I’m often asked questions like these: Are young people really watching pornography? What is the likely impact? What can we do to help them make wise choices?
The problem of porn
In my work in schools with Romance Academy I’ve yet to meet a young person over 13 years old who has never seen any kind of pornography.1 And I don’t meet many parents or carers who need convincing that pornography is an issue that needs addressing. The challenge is to understand the scope of the problem and what our response should be. Here are a few statistics that start to build up a picture of the issue:
- 40% of boys in England aged 14–17 regularly watch pornography.2
- One in three ten-year-olds say they have seen pornography online.3
A few years ago 14 to 16-year-olds from a north London secondary school were surveyed. The findings show that:4
- Nearly a third looked at sexual images online when they were ten years old or younger.
- 81% look at porn online at home.
- 75% said their parents had never discussed internet pornography with them.
How should we respond?
Perhaps the key to answering this question lies in another question; what do we believe about sex and relationships? Far from defining ourselves by what we’re against, let’s be known for what we believe!
Romance Academy offers an information roadshow for parents called Let’s Talk About Porn.
During these roadshows we found that there are four main beliefs that parents want to pass on to their children and young people.
See how they compare with what you want to pass on.
- “Sexual context matters”
Whether you want to pass on the value you place on the covenant of marriage, or perhaps some of the values that underpin marriage (monogamy, commitment, faithfulness and love), tell your child or young person about the context you think is safest and best for sex to take place in.
- “Sex should involve intimacy”
It’s been said that the real problem with pornography isn’t that it shows us too much sex, but that it doesn’t show us enough – it cannot possibly give us an experience of real intimacy. There’s something vital missing from pornography and as parents you have the chance to talk about and demonstrate in your daily life that healthy relationships involve cherishing and valuing your partner.
- “Relationships should be empowering”
Not just sex, but the whole relationship should be empowering! A few years ago, a team of researchers looked at the most popular porn films – the ones bought and rented most often. From that group, they randomly picked 50 and analysed them. Of the 304 scenes the movies contained, 88% contained physical violence. On top of that, 49% contained verbal aggression.”5 While not all young people will be watching full pornographic films, this statistic reflects the growing trend of violence being included in all forms of pornography.
I think porn is sex education, yeah, particularly for the younger generation.
Young person on BBC3 documentary.
Instead of porn, let the next generation choose relationships that are encouraging, strengthening, and loving. I believe that this requires a rejection of degrading and disempowering, violent and abusive sex so often portrayed in pornography.
- “We all need a fresh start”
Whatever your values and beliefs about relationships and sex, at some point your child or young person may fall short of your standards. We are all capable of making mistakes. It’s then that we need a fresh start, a clean slate. If you want to be a trusted voice in the life of your child, always leave room for forgiveness and a way back. Let them know you’ll always love them, even if they make mistakes.
Raising children is a long game. Don’t judge the results when they’re 15, 16, or 17 – you haven’t finished yet! You’ll know a lot more about how you did when they’re in their 30s, so play the long game. The values you plant in them now may not surface straight away, but they will often bear fruit in later life.
Starting the conversation
Don’t be tempted to deliver an hour of your best content on healthy relationships and sex, they won’t thank you! Instead start by asking good questions, and then listen. Parents who feel they’ve got it right tell us they listened until they were asked a question and then went back to listening until they were asked another one.
Affirm that being curious about sex is a normal part of growing up. Ask them where they think they can get good information and then point them in a safe direction. There are some helpful websites listed below, but always check them first yourself.
I’m often asked, “When is the right time to start the conversation?” The simple answer is to be guided by them; their age, experiences, and the questions they ask. In truth they have been learning about relationships by watching you for their whole life, so they’ll know many of your beliefs and values. Specific conversations about explicit content may typically begin around nine or ten years old, but don’t necessarily need to be very detailed at that point.
Don’t be silent
I was in a hall with 83 students recently during a lesson about the effects of pornography. I gave them the chance to comment on the effect it has on young people; I faced a wall of silence. I waited it out until eventually one of the boys could take it no longer. He stood up and said, “Of course we’re watching porn … we talk about it all the time, but this is the first time an adult has ever talked to us about it.”
I want to see that change. It can be an awkward conversation to start, but if the alternative is leaving sex education to the pornographers, I’ll take the awkward conversation any day!
Jason Royce is the Director of Souster Youth
1 This includes both ‘softcore’ and ‘hardcore’ pornography. ‘Softcore pornography’ is photos or films with a pornographic or erotic component that is less graphic than hardcore pornography.
2 NSPCC Research, 2013-2015
3 Psychologies Magazine, 2010
4 A sample of 2000 pupils
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