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What kinds of pornography are healthy for young people?

Young people (aged 18-25) have long used pornography as a source of information about sex. Digital distribution of pornography, combined with the fact that formal sex education in Western countries still struggles to address the things that young people actually want to learn about sex (like how to have pleasurable sex, rather than information about the protein coating of the HIV virus), makes the issue of the role of pornography in young people’s healthy sexual development a pressing one.

Pornography is not homogenous. There exists a wide, and ever-increasing, range of materials available to consumers digitally. Despite this fact it’s difficult to find guidance for young people – and the adults who love them – who are interested in navigating this range of pornographic genres in order to find those materials that make the most positive contribution to sex education and support healthy sexual development. 

For this reason I worked with colleagues from the Faculty of Health at the University of Technology Sydney to ask a group of experts around the world what makes for healthy pornography for young people. We spoke to people from a range of backgrounds: sex educators, pornography researchers, pornography producers, adolescent development experts and sexual health experts, for a total of thirty experts. We asked them what criteria they would use to decide what counts as healthy porn; and to give us some examples. 

The results are a work-in-progress – they’re still being reviewed by other academics to make sure that they’re correct – so we can’t say for certain that these are the final answers: but this is what the interim data looks like. 

The experts agreed that six criteria are important when looking for porn that supports young people’s healthy sexual development:

  1. Includes a variety of sexual practices and pleasures – not just ‘penis-in-vagina intercourse’, not just orgasms
  2. Includes a variety of body types, abilities, genders, races and/or ethnicities
  3. Shows negotiation of consent on screen, including but not limited to open communication, explicit statements of sexual desires, respect of boundaries and/or ongoing consent
  4. The material is known to be ethically produced, including but not limited to attention to consent, safe working conditions and fair pay
  5. Focuses on pleasure for all participants
  6. Shows safe sex, including but not limited to condom use, dams and/or lube

The experts also suggested a range of websites that provide healthy pornography. Some of the most popular were:

As I say, this is still a work in progress, so take this as a starting point for your own thinking, rather than thinking it’s written in stone. But one thing we can agree on – with the increasing availability and range of pornography available, it’s important that we do everything we can to help young people become porn literate and identify the pornography that’s going to help them grow up as healthy, happy sexual adults.