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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014

In our opinion: Teens think porn is damaging — and they want help

Deseret News editorial

Published: Sun, Aug. 24 6:05 p.m. MDT

(Getty Images)

Online pornography is too accessible and distorting for teenagers, leading to damaging and unrealistic attitudes toward sex and relationships. So says the Institute for Public Policy Research, a leading think tank in the United Kingdom, following its recent survey of British 18-year-olds published this past week.

And the cheeky British press, which could — and often does — have a heyday with edgier topics such as teens and Internet porn, instead responded with concern and caution.

Porn is now part of everyday life, say teenagers,” declared The Independent in its headline.

Most teenagers think internet pornography is damaging, poll finds,” stated The Guardian.

It’s time we start talking to our children about ... porn,” added The Telegraph.

And U.S. news magazine Time echoed in its headline what researchers and the media were proposing: “Most teenagers believe porn is damaging. Could sex ed be the answer?”

Here are some of the key findings from the survey, done in late June as the young adults reflected on their past experiences with and current perspectives toward online pornography:

ACCESSIBILITY: Eight out of 10 polled agreed it’s too easy for young people to accidentally see pornography online, while 7 out of 10 said “accessing pornography was seen as typical” while at school.

Meanwhile, 66 percent of the young women and 49 percent of the young men said “it would be easier growing up if pornography was less easy to access for young people.”

CASUAL/EVERYDAY: Forty-six percent of those surveyed said sending sexual or naked photos or videos was considered part of everyday life for teens. And 66 percent said “people are too casual about sex and relationships.”

UNREALISTIC ATTITUDES: Seventy-two percent agreed “pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex,” while 70 percent said “pornography can have a damaging impact on young people’s views of sex or relationships.”

Young women had the strongest opinions as to attitudes — 40 percent strongly agreed that “pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex,” while 37 percent strongly agreed that “pornography encourages society to view women as sex objects.” Only about half as many young men strongly agreed to the aforementioned statements.

PRESSURE: More than three-quarters said pornography had led to pressure on girls or young women — 77 percent saying “to look a certain way” and 75 percent “to act a certain way.”

“This new polling data shows that pornographic images are pervasive in teenagers’ lives and that young women in particular are acutely conscious of how damaging they can be,” said IPPR associate director Dalia Ben-Galim. “It paints a worrying picture about the way online pornography is shaping the attitudes and behavior of young people.”

In the survey, the 18-year-olds reflected that they could have benefited from better understanding and earlier education about sex and relationships. “It is also clear that young people believe the sex education they currently get in school hasn’t kept pace with the realities of their digital and social media lifestyles,” Ben-Galim said.

Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said sex and relationship advice should be taught in school — 49 percent suggesting it should happen at the start of secondary school and 37 percent saying even earlier, at the beginning of primary or elementary school.

And 68 percent want sex and relationship education taught by a trained expert, while 40 percent want someone who doesn’t usually teach at the school. Only 19 percent said it should be taught by a teacher from school.

Sadly, they would prefer it to come from “expert” voices rather than existing parenting and mentoring relationships, ones where familiarity, reason and trust can assist in an already-awkward conversation topic.

In a recent Sunday Review article titled “Does Porn Hurt Children?” The New York Times reported that while university researchers struggle for a number of reasons to agree on the hows and whys of pornography’s influence on children, there is consensus that parents should be talking early and often about sex and relationships.

“One of our recommendations is that children should be taught about relationships and sex at a young age,” said Miranda Horvath, a professor of psychology at London’s Middlesex University, quoted by the Times. “If we start teaching kids about equality and respect when they are 5 or 6 years old, by the time they encounter porn in their teens, they will be able to pick out and see the lack of respect and emotion that porn gives us. They’ll be better equipped to deal with what they are being presented with.”

And if parents and teens don’t have those admittedly unnerving conversations about sexuality and pornography? UCLA research psychologist and assistant professor Ron Reid told the Times he likens having computers in the hands of a child without any limitations or directions on what can be viewed to tossing a teenager the keys to a car and saying, “Go learn how to drive. Have fun.”

The IPPR survey shows teens are ready and receptive for childhood conversations on sexuality, pornography and relationships. But seldom are they going to be out asking adults and initiating the conversations — adults must take those first steps in laying foundations and providing perspectives.

If not, it will be left to peers and Internet browsers.

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1. Walt Nicholes
Orem, UT,
Aug. 24, 2014

I wonder how this survey would come out in Sweden or in the Netherlands? It would be interesting to follow up and see how similar surveys in countries that seem to be more "liberal" about these issues come out. I am speculating that they would come out about the same, but you never know.

2. Morgan Duel
Taylorsville, UT,
Aug. 24, 2014

Question is if porn is so bad why are not media, cable and internet companies not doing something about the issue, instead of supporting it????

3. isrred
South Jordan, UT,
Aug. 24, 2014

Typical Des News. You trump up the data from the poll that supports your viewpoints (ie the teens views as porn being damaging) and then dismiss as "sad" the data from the poll where the teens offer SOLUTIONS (ie better sex & relationship education in school) to the very problem you are worried about.

4. gmlewis
Houston, TX,
Aug. 24, 2014

Good question! Pornography is supported because it is profitable. Not only are people willing to pay to view/read pornography, but fashion, cosmetic, and health products are sold to allow young people to achieve that look.

More liberal countries may be less included to acknowledge the harmful effects of pornography, but that may be because they are used to it. Sin "seen too oft" is first pitied, then endured, and then embraced, as the noted poem states.

I wonder how many young people have committed suicide because they were overwhelmed by the impossible and unnatural expectations placed upon them due to porn exposure to themselves and their peers.

5. The Sensible Middle
Bountiful, UT,
Aug. 24, 2014

How damaging is it to be taught in your formative years that to touch a girl on a date is a sin next to murder? To be the cause of so much guilt among youth?