Children at risk of becoming ‘desensitised’ to online porn

Some young people want to copy what they see in online porn – but they also said it doesn't teach consent


Our survey of more than 1,000 children aged 11-16 found that at least half had been exposed to online porn. Almost all (94%) of this group have seen it by age 14. We joined forces with the Children’s Commissioner for England to commission research by Middlesex University into the impact of online porn on young people, in the largest study of its kind.

Boys in particular wanted to copy some of the behaviour they had seen watching online porn. More than a third (39%) of 13-14 year-olds who responded to this question – and a fifth of 11-12 of year-olds (21%) – wanted to do this. This was despite more than three quarters of respondents agreeing that pornography did not help them understand consent.

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How many children have watched porn?

How many children have watched porn?

The survey revealed that young peopleare as likely to see online porn accidentally as they are to actively search for it, with a quarter having received online links. The first exposure to porn was at home for almost two-thirds of children.

Just over half of boys (53%) believed that the pornography they had seen was realistic compared to 39% of girls. A number of girls said they were worried about how porn would make boys see girls and the possible impact on attitudes to sex and relationships.

"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."
13-year-old girl

How boys view porn

how girls view porn

Children also described how their feelings towards porn change over time. 27% of the young people surveyed reported feeling ‘shocked’ the first time they viewed it. But follow up work revealed that just 8% remained shocked after the first time they watched it.

As viewing porn becomes more widespread among young people, many of the children surveyed recognised that it could create a poor understanding of sex and relationships.

"A few of my friends have used it for guidance about sex and are getting the wrong image of relationships."
13-year-old girl

Many of the 11-16 year-olds who took part in the research stated that lessons in school which explored issues surrounding online pornography can help them have a better understanding of the importance of respectful relationships. However, they often said the sex and relationships education they received didn’t cover this effectively.

"We need to ensure sex is placed in the context of loving, respectful relationships based on mutual consent. Age-appropriate sex and relationship education in schools, dealing with issues such as online pornography and children sending indecent images, is crucial."
Peter Wanless / NSPCC CEO

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