Porn can impact young people in lots of different ways. If you’re worried about a young person or friend, here’s some tips for some of the top porn-related issues young people have told us they struggle with…
—NZ male, 19 yrs
First up, Prepare
Porn can be one of the hardest things for anyone to ask for help with because of the stigma that can be associated with porn. It’s helpful to be prepared for any conversation; so a young person knows you’re not going to judge them, you’re clued up and you’re safe to talk to. Here’s a link to help you prepare. It’s also helpful to know some of the signs that might suggest someone’s struggling with porn related issues:
- Trying to stop watching porn, but struggling
- Feeling triggered or anxious about something seen in porn
- Using sexual language, behaviour, jokes or drawings that aren’t age-appropriate
- Poor body image and/or mental health issues related to porn
- Needing to watch more and more porn to be satisfied
- Pressure from a partner to try stuff they’ve seen in porn
- Needing to watch increasingly violent or extreme porn to get aroused
- Not being aroused by real life sex
- Porn impacting sexual relationships
Some of these can also be signs of other issues – so it’s a good idea to talk openly before jumping to any conclusions.
Help will vary depending on what a young person is struggling with. Here’s some tips for five of the more common porn related experiences:
1. WantinG to cut down on porn
2. Porn ImpactinG their seX life/ relationships
3. Worried or wonderinG about nudes
4. Porn AffectinG body imaGe
5. Porn affectinG mental health
1 | Wanting to cut down
For regular porn viewers, wanting to cut down, but struggling is common. Much like breaking any habit, there are some simple steps that can help change things up. We suggest the ABC (Access, Brain and Chat) approach – this is a quick, easy-to-remember way to change up porn habits. You could also suggest a young person go straight to the I NEED HELP or WANT TO CUT DOWN? page.
Limit access to porn
Night-time is the most common time to watch porn, so a simple tip is to leave devices in another room at bedtime. Parents could try this too – it helps make a young person feel like there’s a team approach.
Put a filter on your family Wi-Fi or your teen’s device.
You can use an app for phones or plug in a filtering device to your family modem. There are some great ones out there – we recommend safesurfer.co.nz.
Remove the internet
If your child/friend is really struggling, they could switch to a basic phone without internet for a while. This can be difficult – but will help create an immediate break from porn.
(KNOWING HOW IT TICKS)
Many young people watch porn because they feel bored, lonely or stressed – and porn can start to work as a distraction or a comfort. Over time, the brain learns that porn is a good ‘default’ to manage negative feelings – and unhelpful habits around porn can be formed. In order to break these habits, it helps to find new ways to manage negative emotions that our brains can start to ‘default’ to. For example, whenever boredom, loneliness or stress kick in, encourage your young person/friend to find some new ‘comforts’ such as calling a friend, getting outside or going to the gym. It takes time – but with support, new habits can be created and the brain can learn new positive ways to manage our feelings.
Suggest to your friend/young person that they find a safe older person they can talk to, as breaking habits alone can be difficult. This person may not just be you – teenagers often benefit from other safe adults in their lives such as extended family members, school counsellors or coaches that they can call or message when they’re struggling.
2 | Porn impacting their sex life or relationships?
Some young people find porn can impact their understanding, expectations and experiences of sex. Even if a young person doesn’t watch porn, if their partner watches porn this can still impact them in different ways. Using open and curious questions can help get a deeper understanding of what’s going on for your young person/friend. For example:
- In what ways do you think porn is impacting your sex life?
- Have you felt any pressure to watch or re-enact porn? How have you responded?
- How do you feel about your own sexual performance compared to what’s in porn?
- What do the expectations around sex in your relationships look like?
Here’s some of the main ways young people have said porn affects their sex life and some take-outs to discuss:
Porn changing you/your partners expectations?
Porn provides a pretty unrealistic (and lousy!) template for real-life sex, so basing expectations on what we see in porn can be pretty harmful. Most people don’t like a lot of the sex we see in porn and most people aren’t porn actors! Check out these videos of young people talking about how porn impacted their expectations and this check list for young people to go through if they think porn’s impacting their sex life.
Don’t like partner’s porn habits?
Some young people struggle with their partner’s porn use – feeling sad, jealous, betrayed or ‘compared to porn’ is not uncommon. For any relationship to work it’s important both partners are all good with each other’s porn use. If not, it helps to have an open talk about each other’s views, expectations and whether there’s some middle ground or if it’s a deal breaker.
It’s also important that no one is made to feel boring or lame for not being into porn; for not wanting to try out stuff from porn; or for not wanting it in a relationship.
Worried about rough sex?
There’s a lot of rough sex in porn: choking, spanking, hair pulling, name calling etc. If porn is a young person’s first sexual encounter, or they are learning about sex from porn, it’s not uncommon for them to expect this in real life sex too! But the reality is a lot of people don’t enjoy the rough sex seen in porn! What makes real-life sex great is things like connection, communication, consent and pleasure – and these are often missing in the sex in porn.
Being ‘choked out’ is also more common now – this can be super dangerous and it’s 100% OKAY to say to a partner you don’t want or like any type of rough sex.
Struggling to stay aroused?
If someone’s struggling to stay aroused without porn, then a ‘porn reset’ might be needed. Cutting back, stopping, or even time-out from porn can help, and if arousal doesn’t return, a sexual health check-up from Family Planning, One Stop shops or a GP can help address things.
Porn changing you/your partners expectations?
Porn can give some really blurred messages around consent and coercion. In porn you hardly see consent, but it’s a 100% must in real life sex. There’s also a lot of coercion – where it’s sexy and normal to say no and then be forced into changing your mind. In real life sex, coercion is never okay.
Here’s some good take-outs around consent/coercion:
- Consent is KEY to any healthy sex experience
- A “nah/maybe” is not a yes!
- Trying to change someone’s mind is not sexy and not okay
- Doing new sexual stuff halfway through sex without asking is not okay
- If a resounding 100% YES (from beginning to end of sex) isn’t given, things can go wrong fast
- Using lines like “If you loved me, you’d do this” is emotional blackmail
- If someone doesn’t say “No” that doesn’t mean they say “Yes”
- Always check in on consent with a partner before and during any sexually activity.
- You can change your mind halfway through sex and can stop/withdraw consent at any stage
3 | WONDERING OR WORRIED ABOUT NUDES?
‘Nudes’ is a big issue for young people and there are lots of different types of experiences, such as thinking about sending a nude, feeling pressure to send one, receiving a nude they didn’t want, regretting sending a nude, and having a nude shared without consent. These all require different conversations and support. We recommend checking out In The Know and The Bare Facts to get all the info and strategies.
In terms of how you can best prepare for these convos, here’s 5 top tips:
- Be open and curious – avoiding judgmental language or blame will go a long way in ensuring young people feel safe to talk about their nudes experience.
- Understand the nudes landscape – 1 in 5 NZ young people have been asked to share a nude. It’s very common and there is a lot of pressure on young people to send nudes and to share nudes. Some teens share nudes ‘in the moment’ and then regret it. Young people often only go to adults after things have gone wrong – so support is what’s needed, rather than blaming or shaming.
- Always include consent in the convo – sending, receiving, or sharing nudes is a sexual activity and there should always be consent for everyone. Even if a young person has consented to sending a nude, they often haven’t consented to it being shared and/or posted online.
- Take action – if a nude has been sent or shared without consent, or someone regrets sending one, action is often needed. Check out bare facts for what you can do and services you can contact to get help.
- Talk to the experts – if a nude has been shared or uploaded online then get in touch with Netsafe ASAP to get help removing it.
4 | Porn affecting body image?
A lot of young people say watching porn and comparing their bodies to porn actors can negatively affect their body image. It can be helpful to talk about the bodies in porn and how they often don’t reflect real life body size, shape and diversity.
There are also some great apps with tips on how to change up the way we are thinking. Exercise can also help young people feel stronger mentally and more confident with their body – so encouraging young people to stay fit can help fight negative body image thoughts.
5 | PORN AFFECTING MENTAL HEALTH?
Porn can affect young people’s mental health in lots of different ways. Understanding how a young person may be impacted is a great first step. Here’s some of the more common experiences…
- Feeling uncomfortable about something they’ve seen in porn.
- Feeling shame around porn use, especially if the young person is from a cultural or religious background where porn is taboo.
- Feeling confused about porn usage when they feel uncomfortable with the content in porn but are still aroused by it – and struggling with this tension.
- Worried about not being able to cut down, especially amongst some regular porn users.
- Feeling anxious about body image or sexual performance compared to porn.
- Feeling triggered/disturbed – especially if the young person has experienced sexual assault.
Many young people struggle with asking for help or support because they are afraid of telling an adult about their porn use, so here’s our top 5 tips…
- Normalize their experience – struggling with porn is common, and it can make a teen feel much better if they know they are not alone, and what they feel is normal and okay.
- Understand the complexities – porn is complex, and it’s helpful for a young person to know that adults understand this. For example, it’s common to: be grossed out by porn AND be aroused to it at the same time; feel pressure to watch porn amongst peers AND pressure to not watch it at home; not like watching porn AND watch porn to learn what’s expected sexually.
- Use open and curious questions – use ‘how’ and ‘tell me’ questions such as “how has it felt for you trying to cut down and not being able to?” or “Tell me what it’s like for you when you see more violent porn?” Where possible avoid any judgemental language such as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ as this is a guaranteed fast-track to closing down the conversation.
- Work out what’s needed – understanding what your teen/friend needs is a great step to moving forward. Do they need some empathy, some good conversations, help with processing what they’ve seen, or help with cutting down on porn? They also may have more questions, so it’s worth checking out some sites with good healthy answers to sex related questions such as In The Know. If they have really problematic usage, work together with them in making a plan to change things up: I NEED HELP
- Call on the experts – with some issues such as compulsive porn usage or porn triggering a history of sexual trauma, more specialised care may be helpful. Here are some good NZ professionals that can help in this area…
TALK TO A FRIEND
Talking to or texting a real person is an important step towards kicking the habit.
Our support services, apps and links page has details on regional services, confidential phone chat lines and text services, apps and face to face counsellors that are available to to help out.
FIND A RESOURCE
Our Resources section has links to some helpful video clips, books and websites.