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Report reveals: damaging impact of online pornography on children

In the most extensive survey of UK secondary schools pupils on the impact of porn, Middlesex academics found young people as likely to see online pornography accidently as they are to search for it

Boy looking at phoneResearchers from Middlesex University have produced a report on the impact of online porn on young people following the largest survey of its kind.

More than 1000 young people completed an extensive online survey as part of the study, with a further 70 girls and boys aged 11-16 taking part in a focus group.

The project was jointly commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner for England and National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

“Although many children did not report seeing online pornography, it is worrying that some children came across it accidentally and could be sent it without seeking it,” said Dr Elena Martelozzo, a criminologist at Middlesex and co-lead researcher of the report.

In a novel set of revelations, the report reveals that repeated viewing may make children “desensitised” to the damaging impact of pornography, with young people often seeing it as realistic.

More than a third (39%) of 13-14 year-olds, for example, wanted to copy the behaviour they viewed. This was despite more than three quarters of respondents agreeing that pornography did not help them understand consent (87% of boys and 77% of girls).

“It can make a boy not look for love, just look for sex and it can pressure us girls to act and look and behave in a certain way before we might be ready for it,” said one 13-year-old girl.

Dr Martelozzo added: “If boys believe that online pornography provides a realistic view of sexual relationships, then this may lead to inappropriate expectations of girls and women.”

The huge task ahead for parents, teachers and policy makers is evident.

It is hoped that the report – which draws out implications of the research on policy – makes some headway in creating safe spaces for young people to freely discuss issues surrounding sex, relationships and the accessibility of online porn in the digital age.

Read the full report here and a summarised account of the report here.

Learn more about the Centre for Abuse and Trauma and Forensic Psychological Services at Middlesex

Advice for parents from the NSPCC and ThinkUknow

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