Pornography and children

The UK’s long promised age-verification for on-line pornography, due in July 2019, has been indefinitely delayed.  So, does that mean that you can relax about your children accessing porn because there’s nothing really to worry about?

Is my child likely to have seen pornography?

At least 90% of boys will have accessed or seen online pornography before the age of 18, and 50% before the age of 13.  For girls 60% of them will have accessed or been exposed to online pornography before 18, with 30% of them having seen it before they are 13.

The issue around boys under 13, and for girls more generally, is that their exposure to porn tends not to be voluntary.  With girls this can take the form of being exposed to pornography as part of a relationship, where their (normally male, often older) partner will use it to show them what they expect.

Isn’t this just a moral issue?

This isn’t about whether pornography is right or wrong of itself.  What it’s about is the effect that is has on the development of the teenage brain, and expectations about sex and relationships.

I’ve written before about the development of the teenage brain, and its capacity for judgement and critical thinking develops fully only at the age of twenty plus.  This means that the implicit messages in most online pornography are met without the ability to recognise or challenge them.

The neuroplasticity of the teenage brain also plays a role.  As the dopamine reward from using pornography starts to tail off the user will start to look for more extreme material to find the same level of arousal.  In time this becomes normalised, and has repercussions.

What are the effects of using pornography for children?

Body image – Young people are already surrounded by images that promote an idealised body, and this goes for boys as well as girls.  Pornography adds to that, and often in a particularly exaggerated way.  Girls quickly learn to regard their bodies as somehow lacking, and boys can develop anxieties about their penis size based on comparison to porn stars.

Relationships – Expectations around sex can quickly become distorted through repeated use of pornography.  The focus becomes on certain acts rather than on sex itself.  This can be difficult enough but where those acts involve violence or rape the implications for relationships and self-esteem are obvious.

Sexual problems – Men as young as 20 are experiencing erectile dysfunction due to their porn consumption as teenagers.  That can be about having become unable to orgasm through sex, or it can be about being unable to be aroused without specific elements from porn being present.

What can parents do?

As always communication is key in helping your children develop a healthy sense of their own sexuality.  It’s essential that your children are able to talk to you about sex and pornography. Helping them develop healthy attitudes and values will be of more value than any parental access control on a device. 

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