As I explore the internet I am often confronted with pop-ups and ads of explicit images. With people of all ages, especially kids using the internet these ads and images must have an effect of the children. It will surprise you to learn that the largest group of viewers of online pornography is children between the ages of 12 and 17. The average age of first exposure to internet porn is estimated to be 11. Among 15-to-17-year-olds, 80 percent have been exposed to hardcore pornography multiple times. A Canadian study found that among 13- and 14-year-olds, 90 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls reported accessing sexually explicit media content at least once. There is evidence that much exposure is accidental, often happening in the course of doing homework. (Segelstein, 2009)
This, often unwanted, exposure has been reported to have negative effects on a child’s sexual, psychological and emotional development. Studies have revealed the following effects of pornography exposure:
- Increase in sexual behaviour
- Treatment of women
- Unrealised idea of sex
- Exposure to sex at an early an age can lead to development problems
Observational learning and role modelling
Observational learning occurs when an organism’s responding is influenced by the observation of others, who are called models. Bandura believes that people’s characteristic patterns of behaviour are shaped by the models that they’re exposed to. At one time or another, everyone serves as a model for others. Bandura’s key point is that many response tendencies are the product of imitation. (Weiten, 2007)
It has become apparent that some models are more influential than others. People are also especially prone to imitate people whom they consider attractive or powerful. In addition, imitation is more likely when people see similarities between themselves and the model. Children tend to imitate same-sex role models more than opposite-sex models. People are more likely to copy a model if they observe that the model’s behaviour leads to a positive outcome. (ibid) Here we can see how children’s exposure to porn can cause role modelling. Children views their gender role and believes that is how they are to act and they can also see the positive outcome of the pleasure that is shown in the movie, images etc.
This role modelling and imitation process it becomes a way for sexual education. Many adolescents turn to movies, pictures and articles to find out exactly how to have sexual relations. Both affect adolescents’ perceptions of what is normal sexual behaviour as well as gender roles and also propels their own sexual activity.
Development and learning
To kids, porn is instructional in that it provides a visual message about new information. Photos, video, magazines and virtual games which portray rape and the dehumanization of females in sexual scenes are powerful forms of education. Unlike learning provided in an educational setting, exposure to porn is counterproductive to the goal of healthy and appropriate sexual development in children. It teaches without supervision or guidance, inundating children’s minds with graphic messages about their bodies, their own sexuality, and those adults and children around them. However, the type of information provided by porn doesn’t provide children with a normal sexual perspective, instead it is one very specific notion of sex and sexuality, and may not correspond with what they, and most adults, experience in their sex lives. (Stocks, 2004)
More specifically Dr Victor Cline, a psychologist from the University of California, has found that during certain critical periods of childhood, a child’s brain is being programmed for sexual orientation. During this period, the mind appears to be developing a “hardwire” for what the person will be aroused by or attracted to. Children generally do not have a natural sexual capacity until between the ages of ten and twelve. As they grow up, children are especially susceptible to influences affecting their development. Information about sex in most homes and schools, comes, presumably, in age-appropriate incremental stages based on what parents, educators, physicians, and social scientists have learned about child development. Exposure to healthy sexual norms and attitudes during this critical period can result in the child developing a healthy sexual orientation. In contrast, if there is exposure to pornography during this period, sexual deviance may become imprinted on the child’s “hard drive” and become a permanent part of his or her sexual orientation. (Cline cited in Hughes, 2001)
Dr. Victor Cline’s findings suggest that memories of experiences that occurred at times of emotional arousal are imprinted on the brain by epinephrine, an adrenal gland hormone, and are difficult to erase. Viewing pornography can potentially condition some viewers to have recurring sexual fantasies during which they masturbate. Later they may be tempted to act out the fantasies as sexual advances.
Pornography often introduces children prematurely to sexual sensations that they are developmentally unprepared to contend with. This awareness of sexual sensation can be confusing and overstimulating for children. For example, if a young boy’s early stimulus was pornographic photographs, he can be conditioned to become aroused through photographs. Once this pairing is rewarded a number of times, it is likely to become permanent. (Bergman cited in Hughes, 2001)
Addiction and trauma
The habitual consumption of pornography can result in a diminished satisfaction with mild forms of pornography and a correspondingly strong desire for more deviant and violent material.
Psychologist David Marcus believes the biggest problem of porn is that people’s tolerance levels become accelerated. “what was enough yesterday – and exciting yesterday – is not enough today. Very soon a naked women is old news and users seek out different, increasingly graphic and in extreme cases criminal content.” (cited in Polak, 2008)
Like a traumatic event, when it comes to porn, children can only tolerate a certain degree of intensity. Their central nervous system can only take in so much. And so if the experience is so intense or so mind-altering, what happens is it really affects their sense of social norms. This includes what they can expect from a partner when they are older, and what their want from their own desires are get so flooded that they can’t really make contact with what would be more normal progression of sexual desire.
DeAngelis, T. Children and the Internet; Web Pornography’s effect on Children, Monitor on Psychology, Volume 38, No. 10, November 2007. Accessed 10th September 2009 www.apa.org/monitor/nov07/webporn.html
Hughes, D. 2001, How Porn Harms Children, Kids Online: Protecting Your Children In Cyberspace, Accessed 10th September 2009, http://www.protectkids.com/effects/harms.htm
Maasdorp, J. (August 21, 2009) Booby trap: Children exposed to ranchy ads, ABC News, accessed 24th August http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/08/21/2662418.htm
Polak, M. 2008, Guess Who’s Watching Porn, Macleans, Canada, accessed 10th September 2009, http://www.macleans.ca/culture/lifestyle/article.jsp?content=20080618_9719_9719
Segelstein, M. 2009, Blindsided Kids, Salvo 9 summer issue, America, Accessed 10th September 2009, http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo9/9segelstein.php
Stock. P, 2004, The Harmful Effects on Children of Exposure to Pornography, Canadian Institute for Education on Family, accessed 10th September 2009, http://www.cief.ca/research_reports/harm.htm