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  • Leah Jewett

“You’re the right person”: how to talk with your child about porn

Updated: Feb 1


An illustration of a mobile phone with "XXX" in a speech bubble coming out of it superimposed onto a picture of Naomi Sutton, with long curly hair, looking sideways

Porn is one of the all-time most difficult topics for parents to approach with their children. But it’s vitally important that we do. Kids “want their mums and dads to talk to them” about what they might see, declares Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England. Her office’s January 2023 report found that the average age at which kids see porn is 13, with 10% seeing it by age 9 and 27% by age 11. What they watch is often violent, early exposure and frequent viewing can lead to harmful attitudes and behaviour and almost half of young people aged 16-21 feel girls expect and enjoy acts of sexual aggression, such as choking.


Reassuringly talking us through it all is the persuasive and captivating Dr Naomi Sutton. Estimating that she’s seen more than 5,000 vulvas professionally, Naomi is outspoken in her NHS sexual-health work and on the TV show The Sex Clinic.

Here – and in our Speak Out video – our supportive Advisory Board member talks about kids’ curiosity, how porn fuels unrealistic expectations and how even she can find it tricky to have sex-ed conversations with her own children…



It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be a young child, or a kid who hasn’t even held hands with someone, seeing these explicit and sometimes extreme sexual images

Dr Naomi Sutton If children haven’t been warned about what they might stumble across, and they aren’t ready for it, porn is going to be confusing, upsetting or shocking. They won’t understand it. Porn, even if you’re looking for it as a slightly older child, can still be damaging.


We need better education and controls, yes – but really we need to chat with our children and be more open about porn so they can talk to us. Just because it’s about sex, parents get all funny, silly and embarrassed.



With porn, the genie’s out of the bottle – I think that’s why, all over the world, people have woken up to the realisation that sex eduction and parents talking openly with their kids are really important. Evidence shows that porn affects the way young people understand relationships, sex and consent. So as a doctor, Dr Naomi, have you had direct experience of how watching porn might be influencing young people’s attitudes and behaviour?


Naomi Definitely. Being in sexual health for 15 years, I’ve noticed that a lot of women have a lot of body shame, especially about their genitals, which stems from cultural issues including porn. The females have big, false breasts and their genitals don’t look normal: they’ve had a labiaplasty – vulval surgery – so their vulva is symmetrical and neat, with no protruding labia.


Most porn is penis-into-vagina and nothing to do with female pleasure. Also here’s no farting, wobbling or laughing, no discussion about consent or condoms.



Boys and men must have hang-ups as a result of watching porn too…


Naomi Look at the size of the penises in porn: they’re hugely unrealistic. Men feel that they’re not enough – not rich enough, big enough, manly enough, not good enough at sports – while women worry that they’re too much: too fat, big, dribbly, smelly, wobbly.

Drawing from the Amaze.org video Porn: Fact Or Fiction of big-breasted women around a naked man lying on a sofa
From Porn: Fact Or Fiction (Amaze.org kids’ video)

Over the last decade or so there’s been a big increase in erectile dysfunction (ED) problems in the under-40s. With ED, a huge factor is the brain. If you watch lots of porn, you may get desensitised to it, and click more and more to get that adrenaline rush – like with gamblers – so you need more explicit porn. Then real-life sex is boring and you can’t keep that arousal.


Also, in porn there is generally a very dominant man, and the woman is submissive. Often there’s violence. This teaches men that’s what they should do, so they recreate it whether they want to or not.



In 2021 the education inspectors Ofsted released a report saying that sexual harassment and online sexual abuse have been normalised in schools. The Children’s Commissioner for England says that access to porn is partly to blame for sexual harassment. Child-on-child sexual assaults increased, in 2017, by a shocking 71%. We hear anecdotally from young women that young men can be aggressive in the bedroom, especially with things like choking, disturbingly – and 88% of porn is said to be violent or degrading towards women


Naomi If you get fed a narrative that this is how you’re supposed to act, you’ll act out those things. I don’t think it’s what people necessarily want to do – for example, 20 years ago anal sex in heterosexual couples was wasn’t common but now it’s almost standard.


Children need to be told a counteracting argument, with their parents talking to them about consent, healthy relationships, the fact that porn isn’t real life. Especially as a child or a young person, you’re vulnerable to visual images – and if you’re a visual person, once you see an image, you can’t get it out of your mind. Then maybe you watch more and more, and you almost can’t imagine anything else. So it becomes your norm, your standard narrative.



Porn can affect your arousal pathways and desensitise you, as you said. It can shape your desires and fantasies. It’s might be hard to say to your child, but it would be great if they could masturbate some of the time to their own fantasies rather than just to porn

drawing of a man opening his forehead and putting in a picture of a naked woman
Keep your own images in mind (Vicky Leta/Mashable)

Naomi Exactly. Use your imagination. But there are little avenues where I think porn can be beneficial: through it you can explore fantasies you wouldn’t want to act out, and you can find out what sort of thing turns you on. There’s a big interest in feminist, sex-positive or ethical porn, where the performers have better rights and it’s more about female pleasure. In heteronormative porn it’s often just the man putting the penis into the vagina. And at least two-thirds of women can’t orgasm from penis-into-vagina sex. Unless people understand that, they’re going to carry on thinking: “In porn the women are moaning and groaning, and it’s all working.” That’s why it’s good to say: “This is unrealistic.”



There are so many things porn doesn’t show: consent, condoms, all the preparation that went on ahead of time or that a scene has been heavily edited. It’s not like sex in real life


Naomi Sex in real life is much better! You laugh, you fall off the bed, you trip over your knickers. People have sex for so many reasons – but I think sex should be fun. It’s bonding, it’s all the reasons we’re drawn to somebody and why we’re in relationships, so it’s not just about the orgasm or the penis-in-vagina or penis into the bum or wherever it’s going.


Because they haven’t had any sexual experience, children have got nothing to hang that on. The danger is that they are using porn as sex education. Human beings are curious. Children and adolescents want to know. It’s really important to get in there early.


When my son was 11, after a sleepover he told me his friend had Googled “sexy lady”. And I was like: “Oh OK. What came up?” This was on the walk to school, and I thought: “This isn’t the greatest time.” And he went: “Just some pictures of, like, women with, like, big boobs.”


I started off by saying – and I couldn’t believe I was using the words “sexy lady” with an 11-year-old: “People’s images of ‘sexy lady’ will be different. Some men might find blondes, big boobs or a skinny waist sexy. Others might find big women, different-coloured skin or hair and different facial features sexy. So make your own decisions about what you find sexy.” He said: “OK, I get that.” Then I said: “Also it’s important that when you Google things, you’re aware other things might come up. Have you heard of the word porn?” And he hadn’t.

Still from a Keep It Real ad campaign about talking with kids about porn from New Zealand
From Keep It Real (2020 New Zealand ad campaign)

So I tried to express what porn is: images of people having sex. And he’s like: “That’s disgusting.” And I was like: “You might think so now. You probably won’t in a few years. So be really careful when you’re looking at things like that, and if you come across something, just come and talk to Mummy or Daddy.”


It was a very short snippet of conversation and I felt awkward and I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t shame him or say: “Why were you doing that?!” But there’s no way I can stop my son from being curious and wanting to know about sex.



We live a hypersexualised culture, so our kids aren’t suddenly exposed to sex in a vacuum. They’ve had years of seeing films, TV, magazines, ads and billboards, so in a way they’ve been kind of primed by being used to images of sexualised women


Naomi 100%. What irritates me is lots of people saying to children: “Sex is wrong. Don’t have sex!” and to women: “Don’t touch yourself. Masturbation’s wrong!” A child goes from being non-sexualised to getting an age when they’re allowed to have sex and they’re supposed to know what to do and how to pleasure themselves. There’s got to be some stepping stones; it’s got to be a gradual learning curve. People go: “I’m not satisfied in the bedroom.” I’m like: well, yeah – you’ve gone from zero to suddenly supposedly being like a goddess.

Still from the video Pynk by Janelle Monáe of women in the desert wearing curved vulva-shaped trousers
From Pynk (the 2018 Janelle Monáe video)

On another walk, my son brought up the subject of sex. I would have no issue if he wanted to have sex with men, but he talks about girls, so I said: “I hope when you start to have sex that you realise you need to make sure that your partner is being pleasured as well.” And he went: “What do you mean?” And I’m like: “When you have sex, it’s not just about you.” And he was like: “What? Women like having sex? But doesn’t it hurt?” as in this kind of shocking thing. Because he knows the mechanisms, I suppose his idea of a penis entering the vagina sounds painful and horrid.


So then I had to say: “Well, women become lubricated and we become aroused, like a man does – you just don’t physically see it in the same way. Sex is very pleasurable for women. Also they’re sometimes a bit tricky to please.” And I said: “There’s an organ called the clitoris.” He said: “What’s that?” And I went: “We might leave that for another day.” So we parked it, but the fact that he sort of said: “Women like having sex?” I was like: “Well, why do you think me and Daddy have sex?”


Unless we’d had that conversation, I wouldn’t have thought that he’d even question it.



Do you think he’s seen porn and seen women in pain in porn?


Naomi I don’t know. He’s got a mobile phone. Maybe he’s seen it on someone else’s. I mean, he’s now 12, so he’s in that 50% bracket. He possibly has. That’s an awful thought!




With younger kids, parents can say: “Porn is pictures or videos of people with no clothes on touching each other, and it’s for adults. Kids aren’t ready to see it and it can make you feel strange. If you see something upsetting, click off it, close the device and come talk to us”


Naomi Judge it on your child. It becomes dangerous when kids don’t have someone to talk to, so they hold things inside, don’t express it and make things up in their head.


Let your child know that if they want to talk, you won’t shame them or tell them off.



But there are some things you should talk to your child about even if they don’t ask or don’t want to hear it. The idea is to talk little and often, going more into depth over time…


Naomi Sometimes you have to force it almost. A good time to talk is when you’re walking or in the car, because you don’t have that direct eye contact that can feel threatening. Don’t make it personal. Bring it up in a generic “What do you think?” kind of way: “I was listening to something interesting…” See if they’re ready to talk, and even if they go: “Eeuww!” and shut you down, if you say: “I hope you know that you can talk to me about anything”, that might be the kernel to start talking.


My 9-year-old daughter doesn’t like talking about anything to do with sex, strangely. She doesn’t like the word period. She’s like: “Aaargh!”


But children hear things. They listen, they log stuff, and hopefully they’ll go: “That strange conversation Mummy had walking to the shops – maybe this is what that was about…”



A still from the Amaze.org video for kids Is It Normal To Watch Porn? with drawings of an eye, a computer and "Lots of people watch porn" caption
From Is It Normal To Watch Porn? (Amaze.org kids’ video)

How can parents get their kids to start thinking critically about porn? Naomi Start with the basics. Have healthy-relationships discussions that are age appropriate. Talk about what relationships are, families with 2 mummies and 2 daddies – why is that any different from a mummy and daddy, power dynamics, consent, contraception, STIs, how you meet people. Then sex and porn kind of come alongside that.



Can dads talk to their daughters about porn and can mums talk to their sons about porn?


Naomi The answer has got to be yes. It depends on the relationship you have with your child. If you’re a single-parent family, you might have to bite that bullet and open up these generic conversations, or if you’re a dad on your own you could say: “You might find it more difficult talking to me because I’m a man – talk to your aunty or older sister or whoever.”


I think anyone can talk to anybody. I get that some relationships will be more awkward, especially as children get older. Teenagers won’t talk to anybody about anything, will they? I’m maybe in the heyday of where my children still communicate with me. As long as they know they can – and you keep trying – when they need to, they will talk to you.


Why is it important for parents to talk openly with their kids about porn?


Naomi Talking about porn won’t stop kids looking for it or watching it. It’s guaranteed that they will be exposed to porn at some point – and early. So it’s really important for them to know that if they see something upsetting, disturbing or that they’re not sure about, they have somebody they can talk to. If they don’t talk to you, they’ll search for answers in other ways. That will be their peers, who probably won’t give the right advice because they’re just as confused, or they may watch more porn to try and work out why it was confusing.

Can Do plan from Good Pictures, Bad Pictures that advises kids closing their eyes, distracting themselves, order their thinking brain to be the boss and more
From Good Pictures, Bad Pictures by Kristen Jenson

So don’t feel that putting your head in the sand will solve the problem. It won’t. You’re the right person to know your child and what stage they’re at, to understand their previous understanding of consent, relationships and other things.


Please don’t leave it to the teachers. They’ve got to teach a whole class of giggling kids. Children might ask questions in a jokey way but they won’t ask the questions they really want to ask, that make them feel vulnerable, because no one wants to look silly in front of 30 kids.





When you share with your child your values about sex and relationships or some of your experiences – not in explicitly graphic detail – it strengthens your connection


Naomi Completely. I’m open and share my insecurities – that way your child realises you’re not infallible. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It’s OK to say: “I don’t know” or “I’m feeling awkward. I find this difficult to talk about. So can I just get my thoughts together, or look into it, so I don’t completely say the wrong thing and we can talk about it later” – but make sure you talk about it later. Kids will accept that.

Do you have a killer last thought about porn?

Naomi Porn is not going away. We need to get with the programme as parents and learn how to talk to our children about it.


Dr Naomi Sutton is an Eve Appeal ambassador, Saving Lives trustee, Outspoken Advisory Board member and co-presenter of the charity You Before Two’s short Fundamentals videos. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Read more of Naomi’s thoughts in our blog post Getting over ourselves – overcoming the embarrassment of talking with kids about sex


Watch our short National Lottery funded Outspoken / Speak Out video with the reassuring and captivating Dr Naomi Sutton here