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April 11, 2014

Is Unfettered Access to Porn Bad for Teens?

Image courtesy of (imagerymajestic) / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You’re a typical teen. Your fingers verily fly over your keyboard or iPad when you’re bored, looking for something to view.

Invariably, you’re going to punch up a porn site and, Whoa, duuude! There’s a whole new world of fun out there for you.

Easy, as I said, as a key stroke.

But, what is unfettered access to hardcore porn doing to young people today?
What effects is it having on their sexual and emotional development?

Image courtesy of  (David Castillo Dominici) / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of (David Castillo Dominici) / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, depending on who you ask, even those tasked with studying the issue can’t pin it down. As with most challenges in family life, it appears it comes down to common sense and sensible parenting.

That is, unless you live in the United Kingdom.

Starting late last year, Internet service providers in Britain made “family-friendly filters,” which block X-rated websites. Now any account holder who wants to view adult material needs to actively log in as such and admit, “Yeah, mate, I want to see some nickers down and knees up.”

It was the initiative of Prime Minister David Cameron called the corrosion of childhood, which, he argued in a speech last year, happens when kids are exposed to pornography at a young age. In the same speech, he seemed to toss teenagers into the group in need of protection, referring to “young people who think it’s normal to send pornographic material as a prelude to dating.”

According to the online journal ‘Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention’ — the online source for research of The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) — the “recent proliferation of Internet-enabled technology has significantly changed the way adolescents encounter and consume sexually explicit material. Once confined to a personal computer attached to a telephone line, the Internet is now available on laptops, mobile phones, video game consoles, and other electronic devices. With the growth of the Internet has come easier and more ubiquitous access to pornography.”

The journal looked at a myriad of papers published on the issue from 2005 to the present — specifically, this literature review examined the impact of Internet pornography on sexual attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and sexual aggression. The authors discussed the literature related to the influence of sexually explicit Internet material on self-concept, body image and social development, as well as the expanding body of research on adolescent brain function and physical development.

The society bills itself as a “non-profit multidisciplinary organization dedicated to scholarship, training, and resources for promoting sexual health and overcoming problematic sexual behaviors” and has extensive research into the burgeoning problem of pornography as it is accessible to not only youth but to those who may be subject to worsening social behavior as a result of overly addictive viewing of porn.

The findings of the journal, while exhaustive in pointing out that potential for trouble among teens exists, showed nothing quite set off alarm bells for those monitoring the effects of porn on adolescents.

The Brits, after sifting through more than 276 papers on the issue, issued a report for Cameron and the British parliament that indeed found a link between exposure to pornography and engagement in risky behavior, such as unprotected sex or sex at a young age. But, with mountains of research on the topic, it was determined “causal relationships” between pornography and risky behavior “could not be established,” the report concluded.

Image courtesy of  (stockimages)/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of (stockimages)/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As some have bemoaned, it’s not an earth-shattering finding that those who have engaged in risky or criminal behavior have viewed porn, the problem is that most every teen with access to a computer or mobile device has, at some point viewed porn online. Citing porn, many researchers have found, for links to criminal behavior is akin to linking excessive online gaming to the potential for mass shootings – because so many mass shooters were online gamers. Well, so are two-thirds of adolescent boys in North America.

American researchers also came to find that there is nothing black and white about links between porn and worsening social behavior. “By the end we looked at 40 to 50 studies,” said Eric Owens, an assistant professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania who was a co-author of The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research. “And it became, ‘OK, this one tells us A, this one tells us B.’ To some degree, we threw up our hands and said, there is no conclusion to be drawn here.”

But, while there is little to definitively draw the link between gazing at pornographic images and adolescents who go bad, there is surely an effect that desensitizes those who constantly surf porn and their image of women – effects that manifesting themselves in sexual infidelity among married or attached partners, kids who believe their first or early dates should include outrageous brands of sexual adventure and worse, acting out of some of the most degrading images of porn and how some of that behavior could be morphing into what’s viewed as normal behavior among young men leaving adolescence and developing relationships.

In compiling Britain’s Office of the Children’s Commissioner report on porn and adolescents, Commissioner Maggie Atkinson had this to say about the pervasiveness of porn and pointed out, as few outside the religious finger-wagging crowd have done, ‘we restrict movie viewership for age appropriateness, why not images of a sexual nature?’

“This report is based on an assessment of the available evidence. It points out the gaps in our knowledge as well as providing compelling evidence that exposure to pornography influences children’s attitudes to relationships and sex. We are living at a time when violent and sadistic imagery is readily available to very young children, even if they do not go searching for it, their friends may show it to them or they may stumble on it whilst using the Internet. We all have a duty to protect children from harm – it is one of their rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – and the time has come for immediate and decisive action to do so.

“For years we have applied age restrictions to films at the cinema but now we are permitting access to far more troubling imagery via the internet. We do not fully understand the implications of this. It is a risky experiment to allow a generation of young people to be raised on a diet of pornography.”

Image courtesy of  (stockimages)/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of (stockimages)/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A dangerous diet, indeed.

Why is it, then, that while we chase sugar and fat, with religious fervor, from school cafeterias, no one seems to be addressing the soul-sucking pervasiveness of porn as it can be accessed by young people?

No one’s advocating a prudish return to the days of the Dick Van Dyke Show when Rob and Laura Petrie had twin beds in their boudoir – well, some might, but none you’ll find here. But, surely, there has to be some limits put on access to this material when the long-term effect of a steady diet of porn on young people is so misunderstood.

Studies piled on studies seem to contradict themselves on the issue, but in one’s gut, we know this surely can’t be good for a developing mind.

Hell, it’s not healthy for anyone to make it a daily habit to surf porn and develop sexual mores and attitudes using the X-rated template, but we’ve long since given over to the widespread notion of live and let live and adults should be their own governors and keepers of their moral compass.

Young people today face a barrage of choices, experiences, images, sensations and life decisions no adult that preceded them experienced.

It — the sexualization of their online viewing — should be something that is somehow controlled or limited for their own good. It’s too much to assume an adolescent understands the mysteries of dating, let alone whether oral sex is OK on the first date.

Unfortunately, online porn tells them that’s just a great way to kick things off and, psst, by the way, check this chat room for the real goods and pictures on how to put what where.

Rory Reid, a research psychologist and assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was a co-author of the paper on adolescence and porn with Owens, said he’s frightened by the overarching lack of commitment to controlling teens’ access to porn.

Allowing teens to have a computer in their rooms without any limits on what can be viewed, Reid told the New York Times recently, “is a bit like tossing a teenager the keys to a car and saying: ‘Go learn how to drive. Have fun.’”

At the very least, parents need to have a frank and direct conversation with their children about such matters and, understandably, if they feel strongly about it, place limits and filters on what the kids can be viewing.

This is in no way a naive notion that kids aren’t going to access online porn in other ways and with their peers, but someone has to take the helm somewhere, somehow, to stem the tide of porn and super-charged sexual content that kids can access with the simple click of a mouse.


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Chris Malette is a retired newspaper journalist with 35 years of experience as a reporter and city editor. Over his career, Malette covered municipal and federal politics, military, health and court beats. He has reported from Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and covered relief efforts in Honduras in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. He now works for SPN News as an editorial columnist.

3 Responses to “Is Unfettered Access to Porn Bad for Teens?

    avatar stylostyle says:

    best article for young generation

    One of The Best Article to save and rise a voice against , hope younger must understand this

    In regards to the dangers, the point in the article that drives the point home for me is that when it says “there is surely an effect that desensitizes those who constantly surf porn.” One’s viewpoint of the opposite sex will change eventually and sadly will cause youth to view women as objects rather than potential soul mates. The increase of infidelity is also of interest. There’s an old proverb that states “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

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