According to statistics, most kids have viewed explicit online material by age 11. But because it’s not exactly scientifically ethical to plunk kids down, make them watch hours of porn and ask them what they think, it’s difficult to study the effect viewing this stuff is having on them.
Which is why I was excited when Porndemic — a CBC documentary that delves into the business of Internet pornography — introduced Edmonton’s Sonya Thompson. Thompson’s graduate work focused on researching the effects of pornography on young people. Finally, I thought, some answers.
Thompson got as far as finding out that by age 13-14, 75 per cent of kids had seen porn online. After that, her funding dried up. Seems that while we assume that viewing all this sexual imagery will automatically turn today’s kids into a bunch of porn-addicted, sexually depraved, emotionally stilted adults, no one wanted to pay for the research to prove it.
The Swedes have gone there. They interviewed youth aged 14 to 20 about their experiences and perceptions of porn and found that boys watch it more than girls do; girls watch it more as they get older and generally with someone they are involved with. Not much new there.
A 2008 University of Amsterdam study found teens that watched more Internet porn had a more open attitude to casual hookups, one-night stands and a “recreational” view of sex. The researchers warned, however, that one did not lead to the other. That teens who are already more interested in sex than their peers are going to be more interested in finding sexual content on the Internet.
Earlier this year, The Internet Safety Technical Task Force, created by 49 US state attorneys general and a bunch of Internet-savvy folk, said in their final report that while “unwanted exposure to pornography does occur, those most likely to be exposed are those seeking it out.”
They reported that kids’ family dynamics and psychological makeup “are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.”
As Alex McKay, research co-ordinator for the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada and one of Canada’s leading experts on adolescent sexuality said in an interview on the topic for parentcental.ca: “Kids in the 21st century are going to be exposed to sexually explicit images, and it’s naive to think they won’t be. The better way is to make sure kids are educated about healthy sex and are media-literate. Any other approach is doomed to failure.”
It’s like fast food. Kids are exposed to it all the time and McDonald’s isn’t going away anytime soon. As such, we need to teach kids proper nutrition and how to develop a healthy relationship with food. And that the occasional fast food indulgence is OK.
• Porndemic airs on CBC-TV’s Doc Zone, April 2 at 9 pm.