Young people’s attitudes towards online pornography and age assurance

Online pornography is widespread in the online lives of young people.

Australian young people are encountering it at high rates from a young age. 

Pornography is highly present in young people’s online worlds, and many young people encounter pornography without looking for it during their everyday internet use. Young people find these unintentional encounters uncomfortable, unwelcome and often, unavoidable.

Young people are most concerned about the regulation of unintentional encounters with online pornography, and many support restricting intentional access to online pornography for those under 16.

This research explores young people’s lived experiences with online pornography and their perspectives on age assurance. About 1,000 young people aged 16 to 18 were surveyed and 32 young people aged 16 to 18 participated in focus groups in September 2022.

The research examines young people’s: 

  • encounters with online pornography
  • perspectives and attitudes about online pornography 
  • perspectives on the age-based restriction of online pornography
  • perspectives on age assurance.

eSafety led the research as part of a larger project to develop a proposed mandatory age verification regime for online pornography.

Summary of key findings

Encounters with online pornography

  • Young people encounter online pornography both unintentionally and intentionally via pornography websites, other unrelated websites, social media and communication from friends throughout their adolescence.
  • Many young people find online pornography pleasurable and interesting if they look for it intentionally and are likely to search for it more as they progress through their teenage years.
  • Some participants suggest that young people have become desensitised to pornography because it’s so common in their online experiences. 
  • Young people generally don’t like encountering online pornography unintentionally, and are more likely to ignore online pornography they encounter unintentionally than to report it or to seek support and help.

Perpectives and attitudes about online pornography

  • Young people believe they deserve agency over their interactions with online pornography. For some this means the right to never see it, and for others it means being able to choose when and where they view it. 
  • Many participants think pornography can have a positive impact on young people’s learning about sex and explorations of their sexuality. However, many identify that pornography can have negative impacts on young people’s understanding of consent, ideas about intimate relationships, expectations of sex and views on gender stereotypes. 
  • Education is seen as the most helpful tool for reducing the negative impacts of online pornography.

Perspectives on the age-based restriction of online pornography

  • Young people are generally in favour of regulating online pornography for people under the age of 16. 
  • Perspectives on age restrictions differ according to sexuality, gender, disability and prior experiences of encountering online pornography.
  • Young people are most concerned about the regulation of unintentional encounters with online pornography. 

Perspectives on age assurance

  • Young people think age assurance might not be very effective and are concerned about how it would be implemented. 
  • Despite concerns about the effectiveness of age assurance tools, young people think pornography sites, dating sites and social media services should use them to restrict underage access to online porn.