Health Information and Tools > Growing Up Online > Online pornography >  Online pornography - Facts for youth

Main Content

Growing Up Online

Online pornography - Facts for youth

As you grow up, it’s normal to be curious about sex. You may have questions and wonder about what you see online.

There are many types of pornography sites. For some sites, you may need to be 18 years or older to get into them.

It’s a good idea to look at the content ratings and reviews so you know if it’s safe for your age.

What is online pornography and sexting?

Pornography includes pictures and videos that show naked bodies or sexual activity. These are used for sexual excitement. When pornography is online, you can see it on digital devices, such as a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Online pornography is often easy to access and doesn’t cost much. Since you don’t have to go to a store or be around others to get online pornography, more people use it and get addicted to it.

Sexting is sending or receiving sexual information, like pictures, messages, or videos on an electronic device. Sexting is becoming a common way for youth to communicate and sexually express themselves.​

Note: It’s important to know that publicly sharing naked pictures or videos of anyone under the age of 18 is illegal (not legal) and considered child pornography.

How common is online pornography use and sexting?

A Canadian study of 470 teens and preteens showed that more than 9 out of 10 have seen pornography. The average age they first looked for or saw pornography was 12 years. And 3 out of 10 saw it as young as age 10.

One in 5 youth see sexual material online without wanting to or meaning to.

Up to 3 out of 10 youth have sexted. And as they get older, sexting is more common. One in 9 young people who go online are offered money for sex.

Why can using online pornography be a problem?

When you use online pornography, you may compare yourself to the people you see. This can lead to negative thoughts about yourself. It may also make you feel less attractive or that you don’t meet the sexual expectations of others.

Watching online pornography can lead to other problems that can last into your adult life.

Emotional and social problems include:

  • spending less time with others or feeling like you don’t belong
  • bonding less with your parents or guardians
  • creating child pornography without meaning to, which may lead to legal problems
  • symptoms of depression, such as feeling very sad and hopeless
  • feeling shame, guilt, anxiety, and confusion
  • not being able to develop good social bonds when you’re an adult

Relationship problems include:

  • seeing others as objects or things, instead of people or individuals (not respecting others)
  • harmful values, beliefs, and attitudes about sex
  • acting in a way that makes others feel uncomfortable
  • thinking often about sex and having many sexual partners
  • becoming more aggressive in your sexual behaviour (if you watch violent pornography)

Addiction and other health issues include:

  • having a hard time controlling your use of pornography
  • not being able to stop using it even though it interferes with your daily life
  • using or misusing drugs and alcohol
  • health problems related to unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as using pornography in situations that can put you at risk of physical or mental harm
  • being less able to have healthy sexual encounters because of unrealistic expectations

What can put you at risk?

There are many things that can put you at a higher risk for problems or an addiction. Some of these things can’t be easily changed on your own.

You may be at risk of having issues with online pornography if you:

  • don’t have many friends
  • only have online friends
  • are very shy
  • prefer to spend time alone than with others
  • have a mental health issue, such as substance use or a mood or anxiety disorder
  • have experienced a physical, sexual, or social trauma

Research shows that if you tend to follow what your peers do, you may be more likely to share and watch pornography.

Some types of risky behaviours are linked to pornography. These include forceful, hostile, or violent behaviour, human sex trafficking, sexual violence, and sexual harassment. These behaviours are often linked to the use of sexual material, like pornography.

Body image concerns, negative life experiences, and relationships problems are linked to a higher risk for developing an online pornography addiction.

How do you know if you have a problem with online pornography?

If you’re a youth, you may have a problem with online pornography if you:

  • spend a lot of time online and often away from others
  • clear your browser history often after looking at pornography
  • have less interest in doing things you enjoy (like school or sports)
  • spend less time with friends and family
  • use more sexual-related language
  • get frustrated, anxious, or angry when you can’t go online

If you struggle with pornography use or sexting, you’re not alone. But it’s important to be responsible when you’re online and use computers and other digital devices.

Also remember that others can see what you do online.

Talk with an adult you trust about:

  • questions you have about sex – Online pornography is not the best place to learn about sex.
  • looking at pornography online
  • how much time you think about sex, look at online pornography, and take part in sexting
  • getting help to cut down on how much time you spend looking at pornography online

For help and support, call Alberta Health Services (AHS) Youth Addiction Services at 1-866-332-2322 (toll free in Alberta).

You might be thinking:

Remember that:

“How bad can looking at porn really be?”

Online sexual content often sends messages about sexuality that are unrealistic and potentially harmful. Having unrealistic expectations of intimate partners may interfere with your ability to build and keep healthy relationships.

“How is looking at porn online any different than looking at magazines?”

More pornographic images and content are reaching children and youth online. This is often in the form of pop-ups. Online pornography is quite different than pictures in a pornographic magazine, it’s easier for youth to get, cheaper, and private. These features make online pornography more common and sometimes more socially accepted than looking at magazines.

“All of my friends are doing it and I want to fit in and sound experienced.”

Online pornography doesn’t need to be your only source of sex education. There are more reliable sources of information. Talk to your parents, caregivers, or healthcare providers. You can also find information you can trust on reliable health websites, like

“I like how I feel when I watch porn.”

It’s normal to feel sexual excitement and arousal when you look at pornography. Don’t feel ashamed, embarrassed, or scared that there’s something wrong with you. But it’s important to know that if you watch it too much, you can get addicted to it.

“My sex education needs are different from others.”

Everyone’s sex education needs are different. You may want sexual health information that’s different from someone who’s straight (heterosexual) or cisgender (someone who identifies the same as the sex they were born with). If you need more information, talk to a counselor, teacher, your parents, or a trusted adult.

“I’m transgender and I can’t find the sexual images I’m looking for other than on pornography sites.

It may be hard to find safe, transgender sexual images. Ask an adult to help you find a safe and healthy way to view videos and images you find online. You can also visit  Alberta Health Services' LGBTQ2S+ / Sexual and Gender Diversity webpage for trusted information.

“I feel like I’m watching more violent porn than I used to.”

Online pornography can have higher levels of sexual content, sexual violence, and stereotyped content related to gender than other forms of pornography. In some cases, this type of content may cause interest and the release of hormones that affect your brain and how you behave. The release of these hormones and how they make you feel may lead you to look for more violent types of content.


See the Resources section for more information.

Go to Top