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Most children exposed to porn before teenage years

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Most children are exposed to online pornography by their early teens, a major new study has revealed.

The study, commissioned by the NSPCC and the Children's Commissioner for England, found that just over half (53%) of 11 - 16-year-olds have encountered explicit material online, and nearly all (94%) had seen it by the age of 14.

Of those who were still seeing online pornography, 46% (476) reported searching for it actively and 4% did so every day, raising fears that some children are becoming desensitised to the damaging impact of pornography.

The research was carried out by Middlesex University, who interviewed children between the ages of 11 and 16 from all over the UK, and included a survey and follow-up focus groups.

In total, 65% of 15 - 16-year-olds reported seeing pornography, as did 28% of 11 - 12-year-olds.

More than half of the boys surveyed (53%) said they thought porn was a realistic portrayal of sex as did 39% of girls. Over a third (39%) of 13 - 14-year-olds and a fifth of 11 - 12-year-old boys also said they wanted to copy the action they had seen.
 

'Sexting' blurs what porn is

Children's perception of sexting differs to that of adults and policymakers. None of the children in focus groups described sexting as taking and sharing images of naked bodies or body parts. Rather, they understand sexting to also be the writing and sharing of sexually explicit or intimate words to people they knew, normally their boyfriend or girlfriend.

While correspondents weren't questioned on the nature of text messages they send, the vast majority didn't report sending any naked 'selfies', when asked.

However, 14% (135 out of 948) of respondents revealed they had taken naked, and/or, semi-naked images of themselves. Just over half of those went on to share the images with others.

The revelations in 'sexting' follow an investigation by The Times, in March 2016, which discovered that since 2012, 1,218 children from 50 secondary schools had been caught in incidents of so-called 'sexting'.

"When scaled up nationally, the figures suggest that at least 44,112 secondary school pupils have been caught sexting in the past three years", the paper stated.

The freedom of information requests also revealed more than a third of all 'sexting' cases involve children aged 12 and 13, while more than one in ten pupils have sexted a "non-school adult".
 

Different reactions

More negative responses of shock (27%) and confusion (25%) and related feelings of disgust (23%) and nervousness (21%) highlight the sorts of reaction such behaviour had caused.

However, the data also indicated that 17% were prepared to acknowledge that they became sexually stimulated by what they had seen, and a further 11% reported feeling excited.

The report also found of those children who reported seeing online:

  • More boys than girls had viewed it through choice;
  • The largest single category, 28%, reported viewing online pornography for the first time accidentally (e.g. via a pop-up add), 19% reported having online pornography shown to them by someone else without asking for/expecting it, and 19% searched for it on their own;
  • The greatest proportion of children (38%) had first seen it on a portable laptop, 33% through a mobile phone and just under a quarter (24%) on a desktop computer;
  • Nearly 60% of the children and young people surveyed who had seen online pornography reported seeing it for the first time at home, followed by 29% who reported doing so at a friend's house.

One 13-year-old-girl told researchers: "A few of my friends have used it for guidance about sex and are getting the wrong image of relationships."

Another 13-year-old girl said: "It can make a boy not look for love just look for sex and it can pressure us girls to act and look and behave in a certain way before we might be ready for it."

One boy, also 13, said: "One of my friends has started treating women like he sees on the videos - not major - just a slap here or there."


Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, said: "Exposing children to porn at a young age before they are equipped to cope with it can be extremely damaging. Industry and government need to take more responsibility to ensure that young people are protected. Age-appropriate sex and relationship education in schools, dealing with issues such as online pornography and children sending indecent images, are crucial."

The Government announced in the Queen's Speech that it would bring into law a requirement for pornographic sites to verify users are over 18 via the Digital Economy Bill.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said: "Keeping children safe online is one of government's key priorities.

"Just as we do offline, we want to make sure children are prevented from accessing pornographic content online, which should only be viewed by adults.

"In the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill, we will bring in legislation that will require companies providing pornographic material online to make sure they have a robust age-verification system in place, so that those accessing their websites are over 18."
 

'We need to bring this out into the open'

Following Utah's decision to become the first State to declare pornography a public health hazard, Andrea Williams emphasised the need for churches and families to address this issue and bring it into the open. 

"Pornography is significantly contributing to the breakdown of marriages and families. It is trapping those who participate in it in a lifestyle of abuse, and those who view it in a cycle of addiction," she said.

"This issue, sadly, is one that many are struggling with within the church, but it remains a secret because individuals feel ashamed to admit that they need help. 

"We believe the blood of Christ is the power to break every chain of addiction – and pornography addiction will only fester so long as it remains in the dark. We need to bring this out into the open. We need to talk about this in our family homes, in our churches and in our youth groups, so that we can expose darkness with the light of the gospel."
 

Help

If you or somebody you know is struggling with pornography or some other kind of sex addiction, you may find this resource useful, from the website of relationship counsellor and Christian Legal Centre client Gary McFarlane.


Related Links: 
The impact of online pornography on the values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of children (NSPCC) 
Children at risk of becoming ‘desensitised’ to online porn (NSPCC) 
Most boys think online pornography is realistic, finds study (Guardian)
Schools hit by sexting epidemic (Times £)

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