TIME

Most Teenagers Believe Porn Is Damaging. Could Sex Ed Be The Answer?

Teen Computer
Getty Images

A new poll of teenagers in Britain shows that many think porn leads to unrealistic or damaging views about sex

The rise of online pornography has long worried researchers, feminists and parents about the toll easy access to graphic images would take on young people.

It turns out, young people are grappling with the same concerns. A poll released on Wednesday by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a British think tank, asked 500 18-year-olds about their views on pornography and its impact on their lives. The results aren’t pretty.

Most of the teens polled said that “accessing” pornography was common throughout their school years, with many starting around the ages of 13-15. And, according to the poll, a whopping 72 percent of 18-year-olds surveyed believe that pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes about sex, while 70 percent believe that pornography can have a damaging impact on young people’s views of sex or relationships.

Negative feelings about porn and its impact were more pronounced among teenage girls. Nearly 80 percent of the young women polled said that porn puts pressure on girls to look and act a certain way. Meanwhile, only 18 percent of the young men strongly agreed with the statement “pornography encourages society to view women as sex objects,” compared to 37 percent of young women. But the overall majority of teens — 66 percent of women and 49 percent of men — said they believed “it would be easier growing up if pornography was less easy to access for young people.”

“This new polling data shows that pornographic images are pervasive in teenagers’ lives and that young women in particular are acutely conscious of how damaging they can be,” said IPPR associate director, Dalia Ben-Galim, about the poll’s results. “It paints a worrying picture about the way online pornography is shaping the attitudes and behavior of young people.”

So what can we do about this issue? It should be noted that in the U.K., internet providers are now required to block explicit websites as a default — people who want to remove the blocks in order to view porn must opt in. Yet it’s obvious that teens are still finding access to pornography and it’s a cause for concern for many of them.

One way to address the concerns could be found in another question from IPPR’s poll. When asked, the vast majority of the teens polled — 86 percent — said they thought that “sex and relationship advice should be taught in schools.” Now some form of sex ed is already a part of British public school’s curriculum from the age of 11 onwards (though parents do have the right to withdraw their children from parts of the course), but perhaps these courses should be tailored to actually address what teens are seeing in pornography and the way it impacts their lives.

It’s also possible that by age 11, it’s already too late. Miranda Horvath, a psychology professor at Middlesex University in London who has done research on pornography, told the New York Times earlier this year that kids would benefit from some form of sexual education before they actually encounter pornography:

One of our recommendations is that children should be taught about relationships and sex at a young age… If we start teaching kids about equality and respect when they are 5 or 6 years old, by the time they encounter porn in their teens, they will be able to pick out and see the lack of respect and emotion that porn gives us. They’ll be better equipped to deal with what they are being presented with.

According to IPPR’s poll, teenagers are looking for help dealing with the pornography that clearly isn’t going away. It’s just up to educators and policymakers to listen to them.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser