Exposure to porn is linked to risky behaviour

24th May 2013 at 01:00
England's deputy children's commissioner urges schools to act

Children who are exposed to pornography are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviour, including having casual and unprotected sex, according to a major review published today.

A significant proportion of children are now exposed to or access pornography, and many people fear that schools are failing to prepare students to cope with the prevalence of explicit material, according to the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England.

Exposure to pornography, now readily accessible via mobile phones, affects children's beliefs and can lead to unrealistic attitudes to sex, according to the report, a detailed analysis of 276 previous studies from around the world.

"We know that pornography is pervasive and that a significant proportion of children are exposed to it or are accessing it," deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz wrote. "We know that boys are more likely to view pornography out of choice than girls, who are much more reluctant viewers.

"Most worryingly, the evidence here shows that exposure to sexualised and violent imagery affects children. and that there are links between violent attitudes and violent media."

More research is required to see if there is a direct causal link between watching pornography and risky behaviour, Ms Berelowitz added. The report is the latest development in a wide-ranging review of the sexual exploitation of children in England, which has also focused on abuse perpetrated by gangs.

Access to explicit material today is "fundamentally different from that of previous generations", Ms Berelowitz said, with extreme and violent images only "a few clicks away".

"The proliferation of smartphones and tablets and their use by children and young people to access the internet, often away from adult supervision, make it very difficult for parents to control access to these images," she added.

Schools need to respond to the problem as a matter of urgency and deal with the issues it raises, she said. Earlier this month, England's school inspectorate Ofsted said that sex and relationships education required improvement in more than a third of schools. In secondary schools (for children aged 11-18), too little emphasis was placed on the influence of pornography on students' understanding of healthy sexual relationships, Ofsted said.

A survey published earlier this week by UK headteachers' union the NAHT found that more than four in five parents want schools to address issues surrounding the dangers of pornography, as part of sex education.

Ms Berelowitz's report recommends that the curriculum on sex and relationships education should be overhauled to include messages about safe use of the internet and developing positive relationships. This would help to curb children's use of pornography to teach themselves about sex.

"We don't want schools to be vilified for taking this responsible step," she told TES. "We are not expecting schools to use images. They will teach about how pornography fits in the context of a healthy relationship, having the confidence to say no and what to do if you are distressed by what you have seen."

Ms Berelowitz said that some schools are already doing this "very effectively".

Lucy Emmerson, principal officer for sex and relationships education and sexual health at the Sex Education Forum, said that the quality of lessons is "simply not good enough".

"Teaching about pornography and related issues requires well-trained teachers and careful choices of resources. Pornography itself would not be shown to pupils and neither would teachers need to look at it to prepare for the lesson," she said.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the report raised "issues of enormous concern".

"But this is not an issue which schools can solve alone," he added. "The big issue is the easy access to pornography and that is something that needs to be tackled by central government."

`Porn is everywhere'

"Views about the impact on children of viewing pornography are polarised. There are those who say that it is immensely damaging, whereas, at the other extreme, some say that it never harmed them and the worries are nonsense.

"Research in this area is fraught with ethical difficulties. It is clearly not possible to show children pornographic materials, including extreme and violent images, to see what impact this has. However, it is essential that we seek to better understand whether viewing these images affects children.

"Accessibility has changed dramatically with the use of the internet and social networking sites, which means that pornographic material, including some of an extreme and violent nature in both still and moving images, is but a few clicks away.

"A group of inner-city 16- and 17-year-olds told the researchers that `porn is everywhere'. They were not happy about this and wanted adults to step in and take measures to protect them.

"The research evidence shows compellingly that there is cause to be concerned. The immediate pressing issue is to find a way to limit children's access to pornography and act to build their resilience."

Sue Berelowitz is deputy children's commissioner for England. To read a longer version of this piece, go to www.tesconnect.combigedblog.

Photo credit: Getty

Original headline: Exposure to `pervasive' pornography is linked to high-risk behaviour

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now