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Guest blog: why aren't we protecting children from porn?

(141 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 24-May-13 17:40:53

A report published today by the govt's Children Commissioner found that children are increasingly exposed to extreme pornography online - and that it's influencing their attitudes towards sex. In this guest blog, Sunday Times columnist (and MN Blogger) Eleanor Mills says it's time to put the protection of children first.

What do you think? Let us have your thoughts on the thread - and if you blog on this issue, don't forget to post your URL.

"Basically, Porn Is Everywhere is the title of a new report published today, from the Office of the Children's Commissioner. It reviews 41,000 pieces of research on the impact of porn and finds that widespread access to porn amongst youngsters is encouraging teenage boys to see girls as sex objects , engage in risky sexual behaviour and have sex earlier. Most worrying of all, it also shows a link between boys who view porn and more aggressive sexual behaviour and violence.

I'm tempted to say I told you so.  For the past three years now I have been writing regularly about what I call Generation XXX (£) and the problems the tsunami of online porn is creating for today's teenagers and their relationships. These days everything from television to music videos, Instagram to the mania for sexting demonstrates the pervasive pornification of youth culture. Yet on we trundle, seemingly indifferent to its pernicious effects. Maybe now the naysayers will agree that there is a problem and take the appropriate action.

The writing has been on the wall about the harm done to youngsters who view adult sexual content on the web for a while. A few months ago, I attended a conference at the University of London's psychology department entitled Virtual Adolescence. As the day unfolded a succession of speakers, including Professor Alessandra Lemma (a world expert on body image and mental disorders) and John Woods, a consultant psychotherapist at the Portman Clinic in London, outlined the mental toll that screen life is taking on our children.

The stand-out talk of the day, given by Woods, was called Child Abuse on a Massive Scale: The Effects of Unregulated Pornography. It made for worrying listening.

Woods cited a study by HealthyMind.com which found the average age of first exposure to such images is six (other recent research has suggested the average age is eight) and that the largest consumers of internet porn are the 12-17 age group. These alarming figures are backed up by a new EU Kids Online survey which found that pornographic and violent content top a list of children's own internet concerns (57% say concerns about internet content "most bothered" people of their age).

In his lecture Woods outlined some disturbing examples from his clinical practice including 'James', whose long-term porn fascination led him to assault a five-year-old boy 'because he wanted to know what it felt like'. James, 16, had watched so much porn, Woods said, that he had "no idea the other person needed to give consent to be penetrated".

Another boy, Jeremy, 14, was "driven mad" by his compulsion to view illegal images; before the police confiscated his computer he had been spending at least two hours a night on increasingly violent porn websites while his parents thought he was doing his homework. During his therapy with Woods, Jeremy explained that the only way he could control the images that kept returning to his mind of animals, kids, stabbing and strangling was to 'switch the computer back on, as then the images were back there' rather than in his head.

I fail to understand how a society that insists on a 9pm watershed for swearing on television and rates cinematic content with 18 certificates so adult material is not seen by children, is so callously slack about the tsunami of brutal, violent porn available with two clicks of a mouse. This bafflement was widely shared at the conference. Woods, who treats young teen sex offenders, likened the inability of society to get a grip on the harm being done to a kind of 'mass psychosis'.

Why do we let it slide? The first reason is ignorance: many parents equate porn with the top-shelf centrefolds of their own youth, unaware of the smorgasbord of violent perversion so easily available on the internet. Attempts by the government, led by the MP Claire Perry, to establish an 'opt-in' system for the internet (the default setting for an internet feed would be porn-free unless users specifically asked for adult material, in which case they would have to prove they were over 18) has failed. The government, under pressure from internet service providers, has instead gone for a weaker system that prompts new users of broadband to set up parental controls on individual computers.

"That is inadequate, completely inadequate," countered Diane Abbott, the shadow public health minister, when I popped in to see her in Westminster. "The opt-in is so important. The problem with relying on parental controls is that every self-respecting child can get round them." That's why a new system, whereby internet service providers can give households who want it a clean feed - ie one without porn, so adults can opt-in for porn if they want to rather than children coming across it when they don't want to - is, in my view, so important.

Abbott sees internet porn as a public health matter. Since she spoke out about this at the Fawcett Society last month she has been taken aback by her postbag: "I've had hundreds of letters - they are really touching because they are not part of some orchestrated campaign but are from genuine women describing their distress at the pornification of culture and the sexualisation of women and girls that goes hand in hand with it.

"People think when you raise this that you're complaining about pictures of girls with bare breasts. Well, I'm not particularly concerned about bare breasts. What these children are seeing online is of an entirely different order; it is really horrible stuff which brutalises and degrades women. There'z a link between exposure to that sort of pornography and violence within relationships."

Abbott is right about that. Woods cited research that shows adolescents who watch internet pornography not only "relax their boundaries towards sexual violence" but are also more likely to "see women as sex objects and engage in risk- taking behaviours such as unprotected sex".

The Icelandic government is so concerned about the way violent internet porn seems to stoke sexual aggression that it is considering becoming the first democracy in the western world to ban online pornography. "We are a progressive, liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti- violence," says Halla Gunnarsdottir, an adviser to the interior minister. Porn in this definition is not sexually explicit material but images that show hateful, violent sex.

That is exactly what the internet is awash with. So when children click on porn out of a natural curiosity to find out about sex (sex is the most common word typed into search engines), what they find isn't loving, consensual acts - albeit of a raunchy nature - but the most outré acts you can imagine (and many you can't).

The fact that society does not attempt to control or ban the extreme material that is so easily available sends our young people the message that it's standard to have group sex - and that violence is acceptable. Understandably, young people are confused, frightened and disturbed by what they see. Add arousal to that mix (patterns of early sexual arousal tend to stick for life) and it's not surprising that psychologists are worried.

Of course, it is oversimplistic to say that if you watch a rape-style fantasy online you immediately go out and commit one - but what a range of experts are beginning to agree upon is that widespread consumption of internet pornography, particularly at a tender age, shifts the way people think about intimacy, relationships and women. (Gail Dines, author of Pornland, describes just how porn hooks young men in in this article I published last week in the Sunday Times News Review. [£])

A good barometer of porn's influence is the fact that young people, raised on hairless porn stars, spend vast amounts of time and money having their pubic hair removed for fear of being seen as unattractive. Similarly, psychologists commonly report adolescents seeing sex as all about performance - ie, does it look like the porn they have seen? - rather than it being about a connection with the other person or pleasure.

Teens are caught in a web of pornified norms: sexting, indulging in unsafe sexual behaviour and generally feeling freaked out by 'expectations' implicit in the material they are viewing. I met one 14-year-old who was being sent porn clips by her boyfriend as prompts to what he wanted them to do that Saturday night. Woods, too, spoke of how porn spills over into reality, telling of a 17-year-old boy who reported himself for treatment because he had started following women down the street and was frightened he might "go further" in acting out his porn-fuelled fantasies.

Woods spoke passionately of the need to educate people about the risks of teen porn consumption, to support research that examines the effects of internet pornography and to "legally implement technological solutions that separate internet content, allowing consumers to choose the type of legal content they wish to have access to" - in other words, an 'opt-in' system.
It's up to all of us to make it happen.

I feel so strongly about all of this that on 2pm on June 11th at the offices of the think tank Policy Exchange in central London, I'm organising a conference on the subject, entitled Generation XXX. Attendees include MPs Claire Perry and Diane Abbott and Gail Dines, author of PornLand, an American academic who has led the charge on the damaging effects of porn. Dr John Woods from the Portman clinic, whose talk I mention above, will also be speaking - alongside some of the youth workers dealing with the fall-out from all of this on the front line. If you would like tickets (which are free) contact events@policyexhange.org.uk."

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BoneyBackJefferson Thu 30-May-13 18:06:50

chocoluvva
" "a hurdle to jump and the less savvy/determined youngsters won't bother" is better than nothing"

How long do you think it will be before the more savvy/determined tell the less savvy/determined?

chocoluvva Fri 31-May-13 08:50:57

I've no idea - but I assume that it would stop most of the incidences of accidentally seeing porn. It would also help to make extreme porn less socially acceptable.

meditrina Fri 31-May-13 09:03:39

The hurdle, currently available, which is "hardest to jump" is device based, especially a it can be adjusted to permit content appropriate for the age of the child (there's more than porn out there, and what you need to restrict from a 5 year old is very different from say a year6 preteen who watches 12 cert movies).

ISP filtering will be no harder to jump and will offer inferior protection anyhow.

NetworkGuy Fri 31-May-13 11:14:09

For anyone interested, here's a Thread from 2011 which covered whether filtering would be worthwhile, and included a fair number of comments from Snorbs which are worth reading...

Around the same time, there were threads in Geeky Stuff and the reason for me starting the thread I've linked to was because of a 'Campaign' page by MNHQ where (initially) they were supportive of a block, but later took note of posters' views and reversed that decision.

As someone on the thread said, it's not just porn that needs to be protected from access by young people, there's a lot more on the 'net.

NetworkGuy Fri 31-May-13 11:28:28

Ah, and here's another > thread from around that time... <

It's the thread in 'Campaigns' about "blocking porn at source" (well, by the ISP at least) - Niceguy2 suggested readers try a search for "how to bypass school filters"

or just Click Here for it. Do remember that some 'school' users will actually be (US) University students, who often refer to Uni as 'school' - odd, I know, when for most in the UK 'school' was for their pre-adult study...

BoneyBackJefferson Fri 31-May-13 19:28:02

chocoluvva

But google images already has a filter that you can turn on that does that

While I can understand your view, I think that you are forgetting the global nature of the internet with no strict boundaries about what someone can do/ see/ write/ hear...

Yes, I get your point, NetworkGuy. I will admit this is a very long term aim. In the short term, I'd be very happy if using porn became deeply unfashionable, even just in this country. At some point, maybe it would become so unfashionable that we'd legislate against it.

I'm not naive enough to think that would stop it altogether but it would no longer be just a thing you do, if you're a bloke - it would no longer be 'normal' and so our DC would no longer be growing up in a porn culture, with all its harms - I think this is something to aim for, even if porn is still out there and DC still need protecting from it with decent filters and good education. The job of educating kids would be a lot easier if we weren't constantly battling against societal attitudes that say porn is normal, all men use it etc.

libertarianj Sat 01-Jun-13 12:14:34

So Plenty you think porn is just a fashion thing or a fad? Nothing to do with sexual desire? Remember not everyone is in a sexual relationship. So what are they supposed to do? sit on their hands and wait patiently? And not everyone wants to use their imagination either, so may need some form of visual stimulation and that's just one scenario of many for the uses of porn.

I thought the idea of educating kids is to help them know how to deal with porn and how it compares to reality, NOT indoctrinate them into not liking porn. That would be like some kind of old wives tales, like porn will warp your mind, make you go blind etc and would be deeply repressive and could cause rebellion.

So Plenty you think porn is just a fashion thing or a fad? Nothing to do with sexual desire?

Well, it's both, clearly. Putting these questions together is like saying that certain foods can't be fashionable because food is to do with tasting yummy and satisfying hunger. It's just a bit daft.

It's currently so fashionable to use porn that there is a widespread belief that all men use it (not true, BTW), whereas a few decades ago, it was much less fashionable and most people would have said it was for men in dirty macs.

Nobody needs porn. It's perfectly possible to wank without it.

'Old wives tales' (horrible phrase btw) ... well, it may not make you go blind but there is a significant risk of erectile dysfunction. DC deserve to know this.

Education worked for me. I used to use porn until I educated myself and learnt there was a fair chance I was wanking to rape and abuse. It just kind of stopped working after that. If you can blithely carry on using porn once you know this then yes, your mind has been warped.

All those men I read about on the relationships board who 'can't stop' using porn and so watch their marriages go down the pan and/or put their DC at risk of exposure - I'd say their minds have been warped.

From the study linked to in the OP:

Access and exposure to pornography affect children and young people’s sexual beliefs and they learn from and may change their behaviour because of exposure and access to pornography. Access and exposure to pornography are also linked to children and young people’s engagement in “risky behaviour”. Considering sexualised and violent imagery more broadly, we can conclude that exposure to sexualised and violent imagery affects children and young people and that there are links between violent attitudes and violent media.

Doesn't sound like porn has a very healthy effect on young minds, does it?

ecclesvet Sat 01-Jun-13 18:11:26

"whereas a few decades ago, it was much less fashionable"

A few decades it was also much less immediately available. You'd have to go down to the cornershop and buy it from someone. Now you can do it from a computer without anyone knowing, and the barrier to entry has been lowered.

Now the Christian right-wing wants to close the stable door re-establish that barrier by forcing all the dirty old men to register to get their pornography back. But they don't understand that it isn't remotely possible.

libertarianj Sat 01-Jun-13 21:49:47

Well, it's both, clearly. Putting these questions together is like saying that certain foods can't be fashionable because food is to do with tasting yummy and satisfying hunger. It's just a bit daft.

No using food as an analogy for sex drive doesn't make sense. Porn doesn't follow any kind of fashion, it is pretty much anything goes. People like what they like. For example a heterosexual man would not suddenly turn gay if gay porn was considered the trendy thing.

Nobody needs porn. It's perfectly possible to wank without it.

but how do you know that? how can you speak for everybody? what about voyeurism for example

well, it may not make you go blind but there is a significant risk of erectile dysfunction.

Nah, there's no scientific consensus about that. www.nhs.uk/conditions/Erectile-dysfunction/Pages/Introduction.aspx, www.netdoctor.co.uk/diseases/facts/impotence.htm. No mention of porn being the culprit there!

Education worked for me. I used to use porn until I educated myself and learnt there was a fair chance I was wanking to rape and abuse. It just kind of stopped working after that. If you can blithely carry on using porn once you know this then yes, your mind has been warped.

what kind of things were you watching? Did you report what you saw to the police if you believed it to be rape and abuse? I stick to reputable sites myself, and they tend to be softcore erotica like met-art. Maybe that should be included in the education about viewing ethical porn and reporting stuff that appears to be dodgy.

All those men I read about on the relationships board who 'can't stop' using porn and so watch their marriages go down the pan and/or put their DC at risk of exposure - I'd say their minds have been warped.

but it's very easy to make porn a scapegoat. 'It were the porn that made me do it' very poor excuse for bad behaviour or a failing relationship.

That study ain't worth the paper it's written on, it's just based on previous studies, which are mostly junk science. I could just post up something like this instead:

health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/04/25/porn-use-has-small-effect-on-sexual-behavior-study-finds

'The study found that only between 0.3 percent and 4 percent of the sexual behaviors in question could be attributed to pornography use.

chocoluvva Sat 01-Jun-13 23:09:10

Nobody needs porn. They just don't.

Use your imagination!

here's a documentary about a woman trying to break into mainstream porn It's in several parts and is very distressing viewing. This is mainstream stuff, remember. There'll be lots out there that's easily accessible and much worse.

here's a TED film which explains how porn use leads to ED

I'm not wasting any more time debating with you libertarian as it's obvious your agenda is to justify your entitlement to wank over porn when actually you have no clue what the circumstances are that have led to those women being there on your screen or how truly 'consenting' they are.

libertarianj Sun 02-Jun-13 12:31:54

That documentary features Max Hardcore, that's not mainstream stuff at all, that's extreme of the extreme! and he's served time too and rightly so, vile man:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Hardcore

HongkongDreamer Wed 24-Jul-13 17:23:18

Images promoting things like this should also be blocked off the internet, like topless models etc. Its a joke that its still allowed.

ChunkyPickle Wed 24-Jul-13 17:44:09

It's a joke that they're proposing this ridiculous 'Great Firewall of the UK' which will do very little to stop kids accessing porn, yet, are quite happy to have page three and lads mags sat on shelves in every supermarket and newsagent for kids to buy.

One thing they could actually do to stop the objectification of women, yet won't and one thing that they can't realistically do without blocking goodness knows what else (and not blocking everything they need to). Which do they pick.....

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