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In our opinion: Teens think porn is damaging — and they want help

Published: Sunday, Aug. 24 2014 6:05 p.m. MDT

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Online pornography is too accessible and distorting for teenagers, leading to damaging and unrealistic attitudes toward sex and relationships. So says the Institute for Public Policy Research, a leading think tank in the United Kingdom, following its recent survey of British 18-year-olds published this past week.

And the cheeky British press, which could — and often does — have a heyday with edgier topics such as teens and Internet porn, instead responded with concern and caution.

Porn is now part of everyday life, say teenagers,” declared The Independent in its headline.

Most teenagers think internet pornography is damaging, poll finds,” stated The Guardian.

It’s time we start talking to our children about ... porn,” added The Telegraph.

And U.S. news magazine Time echoed in its headline what researchers and the media were proposing: “Most teenagers believe porn is damaging. Could sex ed be the answer?”

Here are some of the key findings from the survey, done in late June as the young adults reflected on their past experiences with and current perspectives toward online pornography:

ACCESSIBILITY: Eight out of 10 polled agreed it’s too easy for young people to accidentally see pornography online, while 7 out of 10 said “accessing pornography was seen as typical” while at school.

Meanwhile, 66 percent of the young women and 49 percent of the young men said “it would be easier growing up if pornography was less easy to access for young people.”

CASUAL/EVERYDAY: Forty-six percent of those surveyed said sending sexual or naked photos or videos was considered part of everyday life for teens. And 66 percent said “people are too casual about sex and relationships.”

UNREALISTIC ATTITUDES: Seventy-two percent agreed “pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex,” while 70 percent said “pornography can have a damaging impact on young people’s views of sex or relationships.”

Young women had the strongest opinions as to attitudes — 40 percent strongly agreed that “pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex,” while 37 percent strongly agreed that “pornography encourages society to view women as sex objects.” Only about half as many young men strongly agreed to the aforementioned statements.

PRESSURE: More than three-quarters said pornography had led to pressure on girls or young women — 77 percent saying “to look a certain way” and 75 percent “to act a certain way.”

“This new polling data shows that pornographic images are pervasive in teenagers’ lives and that young women in particular are acutely conscious of how damaging they can be,” said IPPR associate director Dalia Ben-Galim. “It paints a worrying picture about the way online pornography is shaping the attitudes and behavior of young people.”

In the survey, the 18-year-olds reflected that they could have benefited from better understanding and earlier education about sex and relationships. “It is also clear that young people believe the sex education they currently get in school hasn’t kept pace with the realities of their digital and social media lifestyles,” Ben-Galim said.

Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said sex and relationship advice should be taught in school — 49 percent suggesting it should happen at the start of secondary school and 37 percent saying even earlier, at the beginning of primary or elementary school.

And 68 percent want sex and relationship education taught by a trained expert, while 40 percent want someone who doesn’t usually teach at the school. Only 19 percent said it should be taught by a teacher from school.

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