Exposure of children to sexually explicit material benefits no one

By Melinda Tankard Reist, The Age

A15-year-old boy confided in me after I addressed his class at a Sydney school last year. He cried as he told me that he had been using porn since the age of nine. He didn’t have a social life, had few friends, had never had a girlfriend. His life revolved around online porn. He wanted to stop, he said, but didn’t know how.

I have had similar conversations with other boys since then.

Girls also share their experiences. Of boys pressuring them to provide porn-inspired acts. Of being expected to put up with things they don’t enjoy. Of seeing sex in terms of performance. Girls as young as 12 show me the text messages they routinely receive requesting naked images.

Pornography is invading the lives of young people. Seventy per cent of boys and 53.5 per cent of girls have seen porn by age 12, 100 per cent of boys and 97 per cent of girls by age 16.

This is an unprecedented experiment on the sexual development of young people.

The Australian Medical Association says there is a strong relationship between exposure to sexually explicit material and sexual behaviour that predisposes to adverse sexual and mental health outcomes.

The 2012 report of the UK Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to porn has a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image. Cross-country studies link teens’ frequent consumption of porn with acceptance of sexual harassment and forcing someone into sex.

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