"I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it"

Topics: Online safety Mental health

The impact of online pornography on the values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of children

The online world has created incredible opportunities for young people to explore, experiment, socialise, create and educate themselves in ways which were previously undreamt of. But it has also exposed children to the risk of harm, including seeing extreme pornography and sexting.

The NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner asked Middlesex University to look into how many children have been exposed to pornography and the impact for them of viewing such content.

The research consisted of an online survey of 1001 children and young people aged 11-16 across the UK, an online discussion forum and online focus groups.

Authors: Elena Martellozzo, Andy Monaghan, Joanna R Adler, Julia Davidson, Rodolfo Leyva and Miranda AH Horvath
Published: 2016, revised May 2017

Key findings


  • 48% of 11-16 year olds surveyed had seen pornography online.
  • 7% of 11-16 year olds surveyed had shared a naked or semi naked image of themselves.

Of those who had seen pornography online

  • More boys view online pornography, through choice, than girls.
  • Children were most likely to have seen pornography online for the first time accidentally. (e.g. via pop-ups or shown by someone else unexpectedly).
  • A greater proportion of boys (44%) said that pornography had given them ideas about the types of sex they wanted to try than girls (29%).

Young people’s perceptions of pornography

  • Repeated viewing of online pornography may have a desensitising effect with young people feeling less negative over time and generally less anxious or disgusted by what they are seeing.
  • From a list of 14 statements about the pornography they had seen, children were most likely to agree that pornography was unrealistic and least likely to agree that pornography was informative or educational.
  • Young people wanted to be able to find out about sex and relationships and about pornography in ways that were safe, private and credible.
  • Young people highlighted the need for materials that are age and gender appropriate. Some also touched on lack of teacher awareness of the potential additional vulnerabilities faced by young people who do not identify as either male or female in a binary manner.


Please cite as: Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J.R., Davidson, J., Leyva, R. and Horvath, M.A.H. (2016) I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it. London: NSPCC