Young people are growing up in a world where they don’t have to look for it; pornography comes to find them. It’s influences are all around us from suggestive adverts of women licking lollipops, to TV shows like Game of Thrones, and graphic music videos. To make matters worse, explicit sexual content is easier to find today than at any point in human history, and it’s being accessed at an unprecedented rate.

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’m yet to meet a young person over 13 years old who has never seen pornography*. I don’t meet many parents or carers who need convincing that pornography is an issue that needs addressing, what is more challenging is understanding 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:

“I think porn is sex education, yeah, particularly for the younger generation”  Young person on BBC3 Documentary.

-40% of boys in England aged 14-17 regularly watch pornography (NSPCC Research, 2013-2015)

-1 in 3 10 year olds say they have seen pornography online. (Psychologies Magazine)

14-16-year-olds from a north London secondary school were surveyed a few years ago. They found:

-Nearly a third looked at sexual images online when they were 10 years old or younger.
-81% look at porn online at home.
-75% said their parents had never discussed Internet pornography with them.

* I am including so called ‘softcore’ and ‘hardcore’ pornographies- Wikipedia has a useful definition on the difference.

What is your response?

Perhaps the key to answering this question lies in another question; what do you believe about sex and relationships? Far from defining ourselves by what we’re against, let’s be known for what we believe!

Romance Academy (romanceacademy.org) offer a roadshow for parents called Let’s Talk About Porn giving much more depth and information than we have space for here. Let me share with you 4 beliefs parents have told us they want to pass on to their children and young people during our roadshows. See how they compare with what you want to pass on.

  1. Sexual “context matters”

Whether you want to pass on a valuing of the covenant of marriage, or perhaps some of the values that underpin marriage; monogamy, commitment, faithfulness, love etc. Tell your child or young person about the context you think is safest and best for sex to take place in.

  1. “Sex should involve intimacy”

I like this quote, originally from a Catholic Priest: “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”.

  1. “Relationships should be empowering”

And not just sex, the whole relationship! “A few years ago, a team of researchers looked at the most popular porn films—the ones bought and rented most often. [1] From that group, they randomly picked 50 and analyzed them. Of the 304 scenes the movies contained, 88% contained physical violence. On top of that, 49% contained verbal aggression.” (fightthenewdrug.org)

Instead of porn, let the next generation choose relationships that are encouraging, strengthening, and loving. I believe that this necessitates a rejection of degrading and disempowering, violent and abusive sex so often portrayed in pornography.

  1. “We all need a fresh start”

Whatever our values and beliefs about relationships and sex, at some point we all fall short of our own standards. We all make 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 or young person, 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 things 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 listening. The most successful parents tell us they listen until they are asked a question, then they go back to listening until they’re asked another one.

Affirm that being curious about sex is good. Ask them where they can get good information, then point them in a safe direction. There are some good websites listed below but always check them yourself first.

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 9 or 10 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, every person here has seen it…we talk about it all of 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

jason@sousteryouth.org

 

* I am including so called ‘softcore’ and ‘hardcore’ pornographies- Wikipedia has a useful definition on the difference.

 

Useful resources

Romance Academy (romanceacademy.org) – information, resources and training for parents and youth workers. You can also book a Let’s Talk About Porn roadshow for your school, church, or community organisation here.

 

Naked Truth Project – Open Eyes and Free Lives from the damaging impact of pornography. Leading work around recovery from pornography addiction.

 

ChildLine – the website provides young people with information and advice about online porn. The information is for young people aged 12 and above and aims to answer any difficult questions or concerns they may have.

 

Think U Know – offers age appropriate advice for young people, with content broken down from ages 5-7 up to 14+. They also have content for parents and other adults responsible for the wellbeing of children.

 

BBC Advice – helps young people with a broad range of issues. The information on the site is based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups.

 

The Site – content on The Site is aimed at young people aged 16+. They offer “real world” advice on a range of subjects including sex and relationships, drink and drugs, and health.

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