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7 Reasons Kids Use Porn -- And What Parents Can Do About It

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

To help a child who is using pornography stop we need to understand why they are seeking it out. It turns out there are several distinct reasons kids turn to porn.


The better we understand why our child might look for sexual imagery, the better we will be at helping them resist it. The reasons a child turns to porn actually points to the solution.


The organization Protect Young Minds recently completed a research project studying why kids use porn. Combining their findings with that of Be Broken's work we end up with seven reasons kids turn to pornography.


Knowing these reasons then gives parents seven ways to help kids resist the allure of pornography.


1. Curiosity


The most obvious reason kids turn to pornography is out of curiosity about sex or to gain understanding about sexual words they have heard others use. This is not just a reason for one or two visits to pornography.


Even teenagers are constantly hearing new sexual terms that they have not heard before. This can keep kids returning to their chosen sex educator (porn) throughout childhood and their teen years.


In addition, as kids use porn they see things they don’t understand, which keeps them searching to see more to gain understanding of what they are seeing.


If we do not want pornography to be our child’s sex educator we have to provide an alternative. That alternative is us.


This means we have to be the first to teach our kids about sex and even what all the words they are hearing others say mean. Our kids will not know it is okay to come to us with questions about sex until we start that conversation.

  • Kids should learn the correct name for body parts at ages three to five.

  • They need to know where babies come from with increasing detail from ages five to eight.

  • We need to actively ask what words they are hearing that they don’t understand and then we need to explain sexual slang in appropriate ways.

There is no other option—its either us or porn (or ignorant friends) that will teach them.


Teaching kids about sex only sounds scary at first. Once we start, our kids quickly get used to talking about sex with us. Parents are usually the most afraid to talk about sex, not kids.


2. To Feel Good


Pornography is usually sexually stimulating, even to a child.


Viewing sex causes dopamine to be released in a child’s brain, which makes them feel good inside. Kids will return just to get that feeling again. One young teenager explained seeing pornography this way, “It felt like being on a rollercoaster. Some people don’t like that but some people want to go back and feel that again.”


Kids don’t have to be looking for pornography to stumble across it.


Playing video games, surfing for shows in a smart TV, and even doing homework online can bring up pornography even when the child is not looking for it. If this happens, and they feel the rush of dopamine, they may want to return to feel that again.


We can explain to our kids that looking at pornography can make us feel good. We can even tell them it does this by causing dopamine to be released in our brain. But we can explain that pornography is very addictive and we can easily become trapped by it, almost as if we are its slave. We should not lie, yes pornography can feel good, but there are better ways to feel good.


Kids who have felt the rush of pornography will have the hardest time resisting it when they are bored. So, we need to help our kids be better at finding things to do when they are bored. We need to encourage our children to be creative in finding ways to experience fun and excitement. Perhaps some things can be changed at home that make life feel a little less dull.


3. To Relieve Stress


Using porn to relieve stress is less about wanting to feel good than running away from bad feelings. Stress relief is about seeking comfort during times when difficult emotions are present.


It is common for children and teens to turn to pornography or some other form of sexual stimulation when they feel anxious, rejected, or some other negative emotion.


For many kids, pornography can become the go-to method for coping with stress.


To prevent this we need to teach our children how to be aware of their emotions and how to process them. We call this “emotional resilience,” or being emotionally strong.


The levels of anxiety we see reflected in the news demonstrates that our entire society has become emotionally weak. This is something our entire family needs work on. It starts with learning to talk about our feelings all the time.

  • We can start teaching preschool kids how to explain what they are feeling instead of throwing a tantrum.

  • We can teach elementary children a larger vocabulary of feelings.

  • We can teach kids ages 8 and up how to identify what they are feeling and plan ahead what to do the next time they feel those feelings.

  • We can teach adolescents how to identify their core emotional triggers and make plans to deal with those before they start feeling tempted to look at pornography for escape.

This process of developing emotional resilience lasts all of childhood (and beyond).


4. To Make Sense of Sexual Contact or Abuse


When a child has a sexual experience, whether due to abuse or experimentation, they sometimes turn to pornography to make sense of what happened.


Studies show that one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused.


More children than that have experimented sexuality with another child in some way.


These encounters leave a child wondering if what they experienced is normal. If they are afraid to tell their parents what happened they may look up what happened to them online to see it again. They attempt to use pornography to process their feelings.


To prevent this from happening we need to be asking our children what they are experiencing. If they begin to act odd, such as isolating or acting out more than normal, it's time to talk and see if something happened that upset them.


We will have to assure them that they will not be in trouble for whatever they tell us, as fear of punishment is the most common reason children are afraid to talk to parents about sexual experiences. If parents do discover a child has been abused they should immediately seek professional help.


5. Peer Pressure


All kids want to fit in.


In today’s world children will hear their friends talking about pornography and joking about sexual things they have seen online. Kids will hear other kids talk about pornographic websites and not be able to join in the conversation because they don’t understand what their friends are talking about.


Kids may be made fun of for not knowing what pornography is. This can even happen in Christian schools, homeschool environments, and church settings.


Sometimes the motivation to use pornography is no more complicated than wanting to understand what their friends are talking about so they can join in the conversation next time. Kids want to fit in and be a part of the group. This is particularly true with kids ages 12-14 or so.


We can help our children by frequently asking them what their friends are talking about.


If we know they are old enough that their friends are probably using pornography it is wise to ask them if they hear other kids talk about porn. If they seem afraid to talk we can tell our stories of learning that our friends were using porn when we were kids. Then we can ask if they ever feel like looking just to see what their friends are talking about.


We can ask them how it feels to not be a part of something their friends are involved in. This is mostly about listening to let them process their feelings.


Feeling left out is not a pleasant experience. We should express empathy for a child who does not look at pornography but feels left out as a result. We should feel empathy for a child who does look at pornography in order to fit in. We can help them try to find other ways to fit in or even help them find friends with the same values as they want to have.


6. To Feel Freedom


Some children live in highly restrictive homes where they feel like they do not have the freedom to express their feelings or make any choices on their own.


While structure is good, when it becomes rigid and regimented a child may feel unnoticed or unimportant. No child wants to feel less important than the house rules. In these cases pornography becomes a secret way to rebel and experience a few moments of freedom.


The feeling of freedom is what they seek, even more than a sexual rush.


To prevent this, parents need to make sure their child feels a sense of independence and freedom to say what is on their mind. It does not mean a child should get to do whatever they want, but they should be able to at least express their feelings about what they do and don’t want to do without punishment.


All children should have some times when they have freedom to do things they like. While many parents do this instinctively, some parents will find this difficult, as it is not how they were raised.


Yet, when we do not allow children any freedom, choice, or ability to express emotions, that bottled up frustration has to come out somewhere. Overly strict homes do not allow compromise but insist on compliance.


Compromise is hard for everyone, including parents, but a necessary skill. Children do need to learn to accept disappointment but parents also need to learn to give children some freedom. The alternative is always destructive.


7. To Feel Validated


Girls today often face frequent sexual comments by boys and can easily feel like sexual objects.


Girls will notice that boys often pay most attention to the girls who laugh at sexual comments made to them, who wear more revealing clothing, or who flirt with boys. A girl who does know what to make of this may find herself searching for answers online and end up with a lot of pornography on her computer or device.


It is easy for a girl to get caught up in pornography trying to make sense of how she is supposed to be validated by others.


Boys often make fun of each other, calling each other emasculating names. When boys feel rejected by peers in this or other ways they experience a deep need for validation.


When a boy stumbles across pornography, the sexual images looking back at him can appear to be validating him.


This feeling of validation can be brought on by oxytocin.


In addition to dopamine, sexual stimulation releases oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is a hormone that causes us to feel emotionally bonded to who or whatever we are looking at when we are sexually stimulated.


Kids who need validation find porn gives them an artificial feeling of validation as oxytocin floods their brains. It may be artificial, but to a child it is better than nothing.


To help guard against this we need to do all we can to make sure our children feel validated. We do this by starting when they are very young. Validation is more than telling them, “good job” when they do something well. Girls and boys need gender-specific validation.


At some point a girl is more interested in a compliment on her looks from her dad than from her mom. She needs to know the opposite sex approves of her, and her father is the model of the opposite sex for a girl.


Boys also need approval from their dad, especially as they reach puberty and need to be affirmed in their maleness by their male role model.


Both girls and boys need affirmation from their mothers as well. A twelve-year-old girl needs to hear her mother say, “If all the twelve year old girls in the world were lined up, I would still pick you.”


Boys need to hear similar things from their mothers. Not compliments on what they achieve, but of who they are.


Next Steps


This information is too much for any parent to take in all at once. Instead of worrying about doing it all, pick one of these seven areas you think you can improve on in your home. Here are some examples:

  • Curiosity: See our Recommended Books list for books to teach your child more about sex.

  • Boredom: Talk as a family of ways to have fun, and then go do it.

  • Stress: Talk about healthy ways to relieve anxiety and disappointment.

  • Abuse: Ask your child if someone has touched their private area if you are concerned.

  • Peer Pressure: Share your stories of peer pressure as a child and ask your child to share some of theirs.

  • Freedom: Ask your children if they feel they have freedom at home. Listen and consider ways to improve house rules.

  • Validation: Take your child out for their favorite food and tell them how important they are to you, just the way they are.

For more parenting help, visit our Family Care Resources.

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