A recent symposium and current Senate Enquiry are drawing attention to the harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet. While the topic of pornography is difficult to discuss with teenagers, research suggests the conversation is urgently needed.
The primary concerns raised by child healthy experts relate to the accessibility and nature of internet pornography. For previous generations of hormone-charged teenage boys, explicit magazines were relatively difficult to acquire. At least, it required leaving the house and smuggling them home. Today, children of all ages have access to an endless trove of explicit media on numerous devices.
The result is an unprecedented level of exposure to pornography (90% of boys aged 13-16, 60% of girls). The average age of first exposure is between 11-13 years. (For more facts, click here.)
Of equal concern is the nature of the pornography being accessed. A study of 300 popular scenes revealed that 88% contained physical aggression (primarily toward women) and 48% contained verbal aggression. In the majority of scenes then, sex is linked with violence and aggression toward women, with the women responding either neutrally or positively.
What effect does the increased access and aggressive nature of pornography have on teenage relationships?
First, it fuels the sexual objectification of women. In porn, women are depicted as bodies to be used by men for sexual pleasure. It creates a warped view of women as always physically attractive and available for sex acts. Young men may find it difficult to see beyond a woman’s body to the real person. As one man describes, “Literally — and I’m not exaggerating — any woman I would meet, I would first evaluate on the basis of her breasts. That didn’t happen before porn. But I became that kind of guy.”
Second, it creates hyper sexualised expectations in relationships. Rather than encouraging young men to develop a holistic intimacy with their partners — social, intellectual and emotional intimacy — porn narrows relationships to be all about sexual pleasure and physical intimacy. This creates a culture in which young men may pressure females into unwanted sexual encounters. And young females may feel the need to have sex in order to be noticed and appreciated by men. In this culture, the lines of consent are blurry and crossed regularly.
Third, it encourages aggression and violence as part of the sex act. Increasingly, young women describe situations where they are asked (and sometimes forced) to engage in uncomfortable or aggressive sex acts to imitate a porn scene. This clearly poses a threat to the safety of young women and their right to consent.
How can we promote safe and respectful relationships in a porn-saturated world? We can offer an alternative perspective about the problems with porn and encourage young men to rethink their relationship with it. We can empower young women to challenge their partner’s use of pornography and demand respect. We can inform parents about how to protect their young children from unwanted exposure to pornography.
Whatever we do, we must do something. Fighting against the rising influence of porn in the lives and relationships of young men and women is crucial if we are to promote safe and respectful relationships.
We regularly present with male student groups on the problems with porn. If you’d like to find out more contact us here.