Author's note. For education purposes, the content of this article is highly sensitive and explicit.
Your children WILL see pornography. It is not a matter of if, but when.
Because pornography is everywhere. Up to 30% of all Internet traffic is pornographic.
Installing filters is useful, but it is not enough. Keeping devices out of bedrooms is essential, but it will not fully protect your child. Your neighbours, or your children's friends (or their cousins), or a bigger kid on the school bus or in the playground, or someone else will expose your child to pornography if they are not already looking for it.
Pornography is a public health crisis. It is no longer the 'wowser-ish' and religiously conservative voices that are concerned about pornography. And it is no longer an issue of morality. Pornography is changing society - and the change is not good.
On Tuesday February 9, activist group Collective Shout hosted Australia's first symposium on the harm that pornography does to children. Experts from all backgrounds agree: pornography is hurting our children. Here are some reasons why:
First Sexual Experience
In 2006 a report indicated that over 90% of boys aged 13-16 had viewed explicit material. More than 60% of girls had also seen pornography.
That was before smart phones and tablets. That was before 4G Internet.
We don’t have good data since 2006. But things have surely changed with the rapid technological advancements since that report.
We estimate that the average age of first pornography exposure is around age 11. However some experts believe the average may be much younger - perhaps around age 8 or 9. And many children are exposed by age 5, 6, or 7.
This means that their first experience of sex is in front of a screen. They experience sex before they have held the hand of someone they are interested in. Before they have felt the butterflies in their stomach that come before you put your arm around someone for the first time. Before they have kissed someone. Before they know the pleasure of feeling another person's skin against their own. Before they even know what is happening on that screen.
Today pornography is the number one sex educator of our children - and here is what it teaches:
Harder and Rougher
If you saw pornography prior to the mid-1990's, you probably think of Playboy magazines with fairly run-of-the-mill sex between two seemingly consenting heterosexual partners.
The nature of contemporary mainstream pornography is not like it was when many of us, as parents, might have been exposed to it. Today's pornography models unsafe sex practices that are designed to maximise excitement for the predominantly male viewers. As they become accustomed to and tolerant of what they see, they seek out more and more extreme material to provide the stimulation they seek. Pornographers push boundaries to make sex in pornography as rough and hard as they can.
Male Dominance and Violence Against Women
Pornography has become increasingly degrading and dehumanising, particularly towards women. Australian documentary maker and researcher, Maree Crabbe, has reported that in top-selling pornographic films, close to 90% of scenes contain physically aggressive sex. 94% of those scenes show violence directed explicitly at women. In 95% of cases, the women "act" as though they are enjoying the degradation, humiliation, and violence they experience.
Women are routinely hit and slapped. Women are routinely choked. And a new trend is emerging. Crabbe suggests that over 40% of recent movies surveyed include what is known as ATM (anus-to-mouth). This occurs when a male concludes his anal intercourse and, without washing his penis, receives immediate oral sex. All of these acts are carried out for the stimulation of the male viewer. He dominates. He abuses. He degrades. He gets whatever he wants. Women are subservient. They are objects. They only exist for male pleasure.
Children are learning that aggressive, penetrative sex is the norm. They are seeing ejaculation on the face as standard sex practice. They are taught that deep throating is what oral sex is for – and that the gagging reflex in women is their aim. Heterosexual anal sex is portrayed as normal, and an enjoyable and safe alternative to vaginal sex.
While some adults may enjoy these practices, research tells us clearly that these sexual practices misrepresent women's experiences of pleasure. The focus is entirely on male arousal, because pornography is made by males for males.
Reports from the UK indicate that teenage girls expect to be pressured and coerced into anal sex. They know it will hurt, but the expectation exists and persists. Most girls dislike it and do not want to do it again, but they go along to get along because they want to make their boyfriend happy, and he'll be happy when she acts like they do in the pornography he has viewed.
The Australian experience is similar, with media articles indicating that doctors are reporting increasing numbers of teen girls needing help with anal tearing because they wanted to please their boyfriends who had seen pornography and wanted to try it out.
Sex is a Performance
Pornography has taught children that sex is not about intimacy and relationship building. It is about performance. With technology intruding, many teens now produce their own pornography, bringing with it significant legal risks along with the likelihood of embarrassment and humiliation.
Other Health Risks
Other scientifically supported health risks of teens (and children) viewing pornography include:
- body image issues (normal people do not have penises or breasts that look or act like that.)
- sexual health (condoms are not used, atm is unhealthy, multiple simultaneous anal or vaginal penetrations - or both)
- consent (research shows viewing pornography increases acceptance of rape ideology)
The Humanitarian Argument
Violence against women is the leading cause of illness, injury, and death in 15-45 year-old women. Pornography eroticises the key drivers of violence against women. It makes unequal gender relationships "hot". It makes violence "sexy". It promotes rigid gender stereotypes and roles. It actually enacts violence against women.
Teens and children see pornography. The images are memorable. Their brains are stimulated. Their beliefs about sex and intimacy are informed by what they view. Their behaviours follow what they have seen. Children and teens are harmed - physically, sexually, mentally, emotionally, socially, and digitally.
What do we do?
Parents must start to pre-arm their children from a young age. Conversations about sex need to be part of growing up. Discussion about pornography should generally commence by around age 8. It should be developmentally appropriate. It is not necessary to explain what anal sex is to an 8 year-old. There is no need to show our children pornography. Instead, basic discussions are important.
- Teach young children what pornography is (pictures of people’s private parts, or pictures of people having sex – in all kinds of ways, sometimes not healthy ways)
- Teach young children to look away
- Teach young children to tell someone – preferably you
- Teach older children to do both, but also to speak up and say "that's not cool." Teach them not to laugh. Sexual exploitation is not funny.
- Teach teens to avoid pornography because the messages it promotes are harmful. Teach teens that if they do what is done in pornography, they will be having bad sex, and will be seen as bad lovers. Instead, give them good messages about good sex. Teach teens about sexual consent, intimacy, tenderness, and thoughtfulness in relationships.
Let your children know curiosity is normal, but what is shown in pornography is not. Teach them to avoid pornography. An edited version of this article first appeared on kidspot.com.au.
Do you think porn is an issue? And what conversation starters have worked with your children?