Almost everybody I know who grew up in the late 90s or early 2000s has at some stage or another watched porn online. It’s a rite of passage for digital natives and especially teens, especially when nobody is willing to explain the basics. Often teenagers will hear an uncomfortable adult giving an ambiguous Birds-And-The-Bees explanation before anybody will offer real answers about what the hell is going on with their body, in real anatomical terms. It doesn’t help that Life Orientation and Sex Education will teach almost nothing more than putting a condom onto a banana or a tampon into a jar of water.

So what do you do next? When nobody will give you the real low-down on just how this thing (so called ‘S.E.X.) works, you’ll do the natural thing and go to Google.

The only problem is that Google doesn’t have much of a filter – especially when safe search is off. So rather than being eased into the situation, you’re likely going to find your brain exploding and your eyes burning when the internet shows you what you thought you wanted to see. And once you’ve seen a little, it’s easy to get drawn into the lot.

For those of you undergoing puberty, your raging hormones will likely be pressuring you to take another look, even if your brain is going through moral panic and some heated internal dialogue. But alas, that’s just part of growing up. The real trick here is to remind yourself that what you’re going through is normal.

Because in actuality, although it may seem strange and scary at first, porn is a long-established industry that was made especially to help stimulate the more promiscuous side of human nature. Although we’re always doing our best to remain appropriate and civil, we will inevitably confront our sexuality – and if you’re growing up online, then that also means you’ll confront porn at some point. But what you’re doing doesn’t have to be a massive source of shame. In fact, there are many ways to engage constructively and ethically with this kind of explicit content. So to help you through this challenging time, I’m going to offer some advice.

Guidelines for Navigating On-Screen Sex

  1. Consider what you’re watching and who made it.

If you’re watching professional content, then you’re most likely seeing someone conduct a form of sex work within the porn industry. This is a regulated industry that requires actors to do regular physical checkups, tests and quality controls to make sure that they’re producing quality content. If you’re watching amateur content, there’s more likelihood that it was self-produced, so the regulations of the industry won’t apply as much. But this content can still be safe to watch – just remain alert about the source it’s being streamed on, and whether the acts are fully consenting (the same goes for professional content). Otherwise, there’s a possibility that you might be seeing nonconsensual content like revenge porn, or other forms of exploitative or illegal content. Try using websites that are committed to ethical streaming. For example, Bellesa only shows content that has been licensed and made according to industry standards, and it focuses on streaming porn made by women, for women’s consumption.

  1. Remember to go Incognito.

Sometimes the most shameful part of watching porn is the thought that somebody might find out about your kink. Of course, nobody should be kink-shaming you (including yourself). Regardless, if you’re not ready to share your fantasies with the world, your service provider, or whoever pays for your internet bills/device, then incognito mode is the way to go. This will block your IP address and your history so that you can keep your secrets to yourself. Also, it might go without saying, but pop-up ads are dangerous and can lead to all sorts of viruses. Make sure you stay away from dodgy websites and strange messages from hot locals in your area.

  1. Don’t be ashamed – be conscious.

You don’t have to be ashamed about your kinks and how they manifest online – but you DO have to be careful about how you moderate them. Too much of anything is bad, and  porn especially can be extremely addictive. It can also lead you to create false narratives in your head about how sex, intimacy and gender performance should play out, and this can have potentially damaging effects on your ability to engage with your sexuality and your partners IRL. Remember that what you’re watching is a dramatisation of the real thing. It is meant to offer stimulation and release when you’re frustrated or curious, but it ideally shouldn’t be a substitute for actual interactions with actual human people. It’s also good to test your ability to please yourself and your desires without porn. Keep your imagination sharp and your independence intact by going analogue sometimes!

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that porn can be ethically used if it’s used in moderation and with full consciousness. Careful consideration of sources, content types and frequency of use can make all the difference when you’re initially getting used to the strange and sexy online world. So don’t be ashamed, just remember that you’re allowed to discover and explore your sexuality in many different ways, so long as you’re doing what feels right for you.

Tell us: What’s one thing you wish you learnt about sex in Life Orientation?

Read about sex education here.