DR Michael Flood laments the lack of research in Australia about the effects on young people exposed to pornography.
The Wollongong University associate professor was a pioneering researcher in the field in Australia.
In 2003, even before the Internet explosion with myriad porn sites and pop-ups, he documented the exposure of young people to X-rated videos and made recommendations to government on actions to take.
“We were fire-stormed by media interest over that,” Dr Flood told a conference entitled “pornharmskids” in Sydney early this year.
He and other conference speakers described pornography in Australia reaching critical levels, and explained how it constituted a public health crisis.
Australian Children’s Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci, a social worker and psychologist, described the impact of today’s brand of readily-available hardcore pornography as “jet fuel” for young vulnerable kids.
“What we are seeing now, is an increase in the numbers of kids engaged in problematic sexual behaviour, sexually aggressive or harmful behaviour,” he said.
Since his early research, Dr Flood said there had been several leading studies in Australia, but nothing to compare with “a massive body of scholarship” worldwide on the effects of child exposure to porn.
Dr Flood said the global research was absolute: “Pornography amongst young people has demonstrable impacts on attitudes and behaviour.”
He said United States research showed there was younger exposure to pornography than in previous generations, and clearly “… the Internet and Internet-enabled mobile phones means young people’s exposure is mainly online.”
“And growing numbers of young people are producing pornography – taking photos of themselves, or their partners, distributing those photos or sexually explicit materials either with their consent or without it,” Dr Flood said.
He told the conference “it is very clear pornography is a sexist educator. It shapes sexist attitudes … girls are seen as sexist objects, and only valued because of their sexual status.”
And he went further, describing pornography as “rape training”.
“Experimental studies show that following exposure to pornography adults are more likely to support sexual aggression, to think that some women ask to be raped – that sexual violence is legitimate in some circumstances,” he said.
“Not only is there a link between pornography and sexual attitudes, but between pornography and sexual violence.”
Dr Flood pointed to US research done among young people aged 10 to 15 that showed that those exposed to pornography were six times more likely to be engaged in actual sexual aggression.
The conference highlighted some shocking new statistics.
Meta analysis from 22 studies in seven countries involving 20,000 people has showed that watching pornography was associated with “actually committing sexual aggression”.
There has been a four-fold increase in the levels of child-on-child sexual abuse and a dramatic increase in the numbers of children and young people who are engaging in problem sexual behaviour over the past few years.
This is largely attributed to children re-enacting pornography.
Forensic psychologist Ian Nisbet, who estimated adolescent boys were responsible for between a third and half of all reported sexual assaults on children, has warned the disturbing trend would continue.
“As children are encouraged to explore their sexuality at increasingly tender ages, it appears likely that we will see an increase in the number of cases coming before the court that involve the sexual assault of children by those who are little more than children themselves,” Dr Nisbet said.
Dr Flood said Christian abstinence was one important strategy for quitting pornography and building an ethical sexual culture.
He said young people deserved information and education on sexuality, as an alternative to pornography to know and understand their bodies.
“I think we have to get good at sex and bodies and so on in ways that are clear and accurate and not coy and equally not degrading,” Dr Flood said.
And he advocated “pornography education” which should be integrated into school curricula and should include media literacy.
By Mark Bowling