The deeply troubling effects of porn on young people

Michael Flood, Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology, has recently written about the harmful impacts that porn is having on young people. 

For many young people, pornography has become the default sex educator. Children and young people are encountering pornography in greater numbers, at younger ages, and with a wider variety of content, influencing young people’s sexual lives.

Research evidence from around the world shows porn has harmful impacts on young people and adults alike. Some impacts are deeply troubling, particularly pornography’s contribution to sexual violence.

Pornography can shift sexual interests, behaviours and relationships. It shapes “sexual scripts”, providing models of behaviour and guiding sexual expectations, with studies finding links between watching pornography and heterosexual anal intercourseunsafe sex and more.

Watching pornography can lower men’s relationship satisfaction. And for women, male partners’ pornography use can reduce intimacy, feed self-objectification and body shame, or involve coercion into sexual acts.

But these next areas of impact concern me most.

Pornography teaches sexist and sexually objectifying understandings of gender and sexuality. For instance, in a randomised experimental study among young men in Denmark, exposure to (nonviolent) pornography led to less egalitarian attitudes and higher levels of hostile sexism. And in a longitudinal study among US adolescents, increased use of pornography predicted more sexist attitudes for girls two years later.

Pornography also teaches violent attitudes and behaviours to both adolescents and adults.

What’s more, meta-analyses – systematic research that synthesises multiple studies – from 2000 and 2015 have found associations between watching pornography and actual violent behaviours.

Aggression, largely by males and overwhelmingly against females, is common in pornography: an analysis of top-selling and top-renting titles found 88% of scenes showed aggression.

Men who use pornography more often are more likely to practise or desire dominant, degrading practices, such as gagging and choking. And women who use pornography are more likely to practise or desire submissive practices.

In fact, longitudinal studies among adolescents find watching pornography is linked to sexually violent behaviour later in life. In a US study, people who watched violent pornography were more than six times as likely to engage in sexually aggressive behaviour. In another, it predicted more frequent sexual harassment perpetration two years later.

In Collective Shout's submission to Senate Environment and Communications References Committee, Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet we recommended: 

  • The Australian Government should work with Internet Service Providers to establish a scheme for all existing and new customers to be provided with a default family friendly setting (no pornography) with opt-out only permitted by account holders who can establish that they are aged 18 years or over. Regulations to impose this requirement should be considered as a backup if after 12 months insufficient progress has been made by ISPs towards this goal.
  • New programs should be designed with respectful and mutual relationships as the starting point, not just ‘sex education’. Young people want content based on their real lives and experiences – information that empowers and equips them to make healthy decisions about their sexuality.
  • All children and young people should have access to comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality and relationships education that promotes respectful and mutual relationships.
  • The school curriculum should, in an age-appropriate manner, specifically address the influence of media, including the influence of pornography and the sex industry more broadly. We believe it is not enough to adopt a public health perspective, but that a gender equality perspective is also crucial in understanding these problems.
  • School communities – including teachers, wellbeing staff and school leaders – should have access to quality professional learning, support and resources, to support them in implementing comprehensive relationships and sexuality education. This should include specialist support to address the influence of pornography.
  • Pre-service teacher training should include learning about the influence of pornography and how to address it through respectful relationships and sexuality curricula, and in other relevant learning areas.
  • Parents and carers should have access to information and resources to support them to parent effectively in this relatively new context of easy and anonymous access to pornography. This should include support to understand the issues, and practical advice about how to manage technology to minimise exposure and how to support their children’s reflective and critical thinking.
  • Other adults involved in children and young people’s care and education – such as youth workers, doctors, counsellors and health promotion staff – should have access to relevant professional learning and resources addressing the influence of pornography.

We also contributed a submission to Inquiry into Age Verification for Online Wagering and Online Pornography. 

Recommendation 1: In light of data verifying the real-life harms of childhood exposure to pornography the Commonwealth government should recognise the potential benefits of an Age Verification system along with other measures to limit porn exposure to children, including education programs and improved ISP filters.

Recommendation 2: An age verification scheme for access to online pornography, drawing from work done to develop the original United Kingdom model and with added measures that address perceived shortcomings in that model, for example, additions that extend application to social media platforms, should be implemented by the Commonwealth Government.

Recommendation 3: Introduce an age verification system that will restrict children’s access to online pornography (and the global porn industry’s unfettered access to children), acknowledging that our obligation to protect children, and the ensuing protections afforded to children by such a system far outweigh the concerns of those with vested interests in the global porn industry.

Recommendation 4: Introduce an Age Verification system that will restrict children’s access to online pornography (and the global porn industry’s unfettered access to children) and so uphold Australia’s international obligations to protect children from abuse, exploitation and developmental harm, acknowledging that exposure to online pornography amounts to abuse, exploitation and harm.

Children need the adults around them to protect them from the harms of porn. Have you had "the talk" with the the young people in your life? 

Read the full article here

Read also: 

What's the problem with porn? Collective Shout respond to common pro-porn arguments (including why 'ethical porn' is not the answer)

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