Survey reveals teens’ concerns over online porn

Published on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 10:21
Written by Daniel Mason

The majority of 18-year-olds believe online pornography is too easily available to young people and that it can have a damaging impact on their views of sex and relationships, new research has revealed.

A survey by Opinium, published last week, also showed that sexting has become "part of everyday life" for many teenagers and that young women in particular are concerned about the effect of pornography on how they are expected to look and act.

The findings "paint a worrying picture about the way online pornography is shaping the attitudes and behaviours of young people", said Dalia Ben-Galim, an associate director at the Institute for Public Policy Research, the centre-left thinktank that commissioned the study.

Of the 18-year-olds surveyed, 80% said it was too easy for young people to see online porn accidentally. Seven out of 10 said watching porn was "typical" when they were at school and that it became common between the ages of 13 and 15. Nearly half of those taking part in the poll, 46%, said sending sexual or naked photos was "part of everyday life" for teenagers.

Almost two thirds of respondents said "adults worry too much about what happens online". But 72% agreed that porn "leads to unrealistic attitude to sex", 70% that it "can have a damaging effect on young people's views of sex and relationships", and 67% that it could be addictive.

Two thirds said people were too casual about sex and relationships - although 64% of young men and 60% of young women agreed that porn had made "people more sexually explorative and open-minded".

In other areas the results exposed a stark gender divide. More than seven out of 10 young women said the prevalence of online porn created pressure on them to look and act in a certain way. While 45% of young men said porn helped people learn about sex, only 29% of women agreed. And just 21% of men, compared with 49% of women, strongly agreed that porn led to unrealistic attitudes to sex.

However, 61% of young men and 78% of young women said porn encouraged society to view women as sex objects - although significantly more women than men, by 37% to 18%, strongly agreed with the statement.

Ben-Galim said: "This new polling data shows that pornographic images are pervasive in teenagers' lives and that young women in particular are acutely conscious of how damaging they can be."

The survey also questioned young people about sex education. The vast majority, 86%, agreed sex and relationship advice should be taught in schools, but more than two thirds wanted it to be delivered by a trained expert, with an external visitor generally preferred to a regular teacher.

"Young people believe the sex education they currently get in school hasn't kept pace with the realities of their digital and social media lifestyles," Ben-Galim added.

Today the Liberal Democrats announced that the party's manifesto for the 2015 general election would include a promise that children in all state-funded schools - including academies and free schools - would be guaranteed age appropriate sex and relationship education.

David Laws, the Lib Dem schools minister, said: "We have long made the case, both inside and outside government, for updated sex and relationship education to be taught in all schools, including academies and free schools, but it is not something the Conservatives are open to.

"We believe that by educating children about sex and relationships in an appropriate way, we can help them to make informed choices in their personal lives. Currently academies and free schools have no requirement to teach sex and relationship education, depriving children of important life lessons."

Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, said his party had "long called for the compulsory introduction of age appropriate sex and relationship education in all state schools".

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