Kids Learn About Sex From Porn. Comprehensive Sex Ed Could Help Change That.

How can we encourage girls and young women to bravely reject, like Billie Eilish, the sway of the abusive porn industry?

Billie Eilish-kids-porn-sex-ed
Billie Eilish says she suffered nightmares because some of the content she watched was so violent and abusive. “I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn,” she said. (Lars Crommelinck Photography / Flickr)

Last month, Billie Eilish, the widely popular entertainer who is only 20, made a shocking revelation that captured global headlines. “I think porn is a disgrace,” she said. “I used to watch a lot of porn.” And then she delivered her zinger: “I think it really destroyed my brain.

Eilish brilliantly delivered her declaration on, of all places, the “Howard Stern Show,” which plays to tens of millions of subscribers—mainly men—on SiriusXM satellite radio. For decades, Stern has used his celebrity status to normalize porn and misogyny. One can only surmise that he was not thrilled to have a courageous young woman, one-third his age, reveal the harms of a product he has promoted his entire career.

Is there any evidence to support Billie Eilish’s claim? Yes. 

Peer-reviewed research shows conclusively that pornography is harmful for young people and, indeed, all brains. Early exposure to porn for adolescent girls has a multitude of negative effects. It encourages them to be submissive to male desire, to view themselves as objects for men’s pleasure, and to silence themselves. Porn normalizes non-consent, and shapes girls’ sexual script so they take what happens on PornHub as real-life intimacy. Girls who view porn have higher rates of self-harm, and are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking. 

Porn is also harmful to boys. Whereas porn is associated with victimization among girls, just the opposite happens for boys. Porn use results in sexual aggression towards women, dating violence in high school, and makes it harderfor young men to forge intimate relationships with real women. 

Regardless of gender, young people who view porn have higher anxiety and depression, and engage in more risky or unsafe sex. Porn, too, we have known for years, is deeply racist and lessens empathy, especially towards women.

We are not surprised that Eilish started watching online porn as a pre-teen. Kids as young as six are now doing so. Among porn consumers under the age of 18, 10 percent are younger than 10. Children take to porn because they find the sexual education offered by their schools and parents to be unhelpful and unreal. As a result, kids today are learning about intimacy from porn sites that, as one proudly boasts, host “moral free” videos.

Children take to porn because they find the sexual education offered by their schools and parents to be unhelpful and unreal. This is not sex positivity but violence masquerading as sex.

This is not sex positivity but violence masquerading as sex. But don’t take our word for it. The major porn sites themselves admit as much. There is no blocking software; no subscription is needed; you don’t log in. All a child needs to do is click on the homepage and they will readily see hundreds of titles, most of which we can’t even mention here, but all of which they can freely view. A few of the more tame ones are:

●     “18 YO [year old] super petite newbie Mia loves it ROUGH”

●     “Cute innocent”

●     “Plays with horny teacher”

●     “Slutty babysitters”

●     “Virgins in cute little schoolgirl outfits.”

Popular categories include Destroyed, Hair Pulling, No Choice, Punishment Sex, Rough, Hogtied and Xtreme. Young people will commonly see men perpetrating all manner of violence against women, including slapping, biting, spitting, insults, gagging and what can only be described as body punishing sex.

A favorite activity circulating through social media, such as TikTok, encourages teens to spice-up their “vanilla” love life by emulating a common activity on porn: choking. Only it’s strangulation, which deprives the brain of oxygen. An award-winning, board-certified neurosurgeon, Dr. Don Hilton wrote to one of us recently saying that this “is never safe. It is ludicrous to suppose that a sexually aroused, porn-trained male will be able to safely grade the degree of compression he is exerting on the carotid arteries and carotid body” of the neck.

Yet, this is what a younger Billie Eilish saw. No wonder she admitted to having porn-fueled nightmares. During her earliest sexual experiences, she continued, “I was not saying no to things that were not good. It was because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be attracted to.” Porn grooms girls into becoming compliant victims to abuse, and porn grooms boys into perpetuating abuse. 

Porn grooms girls into becoming compliant victims to abuse, and porn grooms boys into perpetuating abuse. 

So, yes, porn does “destroy your brain.” It also destroys relationships and the capacity for intimacy, connection and empathy—the key components of healthy relationships. 

How do we encourage girls and young women to bravely reject, like Billie Eilish, the sway of this abusive industry?

First, our schools and institutions must provide comprehensive, diverse and evidence-based sex education that includes teaching kids resilience and resistance to porn.

Second, parents and caregivers must learn to talk honestly to kids about porn and sex—not once, but repeatedly. Because if they don’t have these conversations, the porn industry will.

Third, we all need to raise awareness about the harms of porn as a matter of public health. This way, young people like Billie Eilish will not need to navigate this alone.

Eilish’s bravery will help young people reclaim their emerging sexuality from the predatory porn industry, so they can be the architects of their own sexuality. For having the courage to tell it like it is, Billie Eilish deserves far more than another Grammy. To her already sizable trophy cabinet, we propose adding another honor: “First major female entertainer of her generation to speak truth to the power of the multibillion-dollar porn industry.”

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

Up next:

About and

Gail Dines, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of sociology, and president of Culture Reframed. Her latest book, Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked Our Sexuality, has been translated into five languages.
Eric Silverman, Ph.D., is a former professor of anthropology and is also affiliated with the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.