Seven Reasons Kids Turn To Porn & What You Can Do About It
This blog comes from John Fort, the director of training at Be Broken Ministries. John has many years of experience in sexual addiction recovery, both personally and professionally. He is also the author of Honest Talk: A New Perspective on Talking To Your Kids About Sex.*
When my son was 14, my wife and I discovered he'd been looking at porn. Though it wasn't the first time we'd made this discovery, it caught us by surprise. We had been working closely with all of our children on the subject of sex and sexual temptation, and our son seemed to embrace a desire to honor God with his sexuality. He too seemed perplexed, saying he didn’t understand why he had sought out porn. By the look on his face, I believed him.
It turns out there is more than one reason our kids (sons and daughters alike) purposefully search for sexual content. The organization Protect Young Minds recently completed an (unpublished) study on why children use pornography. They did this by surveying adults and asking about their childhood. I like how Protect Young Minds suggests that kids “hire” pornography to do jobs for them that they do not know how else to do. That is a revolutionary and helpful way to think about porn use.
Protect Young Minds identified four reasons kids “hire” porn. In my work with pornography addicts at Be Broken Ministries, I found three additional reasons people start using porn in childhood.
I wish I had known then, as I struggled to help my son, what I know now. Understanding these seven reasons can equip both parents and children to navigate future temptation more effectively.
1. Children view porn out of curiosity and use it to gain knowledge about sex.
This reason should not surprise any of us. All kids eventually have questions about sex! If children are afraid or ashamed to ask parents about sex, they will search for answers elsewhere. Even young children know that the Internet is where people go these days for answers. Kids usually have no idea what they are about to see when they ask Google a question about sex. What they see gives them even more questions, and it is easy for Google to become a frequent companion in searching for information about sex.
2. Children use porn because it feels good.
Looking at pornography can make the viewer feel good inside. For an adolescent in particular, coming across pornographic content may generate the most intense excitement they have ever experienced. When we see nudity and novelty, our brains release dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and other pleasure-creating hormones and brain chemicals. While God designed this to draw us back to intimacy in marriage, pornography highjacks this pleasure response.
Many children find pornography by accident and are surprised by the rush it gives them, and they may return to feel it again. One teenager explained it to us this way when describing why he started using porn at age 11 after seeing it the first time:
“I wanted to get the same feeling again that I got the first time, which was a feeling of excitement and almost a joy—but not a real joy. When you have that feeling you feel like it's the best thing for you at that moment. It’s almost like when you’re on a roller coaster. How, you know, some people wouldn’t want to go back, but other people, it’s so good to them, the butterflies in their stomach, that they go back.”
3. Children use porn as a way to deal with stress and difficult emotions.
The same chemicals that make us feel good when facing a sexual situation also have the side effect of pushing any negative feelings aside. Pornography can easily become a child’s go-to method for dealing with painful emotions, even if they are not completely aware this is what they are using it for.
4. Children use porn to feel a sense of freedom and to test boundaries.
Families with highly authoritative parent-child relationships can leave a child desperately wanting to express autonomy. Children who live in tightly controlled families may use pornography as a secret way to rebel and experience freedom. Pornography not only allows a shy, withdrawn child to escape into an exciting fantasy world, but it also becomes a way to secretly break the rules.
5. Children use porn for validation.
Both boys and girls can sometimes feel like they are not “good enough” examples of maleness or femaleness. Pornographic images and videos can give an illusion of affirmation the one who is watching. When a child does not feel validated by peers and family, they may turn to porn to find a false sense of validation.
6. Children use porn due to external (peer) pressure.
Kids want desperately to fit in. When they hear all their friends around them talking about sexual content online, and they don’t know what they are talking about, they may search out pornography so they can take part in those conversations next time. Or a child may look up a website because they hear other kids saying it is “cool.” Sometimes a child will be made fun of for never having seen pornography. Social and other forms of media also promote sexualized content as a good thing for kids to experience.
7. Children seek out porn to make sense of sexual abuse or early sexual encounters.
We don’t like to think or talk about sexual abuse, but research shows that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused. Parents should be aware that sexual abuse can happen between children. In addition to abuse, early sexual encounters and experimentation with other children raises the chances that a child will seek out sexualized content online.
Early sexualized and abused children often search online for depictions of the kind of sexual contact they experienced. Children who do this are trying to find out if they are normal or if what they experienced is normal. This can also be a way of trying to process and gain mastery over a traumatic experience.
How do we use this information?
Knowing why a child or teen looks at porn can help you prepare your kids to resist and walk away from pornography. You can be a safe and honest place for your children to come with their questions about sex. When you discover your child has been viewing porn, start by talking with him or her to discover which of these reasons may have caused it. Then help them find other ways to get those needs met.
Here are some things you can do to help children resist porn, whether they have been exposed to it or not:
Teach children about sex early, and make your family the safest place to talk about sex. Continue these conversations throughout childhood and the teen years.
Find safe ways to experience excitement and pleasure. Don’t deny that porn “feels good” to watch, but show your children that there are better ways to feel good. Be sure to teach children how pornography harms them, even though it feels good.
Teach your kids how to talk about their feelings and emotions and how to resolve them by talking with others. Do this by example!
Make sure your children have freedom to express themselves. Don’t make everything an argument or a battle that you have to win.
Validate your child’s identity and share how they reflect God’s image. Instead of trying to change how they act, make sure they know you think they’re an excellent example of masculinity or femininity.
Talk about peer and social pressure. Share any peer pressure you endured at their age. Talk with them to help them deal with the negative feelings they experience when not going along with the crowd.
Ask your child if anyone, an adult or a peer, has ever made them feel unsafe or touched them in a way that made them uncomfortable. Talk about this reality and reassure him or her it’s okay to talk about it! If you experienced such things as a child, you may want to share that. This sets an example that it is okay, even helpful, to talk about it.
Knowledge is power, and having more information on the reasons our sons and daughters may be drawn to pornography is a powerful tool to help them resist or escape it.
You may be interested in these follow-up resources: When Your Kids Look At Porn (blog); Parenting Through Weakness (blog); Pornography & Our Kids (blog); Talking To Your Kids About Sex (webinar series).
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