By Kayla Ngai
Children’s exposure to the internet continues to be problematic. In recent news, England’s Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, released shocking statistics depicting the increase in children watching pornography. Apparently, according to the research, “one in 10 children have watched pornography by the time they are nine.” The study included over 1000 individuals from England ages 16 to 21, with an emphasis on the teenage range.
Pornography can have a profound effect on their mental health, shape the way people view romantic and sexual relationships, and contribute to normalizing misogynistic behavior. It is deeply concerning that young people have access to material this inappropriate—especially for their age.
As many children access pornographic content, they are exposing themselves to violent content. As the study states, the majority of the media that was viewed contained acts of violence. Because of this, according to the Guardian, “Nearly half of the 16- to 21-year-olds who took part in the survey assumed girls either ‘expect’ or ‘enjoy’ sex which involves physical aggression, such as airway restriction.” Many young people who view pornography see it as a reality, and consequently, they normalize the behavior they observe in the erotica.
The report found that many young girls and women are “disproportionately” the target of aggression due to pornography, which would reduce them to sexual objects. 51 percent of girls were sent pornography from people they know, compared to 33 percent of boys. Dame Rachel de Souza discusses her growing concerns for young people and their understanding of sex and relationships: “She recalled an incident where she was told by a girl who had a first kiss with her 12-year-old boyfriend that he had ‘strangled her’ having seen it in pornography ‘and thought it normal.’” The Guardian also acknowledges that this issue affects young men at a time when figures like Andrew Tate still have a prominent platform. For different reasons, girls and women are experiencing more violence in their early relationships, and many young men are learning destructive behavior that possibly aligns with deeper sexist ideologies.
There needs to be more done to discourage or inhibit minors from accessing pornography on the internet. However, it is also known that in the past, prohibiting pornography has never successfully stopped people from viewing explicit material.
During Victorian England, when pornographic texts and images were outlawed, many still found a way to secretly buy and sell the material. The pornography industry boomed in its own way in that era. As the internet grows, pornography is now increasingly easier to access and barriers are easily crossed. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) also acknowledges this issue and calls for trusted adults to help monitor their minors’ “digital environment.” Nonetheless, even with safety features, kids are still finding their way of searching for pornography online.
Therefore, another possible solution is improving sex education to include this topic more effectively in their curriculum. This also aligns with the proposal made by the American Psychological Association, which advocates for teaching porn literacy and working on correcting certain misconceptions.
When I was in elementary school, my teacher only taught the physical aspects. However, I believe there needs to be more discussion about the social aspects and topics related to consent, along with discussions about the falsities and harms of pornography.
Dame Rachel de Souza announced that this information is “deeply concern[ing],” and she is correct. Children should not be watching porn, aggression should not be a common expectation, and misogyny has no place in the world.