According to a press release by Common Sense Media, a new report entitled “Teens and Pornography” found that 73% of teen respondents age 13 to 17 have watched pornography online—and more than half (54%) reported first seeing pornography by the time they reached the age of 13. The report also found that online pornography is shaping their views about sex and sexual relationships, with nearly half (45%) of teen respondents saying they felt online pornography gave them "helpful" information about sex.
For this report, “online pornography” was defined as any videos or photos viewed on websites, social media, or anywhere else on the internet that show nudity and sexual acts intended to entertain and sexually arouse the viewer. While querying a demographically representative set of teens in the U.S. to better understand how they interact with online pornography, they were asked how often they viewed pornographic content, if they intentionally sought it out, themes in the pornography they have viewed, and how it has impacted their feelings toward sex and relationships.
"Engaging with pornography has been part of many teens' exploration of sex, but the unfettered access to pornographic content online has stoked concern, leaving parents wondering how to approach the topic with their kids," said James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media.
"But this research confirms that it's time for parents to have conversations with teens about pornography, the same way we talk about safe sex and drug use, to help them build better knowledge and healthier attitudes about sex. Schools also play a crucial role in teaching kids how to critically interpret what they're seeing online."
The report's key findings highlight why it's imperative for parents and caregivers to talk with kids about pornography sooner rather than later.
• 15% of teen respondents said they first saw online pornography at age 10 or younger. The average age reported for first viewing pornography is 12.
• While the vast majority of respondents said they have seen pornography, nearly half (44%) indicated that they had done so intentionally, while slightly more than half (58%) indicated they had encountered pornography accidentally.
• Unintentional exposure to pornography could be a common experience for teens, as 63% of those who said they have only seen pornography accidentally reported that they had been exposed to pornography in the past week.
• The majority of the teens who reported in this survey that they had seen pornography said they feel "OK" about the amount of pornography they watch (67%). Still, half (50%) reported feeling guilty or ashamed after watching pornography.
• There were significant differences by gender in terms of intentional consumption. Overall, 52% of cis boy respondents said they had consumed pornography intentionally, compared to 36% of cis girls.
• Pornography may play a larger role in exploration for LGBTQ+ teens than for other teens. Two-thirds of LGBTQ+ teen respondents consumed pornography intentionally.
When asked about the report, Catholic author, speaker, and Chastity Project founder Jason Evert told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) that the reason pornography has become so pervasive among young people is the cell phone.
“There’s no question about it. I mean, the acceleration of the addiction to pornography for both males as well as females is exacerbated by how much time they’re spending on social media instead of living in the real world.”
The problem is even occurring among practicing Catholics.
“These poor young women are coming to me — attractive, single, Catholic, devout women — who can’t find a godly husband because they’re like, ‘Even the good guys in a Catholic young adult group are still hooked on porn,’” Evert said.
Instead of “toxic masculinity,” the real problem is a lack of real masculinity in the culture.
“That’s what’s toxic,” he said. Men get sucked into thinking they can quit looking at porn whenever they want. “And then they wake up and they’re 26 years old, and it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, shouldn’t I have a girlfriend, or a fiancé, or wife, or two kids by now, and all I have is my erotic moments with my laptop?’”
Pornography is the No. 1 factor that’s emasculating males, Evert said, which doesn’t mean femininity such as in homosexuality. Instead, he refers to St. Thomas Aquinas’ definition of the term effeminacy which means “when a man refuses to let go of what is pleasurable in order to do what is arduous and difficult,” Evert explained.
“It’s an inordinate attachment to the pleasures that weaken your self-will, and so that makes a man effeminate,” he said.
But all is not yet lost. There were a few bright spots in the research which showed that teens aren’t getting all of their information from online sources but are still seeking out adults for guidance about sex. Even as teens acknowledged learning about sex and sexuality from pornography, they were far more likely to say they had learned a lot about sex from a parent, caregiver, or trusted adult (47%) than from pornography (27%). And while less than half (43%) of the teens in the research reported they've had conversations about pornography with a trusted adult, most who had these conversations said it encouraged them to find other ways to explore their sexuality besides pornography.
"We hope that this data will push national, local, and family conversations about pornography past assumptions about what we think teens are doing to a fact-based foundation that accurately depicts teens' experiences," said Dr. Supreet Mann, Research Manager at Common Sense Media and co-author of the report. "In doing so, the parents, educators, and providers in children's lives can better meet their needs."
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