Three-quarters of teens have seen pornography online before age 17
The internet has transformed pornography, making it much easier to view and share than it was in the days of Playboy magazine and late-night cable television.
For teenagers, it has created a deluge of sexually explicit photos and videos that have invaded their daily lives, according to a report published on Tuesday.
Three-quarters of teens have viewed pornography online before the age of 17, with the average age of first exposure being 12, according to the report by Common Sense Media, a non-profit children’s advocacy group lucrative. Teenagers see the photos and videos on their smartphones, on their school devices and on social media, porn sites and streaming sites, he said.
The report highlights how ubiquitous pornography has become, with 41% of teens saying they have seen images of nudity or sexual acts online during the school day. Much of the exposure was accidental, with 58% saying they hadn’t searched for the sexually explicit videos and photos, but encountered them while surfing the web, social media social media or through search engines or by clicking on advertisements.
Teenagers are increasingly confronted with the role of technology on their mental health and well-being. In recent years, lawmakers have criticized social media platforms like Instagram for exacerbating eating disorders and examined how the sites have been used to sell illegal substances such as fentanyl-containing drugs to teens.
The effect of online pornography on teens has received less scrutiny, but parents and politicians have been locked in fierce debates about technological safety and whether discussions around pornography should take place in schools or at home. Last fall, sex ed classes in Idaho were falsely described in posts and an article as promoting pornography. Tweets linked to the fake report caused outrage online and were mentioned on Fox News. In Louisiana, a new law will require age verification for porn sites.
“We can’t sweep this topic under the rug just because it’s uncomfortable to talk about,” said Jim Steyer, president of Common Sense Media, which plans to present the report this week to White House officials and federal agencies. “Pornography is a big part of the lives of kids who have digital access like never before, and we need to have a national conversation about it.”
Learn more about schools and education in the United States
Part of the problem is that online porn is a very lucrative industry, which gives it a solid footing. Although there is little data on the size of the online pornography industry, an estimate by Alec Helmy, the founder of trade publication XBIZ, which surveys payment processors, assesses influencer earnings and adult platforms to at least $15 billion in 2022. He estimated Internet porn revenue in 2012 was $5 billion.
In recent years, online pornography has become a business in which thousands of people have their own streaming, texting and photo channels that are promoted on sites like Instagram and hosted on platforms like OnlyFans and PornHub, said Mr Helmy.
The Common Sense report was based on a September survey of 1,358 Americans between the ages of 13 and 17. More than half said they had seen pornography of violent acts such as raping, choking or hurting someone. A majority said porn depicted stereotypes about blacks, Latinos and Asians. More than half said they felt guilty or ashamed after watching porn.
Meanwhile, 45% said porn provided useful information about sex. LGBTQ teens, in particular, said it helped them learn more about their sexuality.
“We have to be careful not to say that all porn is good or bad,” said Emily Rothman, professor of community health sciences at Boston University. “There are nuances here.”
Schools, parents and political leaders disagree on how to deal with the subject. David Miyashiro, the superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union school district in the San Diego area, said he held workshops and talks about technology and safety for parents, but did not directly addressed pornography in any of these sessions. The Middle Eastern refugee community and conservative Christians have expressed unease with the district’s conduct of any sex education, he said.
Devices that students must take home have filtering software, he said, that runs on district servers to block access to porn sites and alert school officials to searches for explicit and harmful content.
“Sexual health and sex education are very family-specific areas,” Miyashiro said. “A broad policy or position will sometimes isolate people and may create enemies or friends.”
Shelly Viramontez, superintendent of the Campbell Union School District near San Jose, Calif., said issues also arise with personal phones children bring to school. Her district has conducted disciplinary action regarding sexualized behaviors that she and her counselors believe are linked to greater exposure to pornography.
“This generation of parents is dealing with things that no other generation has had to deal with – the amount of access to information in the hands of children,” Dr. Viramontez said.
In the Common Sense survey, teens said much of the content they saw was disturbing. Only one in three said pornography included someone asking for consent before engaging in sexual activity. Less than half said they had discussed pornography with a trusted adult. Of those who did, the conversation “encouraged them to think about ways to explore sex or sexuality other than pornography,” according to the report.
Teenagers who intentionally searched for pornography said their top sources were sites like PornHub and YouPorn. Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Reddit and other social media sites rank second among sources of pornography.
Instagram, Snap and TikTok ban sexually explicit material. But the sites have been used for promotions related to porn sites. They also prohibit individuals from directing users to pornography on other platforms.
In December, YouTube banned the channel from PornHub for repeatedly violating its policy that prohibits linking to websites that violate YouTube Community Guidelines, such as pornography. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has a similar ban on outside links and said its algorithms are designed to limit the spread of sexually explicit content.
A YouTube spokesperson said its policy is “to strictly prohibit the posting of explicit content, such as pornography, that is intended to be sexually gratifying on our platform.” Meta said Facebook and Instagram have controls that automatically make it harder for teens to search for and find sexually suggestive content.
TikTok said it does not allow sexually suggestive content in its “For You” streams and blocks inappropriate searches and hashtags. “We continue to invest in safe and age-appropriate experiences for teens through strong policies, parental controls and technology to counter this content at scale,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement. .
Reddit declined to comment on the report, but said it did not have a strict ban on mature content. The app is geared more towards older users and has a suggested minimum age limit of 17. Users under the age of 17 who participate in group chats with mature content are excluded from the app, per company policy.
Snap said it has banned accounts promoting sexually explicit content and is “constantly working to improve our efforts to combat it.” Content from creators and publishers is moderated before a broad audience can see it, which reduces the spread and discovery of content that violates our policies, Snap said.
PornHub did not respond to a request for comment.
Teachers and parents said they couldn’t rely on tech companies to block content.
“You can’t blame technology and not having these conversations with kids,” Dr. Viramontez said.