Below is a discussion of some key aims for practitioners to work towards when incorporating a focus on pornography into their work with young people and the adults in young people’s lives.
These aims should be read in conjunction with the , which provide advice on how to minimise the associated risks, and maximise the potential to support young people to successfully navigate this issue.
There is currently no reliable way to completely prevent young people from seeing pornography. However, even though it is difficult, seeking to limit young people’s exposure is still one important component of a broader approach.
We may not be able to prevent exposure to pornography, altogether, particularly when a young person is determined to view it, but we may be able to:
- reduce young people’s high levels of unintentional exposure and
- minimise the increased risks associated with more frequent use or exposure to more extreme material.
Some actions practitioners can take to limit young people’s exposure to pornography include the below.
- Be aware of your organisation’s policy regarding young people’s use of technology (and if you don’t have one, take the steps required to create one).
- Ensure your organisation uses suitable filters and be conscious of young people’s use of technology when they are in your care or environment.
- Consider establishing an agreement about technology use, supervising use, and enforcing age-appropriate limits. Some level of technology management and supervision will be relevant for many practitioners. In some contexts – such as on excursions or in out-of-home care settings – it may be necessary for you to be more actively involved in limiting exposure using these kinds of strategies. See the for more information.
- Speak with parents about how they can limit young people’s exposure to pornography.
Keep in mind that nearly half (48%) of young men have seen pornography by the age of 13 and nearly half (48%) of young women by the age of 15. This means it is also important for practitioners to engage with young people on the subject of pornography and support them to think critically about what they are seeing.
We need to equip young people to analyse whatever media they’re exposed to, whether it’s films, news or advertising. Pornography is no exception. It is especially important to support young people to think critically about pornography, given pornography’s connection to unhealthy relationships and violence against women.
Build critical literacy using other media
Critical media literacy involves being able to analyse media, its messages, and its influence. It includes being able to reflect on questions such as:
- Who made this?
- Why did they make it? Am I being “sold to”?
- What did they want to communicate?
- How might it be different if it was told from another point of view?
For example, when young people see an advertisement for soft drink, in which a group of beautiful young people are having a great time while they drink a particular brand of soft drink, they are not learning much about soft drink. Rather, they learn things about age, gender, class, sexuality, beauty, ethnicity, ability and disability – from what is present, but also from what is absent, in the ad.
Apply media literacy skills to porn
By helping young people apply these same critical media literacy skills to pornography, we can build their awareness of pornography’s problematic messages, and potentially reduce its influence. Much pornography tries to stand out among the huge amounts of competition – often through being more ‘hard-core’, shocking or aggressive.
Young people need to understand that pornography misrepresents what people look like, what they enjoy, what is safe and how people – particularly women – want to be treated. It reinforces the attitudes and beliefs that are known to drive violence against women – including rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity, men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence, condoning of violence against women and male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women. See for more about the key messages young people need to know about pornography.
Young people need to develop the skills required to make their own choices with respect to pornography in practical situations, such as when they experience peer pressure to watch pornography, when a partner initiates porn-inspired sex, or when they feel concerned or disturbed by the pornography they have seen, or how often they are using it.
Practitioners can support young people to:
- develop self-confidence and assertive communication skills
- identify strategies to get out of challenging or unsafe situations – for example, what they can say and do if they feel pressured to do something they don’t want to do
- seek support from trusted adults if they ever feel pressured, unsafe or concerned and
- develop the insights and skills involved in being a good ‘bystander’ when someone else’s wellbeing is at risk, such as when a friend is pressuring, or being pressured by, their partner to do something they have seen in pornography.
Helping young people to critique pornography and resist its influence is not enough. We need to help young people understand that relationships and sexuality can – and should – be so much better than what pornography presents. We can do this by talking with young people about how important it is that sex is consenting, safe, respectful and comfortable for everyone involved. Make it clear that men and women (and people in general) should be respectful of one another whatever the circumstances, and that this is very important in intimate situations. See for resources to support your work with young people on these issues.
Parents, carers and guardians obviously play a central and important role in young people’s lives. They are key contributors to young people’s care, support, wellbeing, and education. But, when it comes to sex and pornography, they are often not forthcoming with the information young people need.
Many parents do not feel well equipped to discuss sexuality with their children and may find topics like pornography particularly difficult to broach. Many parents are also not aware of the extent to which young people are exposed to pornography and the ways contemporary pornography is impacting young people.
Practitioners can play a valuable role in engaging and educating parents. By equipping them with appropriate knowledge, skills and resources, practitioners can build a partnership with parents, and assist them to develop the knowledge, confidence and capacity to talk with their children about sexuality issues, including pornography.