Porn ruins sex for teens and beyond

Woman fights to reclaim stolen images from porn sites

Noelle Martin's photos were stolen and used on porn websites, she tells ABC 7:30 about her battle with an emerging practice known as 'parasite' or 'morph' porn. Vision courtesy ABC .

Teens need more help to counter the destructive aspects of all-pervasive online porn.

Let's talk about porn, baby – or rather, let's talk about how porn and sex are different.

Not that most young people know that yet. And therein lies a disturbing aspect of the digital age.

But first some happy festive news. The number of people who access online porn on Christmas Day drops 18 per cent, according to the largest internet porn portal Pornhub.

It is believed about 43 per cent of online porn users start between the ages of 11 and 13.
It is believed about 43 per cent of online porn users start between the ages of 11 and 13. Photo: Supplied

The bad news is that a study of the 50 best-selling pornographic videos shows that 88.2 per cent of scenes include physical aggression and 48.7 per cent of scenes include verbal aggression. Almost 95 per cent of the aggression is directed at female performers. A submission to a recent Senate inquiry from violence prevention educator Maree Crabbe cites studies that show 95 per cent of those acts of aggression "are met with either a neutral, or a pleasured or positive response. The message to the viewer is that girls and women like it when men gag, choke and spank them."

Yet it seems 43 per cent of online porn users start between the ages of 11 and 13. Almost 95 per cent of Australian boys and 61 per cent of girls aged 13-16 have accessed online porn intentionally or by accident. One study suggests all 15-year-old males and 80 per cent of 15-year-old females say they have been exposed to violent, degrading online pornography – and for many that's before any real-life sexual contact.

Oo aye laddie, it weren't like that back in my day. A desperately lonely teen in the '70s had to hunt for his porn. Unless his dad hid porn mags and cartoons in drawers and boxes and in the shed – oh, and dirty films tossed in among the family movies – the boy had to be very clever to access porn. When he did, it did his teenage head in. Sometimes he became very worried about what he saw – an anguish and guilt that might, for example, haunt him to this day.

Only when he found out what real love is did he realise that porn hurts more than it helps. But enough about fictitious old blokes with bald heads and beards reliving their misspent youth.

Today's teens have porn in their face 24/7. Some images are for arousal; others depict violence and degradation performed on vulnerable people under duress.

Australia's foremost porn researcher Michael Flood from Wollongong University made a submission to the Senate committee to outline studies that show pornography encourages "acceptance of rape myths, sexual callousness and adversarial sexual beliefs" and that  "violent pornography consumers are more – not less – likely to commit actual acts of sexual aggression".

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So why aren't we outraged? Yes, adults can choose. But these are kids and what they learn as acceptable they carry through life and relationships. 

The past two times I suggested a crackdown on porn, the convenient excuses for inaction came thick and fast: fight censorship, porn is legal and not everyone who likes porn turns out rotten.

In the Senate committee report released a fortnight back, Greens senator Larissa Waters noted how "moral panic about particular media corrupting youth occurs regularly between generations". Despite rapid expansion of online porn "successive groups of children and young people reached adulthood and enjoy happy and respectful relationships".

Unlike the '70s, today's teens have porn in their face 24/7.
Unlike the '70s, today's teens have porn in their face 24/7. Photo: franckreporter

True. But teens vulnerable to poor mental health, violence, social exclusion, poor body image and low self esteem need more help to counter destructive porn.

Waters made the telling point that porn's an emotive topic that adults are uncomfortable talking about. Kids won't talk either. The Mission Australia Youth Survey 2016, out this week, shows stress, school, body image and mental health worry youngsters. While all pose enormous challenges, the survey did not even include porn in the list of issues for respondents to rank because, the researchers say, "it is never reported in significant enough levels to make it into the top 12".

Well, it should be right up there. And if kids don't realise, adults must.

Sure, a proper government policy response requires more research, as the committee recommends.

But first some commonsense.  Access the philanthropically supported It's Time We Talked website. Recognise the issues and learn how to discuss porn with your kids.

Such is life …

astokes@fairfaxmedia.com.au