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Sex, Sexuality

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’.

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. It is natural to be curious about sex and to want to explore these things, but it’s important to do it in a healthy and safe way.

Today the easy accessibility of porn on the internet and the changing nature of porn has generated lots of debate, and lots of research is being done into how it affects people. Most people are just concerned about whether porn causes harm, especially to young people. It is very normal to be curious about porn; 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 people may have seen small clips here and there and others may watch it occasionally. There are lots of reasons people watch porn:

  • To get aroused, perhaps while masturbating, or while with a partner before or during sex.
  • Out of curiosity, such as to learn more about a particular sexual act they’ve heard or read about.
  • As a way of discovering new things about sex and sexuality.
  • 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.
  • With friends, such as to show off or have a laugh.

Staying safe

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.

Porn and the law

In the UK it’s legal to watch or buy porn, 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 genitals, anus or breasts
  • Animals (often called bestiality)
  • Dead people (necrophilia)

It is legal for someone who is under 18 to look at porn, however it is illegal to

  • Show a young person under 18 porn, or to allow them to watch it. This includes if a young person is showing another young person porn.
  • Sell porn to someone who is under 18.

It is also illegal to

  • Share or threaten to share private (meaning something not usually seen in public), sexual or explicit videos or images of someone else without their permission. If this is done with the intension to distress or embarrass them, it is known as revenge porn.
  • Send unsolicited sexual or explicit images, which is known as cyberflashing.
  • Take and/or send naked images or videos of, or to, people under 18. This means that, if you are under 18, you should not be sending or receiving sexually explicit images even if you are in a sexual relationship with the other person/people. If you are over 18, it is illegal for you to receive sexually explicit photos of someone who is under 18.

What is revenge porn?

Revenge porn is when someone shares private, sexual or explicit videos or photos of another person without their consent with intent to cause embarrassment, shame or distress. This is a form of sexual abuse and is illegal in England and Wales.

Revenge porn can happen on social media, through texting or email or by showing someone a physical or electronic image. Whether it’s sent to a friend, a work colleague, a family member or a stranger it is never okay to share private, sexual materials that aren’t yours, without permission. This term is only appropriate for young people aged 18 or over. If you are under 18 this type of content is classed as being child abuse imagery.

If you are 18 or over and have been affected by this, you can call the Revenge Porn Helpline on 0845 6000 459. If you are under 18, call ChildLine on 0800 1111 and/or visit the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) website.

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 safeguard the young person. You can also contact the IWF if someone has shared any sexual content of you without your permission. If you have seen content like this and want to talk to somebody about what you have seen, you can contact 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 and help young people, not to get them into trouble.

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 body types and 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 unpleasant, or even violent.

Stories in porn rarely 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 sexual relationships.

It is important to recognise that the way sex is portrayed in lots of porn is just a story or fantasy and may be very different to how you or others would like to have sex.

When does watching porn become harmful?

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

  • If someone finds 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/or impacts 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 of their sexual partner in ways that could be harmful to them or their partner.

Are you worried about your porn use?

Excessive porn viewing affects a lot of people and there are plenty of healthy ways to deal with it. Here is some great advice from Thinkuknow on what to do if you want to stop watching porn and are finding it difficult.

  • Think about impact. Consider how your use of pornography could be impacting your thoughts, feelings, behaviour and relationships.
  • Talk to someone. Talking with trusted friends about our worries can help us feel better and find solutions. You can also speak to a sexual health service, counsellor or GP to find extra support if needed.
  • Put barriers in place. Set some boundaries by using internet controls to limit access to pornography.
  • Distract yourself. Stay active and socialise with friends and family.
  • Learn more. Information is key, so visit websites such as Your Brain on Porn and The Mix to find information and advice on pornography.

Porn addiction isn’t a recognised medical condition, however young people can get support with any issues they may have around porn, such as by speaking to a trusted adult.

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. 

If you want to talk to about porn with someone, you can contact Brook or another sexual health service. You could also get in touch with a helpful organisation like Childline or The Mix.

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