This is not an easy subject. To write about, or to read. But also….it’s one that can’t be ignored. Seemingly every time I pick up a paper, there is something alarming which jumps out at me about children using or seeing pornography online. Case in point, just a couple of months ago it was reported in The Metro that children as young as seven are seeing pornography online. Let’s just take a moment to digest that. And the potential effects of pornography on children this young.
The prospect totally horrifies me, especially as that’s only one year older than my daughter. However, I’m afraid to say, it’s no longer something that we can bury our heads in the sand about. As parents, we need to not only know about the effects of pornography on children, but also what we can do to be prepared as parents, and consequently to prepare our children.
To help us with that I have my good friend and psychosexual and relationship therapist Clare Faulkner from our guides on sex after baby here and here back in the hot seat. In this article, she’ll help understand how children are being exposed to pornography from a young age, the effects of pornography on children and what we can do as parents in this new norm.
There has been a lot in the news recently about children and young people’s exposure to pornography. Are the stats really as bad as they are made out to be?
The web is ubiquitous. Gone are the days when teenagers nervously reached for the top shelf in their local newsagent or stayed up late to watch the German cable channels! Growing up in the 1980s/1990s the Collins dictionary would provide a very clean definition for the words our young minds were curious to learn about.
The web is this generation’s equivalent and when you google images of ‘oral sex ’ I can assure you it’s a very different experience. Research shows children as young as 7 years have stumbled across porn in this way. Half of children between 11-13 years have watched it, with numbers increasing with age.
What are the main concerns about how exposure to pornography shapes sexual functioning?
Evidence is mounting that pornography might impact sexual performance. This could include issues with erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, low libido or anorgasmia. As a psychosexual therapist I am seeing conditions that historically affected older clients impact the lives of younger men, even teenagers. It’s worth noting girls are not immune. From the evidence I’ve looked at there does appear to be a link between the increase in sexual dysfunctions and the steaming of free porn.
What other problems does this kind of early exposure create?
As well as the impact on sexual function some young men and women report difficulties in relating to partners. Just because someone has watched a lot of porn, doesn’t make them an expert at sex. Closeness and intimacy can be an issue, along with the lack of control that being in a real-life intimate relationship/ sexual relationship brings. Furthermore, real-life bodies don’t look the same as they do in porn which might add to low self-esteem and issues with partnered sex.
What is the best approach for parents responding to children and young people’s exposure to pornography?
Education, conversation, education. This isn’t going away so turning a blind eye won’t empower our children. I appreciate this might mean getting comfortable with the subject matter first. Talking to them about sex and relationships from a young age is important so it’s a gradual ongoing conversation. From birth, we can use the correct language for genitalia (it’s a vulva, not a vagina), we can teach about personal space and consent, we can educate about pleasure and biology (girls masturbate and have wet dreams too). Creating a safe and open space allows our children to come to us to facilitate those conversations, creating a foundation for the later dialogue around porn.
How can parents best inform themselves so they can take a supportive role in this conundrum?
Educating themselves on the subject, understand how sex education is delivered in their schools and what they can do at home to educate children. I would recommend looking at this www.outspokeneducation.com for evidence-based facts and practical tips on how to start the conversation.
If you had to give my readers a pep talk about child and young people’s exposure to pornography it would be…
Don’t put off having the conversation. You want to be the people that teach your child about sex and relationships.
Remember not all porn is the same. At a recent talk, I heard porn being compared to war films – some have a narrative sympathetic to history, others have twisted tales, huge budgets and epic special effects! The key is to teach children to critique what they are seeing. On the whole, porn doesn’t depict healthy, respectful and loving relationships. Asking your child how watching it made them feel? For example, how are women being depicted in that scene? How does that make them feel? What might it be like for the people working in that industry? How does that compare to real sex? What is realistic?
Above all trying to keep an open mind and judgment limited to create a safe space for them to explore the subject in a supportive loving way.
Are you surprised that children as young as seven are seeing pornography online and the effects of pornography on children? Do share your thoughts in a comment below.
Clare is a London based integrative psychosexual and relationship therapist who works with both couples and individuals on a wide range of sexual and relationship issues. If you are concerned about your child’s exposure to porn you can get in touch with her via her visit her website here.
Picture credit: People photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com