from college, were married, and had jobs and other commitments. So that's what becoming an adult meant to me: getting a career and finding a spouse. Parents who are worried about what their kids consume first need to check what their own behavior says about them. In Italy, the drinking age is much younger than in the US, and adolescents drink responsibly in the presence of their parents. Can anyone here come up with a good reason as to why people need to wait to be 21 to drink? Is there any scientific reasoning to that? In comparison, you only need to be 18 to get into R-rated movie at the theater. Who came up with these arbitrary numbers that mark the beginning of adulthood? Who is to say that an adult cannot be immature or irresponsible? Is a girl who gets married at 17 any different than the girl who gets a boyfriend at 15? And yet they both still cannot see R-rated movies at the cinema. My point is that the distinction between adults and adolescents is not as big as people make seem. Teens who drink and party and whatever aren't rebellious; they're just trying to get to America's version of "adulthood" faster.
written by Secret Angel 3

Even the most basic kid's entertainment today has a ton of sexual innuendo. I think it's awful that our society is so saturated with sexual images, right down to the commercials. It's no wonder it's all people can think about and why so many teens are out there being reckless. If society were less sexualized, they would be less inspired to pursue such behavior. Unfortunately, this is the current reality we live in. I believe in preserving the innocence of youth for as long as possible, right til the end of elementary. I think 6th grade is an appropriate grade for sex education. By that point, they've probably already heard so much stuff they don't know how to make sense of and will be starting puberty and feeling hormonal. They'll take sex ed and suddenly everything will just click. Of course, you have to speak with your child too to make sure the school isn't teaching them something you don't agree with, like pre-marital sex is ok. Being informed about sex and your family's values regarding it gives your child the tools to filter what they see in media. Of course, I would also like to point out that being informed about sex and consuming media with sex are two different things. In my family, we are informed about sex, but we choose to avoid sexual content, including the adults, so we can maintain a purer desexualized environment at home. Although many times that is nearly impossible. However, like this article says, things that pop up in movies can be good for discussion. "They would rather talk about a movie than their own sexual thoughts." However, if parents weren't afraid of talking to their kids, this wouldn't be necessary. Honestly, I just wish movies would stop incorporating bedroom scenes. It's one thing for two people to have a conversation about their relationship, even the sex factor. It's quite another for them to act it out. To me, all sex scenes are gratuitous and unnecessary for the plot. What do kids learn from it? Nothing other than the implicit message that casual sex is totally ok. If I had my way, sexual content would be kept to a minimum in everything. It's no more appropriate for an adult to see a sex scene than a child. It's perverted and everyone is impressionable.
Kid, 11 years old

Announcement to all parents! If you have a child in middle school (I'm in middle school), they have already seen it all. Sorry, parents, so basically the kids you see and talk to are not the same kids at school. this applies to 95% of all kids who go to school. And so everyone knows, it's nature. All humanity would stop with out it. Stop being such a hover parent and let your kids go free. (Like without asking and watching every single thing they are doing.) Peace Out! :) (BTW I am very responsible and this was the truth. It's better from the kids because they are kids! Some kids are trustworthy like me :)
Teen, 13 years old written by hannabananalol911

Yeah ... at school a LOT of people have their "parents" self (responsible, nice, polite, etc.), and then their "school self" (I won't even get into that). And it is perfectly natural because otherwise they would DEFINETLY get made fun of. It is totally fine, not as if it is a crime ...
Teen, 13 years old written by OliRan321

I feel as though some parents are overly protective of what their child is viewing. It depends on the age of the child and the maturity of them. I know that some kids find these sorts of things gross and others understand what is and isn't natural. Sometimes kids are embarrassed about these things and want nothing to do with them and others might be fascinated. Whatever the age I think that at some point in their lives it's important to discuss these things in a civil manner.
Kid, 9 years old

I think too much is too bad maybe like small bits like kissing on lips is fine
Kid, 12 years old

You guys should not be worrying about this. Most kids have already seen much, much worse. (Thanks Nicki and Miley)
Parent of a 11 and 14 year old written by Cooldad57

I would disagree with the last sentence of this article. "We all know that media influences kids". Do we really all know that? I don't believe that all kids who see something in the Media start doing what they see. Sure, they might ask questions, but influenced? That might be a little too far.
Teen, 13 years old written by wackywert

Thank you! We need more parents like you, I personally never felt or feel compelled to imitate anyone in the media. Kids and teenagers aren't the dumb, mindless zombies many people assume they are.
Teen, 14 years old written by rssk6801

Thank you! You are so right! It doesn't! I'm 14 and am sick and tired of adults limiting the movies I see because they don't want them to badly influence me... But it doesn't! We see it accept and move on... And besides its not like we haven't heard or seen things like that in school
Teen, 15 years old written by StaceytheNerd

I think you are spot on here! I NEVER used to copy things I saw in films or television or books EVER. My parents cannot remember a single time it happened, and the same goes for my friend and my cousin. My younger sister, however, is a still a repeater at 12 years old - embarrassing. I think it only influences some kids, or there is a pattern that we are missing. MORE RESEARCH, I declare! :)
Adult written by Brij1234

TV can influence kids. I was at a party once where a little toddler repeated a pretty sexual thing she had heard just to get her uncle mad at her. She didn't know what it meant but since her uncle told her not to do it she didn't want to stop because she thinks it's fun to be disobedient. Kids learn how to act by watching others. TV actors are people too. Kids don't suddenly get amnesia after hearing and watching a sexual scene.