- - Monday, November 30, 2015

As parents are heading into the holiday gift buying season the last thing they are likely to be thinking about is pornography. Unfortunately, many of the gifts that are at the top of children’s wish lists are mobile electronic devices which access the Internet, and as one anti-pornography crusader has recently said, “handing your child a smartphone is like giving them a mobile X-rated movie theater.”

The availability and use of Internet pornography has become almost ubiquitous among adults and adolescents. Consumption of pornography is associated with many negative emotional, psychological, and physical health outcomes. These include increased rates of depression, anxiety, acting out and violent behavior, younger age of sexual debut, sexual promiscuity, increased risk of teen pregnancy, and a distorted view of relationships between men and women. For adults, pornography results in an increased likelihood of divorce which is also harmful to children.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of pornography, “I know it when I see it,” and now we all see it everywhere. Over the past decade there has been a large increase in the pornographic material that is available through the Internet to both adults and children. Internet Pornography is a modern economic success story as it counts its global revenue in the tens of billions of dollars. Mainstream pornography use has grown common because it is accessible, affordable, and anonymous. It is accessible because it is just a few keystrokes away on the Internet. It is affordable because many online sites offer free pornography to lure viewers to their web sites. Other sites simply post third party videos and do not charge the viewer for web traffic. It is anonymous because it can be viewed in the privacy of a person’s home. There is no longer a need to visit an adult bookstore or the local XXX theatre.

Most children are first exposed to Internet pornography in their early teen years, and this exposure comes primarily through a smartphone or tablet computer. Pornography exposure at a young age often results in anxiety for the child. Children also report feelings of disgust, shock, embarrassment, anger, fear and sadness after viewing pornography. These children can suffer all of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. They may become obsessed with acting out adult sexual acts that they have seen, and this can be very disruptive and disturbing to the child’s peers who witness or are victimized by this behavior. Children under twelve years old who have viewed pornography are statistically more likely to sexually assault their peers, and older adolescents who view pornography are more likely to engage in sexting.

Children who grow up with pornography become young adults that are more accepting of pornography use. A 2014 survey showed that over 60% of men under 30 years old view pornography at least once per week. This frequent and compulsive viewing of pornography is just beginning to be recognized as a form of addiction. There is evidence that men can become so addicted to cyber sexual activity that they can begin to prefer viewing pornography over being sexually intimate with a real person. The fact that pornography viewing is severely addictive is evidenced by the cottage industry that has grown up online to help people who are addicted to pornography. And it is not just religious groups that are recognizing this addiction and trying to address it. The web site Fight the New Drug is a secular site with the mission to teach young people the dangers of pornography to their psyche and how to break the addiction. Also, the painfully honest YouTube testimony of actor/comedian Russell Brand gives evidence that it is not only the most religious types who are recognizing that pornography is dangerous and addictive.

Pornography use by adolescents and young adults often leads to a distorted view of sexuality and its role in fostering healthy personal relationships. These distortions include the overestimation of the prevalence of sexual activity in the community, the belief that sexual promiscuity is normal and the belief that sexual abstinence is unhealthy. Pornography use increases the acceptance of infidelity in relationships which ultimately leads to their dissolution. These effects are likely to make it more difficult for young people to form lasting, meaningful relationships with the opposite sex, which will ultimately result in more anxiety, depression and overall life dissatisfaction.

Children suffer many negative effects due to modern society’s exposure to and acceptance of pornography. These negative effects include mental disturbance and unrest for the young school age child, including acting out and violent behavior. Because of its harmfulness to children, pornography must never be used as a tool to teach children human sexuality. For older adolescents and young adults, pornography decontextualizes sexual activity and teaches a false narrative regarding human sexuality and how men and women form healthy sexual relationships.

Because smartphones and tablets are part of our modern society, parents will not be able to keep them out of their children’s hands forever. So parents must become savvy consumers and acquaint themselves with the technologies that can protect their children. Apple phones are equipped with an array of parental security settings; parents should not be afraid to ask a salesperson to help them with this. Covenant Eyes is an Internet filtering and blocking service that will function on both Apple and Android phones. ScreenRetriever is a parental device monitoring service for computers and tablets. Finally, the book “Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids” by Kristen Jenson is a great book to prepare for the exposure when it does occur.

Dr. L. David Perry is a member of the American College of Pediatricians (Best4Children.org). He authored the college’s statement, “The Impact of Pornography on Children.” Dr. Perry is a practicing pediatrician who resides in Tennessee.

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