As the internet gains increasing importance in the lives of young people, researchers have begun to notice children’s exposure to pornography can harm sexual development.
Boys who start watching pornography at an early age are more likely to uphold misogynistic views and behaviours when they get older, a new study claims.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found a clear link between the age at which boys are first exposed to porn and their likelihood to display sexist attitudes and behaviours later in life.
Among the 330 undergraduate men, aged between 17 to 54 years old, Bischmann and her colleagues found the average age of first exposure was 13 years old. with the youngest exposure as early as 5 and the latest older than 26.
The most common first exposure to porn was accidental exposure, with 43% of boys accidentally coming across porn whilst online.
A third of all men said their first exposure was intentional, while 17% said porn exposure was forced upon them.
Alyssa Bischmann, a doctoral student at the university who presented the research, explained “the goal of our study was to examine how age of first exposure to pornography, and the nature of said first exposure, predicts conformity to two masculine norms”
The two norms that were identified, were sexually promiscuous behaviour and the desire for power over women, she explained.
Researchers then found a significant association between age of first exposure and adherence to the two masculine norms, with different associations for each.
'We found that the younger a man was when he first viewed pornography, the more likely he was to want power over women,' Bischmann said.
'The older a man was when he first viewed pornography, the more likely he would want to engage in playboy behaviour.”
A study by Michael Flood (2009) indicated a similar trend in Australia with 75% of 16- and 17-year-olds have been accidentally exposed to pornography, while 38% of boys and 2% of girls have deliberately accessed it. Similar to Bischmann’s findings, Flood also argues exposure to pornography helps sustain young people’s sexist notions of sex and relationships.
This to most evident with the number of children presenting to sexual abuse services across NSW with the number of alleged student-on-student attacks rose from 90 incidents in 2015 to 142 last year.
Child protection specialist Karen Flanagan said the normalisation of online pornography has resulted in an increase in sexual offending by children.
There are no current federal or state laws that blocks or filters internet pornography, it is up to individual parents to make that choice. The Federal Government has emphasised the need to educate parents on how to implement filters on their own devices to lower the risks of exposure. However, the Government’s approach fails to understand the nature of accessibility of pornography to children in the household, school and other public initiations (e.g., on public Wi-Fi or at the public library).
Bischmann’s and Flood’s findings both suggest children exposure to pornography have devastating effects on the sexual development of children and adults, and a need for action is vital to lower these risks.
Knowing more about the relationship between men's pornography use and beliefs about women might assist in policy development for preventing the exposure of pornography to children.
Bischmann states that research into the harms of pornography can support sexual assault prevention efforts, especially among young boys who may have been exposed to pornography at an early age.
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