Sex Ed and Porn? It’s time we talked.

It appears that pornography has become the most prominent sex educator for many young people and increasingly children. This raises considerable concern for parents who believe that pornography misrepresents reality ‘about bodies, sexual health, pleasure, consent, gender, power, aggression and performance.’

Exposure to pornography is more likely now because children and young people have their personal mobile phones, tablets or other internet-enabled devices or they have friends and siblings that do.

Therefore, exposure to gratuitous sexual aggression and exploitation is virtually inevitable; it’s not a question of ‘if’ a child will be exposed to pornographic imagery, but rather ‘when’.

It is worth noting that there are various ways in which children can find pornography. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner provides examples:

  • Your child may actively search for explicit content online, out of curiosity or perhaps because their friends are talking about it.
  • A friend or sibling (or an adult) may share inappropriate content (see also advice for parents about unwanted contact and grooming).
  • Your child may accidentally type the wrong word or phrase into an internet search or mistakenly click on a link to something that looks interesting but turns out to be pornographic.
  • They might click on links in phishing or spam emails, dodgy links and pop-ups (even on harmless websites).
  • Or they may also encounter pornography on free games websites for children. Some popular children’s cartoons have been hijacked with a pornographic version — which can be very distressing for a child to see.

Children cannot unsee what they have seen. Some initial pornography viewing often takes place with their friends; if not in their own homes, then at school or at someone else’s house. Older siblings are also known to share sexual content.

A 2016 UK study found that children report a range of negative emotions after watching pornography. On first exposure, children express shock, upset and confusion. They seem to become desensitised to the content over time. This is despite the exposure being deliberate or accidental.

An Australian study [2018] found that:

  • 69% of parents believe educating their children about pornography is essential, as their potential exposure is highly likely.
  • 77% see themselves as responsible for providing this education in the home. Yet less than half reported having actually spoken to their children about pornography.

While schools may tackle pornography’s influence through sex education and cybersafety programs the reality is that parents play a significant role in helping their child navigate this issue. The most effective strategy is to have conversations about the types of situations they may face and explore the ways they could respond. These scenarios may include the pressure they experience from friends who pressure them to watch porn. Should they just ignore it, tell their friend they don’t want to watch it or find some way to remove themselves from the situation.

Hard to have conversations can be confronting for both parents and their children. The Office for the eSafety Commissioner provides excellent advice and age appropriate tips about starting the chat and how to talk about sex and pornography which includes asking questions about how their child feels and what they know which will help parents gauge their level of knowledge and keeps them from lecturing.

The most important advice for parents is to build an ongoing, open, positive relationship with their children so that when they encounter various online content, they know where to turn to ask questions.

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