The NWG Child Sexual Exploitation conference took place last month and Basis Training was scheduled to present a workshop on the impact of pornography on young people. We were not alone it seems – the topic of pornography and young people featured in 3 other workshops over the course of the three days. Its great to see so much attention is given to this important topic.
Is it Normal?
At Basis Training we have been talking a lot about this topic recently and with the input of a group of young people developed a resource to engage young people on this topic called Is it Normal. The conference saw a lot of statistics on the extent of young people accessing sexualised images, what type, what age etc. etc. and its clear that there is some quite explicit material being viewed by a significant amount of young people. What was not always made clear though was that statistics vary greatly, including on things like frequency of access or first age of viewing and research on this topic is problematic for all kinds of reasons as set out recently in the report “Identifying the Routes by which Children View Pornography Online: Implications for Future Policy-makers Seeking to Limit Viewing.
What do we and don’t we know?
We know that young people access pornography for all sorts of different reasons and often access is more accidental than deliberate. What appears to be less clear and indeed contradictory is the effect of pornography on young people although emerging evidence appears to suggest that it is affecting the expectations of young people about sexual relations. Although some links appear to exist, a causal relationship between viewing pornography and risk taking behaviour is less clear as is the case for the way young people are affected by violent and sexualised imagery and whether the effect is long-lasting. Regardless of the above, we know from our own work with young people experiencing child sexual exploitation that pornography can be used to desensitize young people to extremely violent sexualised experiences. We’ve also heard harrowing accounts first hand from young people we have worked with of the effect of viewing pornography. We we must therefore make sure that young people are protected from such potential harm. While at the same time, as can also be seen clearly in our resource Is it Normal – some people are not really affected by it and take it for the fiction that it is.
We need to talk to young people about it!
What did come through loud and clear from the young people we worked with and many of the workshops visited was the value in talking about this topic with young people – to ensure that what they are viewing is balanced out with a counter narrative. By focusing too much on the negative or not discussing it all, it remains secretive and hidden, young people can’t access support and may no longer consider the positives of happy, fulfilling consensual relationships. Given the likelihood of their exposure to it, however many filters we try to install, and the potential harm it might cause, especially if the topic remains taboo or simply something to boast, laugh about or scare or threaten your friends with in school, its too important a topic to ignore. By discussing Porn, Sex and Relationships openly we can equip young people with the knowledge and skills that enables them to recognise it for what it is. Our website now has more info on our own and other resources for more information on this topic. Keep your eye out for more news on this as we develop our own young people’s workshops and training for professionals about it as well.