Given that parents are giving their kids access to technology and the web at an earlier age (one survey found that on average, kids get their first smartphone at 10 years old), kids finding and seeing porn online at a young age is unavoidable, says acclaimed indie adult filmmaker Erika Lust, owner and founder of Erika Lust Films and XConfessions.com.

“Due to the nature of the internet, even if a kid is just searching for illustrations or scientific information about bodies, bodily functions, or how babies are made, porn is typically the number one or number two search result,” she says.

To her point, Shadeen Francis, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist who writes sex education curricula for elementary and high school, says that by age 11 most kids have been exposed to some type of sexual content online.

Unfortunately, sex education and porn aren’t synonymous. “Porn can be used as a sex education tool, but it’s intended to be adult entertainment, not educational,” Francis says. In the absence of a formal sex education or ongoing conversations at home about sex, kids can conflate porn with sex and internalize the messages implicit in most mainstream porn.

That’s why Francis stresses the importance of parents and guardians talking to their kids about sex and about porn.

“The more a parent can scaffold their children’s learning, the better able they are to instill healthful and helpful values to counter the often inaccurate, irresponsible, or unethical information that they can learn out in the world,” she says.

Still, as a parent it can be overwhelming to broach the subject of porn with your child. With that in mind, we put together this guide for parents for talking to kids about porn.

Follow these tips to keep the conversation sex-positive and as comfortable as possible — for both of you.

1. Create a foundation where you and your child can talk about this stuff

Admittedly, talking with your child about porn can be nerve-racking.

But, if you and your child are regularly having conversations about sex, consent, body acceptance, sexual safety, pleasure, pregnancy, and overall health and wellness, the stakes of any individual conversation is much lower, says Francis.

In addition to minimizing the intensity that can build around having “the porn talk,” she says regularly having these conversations is crucial for giving your child a foundation of knowledge around sexual health — an especially important practice, given that sex education in schools doesn’t often provide it.

Plus, this will help foster a feeling of openness, so when they do stumble upon or see porn, they’ll be more likely to come to you if they have questions.

2. Introduce porn earlier than you think you need to

To the above point, experts agree the best time to talk to your kids about porn is before they actually see it. That way, you can contextualize any images they might see and help minimize any alarm, disgust, or confusion they might feel if they see porn without previously having known any awareness that the material exists in the first place, says Francis.

Lust emphasizes that discussions around porn should be happening long before puberty begins.

“Parents often think 13 or 14 is the right age to bring it [up], but the introduction to the topic should really be four or five years earlier — or really whenever the parent is giving the child unsupervised access to the internet,” she says.

When you talk to your kids, remember that you’re not just telling them something called porn exists. You’re also explaining what it is and isn’t, and contextualizing it within a larger conversation about consent, pleasure, and power, says Francis.

3. Keep your tone important but casual

If you’re overly stern or anxious, you’ll also communicate that energy to your child, which will silence them and potentially shut off the opportunity for a conversation between you.

“Don’t shame your child if you suspect or learn that they have seen porn,” Francis says. Rather, understand that sexual curiosity is a completely natural part of development.

“As a therapist that works primarily with folks around their sexual concerns, it is clear that shaming and sex-negative messages have a lasting impact on people’s feelings of self-worth, romantic availability, mental health, and partner choices,” she says. 

So, instead of approaching the conversation as the “disciplinarian” or “internet police,” you want to approach it as a teacher and caretaker.

While the conversation should make it clear that adult films are for an adult audience and sharing sexually explicit content of themselves or other minors is considered child pornography, Francis says, “If you simply reinforce that it is not legal or allowed in your house, kids can become fearful, ashamed, or more curious.”

Lust says it can help to start the conversation by affirming that sex and sexuality are completely normal and natural, and telling them what you yourself think about mainstream porn.

You might say, “When I see mainstream porn images I feel saddened, because many of these images show women being punished. But the sex I have and hope you will one day have is an experience of pleasure, not punishment.”

Another entry point? Use a metaphor. “Explain that just like Superman is played by an actor who does not have superpower in real life, the porn stars in these films are actors enacting sex, but that’s not how sex happens in real life,” Lust suggests.

4. Let them ask the questions

A conversation like this is best as just that: a conversation. And for something to be a conversation, there has to be some back-and-forth.

That means affirming their curiosity around sexuality is normal, then giving them space to talk about it and ask questions.

When they do ask questions, “Treat all their questions as valid, and respond with enough information to answer fully but not so much that you overwhelm,” Francis says. They don’t need the dissertation, but they do need accurate, body-positive, and ideally, pleasure-focused info.

Not knowing the answer is OK “You don’t need to be an expert. You just need to provide a safe place for conversation,” Francis says. So, if you’re asked something you don’t know, be frank that you aren’t sure, but you’ll find out and follow up.

On the flip side, avoid asking your child too many questions. This is an opportunity for them to learn from you, not for you to suss out what they do and don’t know, or what they have or haven’t seen.

Francis also recommends avoiding asking your child why they want to know things. “This inquisition can often shut children down, as they might not want to disclose where they heard things or why they are wondering,” she says.

And also, they might not have a deep reason; they may just ask because they’re inquisitive.

5. Emphasize context and consent

As much as you may want to shelter your kids from the injustices and systems of oppression in the world, according to Francis, this is a good opportunity to start to explain things like misogyny, racial objectification, body shaming, and ableism, says Francis. “The porn conversation can be part of a larger conversation and have a larger goal,” she says.

So, you might use this as a moment to address that not all bodies look like porn actors or actresses, and that’s OK, says Francis.

“This can help young people keep from making comparisons to their own developing bodies and leave more room in their expectations of what they and their future partners will and should look like, generally, and look like while having sex,” Francis says.

Or, you might use this as an opportunity to talk to them about pleasure, protection, consent, body and pubic hair, and more.

If your child has specific questions, that can be the guiding force in the exact direction the conversation takes. “You can always have a follow-up conversation if you can’t touch on everything,” Francis says.

6. Share additional resources

In addition to explaining the downfalls of mainstream porn, countering what your child may have seen or will see in porn is important, says Francis.

Why? Because conversations and educational material that helps instill values around things like acceptance, consent, pleasure, and nonviolence will help your child better navigate the pornographic material they encounter, she says.

“Withholding these tools does not help young people make better and better-informed choices, and it won’t stop them from participating in risky behaviors,” Francis says.

Then, as your children get older, you can talk about alternatives to mainstream pornography, including feminist-informed material like feminist or ethical porn, erotica, and more, says Francis.

“You don’t need to actually share the materials with them. But if they are going to be consumers, help them be conscious consumers,” she says.

These tips can help make the conversation positive for both of you

Leaving kids to learn about sex and process porn on their own leaves tons of room for risks they’re not equipped to navigate, so talking with your kids about porn is important.

If you feel intimidated, keep in mind that, according to Francis, “Your number one goal is to give them a safe space to ask their questions about porn, what they might have already seen on the internet, and more,” she says.

And remember: It’s never too early or too often to have these conversations.


Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drunk, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.