top of page
Strategies for discussing pornography with children

For many parents and caregivers, one of the most nerve-racking decisions to make is how and when to talk with their children about sex. 

Purple Triangle.png
Orange Triangle.png
Texture - 8.png
Yellow Circle.png

For many parents and caregivers, one of the most nerve-racking decisions to make is how and
when to talk with their children about sex. As an additional challenge in the age of smartphones
and instant access to the internet, it has become absolutely necessary to address children’s
probable exposure to pornography. As a clinical psychologist, I am often asked by parents when
and how to discuss pornography with their children, and also understand the profound impact
these conversations can have on a child’s psychological development and conceptions
regarding sex. The following is a guide on why, when, and how to talk with your children about

Why to talk with your children about pornography

It is important to accept as parents or caregivers that the days of pornography being
(somewhat) sequestered from children have passed, and so have the days of being able to
avoid directly addressing pornography when talking with children about sex or online safety.
Regardless of our best intentions in sheltering our children, or the discomfort we may have in
addressing the topic, pornography is something kids are going to be exposed to. A 2007 article
by Wolak, Mitchell, and Finklehor found that teens reported commonly being exposed to
pornography unintentionally. Additionally, a more recent (2023) survey by Common Sense
Media noted a majority of U.S. teenagers reported having seen pornography at least once
(either by accident or on purpose) by age 13. And though 52% of teens surveyed by Common
Sense said they realize that pornography does not accurately show the way that most people
have sex in real life, a 2021 study by Rothman et. al., indicated that a large percentage of
adolescents do believe that pornography is the best source of information about how to have

From a psychological perspective, there are a myriad of potential concerns regarding the impact of pornography on children’s evolving understanding of sexuality; particularly if it were to be their main source of sexual education. A significant apprehension is the varied depictions of consent within explicit content, which could potentially skew perceptions of personal and relationship boundaries from a young age. Racial stereotypes prevalent in pornography also give rise to concerns about reinforcing harmful biases, impacting self-esteem, and perpetuating unhealthy social attitudes. Additionally, some children may develop unrealistic expectations regarding body-image or healthy sexual relationships, as explicit content often portrays aggression and lacks authenticity.

Though many parents accept that talking about relationships and sex with their children are part of their parental duties, specifically addressing pornography with them is unfortunately far less common. In a recent comprehensive report by Common Sense Media, most teenagers reported having discussed relationships (82%), sex (75%), and birth control (53%) with a trusted adult, but only 43% reported having similar conversations regarding pornography. Despite the
apparent avoidance of the subject, caregivers should actually feel quite confident in initiating
these conversations. Both in research and in my own clinical experience, the grand majority of
teenagers that have discussions with trusted adults about pornography find them to be
beneficial. Teens report that having these conversations are not only helpful in learning about
resources other than pornography to explore sex or their personal sexuality, but that it makes
them feel better about sex and themselves overall.

Furthermore, many teenagers actually want to have conversations with trusted adults regarding
pornography, but do not feel as though they know how to initiate the conversation, or do not
know who to turn to. As a psychologist, I advocate for these conversations as opportunities to
instill resilience, dispel misconceptions, and empower the younger generation with a balanced
perspective on relationships and digital literacy. Regardless of personal discomfort (or
potentially receiving eye-rolls from your child), conversations with youngsters regarding
pornography can prevent misconceptions, improve their safety online, and even their

When to have “The Talk”

Though there is no agreed-upon “right” time to do it, many experts encourage discussion of
sexuality (including pornography!) to begin as early as seven to ten. The exact age, of course,
depends very much on your child’s maturity, their access to the internet or other potential
sources of pornography, and your unique family’s values.

I do, however, strongly recommend discussing pornography with children before they are
exposed to it, if at all possible. If children already know what sex is and have discussed sexual
values with a trusted adult, they are much less likely to normalize the version of sexuality that

they may encounter with pornography. As the average age that children report first seeing
pornography is around 12, and over half of teenagers report they have at some point been
exposed to pornography unintentionally, I believe caregivers should initiate these conversations with their children sooner rather than later.

How to have “The Talk”

Before jumping into a discussion with your children, it is imperative to first consider your own
values, knowledge, experiences, and personal feelings regarding pornography. People have
vastly different values and experiences regarding sex and sexual material and that’s okay. I
remember as a child being taken to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” by my mother, who was
assured by the lady selling tickets that it was appropriate for children. Based on my mom then
trying to cover my eyes anytime Jessica Rabbit was on the screen, and the fury with which we
left the theater following the movie, it’s safe to say that my mother and the theater employee had different values regarding sex. It is important to stress that neither of them were wrong!
Spending some time identifying your own values regarding pornography before speaking with
your kids about it can help to ground yourself and clarify what it is that you would like to teach

The following are questions that may be helpful to ask yourself:

● How did you first learn about pornography?
○ Did your parents talk with you about it?
○ How did you feel when you first encountered it?
○ What do you wish your caregivers had taught you about pornography when you
were young?

● What are your personal values regarding pornography?
○ Is it all bad?
○ Is some okay and some is not?
○ What is the difference?
● What is your personal knowledge level or experience with pornography?
○ Do you have concerns regarding your own pornography use or habits?
○ Do you avoid pornography or feel uneducated about it?
○ How knowledgeable are you about general sexual functioning and the range of
behaviors within healthy sexual relationships?

○ Do you have trauma related to sex or pornography that may impact your feelings
about it and/or your ability to discuss it?
○ Did you grow up in an environment where discussions of sexuality and/or
pornography were avoided, or presented in a shame-based manner?
○ Did you grow up in an environment where you felt that you could comfortably
discuss issues related to sexuality and/or pornography with a trusted adult?
■ If so, what was helpful in establishing that environment/relationship?
○ What assumptions do you have about pornography?


Once you’ve had some time to consider your personal values regarding pornography, its time to think about how you want to talk with your child. Spend some time identifying a few goals of
your conversation and think of some points you want to address. Be aware that you may not
get to everything and that is okay! It is much more effective for this to become a series of short
conversations rather than a one time talk, so try not to stress out about cramming it all into one
lecture. Some further questions that may be helpful to ask yourself:

● What knowledge do you hope your child walks away from the conversation(s) with?
○ Issues regarding consent, sexual expectations, or sexual behavior?
○ Issues about gender dynamics, body-image expectations, LGBTQ issues, or
racial stereotypes?


Spending some time clarifying to yourself what information you hope your child internalizes from such conversations will be a valuable tool in navigating a talk neither of you may be especially comfortable having. Be sure to steer away from judgment or fear-based tactics. Being supportive and understanding that it is natural for tweens and teens to be curious about topics like sex and pornography can help to establish a more comfortable environment to discuss these sensitive matters.

Remember that the long-term goal is to put yourself into a position where your child knows you
are a good person to talk with when difficulties arise in their lives. Positioning yourself as a
supportive ally rather than an authoritarian figure not only greatly increases the chances of
children listening to what you have to say, but also increases the likelihood of them coming to
you when they need support in the future.

It is likely (and okay!) that the conversation will be brief. Opting for short, recurrent discussions
rather than a protracted monologue is much more effective in increasing understanding and
comfort for everyone involved. Rather than overwhelming children with an extensive talk,
bite-sized conversations allow for the gradual absorption of information, making difficult subjects less daunting. This approach not only respects their evolving comprehension but also
establishes an environment where they are likely to feel more at ease bringing up questions or

Initiating conversations about pornography can be challenging, but it's vital. Caregivers can start by creating an open, non-judgmental space for discussion. Begin with questions like, "Have you come across anything online that made you uncomfortable?" or "How do you differentiate between what's real and what isn’t on the internet?" Offering guidance on media literacy empowers children to critically evaluate content, fostering a healthy understanding of sexuality and relationships.


Parents play a pivotal role in shaping their children's perspectives, making these conversations essential for their overall well-being.

Nurturing Healthy Dialogues on Sex and Pornography with Our Children

Ultimately, despite the potential discomfort or resistance we may feel, the importance of having conversations regarding pornography with our children are very clear. It is critical for parents to shed outdated notions of shielding their children from sexual content and accept the importance of discussing it directly with them.


When delivered in an understanding, informative, and supportive manner, the value of these conversations extend beyond mere exposure prevention; they lay the foundation for a healthy understanding of sexuality. By initiating brief, open, and periodically revisited dialogues early, parents can foster an environment of comprehension and support that sets their children up for healthy perspectives on sex and pornography, and sets themselves up as primary resources of support for their children in the future.

bottom of page