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Most teenagers say they viewed porn by age 13, survey finds

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Unsplash/Gaelle Marcel

Nearly three out of every four teenagers have viewed pornography at some point in their lives, with more than half first seeing sexually explicit material by age 13, according to a new study. 

Common Sense Media, which describes itself as "the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of all kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century," released a report Tuesday titled "Teens and Pornography."

The report is based on responses to an online survey of 1,358 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17. The survey was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group from Sep. 12–21, 2022.

Most of those surveyed (54%) said they had first seen pornography online at age 13 or younger.

Fifteen percent reported first viewing pornography online at age 10 or younger, while 73% of teens overall admitted to viewing porn at some point during their teenage years.

Within the sample surveyed, a plurality of teens first saw pornography between the ages of 11 and 13 (39%), while smaller shares first viewed porn between the ages of 14 and 15 (17%) and 16 and 17 (3%).

"Engaging with pornography has been a part of many teens' exploration of sex, but the unfettered access to pornographic content online has stoked concern, leaving parents wondering how to approach the topic with their kids," Common Sense Media Founder and CEO James Steyer said in a statement Tuesday. 

"But this research confirms that it's time for parents to have conversations with teens about pornography, the same way we talk about safe sex and drug use, to help them build better knowledge and healthier attitudes about sex."

The survey also asked teens whether they viewed pornography intentionally or accidentally. Fifteen percent of respondents came across online pornography "on purpose," suggesting they sought out the material, while 29% said they viewed it "accidentally."

Another 29% consumed pornography both "on purpose" and "accidentally."

These figures suggest that 44% of teens have viewed pornography "on purpose" at least once, while a majority (58%) have "accidentally" looked at pornography on at least one occasion.

Roughly equal shares of heterosexual boys who do not identify as trans (75%) and heterosexual girls who do not identify as trans (70%), said that they had seen online porn. However, a majority of these boys (52%) asserted that their consumption of pornography was deliberate, while 36% of girls said the same.

Among the 71% of teens who have intentionally watched pornography within the past week, 59% told pollsters that they viewed the material at least once a week or more, while 41% stated that they watched it less than once a week.

When asked if they had viewed pornography in the past week, the overwhelming majority of LGBT-identified teens (77%), heterosexual boys (76%) and teenagers between the ages of 13 and 14 (75%) answered in the affirmative.

Inquiring about respondents' feelings toward pornography, the survey asked teens whether they agreed with a statement proclaiming that "I believe watching online porn is wrong." Forty-one percent agreed with the statement, while 38% disagreed with it.

Two-thirds of the teenagers (67%) who have ever viewed pornography reported feeling "OK about the amount of online porn I view," while 25% thought they "should watch less online porn than I do." Nine percent expressed a desire to "watch more online porn than I do."

Half of the teens (50%) reported feeling "guilty or ashamed" after watching porn, including 41% of those who feel content with the amount of porn they consume and 36% of those who wish they could watch more of it.

Seventy-nine percent of teens who have ever viewed pornography cited learning about "how to have sex" and "human bodies and anatomy" as reasons for consuming the material.

Other common lessons learned from consuming porn include discovering "what types of sexual behaviors are likely to feel pleasurable to me" (73%), "what types of sexual behaviors are likely to feel pleasurable to a sexual partner" (73%), "what types of partners I find attractive" (72%) and "what sexual behaviors I am interested in trying" (72%).

While the report illustrates the common use of online pornography among teens, the sexually explicit material came in as the fourth-most frequent method for learning about sex.

Nearly half (47%) of teens identified a "parent, caregiver, or other trusted adult" as a source of knowledge about sex, 41% said their friends taught them about sex, 32% pointed to sex education in school and 27% listed pornography.

Supreet Mann, the research manager at Common Sense Media who co-authored the report, expressed hope that the data "will push national, local, and family conversations about pornography past assumptions about what we think teens are doing to a fact-based foundation that actually depicts teens' experiences." 

"In doing so, the parents, educators, and providers in children's lives can better meet their needs," Mann said. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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