The internet is the largest ever social experiment in human history. While its many benefits to children are manifest, it also provides them with direct access to harmful content, including legal pornography, 24-hours a day. Mental health and other professionals did not and could not have imagined or anticipated the rapid acceleration and complexity of problematic sexual behaviours that have arisen from children’s exposure to legal pornography online.
Research has shown that children often stumble on harmful content by accident or as a result of natural curiosity about sex. Minors viewing legal pornography online is a child protection issue that requires urgent attention. However, what is often overlooked is how children’s exposure to pornography can contribute to their early sexualization which, in turn, renders them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation by those within their own peer or social group, or by predatory adults normally outside their everyday range of contacts at school—in the community or online. Ease of access to pornography also contributes to a host of other mental, behavioural, safety and health consequences.
Much of modern pornography portrays extreme themes and sexual violence. Unrestricted access to it will continue to be a significant contributing component to changing and rewiring the minds of children and promoting conduct that is at odds with widely established healthy norms. It has been found that higher-level brain functioning such as insight, empathy, intuition, and a sense of morality are strengthened in the brain when the mind, the body, the brain, and our relationships are integrated in a healthy manner. Thus, focussed attention on pornography may hijack child development by forming damaging neural connections.
Knowing about the way the focus of attention changes the structure and function of the brain throughout the lifespan opens new doors to healing and growth at the individual, family, community, and global levels.
~ Dr. Dan Siegal
Peer-reviewed research and anecdotal reports indicate that unrestricted access and use of pornography fuels childhood trauma, sexual exploitation, self-produced sexual images, child-on-child sexual abuse, sexism and objectification, domestic violence, family breakdown, risky sexual behaviours, mental health issues, and compulsive sexual behaviours. We already see the fallout, and unless professional services, policy/legislation, technological/digital, education, and therapeutic solutions are put in place to ensure children and young people gain the support they need, an epidemic will unfold before our eyes. Moreover, given that pornography is a global business, children will not be adequately protected unless and until the problem is addressed globally.
** “Legal Pornography”: Attitudes towards pornographic visual depictions of sexual activity can vary substantially between cultures. It is unlikely there will ever be an agreed definition that will find universal acceptance. For that reason, it is best to anchor our discussions in existing legal standards.
Different countries have different definitions of what kind of pornography is considered legal. Some countries may not define it at all. The definitions that are used can range from the exceptionally strict and narrow, typically found in some theocratic regimes, to very broad and permissive, typically found in the liberal democracies. Where a definition does exist, generally “legal pornography” would be sexualized content that is deemed suitable for adults to access. Adults normally are persons over the age of 18. In addition, it is noted that some online pornography platforms may host or provide links to content that is widely recognised as being illegal, for example child sex abuse materials, revenge porn (also referred to as image-based abuse), and so-called “snuff” movies. The platform owners may or may not be aware that they are doing this, or they may not take sufficient care to prevent their virtual properties being misused used in that way, relying on the kind of legal immunities provided by the USA’s s230 CDA 1996 and the EU’s eCommerce Directive to avoid civil and criminal liability.