A Kaitaia woman researching youth pornography habits says one of the biggest risks is the unrealistic expectations created when it is used as a form of sex-education.

Ashlee-Ann Sneller has spent her summer break researching the pornography consumption of youth as part of a summer scholarship the University of Auckland student was awarded.

"Just to clarify, this research doesn't actually involve me watching pornography," Ms Sneller said.

Instead the 22-year-old from Kaitaia has been studying previous literature on the topic. One of the risks she's found is that young people, some as young as 10, are watching porn and thinking what they see is realistic.

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"They were using it somewhat as an educational tool because they didn't think their sex education at school was enough. One of the risks is that they are watching pornography and thinking it is a real-life depiction of what sex is, instead of looking at it as fantasy. They had some unrealistic expectations."

Ms Sneller said she also found that most young people said they were not intentionally looking for pornography, but instead had clicked on pop-ups on their computers or phones; watched it on Facebook or clicked on a link which then sparked their curiosity.

She is doing the research with a team headed by criminologist Dr Claire Meehan, who will use the findings in a bid to fund a larger study on the risk of online sexual harm for young people in New Zealand.

Ms Sneller said at the moment there is little New Zealand-based research but hopes the larger study would prove there is a need for comprehensive sexuality education.

"Even in America there has not been one teenager who has been happy with their sex education. Now we're in a digital age, we need to go over things you come across on the internet and how you handle it," she said.

Ms Sneller studied a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English and criminology, has completed her honours in criminology and will be studying for a Master's degree in criminology this year focusing on revenge porn, which looks at the circulation of X-rated images of a person without their consent.

Ms Sneller admits said while the study has been interesting, there have been some uncomfortable encounters.

"I was at university researching pornography in the student space and because it was about pornography I use that as a search term and different kinds of pornographic material is coming out and this guy looked at me like 'why are you viewing that at university?' It was pretty awkward," she said.