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What’s the impact of looking at pornography?

What’s the impact of looking at pornography?

Although it may be more common for young people to look at pornography now, it can pose risks.

These could include:

  • seeing something you’re not ready for
  • seeing something that upsets or distresses you
  • accidentally clicking on something illegal
  • spending lots of time scrolling through pornography instead of doing other things like seeing friends
  • feeling like you depend on pornography in some way
  • feeling tempted to look at extreme or illegal content because it feels like you’re anonymous when you’re online (even when you aren’t)
  • doing things online that you’d never do in the “real world” (even though the internet is still part of the real world, and what people do online has real-life effects)

It’s natural to feel curious and have a lot of questions about sexuality, sex and relationships. 

But it’s important to explore these things in a safe and healthy way. Is pornography the safest way to do this?

Safe spaces to learn about sex

Find safe spaces where you can learn more about sex, love and relationships.

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A case study

Joe is a 16-year-old boy who looks at pornography online every night on his phone. 

“Hi I’m Joe. I tend to look at porn before I go to bed each night. In school, I had some sex education but this was mainly about making babies and protection. I’ve never talked to my parents about anything to do with sex or relationships because I thought it would be embarrassing. When I was 13, my mate told me he’d been watching porn online so I thought I’d try it. I’ve never had sex with anyone, but I’ve been talking to this girl that I like and we’ve been on a date. We’ve kissed and there’s been some sexual touching. I’ve been thinking about having sex with her and how this might happen” 

After hearing Joe’s story, can you answer some questions about what Joe may be thinking? 

  • What might Joe have learned about sex from looking at pornography online? 
  • How might Joe feel about how his body compared to the ones he sees in pornography?
  • What has Joe learned about consent from pornography? 
  • What might Joe think about women in pornography?

If you find it difficult to put yourself in Joe’s shoes, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What have you learned about sex from looking at pornography online?
  • How do you feel about how your body compared to the ones you see in pornography? ​
  • What have you learned about consent from pornography? 
  • What do you think about women in pornography?

Pornography and real life

It’s important to realise that pornography often shows sex in a way that’s not like real life. 

Sometimes pornography can make sex look very exciting, easy and perfect. But it’s not always like that. Like anything else, it’s not going to be perfect and there may be awkward parts, or things that don’t go as planned. And that’s okay.

And lot of the sexual behaviours and activities shown in pornography don’t actually happen very often in real-life adult sexual relationships.

Also, the people in pornography may look very different from you or the people around you. This can make people feel bad about the way they look. 

So it’s important you don’t compare yourself or other people you know to the people in pornography. 


What about consent? 

  • Does pornography help you understand what consent is? 
  • How do we know someone is consenting? 
  • How do we check that the other person is happy and comfortable with a sexual act? 

Remember – the people making pornography are actors, and what you see is edited to make it look a certain way. In real life, sex doesn’t look like that, and the way people deal with consent is different in real life too. 

Here are some of the unhelpful messages that pornography can give us: 

  • women or girls are sexual objects 
  • violent sex happens a lot 
  • sex has to last a certain amount of time 
  • sex is all about pleasure and not about healthy close relationships 
  • sexual activity between adults and teenagers is okay 
  • sexual activity between family members is okay
  • people’s bodies should look a certain way
  • it’s unusual to use contraception like condoms

Do you know where you could find safer and more helpful places to learn about sex? Our safe spaces to learn about sex page can help you find the right information for you about sex and relationships. 

Safe spaces to learn about sex

Find safe spaces where you can learn more about sex, love and relationships.

Read more

To find out more about consent, visit our consent page. 

Enthusiastic consent

Find out what consent means, and how to make sure everyone involved in a sexual activity is giving their enthusiastic consent.

Read more

What other impacts can pornography have? 

A study in 2016 found that looking at pornography can:

  • affect what young people believe about sex
  • change their behaviour

The study also showed that pornography increases the chance of young people getting involved in sexual behaviour that might harm them or other people. 

Have you seen any changes to your behaviour after using pornography? 

Here are some things that you or a friend might have experienced: 

  • believing that certain things (such as sexual acts) are normal when you used to find them shocking
  • using pornography as a guide for sex 
  • feeling like “anything goes” in sex, like multiple partners, anal sex, unusual sexual acts 
  • forgetting about safe sex, like not using condoms
  • expecting unrealistic things of yourself in relation to sex, like thinking you need to last a long time before you orgasm
  • expecting unrealistic things of others, like thinking they need to do certain things to give you pleasure 
  • feeling bad about your body 
  • seeing people as sex objects
  • feeling confused or worried about who you’re attracted to 
  • being less interested in real-life sex or relationships than you are in pornography
  • spending more time alone
  • having problems getting an erection, or keeping it 
  • having difficulties in your relationships, like romantic relationships and family relationships

Are you struggling?

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