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Can Porn Worsen the Issue of Child-Perpetrated Sexual Assault?

The study participants also highlighted the need to improve education about sex as a way to promote respectful sexual relationships.

Young people who had sexually abused other children said that educating them on pornography and sex could have helped prevent their abusive behavior, according to a study reported on by Medical Xpress.

In a PhD thesis paper released by the University of Melbourne, the study’s findings represent the rarely-captured voices of young people who had sexually abused other children. Their sample size is small, but their findings are worth paying attention to—especially as more and more experts are speaking out about this issue.

Related: For Parents & Caregivers: How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn

Researchers asked 14 young people what they felt could have prevented them from exhibiting harmful sexual behavior. They also asked six treatment-providing workers to reflect on the insights of the young people. Three main opportunities for prevention emerged, including taking action in the lives of young people to make their home and school relationships safe, reform their sexuality education, and help their understanding of pornography.

The study’s lead author Gemma McKibbin, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Melbourne said that the findings made it clear that more needed to be done in sexual health policy for vulnerable groups of children, and to restrict young people’s access to pornography.

“The access that young people are having to pornography, as well as our collective turning a blind eye, is akin to a kind of cultural grooming of children,” McKibbin said.

Related: For Parents: Your Child Just Told You They Struggle With Porn. Now What?

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Porn and abuse

Sexually abusive behavior occurs when a child or young person sexually abuses another child or young person. Previous studies have shown that about half the victims of child-on-child sexual abuse are under the age of six, while the children who abuse others are likely to be aged just 12 years old.

Of the adolescents who participated in the study, 12 said they had been exposed to pornography, while three of the boys directly attributed their sexually abusive behavior to their pornography consumption.

“We can’t, on the one hand, say we don’t want to talk with young children about sexuality, while on the other hand do nothing about the multi-billion-dollar pornography industry and the telecommunications industry that is enabling access,” McKibbin added.

Related: For Parents: How To Update The “Sex Talks” With Your Kids To Include Porn

“It may be that government needs to intervene at this point. Pornography can’t be seen as the sole responsibility of parents or schools because it has gone way beyond that. We probably need to engage directly with the pornography industry and the telecommunications industry,” she said.

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Porn as education about sex for kids?

The study participants also highlighted the need to improve education about sex as a way to promote respectful sexual relationships and counter the distorted messages they received from pornography.

“Consistent, protective sex education needed to be introduced as soon as children started school, if not before,” Ms. McKibbin said.

Study co-authors also included Professor Cathy Humphreys and Dr. Bridget Hamilton from the University of Melbourne.

“The effects of child-on-child sexual abuse are negative and far-reaching for the victims as well as the young people who abuse,” Prof. Humphreys said. “We have a great opportunity with the introduction of Respectful Relationships Education in Victorian schools to address the sexually abusive behavior. This report makes a significant contribution to curriculum messages that could be specifically designed to prevent such behavior, and protect our vulnerable young people.”

Watch: Expert Heidi Olson Talks About the Role Porn Plays in Child Sexual Assault

 

Why this matters

As concerning as this data is about young people and porn, it isn’t isolated.

While porn is often called “adult material,” many of its consumers are well under the legal age.Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Adolescents and pornography: A review of 20 years of research.53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441COPY  Studies show that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13,British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  and according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens, 84.4% of 14 to 18-year-old males and 57% of 14 to 18-year-old females have viewed pornography.Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary insights from a U.S. probability sample on adolescents’ pornography exposure, media psychology, and sexual aggression. J.Health Commun., 1-8. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980COPY 

That means that most young people are getting at least some of their education about sex from porn, whether they mean to or not. In fact, one study shows that approximately 45% of teens who consumed porn did so in part to learn about sex.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  Similarly, survey results also show one in four 18 to 24-year-olds (24.5%) listed pornography as the most helpful source to learn how to have sex.Rothman, E. F., Beckmeyer, J. J., Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2021). The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(2), 629–646. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01877-7COPY 

RelatedParents: If You Don’t Teach Your Kids About Sex, Porn Will

Pornography actively spreads harmful misinformation about sex. In fact, one study suggests that the more someone consumes porn, the more sexually illiterate they tend to become.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Herbenick, D., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography vs. sexual science: The role of pornography use and dependency in U.S. teenagers’ sexual illiteracy., 1-22. doi:10.1080/03637751.2021.1987486COPY 

It’s no secret that porn is wildly unrealistic and often incredibly toxic, yet survey results also showed that over half of 11 to 16-year-old boys (53%) and over a third of 11 to 16-year-old girls (39%) reported believing that pornography was a realistic depiction of sex, and 44% of boys who watched porn reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try.Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J. R., Davidson, J., Leyva, R., & Horvath, M. A. H. (2016). 'I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it'. London: NSPCC. Retrieved from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2016/i-wasn-t-sure-it-was-normal-to-watch-itCOPY 

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Research also consistently demonstrates that porn consumption is a significant predictor of sexual aggression.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201COPY Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Adolescents and pornography: A review of 20 years of research.53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441COPY Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary Insights from a U.S. Probability Sample on Adolescents' Pornography Exposure, Media Psychology, and Sexual Aggression. Journal of health communication, 1–8. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980COPY Goodson, A., Franklin, C. A., & Bouffard, L. A. (2021). Male peer support and sexual assault: The relation between high-profile, high school sports participation and sexually predatory behaviour. 27(1), 64-80. doi:10.1080/13552600.2020.1733111COPY  Studies also suggest that increased pornography consumption is associated with the enjoyment of degrading, uncommon, or aggressive sexual behaviors.Ezzell, M. B., Johnson, J. A., Bridges, A. J., & Sun, C. F. (2020). I (dis)like it like that: Gender, pornography, and liking sex. J.Sex Marital Ther., 46(5), 460-473. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2020.1758860COPY 

Related: 20 Stats About The Porn Industry And Its Underage Consumers

Another study indicated that teens often reported trying to copy porn in their own sexual encounters, and that the pressure to imitate porn was often an aspect of unhealthy relationships.Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). 'Without Porn … I Wouldn't Know Half the Things I Know Now: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of sex research, 52(7), 736–746. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.960908COPY  And according to a UK survey of over 22,000 adult women, 16% reported having been forced or coerced to perform sex acts the other person had seen in porn.Taylor, J., & Shrive, J. (2021). ‘I thought it was just a part of life’: Understanding the scale of violence committed against women in the UK since birth. VictimFocus. Retrieved from https://irp.cdn-website.com/f9ec73a4/files/uploaded/Key-Facts-Document-VAWG-VictimFocus-2021a.pdfCOPY 

Porn isn’t just entertainment. It isn’t just intended for arousal. Whether intentionally or not, it teaches toxic messages that can have real-world consequences.

By being educated and raising awareness on these findings, we can hopefully spare the next generation of the many harms that are sure to come due to this pornification of our society. It’s time we stop underestimating the harms of porn and educate those around us.

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