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Growing up with Porn: Insights from young New Zealanders

18 April 2020

This research provides insights from more than 50 interviews with a diverse group of young New Zealanders aged 14-17. The research provides an in-depth understanding of young people’s experiences with porn and the impact this may have on relationships.

It follows our 2018 nationally representative survey NZ Youth and Porn, and our 2019 Pornhub content analysis Breaking Down Porn.

Download the full research report, Growing up with Porn (PDF, 6.97MB)

Key findings from the research are outlined below.

Young people are growing up with porn

Porn has become part of life for young people – whether or not they watch it 

Young people are growing up with porn – often seeing it for the first time as children. It’s highly accessible and because of this it’s become normalised for young people, whether or not they watch it themselves. Young people have diverse experiences and views about porn, and it’s not possible to make assumptions about these things based on age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or religious beliefs. While porn may be easy to access, watching it regularly isn’t necessarily common. 

Young people are curious about sex and porn is a default learning tool 

Young people are more likely to look at porn for sexual pleasure rather than for sex ed, but whether intentionally or not, sexuality education is what they’re getting from porn. This ‘education’ can begin before they reach high school, and most young people agree that’s a bad idea. 

Girls watch porn too (for similar reasons as boys), but they see a double standard 

Boys are much more likely to watch porn often. However when girls do watch porn, they’re likely to do so for similar reasons to boys, including sexual arousal and masturbation, to explore their sexuality and learn about the mechanics of sex. However girls and boys face different societal expectations about porn: girls described a sense of taboo or stigma around sex and sexuality, and this ‘double standard’ extends to watching porn.

It’s just so easy to get your hands on it. I think where it stands is it’s a big part of our generation at the moment, I guess.

Female, 17, Māori and Pacific

It definitely has a huge role in helping young people figuring out their sexuality. It has had for me as well. Watching or looking at different kinds of porn does help you figure out what your preferences are.

Male, NZ European

Porn has such a stigma around it that’s so negative, especially for girls and girls my age. It’s just so negative. I think that’s why people don’t talk about it so much.

Female, 15, NZ European

Young people's views on the impacts of porn

Porn can have a negative impact on body confidence

It’s common for girls to feel bad about themselves because in their view their bodies don’t match up to the ‘ideal’ portrayed in porn, and boys often feel insecure about penis size. Even when a young person knows that what they see in porn isn’t the norm, they still worry about the expectations of current or future sexual partners. 

Most young people aren’t worried about the amount of porn they watch

Young people who watch porn don’t tend to struggle with how often or how much they watch – they told us that they look at it when they want to, and usually don’t spend much time on it. Some young people talked about ‘porn addiction’, but thought of it as rare. A small number of young people did report having a problem with porn use, related to mental health issues, concern about content or their feelings about the negative influence of porn. 

Young people think porn can negatively influence sex 

Many of the young people we interviewed talked about how porn isn’t realistic, and that it can give people false expectations about sex and relationships. Many acknowledge that both boys and girls can be influenced by gender roles seen in porn – and that young people who act out behaviour in porn often do so because they think it’s what their partner may want or expect. However most young people don’t regard porn as a good guide, and believe that the influence of porn can lead to negative experiences as they begin to explore sex.

They just looked so perfect and it made me think, my God, this is what guys are seeing and I do not look anything like this. It just made me feel so sad.

Female, 15, NZ European

I think it’s not an issue as in it’s widespread and dangerous but I think for people that are affected by it, it’s definitely an issue.

Female, 16, NZ European & Māori

They figured it out with their partner pretty quick simply because it wasn’t very comfortable for them and so they did figure it out and asked where are you getting the idea of what to do from? ‘From porn.’

Male, 17, NZ European & Pacific

What young people want from parents, whānau, and educators

Young people and adults are not talking about porn

Young people share many concerns about porn and think open communication about it is necessary for healthy social and sexual development. However, they are seldom having good conversations with the adults in their lives – or each other – about porn. Our findings show that children and young people are watching porn by themselves and having to make sense of what they see by themselves.

Young people think the way adults talk about porn needs to change

Young people by and large share real, sometimes serious, concerns about the influence of porn. However persistent negative messages from adults often don’t match their own feelings and experiences, and that makes it harder for young people to talk with adults about porn. They believe there is a taboo and stigma around sex and porn, including fear of punishment, and that these things can lead to feelings of guilt or shame. This was seen as another barrier to having supportive and open conversations.

Young people want information about porn to be part of sexuality education in schools

Young people advocated for information about porn to be included as part of comprehensive sexuality education. They feel this should be available to all, not just schools who decide to offer it. Our participants’ own experience with sexuality education was varied, but they viewed this as the most effective measure society can take to mitigate the potential harms of porn.

Young people think access to porn is too easy

Participants often said they were too young when they first saw porn, and most see a need for change in how porn is accessed. While some support age verification for online porn in principle, they point out that such a system may be difficult or even impossible to implement in a way that stops teens from accessing porn. Some young people think that restrictions should apply to children only, both because the risk of harm is greater, and because children are less likely to find ways around a restriction. While views around age restriction are mixed, participants strongly support the idea of content warnings, so that young people can make informed choices about what they watch.

Like I said, speak openly about it. Have a normal conversation, make it a comfortable topic because it’s important.

Female, 17, NZ European

There’s like a big taboo around it… I think that the things that are associated with porn are just so negative. That’s why a lot of people don’t want to talk about it with the adults because it just feels like we’ll get majorly judged for it, if that makes sense.

Male, 15, NZ European

I think the most important thing is making sure that we get a great sex education from somewhere that is a reliable source and not just two weird people making sex noises on screen.

Male, 17, NZ European & Pacific

Resources for parents, whānau and educators

We know this topic can feel overwhelming for parents and whānau, so we're here to help. We've put together a number of practical resources to help you learn more and start positive conversations with your children and teens about porn. It may feel awkward, but the positive benefits of talking together honestly and without judgement on these topics are significant.