It’s unfathomable to think that widespread action hasn’t yet been taken to reduce kids access to pornography. I’m always the first to say that porn doesn’t impact all kids the same way, but the reality is that they are drifting in a river of toxic messages about sexuality; most don’t even have so much as a ‘boat’ of holistic sex education to help them keep afloat. If it wasn’t for the fact that I live and breathe creating solutions through advocacy for widespread change, and educational programs for parents and schools, I would truly despair.

Consistent with what we already know, a recent research review on Adolescent Pornography Use considered research trends from 2000-2017. It was penned by Australians and published in a US psychiatry journal, and clearly indicates we’ve got a problem. Here’s some ‘highlights’ if you can possibly refer to these findings using that term.

  • Attitudes towards sex:
    • Intentions to consume pornographic material have been primarily linked to a perceived normalizing attitude considering PU (Pornography Use) and a significant impact to adolescents’ sexual attitudes and sexual behaviors.
  • Victimisation:
    • Exposure to violent/degrading pornography appears to have been common among adolescents, associated with at-risk behaviors, and, for females in particular, it correlates with a history of victimization. Overall, intentional exposure to PU was associated with higher conduct problems among adolescents, higher online sexual solicitation victimization and online sexual solicitation perpetration with boys’ perpetration of sexual coercion and abuse being significantly associated with regular viewing of pornography.
  • Mental Health:
    • The vast majority of findings converges on that higher PU during adolescence tends to relate to higher emotional (e.g. depression) and behavioral problems…. online pornography seekers are more likely to report symptoms of depression compared to offline and non-seekers.
  • Social Bonds:
    • A higher proportion of frequent adolescent pornography users reports more relationship problems with peers versus average and non-frequent users.
  • Adolescents’ Sexual Behaviors
    • Adolescent boys’ with compulsive sexual behaviors, including the use of explicit internet material, reported low levels of self-esteem, higher levels of depression and higher levels of excessive sexual interest.
  • Different Types of Pornographic Content
    • Preference for violent/degrading pornography was higher for males who had taken sexual pictures, had friends who used to buy/sell sexual services and tended to consume high amounts of alcohol. Similarly, although slightly differently, females who were consumers of violent/degrading pornography inclined to take sexual pictures of themselves, to have friends who used to= buy/sell sex-related services and to smoke.

Top this off with another 2018 study that found that for a considerable proportion of users, pornography consumption contributes to rough / violent sexual behaviours. This research found:

  • Rough sex is defined as hair pulling, spanking, scratching, biting, bondage, fisting, and double penetration.
  • It’s common for those who have been exposed to rough sex in pornography to both desire and engage in those acts.
  • 91.4% of 19-30-year-olds surveyed who had been exposed to sexually explicit material desired to engage in one or more of these behaviours.
  • 81.7% had engaged in one or more behaviours
  • 49.5% engaged in four or more rough sex behaviours.

Pointing this out is not about “yucking someone’s yum”; but the fact is, this isn’t about an individual’s right to view porn, nor is it about sexual preferences. Porn is grooming children and young people into not only accepting violence, but expecting it. According to Dr. Jennifer Johnson, “the industry views consumers not as sexual beings with authentic desire but rather as dehumanized ‘traffic’ to be manipulated and maximally exploited“.

“But surely it can’t be that bad”, you might say. “Not everyone watches porn”. Not so. A study of Australians aged 15-29 found that 100% of males (and 82% females) had viewed porn. Of these, 85% of young men and 23% of young women watch pornography on a weekly or daily basis. To top it off, they also found that the more frequent pornography viewing correlated with mental health problems.

So join the dots. Porn is widely consumed. Porn consumption can result in a range of negative outcomes, including higher conduct problems, higher online sexual solicitation victimization and perpetration, higher coercion, and higher likelihood to engage in rough sex behaviours. It’s correlated with mental health problems, relationship problems, compulsive sexual behaviors, low levels of self-esteem and higher levels of depression.

This is the perfect storm to cultivate attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate violence against women. Never before has it been more important to help kids counteract porn’s messages with open dialogue. Discuss sex, hypersexualisation and porn with kids early, be persistent, and reinforce positive messages regularly.  This is the only way to inoculate our kids against this culture. Listen to their experiences – they didn’t ask to grow up in this river of toxic messages and they are often doing the best they know how, but they need our non-judgemental understanding, support and insight to help guide them. It’s unfathomable to think that widespread action hasn’t yet been taken to reduce kids access to pornography. On your behalf and with a growing movement, I hope this changes sooner rather than later.

If you or loved ones are struggling with pornography’s impacts, you need to know that you are not alone. Click through for educational information, resources and links to online support services.

THANK YOU to everyone who has been sharing these blog posts and for all your great feedback.  If you have a topic you would like me to blog about, send an email or ASK ME through Vidoyen for a response via video. To enquire about my availability and professional speaking fees to present at your school, in-service, conference, community, youth or church event, enquire via email; or find sexuality education support at Youth Wellbeing Project.
Liz Walker

About Liz Walker

International authority on porn harms, education and advocacy.