onlineWatching online pornography is having a damaging effect on children and young people and their relationships as well as causing them stress and anxiety, a poll commissioned for Safer Internet Day has revealed.

The poll of 2,000 young people aged 11-25 by mental health charity YoungMinds found that more than half of 11-14 year olds who had viewed pornography said that it had affected their relationships, and three quarters described their reaction to watching pornography as disturbed, upset, worried or excited. Meanwhile, 4 out of 10 15-17 year olds who had viewed pornography said that it had affected their relationships.

YoungMinds’ poll also revealed that one third of 11-14 year olds and half of 15-17 year olds had viewed pornography either on a tablet or phone. In addition, a quarter of 11-14 year olds said they had viewed pornography with a group of friends.

To coincide with the poll, YoungMinds is launching the latest strand of its ‘YoungMinds Vs’ campaign, ‘YoungMinds Vs Sexed Up – Don’t believe the hype’, which focuses on sexual pressures. It is calling for a variety of measures to address this issue, including clearer ways to report online content that is upsetting and disturbing and for sites to respond accordingly, and safe online support for children and young people to discuss their concerns.

In addition, YoungMinds wants every to school to ensure that young people receive sex education that: 

Helps them to understand what a healthy relationship is and about want consent means in sexual relationships

Gives young people the chance to talk about pornography and how it influences expectations about sex and attitudes to others

Provides young people with a safe space where they can talk about sexual pressures.

YoungMinds also wants schools and youth settings to provide guidance on sexting so everyone understands the consequences.

Finally, the charity calls for more help and advice for parents and carers so they understand how to talk to young people about sex and consent in sensitive ways.

Updating sex education

Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at YoungMinds said: “With a couple of clicks children and young people of all ages can now gain access to hardcore, very explicit imagery. For many children and young people exposure to online pornography is their sex education – what they see are often violent portrayals of sex that lack the love and respect that young people need in order to understand the key ingredients of healthy sexual relationships. For many understanding of what constitutes consent is also becoming very blurred.

“Pornography makes girls feel they have to act like porn stars and boys feel they have to act like they are constantly ready for sex and want to dominate and control women. All this creates insecurity, self-esteem issues, shame, anxiety, fear and increases stress and pressure for both boys and girls.

“We believe exposure to online pornography for children is a child protection issue that we need to take seriously. Parents need easy access to parental controls and resources to help them broach this subject with their children, as it’s really important to keep the channels of communication open.

“Sex education also has to be updated, at the moment it’s still far too biologically based and doesn’t focus enough on navigating relationships. We must ensure children and young people have people they can talk to and places they can go where they can get support 24/7 if they need it.”

Find out more about YoungMinds Vs Sexed up here