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Do Parents Really Know How Many Teens Watch Online Porn?

October 26, 2020

During this unique time of hybrid or remote learning and juggling working from home during COVID-19, it seems there couldn’t possibly be anything more to add to the list of parents’ worries.

But with an increase in screen time, parents need to be aware of their teen’s possible pornography exposure.

Recent studies indicate 90 percent of teens have viewed porn online, and 10 percent admit to daily use. This is partly due to increased smartphone usage among children and adolescents, with elementary-age smartphone ownership rising to over 50 percent in recent years.

“The Internet has made pornography exposure much more common among kids and teens by making it available and affordable,” said Dr. Paul Weigle, associate medical director of ambulatory services at Natchaug Hospital, part of Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network. “People often underestimate how heavily trafficked these sites are.”

The top porn site, Pornhub, is the third-biggest bandwidth-consuming company behind Google and Netflix. Pornhub also has more daily visits than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

Research demonstrates that parents are, for the most part, unaware of their children’s porn usage, with half of  parents unaware their teens had seen pornography and teens having seen up to 10 times more pornography than their parents believe. Parents especially underestimated their teen’s exposure to extreme content, such as violent porn, which is just as easy to access as traditional pornography content.

“In a way, porn has become the biggest source of sex education for a lot of young people,” said Dr. Weigle. “Which is concerning because they often can’t tell what’s real and what’s entertainment.”

Evidence also shows that viewing porn can affect attitudes toward gender roles and impact sexual behaviors. For example, porn exposure makes it much more likely for teens to engage in risky sexual behaviors such as sex without a condom, sex outside of a relationship or sexting.

Violent porn exposure has been shown to increase the likelihood of perpetrating a sexual assault in males and suffering victimization in females. But the overall rate of teen sexual assault in the United States has remained constant. Porn exposure over time can lead to an increase in sexual dysfunction and a decrease in relationship satisfaction.

“However, the studies also show that parental discussion with their teens about porn and safe sex greatly mitigates these risks,” said Dr. Weigle.

Dr. Weigle suggests:

  • Keeping screens in public areas of the home where they can be easily monitored.
  • Using parental controls to filter websites that are visited.
  • Setting rules for screen usage such as no screens in bathrooms, bedrooms or behind closed doors.

If parents are concerned about their teen’s uncontrolled online sexual activity or safety, they should seek help from a mental health professional.