Is internet porn affecting children's happiness?

Photo: Rafiq Sarlie 

Nowadays most teenagers (and many younger children) have watched porn, seen it without wanting to, or been affected by it indirectly. This article explores the consequences of easy access to online porn, based on what we know from research. 

Free internet porn is more than sex and nudity

The business model 

The porn industry can’t make money out of sex that centres around personal connection and intimacy – sex which is good because it's between people who care about each other. On the other hand, it can and does make a lot of money out of seducing its viewers into more and more ‘extreme’ types of sex – after all, there’s a lot of sex on the internet now and it needs to get people interested in the types of hardcore sex they will pay for. This is the purpose of a lot of free internet porn, and that’s one of the reasons why so much of it is aggressive and blurs important boundaries, like those between adults and children.

Bad sex

A recent research study explored what was in each of four popular porn websites’ top 100 free films. It found:

  • Physical violence towards women in 41% of sex scenes (towards men in 3%).
  • Gagging in 19% of scenes (this is where one or more penises are inserted uncomfortably far into a woman’s mouth).
  • Lots of depictions of sex without consent and sex following persuasion, coercion or manipulation (for example, in 20% of the gagging scenes women and girls initially looked unhappy).
  • Dominance and submission (versus equality) in the majority of scenes.

Also ‘teen’ is one of the most dominant types of porn – by using this deliberately ambiguous term, the porn industry gives itself permission to sexualise children.

Reading between the lines

Both through what porn films show, but also through how they are advertised, organised and described online, porn tells its viewers that:
  • Sexual arousal should be your priority – this is ‘sexual freedom’.
  • When it comes to your ‘porn decision-making’, you don’t need to think about your values, your empathy for other people, and your sense of who you are – put it all to one side and let your arousal be your guide.
  • Lots of people like watching sex that’s humiliating, aggressive, or that sexualizes childhood so it can’t be wrong.
  • When it comes to sex, women and girls are generally up for men hurting and humiliating them, as well as anal sex and sex with multiple men.
  • If by any chance women and girls aren’t up for any of the above, they just need to be persuaded.
  • And equal and intimate relationships aren’t sexy.

What’s generally missing from porn is relational sex in which both people’s pleasure, desire and consent are of equal importance, and are intimately connected to one another.

Porn’s impact on young people

Some people argue that porn is just fantasy and has no impact on people’s day-to-day lives. But this is no longer a justifiable opinion – rigorous research studies that have followed young people over time indicate that, on average, porn leads to:

  • Increased preoccupation with sex (making it harder for people to engage in things day-to-day without distracting thoughts about sex).
  • Poorer academic performance.
  • Worse real sex.
  • Less satisfying relationships.
  • Increased sexual harassment of others.
  • Increased body dissatisfaction.

So overall, regularly viewing porn can lead to people feeling worse about themselves, treating others with less respect, and, just generally, getting less out of life and relationships. Also, all of these effects can have long-term consequences – for example, on a person’s ability to enjoy and maintain a long-term committed relationship, and to achieve their career ambitions.

Even if a young person doesn’t view porn themselves, they can be negatively affected by their friends’ or boy/girlfriend’s porn use. For example, research suggests that if some boys in a peer group have viewed porn and this has developed a tendency for them to view girls as sex objects, this may not only affect how they treat girls, but also how their friends who don’t necessarily watch porn treat girls. When people are ‘objectified’ they are seen as having less of mind, less ability to feel pain, and less of a right to be treated fairly.

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