The online proliferation of pornography has made what was once tricky to get a ubiquitous presence accessible with just the touch of a screen.
A newly released survey from Common Sense Media found 54% of teenagers reported having seen internet pornography before 13 years old, with 12 being the average age of first exposure. Additionally, 15% of youth respondents said they saw pornographic content as young as 10 years old.
In total, 73% of teens under the age of 17 admitted they had seen pornography.
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“We can’t sweep this topic under the rug just because it’s uncomfortable to talk about,” Jim Steyer founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, told The New York Times. “Pornography is a huge part of the lives of children who have digital access like never before, and we need to have a national conversation about it.”
Steyer will be presenting the data to the White House and other federal agencies this week.
Much of children’s initial exposure to pornography is unintentional. The study, which surveyed more than 1,300 youth between the ages of 13 and 17 in September of last year, found 44% first watched pornography intentionally, while 58% saw it unintentionally.
“Worryingly, most teens responding to this survey who said they have only ever seen pornography accidentally also reported that they had been exposed to pornography accidentally in the previous seven days, suggesting that unintentional pornography exposure may be a frequent experience for teens who aren’t seeking it out,” wrote the authors of the survey.
The concerning data about pornography consumption comes amid a national conversation about the dangers of pornography, an awakening prompted in part by revelations about Pornhub, the world’s largest pornography platform, and the illegal content it has profited from for years.
Investigations found the site has hosted videos of potential sexual abuse involving children and women who did not consent. In June of last year, Pornhub’s top executives resigned after a bombshell report found the site left graphic videos of women and girls posted without their consent online “for years.”
The authors of the recent study said the consumption of pornography may be leading to unrealistic and potentially dangerous expectations of what healthy sexual engagement looks like. Less than half of the youth who consume pornography said it offers helpful information about sex and slightly more than a quarter of respondents said it accurately depicts how most people engage sexually.
And of those who saw pornography accidentally, a majority said they stumbled upon aggressive and violent content — a deeply troubling revelation.
It’s concerns like these that led lawmakers in Louisiana to pass legislation requiring residents of the Bayou State to provide proof of their age with a government-issued or digital identification card before gaining access to pornography websites.
The legislation states, in part, that pornography is a public health crisis for younger residents, claiming it “contributes to the hyper sexualization of teens and prepubescent children and may lead to low self-esteem, body image disorders, an increase in problematic sexual activity at younger ages, and increased desire among adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior.”
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