The government is currently exploring the possibilities of how to protect children from viewing pornography with the Online Safety Bill, with a new provision added that will cover all sites that allow users to post explicit material, such as Reddit and Twitter.
There have been numerous studies about the harm done to children by early exposure to pornography, and the children’s commissioner for England has urged parents to talk to their children about pornography when they are as young as nine or 10, before they have a social media account or smartphone.
But how old do Britons think children should be before they are taught about pornography, and who should bear the primary responsibility for teaching children about explicit material?
How old should children be before they are taught about pornography? Teachers think children should be taught at a younger age than the wider public
YouGov has recently reported that younger Britons are far more likely to have first watched pornography earlier in life – 76% of Britons under 30 who have ever seen porn were underage when they first saw it.
Britons tend to think that children should be taught about pornography when they are under 16 (43%), with 14-15 being the most common age range given (23%). A fifth (20%) think children should never be taught about pornography.
Over 65s are more likely than younger groups to say children should never be taught about pornography – 28% of older Britons say children should not be taught about explicit material, compared to just 15-16% of those under 50.
However, teachers take a different view to the general public on this particular issue, and tend to think that children should be taught pornography at a younger age. Overall, nearly three-quarters of teachers (72%) think children should be under 16 when they’re first taught about explicit material, with the largest proportion (31%) saying they should be taught when they are 12-13 years old.
For parents of children under 18, the most popular age to teach children about explicit content is 14-15 years old (24%). Unlike teachers, however, a fifth of parents (19%) say children should be 16-17 before they are taught about pornography, and 18% say children should not be taught about adult content at all. The views of parents of young children mirror those of the general population.
Who should be primarily responsible for teaching children about pornography?
Teachers and parents tend to agree that children should primarily be taught about pornography by their parents, but teachers are considerably more certain that adult content should be discussed at home, not at school.
Two-thirds of teachers (67%) say children should be taught about pornography by their parents, while just 17% say they should learn about explicit material at school.
For parents of children under 18, 43% say that children should learn about pornography at home, while 22% say they should learn at school. A higher percentage of parents (15%) than teachers say children should never be taught about pornography, and as before, the views of parents mirror the views of the general population.
What should be taught to children about pornography?
Teachers and parents have broadly similar views about what should, or should not, be taught to children about pornography.
Nine in 10 teachers (91%) say children should be taught that the bodies depicted in pornography are often glamorised, and do not represent how most people look or should look. Around three-quarters of parents of children under 18 (77%) and 75% of the general public think the same.
There is similarly high support for teaching children that there is a difference between the kind of sex depicted in pornography and the kind of sex people have in reality. Again, nine in 10 (89%) teachers would support teaching children this, compared to 76% of parents of young children and 77% of the general public.
Slightly down the list of the six topics asked about in our survey, but still with very high support, is teaching that pornography is harmful for children to watch – 77% of teachers, 70% of parents of younger children and 62% of the British public say this should be taught to children.
While a majority of teachers, parents and the wider public think that children should be taught that pornography is for adults only, these groups are much more split when it comes to whether pornography is harmful for adults to watch. On this question, groups are fairly evenly divided between ‘should’, ‘should not’, and ‘don’t know’ – with support for teaching this highest among teachers (40%) and lower among parents (31%) and Britons in general (30%).
However, few teachers, parents and Britons in general (19-21%) think that children should be told they will be in trouble if they are caught watching pornography.