INFORM: 7 things you need to know about PORN - before your child does

Porn. It accounts for more than 30% of Internet traffic worldwide, with an estimated yearly profit of over $25 billion dollars; it’s not only a popular industry, but a profitable one. Also, far from being the domain of sad little hermits sitting in front of a computer with a box of tissues, porn is now mainstream. It’s infiltrated our advertising, our popular culture, and it’s having a serious influence on the lives of young people. 

Sexuality educator and Australian documentarian Maree Crabbe recently presented at an open community forum about porn’s prevalence and its stereotyping of race, sexuality and gender. Speaking to everyone from porn actors in Los Angeles to medical professors in Melbourne – as well as over 70 young people across the world - Crabbe has uncovered just how huge porn is in the lives of teenagers (and sadly, tweens), and how much it is influencing their ideas when it comes to sex and respectful relationships.

1. Porn is everywhere, and yep: your kids are (or will soon be) watching it

Many parents are unaware of just how pervasive pornography has become. No longer confined to a magazine centrefold, it’s now mainstream – accessible, acceptable, and easily downloadable at the click of a button. Here are some scary stats:

  • More than 60% of girls have seen online porn
  • More than 90% of boys have seen online porn
  • More than 30% of internet traffic is porn related
  • 10% of boys use pornography everyday
  • 63% use pornography weekly
  • The mean age for commencing ‘active searching’ for pornography is 12.3 years
  • Between 10,000-12,000 new porn movies are produced each year

 2. Porn creates extreme and dangerous messages

Worryingly, porn is so prevalent that it’s now the most common sex educator for our young people, teaching kids about body image, sexual health, pleasure, negotiating consent, gender power & aggression, and sexual performance. The messages that are received are both extreme and dangerous, especially when it comes to…

  • Sexual tastes and expectations
  • What is a “normal” or a “sexy” body type
  • The importance of practicing safe sex
  • Making male - not mutual - pleasure the most important part of sex

3. Porn normalises sexual violence and aggression towards women

Porn hasn’t just become more mainstream, it’s become more violent: it’s rougher, harder and more aggressive than ever before, because - as Maree Crabbe found when she went to the hub of the industry, Los Angeles - that’s what the punters want to see.

Men are portrayed as aggressive, violent and disrespectful, and women are seen as subservient and happy to be treated with disrespect. The clear message to the viewer is that women like to be humiliated, and that violence is sexy. A recent study of the fifty most popular porn films found that 88% of scenes included acts of physical aggression towards women (such as gagging, choking and spanking), and 48% included scenes of verbal aggression. Further studies have also found correlations between men who watch a lot of porn and men who engage in acts of domestic abuse.

There are no two ways about it: porn projects dangerous ideas when it comes to violence against women, ideas which can be particularly effective on an undeveloped teenage brain. Repeated association with porn shapes the neural pathways in young people’s brains – and then they learn to derive pleasure from unrealistic portrayals of sex. What’s more, viewers may become desensitized to content, seeking even more graphic and stimulating material.

4. Porn also reinforces traditional stereotypes when it comes to race and sexuality

  • Gay male porn often reinforces the same ideas as straight porn, with a slightly more feminine male performer constantly being “dominated” by an aggressive masculine performer.
  • Porn that involves two women having sex is mostly made for a male heterosexual audience.
  • Porn consistently reinforces stereotypes about people of colour being “evil”, “dangerous” or “stupid”.This guy - with that name - is basically responsible for shaping your kids’ ideas about sex. Let that sink in for a minute.

5. Porn is having a profoundly detrimental effect on the early sexual encounters of young people

“Some men (I spoke to) expressed genuine surprise that their partner hadn’t enjoyed or hadn’t wanted to do what they’d seen in porn," Crabbe says. "That’s obviously not a great experience for the boys, but it’s also potentially a traumatic experience for the girls.”

Increasingly, girls are expected to engage in rough, signature sex from porn – leading to disrespect, low self-esteem and gender inequality.

6. Kids come to porn in a variety of ways

“It might be that someone has sent them a link, it might be that it’s come up accidentally or it might be that they are hooked on watching it, but can’t talk about it – so we need to set aside our own fears and approach our young people with care," says Crabbe. If you’re wondering how children can accidentally ‘find’ porn, it’s easier than you think: one child googled ‘Australian bush’ for a school project, and let’s just say he saw more than gum trees and wattle.

7. We’re never going to stop kids watching porn, so learning about it needs to be normalised

Let’s face it, this is a difficult conversation to have with our kids. But regardless of how awkward it is, and how embarrassed your children will feel, ultimately kids are craving information and deep down they want to hear what we have to say. And if we love our kids, we need to summon up the courage to talk. Crabbe recommends the car as the ideal place for this chat: no one needs to make eye contact, yet you have a captive audience. Remember, this is an issue that’s not going away.

Says Crabbe: “Learning about pornography is already part of learning about sexuality in secondary schools in Victoria. It’s not happening in every school but there’s a growing awareness that it needs to be addressed. Although it’s a controversial topic and it’s difficult and challenging, the evidence is overwhelming that we need to be having this conversation with young people.”

So, what can we – as parents – do?

1. LIMIT exposure and access as much as possible, with safe cyber practices.

2. Parents need to be more AWARE and INVOLVED

“Many parents still aren’t aware that porn is so prevalent," Crabbe says. "Once you’re aware, it’s about accepting that it’s really likely that your child is going to come across porn either accidentally or intentionally. We should remember that sexual curiosity and interest is normal and healthy and good. We also need to remind ourselves that sex is good and it can be great - but great sex almost certainly isn’t porn sex, that there’s a huge difference between that and reality.”

3. EQUIP and ENCOURAGE young people to critique what they see

“Porn’s prevalence gives us a mandate to start having conversations with our young people about gender, sex, equality, aggression and power," Crabbe says. "Porn is part of a much bigger conversation we can be having with kids about being good critical thinkers, and resisting those things, and also not to buy into those constructs – like the aggressive male, or the submissive and sexualised woman. Sadly, we don’t just see these images in porn; instead, it extends to advertising, film, music and television.”

As parents, we must help our young people to develop skills to analyse what they see – how it relates to gender and the sexuality culture. Encourage them to develop critical media literacy, and to question what porn is saying about men, women and their respective roles.

  • Talk to your kids about the spectrum of sex – both the good and the bad.
  • Explore what kind of people they want to be – harmful or respectful.

4. INSPIRE young people by telling them that relationships and sex can be better than what they see in porn. We need to make ‘consent’ sexy, instead of violence.

Advertising is so often pornographic we hardly notice it anymore.

“I’m always really encouraged when I have conversations with young men and they’re genuinely interested in their partner’s pleasure," says Crabbe. "They’re not all like that, mind you, and peer group pressure is really significant, but if we could shift it so that the peer group was interested in female pleasure and in consent - that’s part of the big thing that I argue, that we need to eroticise consent so the boys think it’s sexy to be with someone who wants to be with them.”
  • Encourage your children to understand concepts of mutuality, respect and consent; and to aspire to relationships that are safe, respectful and consenting.

Remember: We can’t control the porn industry, but we can control how it affects our lives

For more information about porn, sex and respectful relationships, visit www.itstimewetalked.com

This article was based on notes from the recent Carey forum, together with a summary at https://www.sbs.com.au/guide/article/2016/08/01/10-unsettling-things-we-learned-porn-factor