Ryyvgvh5 1478233331

Kids who watch porn won’t necessarily turn into sex offenders

Do we need to panic about young people watching online porn? from www.shutterstock.com

Kids who watch porn won’t necessarily turn into sex offenders

Do we need to panic about young people watching online porn? from www.shutterstock.com

Recent media campaigns have linked children watching online pornography to an increase in the number of school children committing sexual assault.

One article linked school students sexually assaulting each other to the rise in online porn.

But is there evidence children watching online porn is linked to an increase in sexual offending?

We know the public is concerned about the potential harm to young people watching online pornography, with a Senate inquiry on the matter due to report towards the end of November 2016.

We also know how easy it is for children to watch online porn, not only on the computers in their bedrooms but on their smartphones.

Most children come across online pornography accidentally. Most girls report feeling sick, shocked, embarrassed and repulsed by it but boys say they are sexually excited.

Of course, many young people search for it. In an Australian study of 200 young people, 38% of 16 and 17-year-old boys and 2% of girls said they searched for pornography.

Another Australian study reported 93% of boys and 61% of girls aged 13-16 years old had seen pornography. Another study reported 44% had seen online pornography. For both of these studies we don’t know if this was by accident or on purpose.

It is true the number of young sex offenders is increasing in Australia, as are adult sexual offenders.

But can this rise in young sex offenders be attributed to watching more online pornography?

What do we know?

We know children who watch pornography are more likely to be either physically or verbally sexually aggressive, especially if the pornography is violent. Behaviours range from verbal sexual harassment and unwanted kissing to sexual assault. We also know that popular porn is becoming more violent.

But has there been a corresponding increase in young people watching violent pornography to match the rise in sexual offending?

We don’t know.

It is tempting to assume young Australians’ easier access to more violent pornography explains the increase in sexual offending from 2011 to 2015. But we don’t have any current data on that in Australia.

In the US, watching violent pornography is relatively uncommon and watching non-violent pornography is unrelated to sexual aggression.

We also don’t know if watching violent pornography is the only factor in young people carrying out sexual assault. They could have been abused; be using alcohol and drugs; have witnessed domestic violence; or be acting out from what they see on the internet or from what they see at home.

As one eminent author on porn says:

Some pornography under some circumstances may affect some people in some ways some of the time.

This is not to say children watching pornography is not harmful. It is.

Children being exposed to pornography leads them to believe women are sex objects as women are devalued and degraded by pornography. Young girls who seek porn show more liberal attitudes to sex and believe it is fine to have sex without affection or love.

Young people who seek out online porn also tend to engage in unsafe sex and are more likely to be pressured by their peers into sexual activity.

However, watching porn doesn’t always result in sexual aggression and pornography may not be the only factor in child sexual offending.

Better ways to learn about sex

The main message from a media campaign to parents and teachers shouldn’t be one of fear of children sexually abusing others but that watching porn is not a good place for children to learn about sex.

The difficulty is that in Queensland, for instance, schools are not required to teach sex education even though it is in the national curriculum with the choice to do so left up to the school and its community.

Also many parents are too embarrassed to talk to their children about sex let alone pornography.

Parents, especially fathers, need to explain that pornography is staged; it is fiction. Most people do not look like porn “stars” and most people do not behave as they do. Pornography is not a sex manual. But if young people cannot find out about the mechanics of sex within a caring relationship, they may access pornography to find out what to do and model their sexual life on it.

Parents, teachers and the media all need to talk to young people about pornography but not to give the message that if children do watch pornography they will sexually assault others.