Is watching porn OK?

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girl on laptopThe answer to this question is complicated, so we’ve done our research and asked our experts for their opinion. Here’s the answer:

“Porn”, short for pornography usually refers to media that shows men, women, or both having sex. It may be in books and magazines, to movies, videos, and internet sites.

Teens and young adults have daily access to “sexual media” through TV, Internet, movies, books, and magazines in greater numbers than ever before. While it remains a complex issue due to legal, moral, ethical and life-style preferences, people often feel strongly about whether it is OK to watch porn.

On the “OK” side, some people believe that viewing porn can be a “safe” way to explore sexuality. It can be used to enhance sexual pleasure with partners and normalize sexual behaviors and interactions. BUT.

On the “Not OK” side, people believe that viewing porn can lead to unrealistic expectations of sexual encounters AND partner violence if the porn is rough or violent. People who think watching porn is bad may also believe that it is immoral, inappropriate, and in some instances illegal, depending upon the ages of both the viewer and the people in the images being watched.

Research has shown that exposure to all sorts of sexual themes in the media influences teens, who may start having sex at an earlier age. Sexual portrayals on TV, in movies, and on the internet is often focused on sexual acts rather than relationships, emotional closeness, and trust. In other words, exposure to “sexualized media” does not prepare young people to be responsible in their relationships. The media we use, including porn, can have powerful effects on our beliefs, behaviors, and health.

So why do some teens and adults watch porn?

Some may feel that it is a way to learn about sex. Others may find that watching people having sex is stimulating and enhances their sexual pleasure, or it is a safe way to explore sexual feelings without having sex.

Realistically, most teens can access “porn” easily through the internet, magazines, and books. In fact, some of the formerly “banned” books in schools and town libraries were considered to have pornographic material when they were first published! Many of today’s images are more graphic than those in the past.

Remember, if you look at porn on TV or movies or view pornographic material in magazines, it is important to be aware that:

  • As with Hollywood movies or any other entertainment, in porn you are almost always seeing idealized images: actors/models have been chosen for attractiveness, their bodies may have been digitally or surgically altered, and sex acts are edited to appear flawless. You should understand that the images you see are manufactured and never compare yourself to people or behaviors that are not real.
  • If you are watching porn to learn about sex, remember that you are watching actors performing sexual acts, not real couples who have an emotional relationship. Porn videos should not be considered instructional or a way to learn about how to have sex. You are not expected to be an expert at sex when you first begin. The videos can make sex seem magical but in reality, sex is awkward at first. It takes time and connection to develop a comfortable sex life.
  • Pornography may include images of forced sex, rape, sexual violence, and degrading acts portrayed as enjoyable. These are fantasies portrayed by actors. Rape, coerced, or otherwise non-consensual sex is violence, and is not only disrespectful, but against the law. Viewing images like this does not make it okay for you to participate in any act that is violent or disrespectful no matter how much the actors are portrayed as enjoying themselves. If porn makes you uncomfortable – turn it off. One problem with porn is that the more you see of it, the more you will become desensitized to the images and you will start to accept these images and acts as normal.
  • Pornography involving children (images, videos, etc.) is illegal and NEVER okay. Sexting, the sending, receiving and/or forwarding of sexual images is considered child pornography if anyone portrayed is under 18. It is important to realize that you will be found guilty of child pornography if you send or receive sexual images of anyone under 18 – EVEN IF YOU ARE UNAWARE that the model(s) in the image(s) are under age.
  • It is NEVER okay to feel pressured into watching or later doing anything that makes you uncomfortable. You have the choice to turn off any images that you do not want to see and you do not have to act out anything!

What’s really important is how YOU view sex. If you’re like most teens, this is a subject that you are thinking about a lot of the time and yet your thoughts, feelings, and experiences will evolve as you mature. If you view sexual activity as a healthy aspect of a trusting and close relationship between you and a partner, you will likely find that watching porn does not give you a realistic or helpful experience. It is important to think about what is right for you.

Ask the Mediatrician is a free service of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital that answers any questions you might have about how the media you use can affect your physical and mental health in positive and negative ways.