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‘A lot of it is actually just abuse’ - Young people and pornography

January 2023

This report is published as the Online Safety Bill passes through Parliament. The legislation, as currently drafted, imposes important age verification requirements (technical measures to establish someone’s age) on platforms which host pornography to prevent under-18s from accessing adult content online.

The research contained within this report syntheses data from a nationally representative survey of over 1,000 young people aged 16-21 in England and two focus groups with teenagers aged 13-19. All research was conducted between November 2022 and January 2023 by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office (CCo) with an aim of understanding the prevalence of pornography exposure (both intentional and unintentional) among young people and its impacts on children’s safety and wellbeing. Differences between groups are only reported where they were statistically significant.

The Commissioner intends for this report to aid Parliamentarians as they make crucial decisions about the protection of children from harmful content, including pornography, through the Online Safety Bill. The Commissioner also hopes that findings from this research will support the regulator, Ofcom, in their future enforcement regime, as well as parents, teachers and other key professionals, to understand and protect children from pornography’s impacts. The main research findings are set out in the Executive Summary. Unless otherwise indicated, figures refer to young people who have ever viewed pornography.

Content warning

This report makes frequent reference to sexual harassment and sexual violence. This includes descriptions of pornographic content, language and discussion of sexual abuse. The CCo acknowledges that this content may be difficult to read. However, we think it is important to understand how pornography impacts on young people, in order that we may better protect all children from harm. We encourage you to take care of your own wellbeing when reading this report.

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