What Happens When Children are Exposed to Pornography?

Educating children and youth about the harms of pornography is also key. Such education could teach children how to react when they see pornography and who they can turn to for guidance and counsel. One study found that only 57% of children reached out to someone after exposure to pornography, leaving many youth to grapple with the experience alone. Research supports the importance of parent communication and framing when it comes to understanding sex. Thus, parents and teachers should be supported in teaching youth about the negative effects of pornography and pointing them to accurate and appropriate resources that will help them.  

Most of us probably have people in our lives who struggle with an addiction of some kind, whether it be to smoking, using drugs, gambling, or other vices. An addiction develops when changes in the brain and body cause a person to “feel compelled to continue using a substance or partaking in an activity, even when doing so may cause harm.” These substances or behaviors activate motivation and reward regions in the brain, resulting in an altered dopamine system. The thing about addiction is that oftentimes, the younger a person is when they are first exposed, the higher their risk for developing a serious addiction that can dominate minds and bodies, numbing them to the environment around them. This reality creates a strong motivation for parents, grandparents, schools, and lawmakers to focus on protecting children by preventing or delaying exposure to harmful substances and behaviors until their brains are more fully formed and their risk for developing dependencies is lessened.

One addiction that is becoming more normalized is viewing pornography, defined as “sexually explicit videos, images, or writing with the intent to cause sexual arousal in its viewers.” Creating pornography is a huge billion-dollar industry. This is troubling because pornography is increasingly impacting children and youth in negative ways. With technology and the internet as a crucial and necessary part of life, pornography has never been more easily accessible to children: 93% of boys and 63% of girls report being exposed to internet pornography before the age of 18, with the average age of first exposure being 12 years old. Today’s children are growing up in a sexualized cultural environment. As adolescents mature, it is natural that they search for information that they do not know. This includes searching for information about dating and sexual relationships, which may often lead to pornography. Thus, it is important to understand the ramifications when exposure to pornography starts at a young age.

Consequences Among Youth

Pornography proves to be especially detrimental to children and adolescents. According to many researchers, early exposure to pornography is connected to negative developmental outcomes, including a greater acceptance of sexual harassmentsexual activity at an early age,acceptance of negative attitudes to womenunrealistic expectationsskewed attitudes of gender rolesgreater levels of body dissatisfactionrape myths (responsibility for sexual assault to a female victim), and sexual aggression. Children’s brains are not equipped to process the adult experiences depicted. Early exposure to pornography also increases the likelihood that depression and relationship problems develop.

Sexual risk taking is another common problem associated with being exposed to pornography at an early age. This includes more sexual partners and not using birth control. As Gustavo Mesch found in a 2009 study: adolescents who use pornography “appear less socially integrated and more socially marginal. They express less commitment to their families, fewer pro-social attitudes, and less attachment to school…” This could be the case simply because youth are so enveloped in what they are viewing and how they feel about it that they lose touch with their environment and the people around them.

Another key issue is that an individual’s first exposure [and general exposure] to pornography may lead to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, particularly among adolescents, and that the earlier a child was exposed, the more mental health problems they faced later in life.

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