Healthy lives for young people
Sex

Porn

Pornography or porn for short, refers to explicit images or videos that show sexual activity or sexual images in a way that is designed to make the viewer sexually excited or ‘turned on’.

Naked images or people engaging in sexual activity have been around for thousands of years, carved into cave walls or painted on ancient pottery.

However today the easy accessibility of porn on the internet and the changing nature of porn has generated lots of debate. Some people think all porn is bad, but most people are just concerned about whether porn causes harm – especially to young people.

Porn is a hot topic and lots of research is being done into how it affects people. So whether you already watch porn or have no interest in it at all, it’s worth understanding a bit more.

Why do people watch porn?

Some people may watch lots of porn and some may watch none at all. Some may have seen small clips here and there and others may watch it occasionally. There are lots of reasons people watch porn:

  • by accident, when searching for something unrelated to sex brings up a pornographic image or video
  • by accident, when searching a sexual term to find out factual information
  • out of curiosity to learn more about a particular sexual act they’ve heard or read about, but don’t understand
  • to have a laugh or show off to friends
  • to get sexual stimulation or excitement alone or with a partner as a way of discovering new things about sex and sexuality

It is important to remember that when it comes to porn, you should only do or watch what you feel comfortable with. You should never make someone, or be made by someone, to watch porn; and it is illegal to watch it if you are under 18. 

Porn and the law

In the UK it’s legal to watch or buy porn when you are 18 years old, as long as it doesn’t involve:

  • People who are under 18
  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Scenes of life threatening violence or acts that are likely to cause serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals
  • Animals (often called bestiality)
  • Dead people (necrophilia)

It is also illegal for:

  • An adult to show a young person under 18 porn, or to allow them to watch it
  • Under 18s to take sexual pictures of each other or make sexual videos. Even if the people involved have agreed to it (consented), it is classed as child abuse imagery and is illegal.
  • Sexting: receiving or sending naked images of a person under 18 is illegal, even if they were taken or sent with their permission

If you see any sexual content online that involves anyone under the age of 18, you have a duty to report it. You can do this by reporting (anonymously if you wish) to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). The IWF can remove this content and look to safeguard the child or young person involved. If you have seen content like this and want to talk to somebody about what you have seen, you can call ChildLine anonymously on 0800 1111.

Lots of young people under 18 have seen porn. If you are under 18, have seen pornography and need to talk to a professional about your feelings or report something you think is harmful or illegal it is important that you do this. The law is designed to protect young people, not to get them into trouble.

AGE VERIFICATION

In Autumn 2019 all porn websites will require a form of age verification to prove that you are over 18, before you can access pornographic material. This could be a credit card, text message or passport. To protect your data, all websites with a green AV symbol are regulated by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and will have the highest standard of data protection.

Possible downsides of porn

There are lots of different types of porn, but the types of porn that are free or easily accessible often portray only limited types of body shapes and sizes and certain types of sex. The people in it probably don’t look like most of us, the things they do may be things lots of people don’t want to experience, and the way they treat each other can sometimes be humiliating, unpleasant or even violent.

Often stories in porn do not show actors asking for or giving consent, giving pleasure or enjoyment equally to both partners, or practising safer sex – things that are important to healthy, safe relationships.

It is important to recognise that the way sex is portrayed in lots of porn is just a story or fantasy and may have nothing to do with how you or others would like to have sex.

When does watching porn become harmful?

It’s not possible to say how much porn watching is ‘too much’ or when it has become harmful, but these may be things for people to look out for and seek help with:

  • if they find that they need to watch more and more extreme porn to get turned on
  • if it makes them feel unable to enjoy intimacy or sex with a person in real life
  • if it starts to negatively affect their feelings about themselves, their body or their behaviour; or is causing anxiety or feelings of shame
  • if it starts to occupy too much time or too many thoughts; and impacts on or limits the time they spend doing other activities including work, studies, hobbies, socialising or being with family
  • if watching porn affects their expectations of sex or the expectations they have of their sexual partner in ways that could be harmful to themselves or their partner

Porn addiction isn’t a recognised medical condition, but this doesn’t mean that young people can’t get support with any issues they may have around porn.

If porn is something that worries you or makes you feel bad about yourself, it can be a really positive step to reach out for help and support. 

Are you worried about your porn use?

Here is some great advice from Thinkuknow on what to do if you want to stop watching porn and are finding it difficult:

Talk about it Is there an adult in your life or even a friend you could talk to about your worries? A conversation can help sort out the way forward and make the problem feel more manageable.
Think about your hopes for your romantic or sexual life now and in the future. Think about whether porn fits or doesn’t fit with these hopes.
Write down all the reasons that you can think of about why you want to stop watching porn, and rate out of 10 how important each one is. If you are tempted to watch it, look back at what you have written.
Make porn less accessible This might involve starting new interests like a new sport, going out more, and keeping your mobile or laptop out of your room at night.

Revenge porn

Revenge porn refers to ex-partners sharing sexually explicit videos of their former partner without their consent. As the name suggests, revenge porn is shared with the intention to embarrass or shame an individual and can involve sharing on social media or sending to work colleagues or family members. The term is only appropriate for young people aged 18 or over. Under 18, and this type of content is classed as being child abuse imagery.

If you are 18 or over and have been affected by this, visit Voices of Internet Crime (VOIC) or call the Revenge Porn Helpline on 0845 6000 459. If you are under 18, call ChildLine on 0800 1111.

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