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Internet Porn Reaches Most Teens

Youths' Porn Exposure Mostly Unwanted; Blocking Not 100% Effective
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 5, 2007 -- Internet pornography reaches most teens and many preteens -- and most of these porn exposures are unwanted, a telephone survey finds.

The survey comes from Janis Wolak, JD, and colleagues at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center. Wolak's team asked a national sample of parents for permission to interview their 10- to 17-year-old children about exposure to Internet pornography.

Just under half the parents agreed to allow the children to speak privately with the researchers by telephone.

Between March and June 2005, 1,422 children gave adequate responses for analysis.

The main findings:

  • 42% of youths age 10-17 had seen Internet porn in the past year.
  • Two-thirds of youth exposures to Internet porn were unwanted. (However, not all unwanted exposure to porn was unintentional: 21% of the time, kids knew they were entering X-rated web sites.)
  • Boys were exposed to Internet porn far more often than were girls.
  • Boys are nine times more likely than girls to seek out Internet porn.
  • Teens, especially those age 16-17, are far more likely than younger kids to view online porn, either accidentally or on purpose.  For example, more than two-thirds of boys 16-17 had been exposed to online porn.
  • Youth exposure to Internet porn is fairly common. Unwanted porn found its way to 17% of 10- to 11-year-old boys, 16% of girls 10 to 11 years old.
  • Most youth said they were not upset by the images they saw.
  • Some youths -- those who report victimization by others when not on the Internet, and those with borderline or significant depression -- may be especially vulnerable to the negative effects of Internet pornography.

Filtering and blocking programs reduce Internet porn exposure, but do not eliminate it.

Use of file-sharing programs increased the odds of both wanted and unwanted porn exposure. Meanwhile, law-enforcement presentations about how to avoid Internet porn cut the odds of unwanted porn exposure.

The findings appear in the February issue of Pediatrics.

Teen Internet Porn Exposure the Norm

Parents and people who work with youths "should assume that most boys of high school age who use the Internet have some degree of exposure to online pornography, as do many girls," Wolak and colleagues conclude.

How bad a thing is this? Despite the disagreeable idea of young people being exposed to grotesque images, nobody really knows.

"Sexual curiosity among teenage boys is normal, and many might say that visiting X-rated web sites is developmentally appropriate behavior," Wolak and colleagues note.

"However, some researchers have expressed concern that exposure to online pornography during adolescence my lead to a variety of negative consequences," they continue.

These feared consequences include the undermining of acceptable social values and attitudes about sexual behavior, earlier and more promiscuous sex, sexual deviancy, sexual offending, and sexually compulsive behavior.

"It is by no means established that online pornography acts as a trigger for any of these problems," Wolak and colleagues note.

But they suggest these effects could be exaggerated in particularly vulnerable youth. Even if such youths are a small percentage of the population, widespread exposure to Internet porn means that a large number of children could be affected.

The researchers note that there's been very little research on the topic. Until more is known, they advise educating youth about how to avoid Internet porn.

They also warn health professionals and parents not to shy away from the topic.

"Frank, direct conversations with youth that address the possible influences of pornography on sexual behavior, attitudes about sex, and relationships are needed," Wolak and colleagues advise.

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