Can Porn Exposure Lead to Child Abuse?​​​​​​​

There’s this old phrase: monkey see, monkey do.  I see it in my kids all the time.  They are often shining examples of the worst of their parents.  Their angry responses mirror ours, they use the same phrases as us, they’re like us in miniature. Monkey see, monkey do.  

But what if it turns out that this ‘monkey see, monkey do’ can also be the case when children are exposed to pornography.

Some research came out earlier this year from Gemma McKibbin who works at the University of Melbourne.  

McKibbin looked at 14 cases of child abuse carried out by children.  She found that for children who commit acts of sexual abuse, pornography was a significant factor in 12 out of the 14 cases looked at in the study.  3 child abusers directly related their abuse to porn.  One of the 3 main points of prevention was to help young people manage their pornography consumption.

Porn harms kids.  In some cases, it is a factor in children becoming abusive.  It harms the abuser, who then harms the abused.  And sexually abuse does not harm in isolated ways.  For individuals and families, it’s not so much a pebble in the pond as it is an earthquake under the sea.

As people discuss and research the impact of pornography on young people, conservatives are often accused of being inflammatory.  They argue that porn is the cause of all evils and ills in the world.  So let’s be clear.  Here’s what this research isn’t saying.  It isn’t saying that everyone who watches porn will become sexually abusive: that would be an absurd and clearly unbackable claim.  Rather, it’s saying in the bulk of cases where children sexually abuse other children pornography is at the least a significant factor, and at worst a causative factor.

McKibbin isn’t alone in her research.  The late Freda Briggs also pointed out the alarming and growing rates of child sexual abuse perpetrated by children.

So what are we doing to protect our kids from pornography? 

We’re often giving them a phone, a laptop, a tablet. We’re assuming because they’re good kids that they won’t get up to mischief. We’re sticking our heads in the sand.

In the article linked above, McKibbin noted that “The access that young people are having to pornography, as well as our collective ‘turning a blind eye,’ is akin to a kind of cultural grooming of children”.

Maybe we can start by opening our eyes.  By rethinking the access to technology we give our kids.  By taking responsibility as parents and calling on our schools and government to help us raise and protect our kids from the clear harm that pornography can cause.

The New Sex Educator On The Market

The porn industry is branching out. Diversifying, if you will. Pornhub, the world’s biggest porn site, is now attempting to offer actual sex education.

With all the voices out there saying that porn is a terrible sexual educator, some within the industry have tried to have a go a sexual education.  PornHub launched an online sexual wellness centre that gives a range of sexual and relationship advice.  You can read about it at the Guardian here.

As nice as it is to consider that the good people at Pornhub are wanting to give a more realistic depiction of sex and help their viewers out, the fact that they are doing so raises a number of concerns.

Firstly, pornographers are targeting minors.  Surely that’s an issue.  Young people are a big market for pornographers, but seeing as the content is illegal for minors to view, that they’re targeting them is a problem.

More than that, pornographers don’t care about the sexual health of their viewers.  They care about money.  Sure, they know a bit about sex; they’ve seen more than their fair share.  But they probably shouldn’t be trusted to give advice on sexual health when they’re making money, in many instances, from a distorted view of sex.

By creating videos designed to give an education to young people, these porn sites are also acknowledging that porn is a bad sexual educator.  They’re admitting the charge that so many have made.

In light of this, there are a few options for parents and schools.

We could do nothing and hope that young people don’t get their sex education from porn.  We could all leave sex education to Pornhub and trust that they have the best interests of our kids in mind.  Sound good?

So if that doesn’t sound like a great option, parents and schools could work together to begin a more honest conversation about sex.  Parents need to take the lead, but schools can go beyond sex education that is simply about plumbing. Sex education needs to answer the questions young people are asking, so that they don’t feel the need to head to PornHub for their education.  In fact, if this were happening, when they went to porn they’d be able to see what a poor educator it is.

Parents, are you having that conversation with your kids?  Are you creating an environment where they can ask you difficult and even confronting questions?  If no one loves your kids more than you do, then you are the best person to teach them about sex.  

As to schools, I often have people comment and say that schools should stick to teaching Maths and English.  That they shouldn’t take the place of parents.  Schools absolutely should teach the basics and not try to be parents.  But to say that schools should do nothing is to ignore the fact that they are so often dealing with inappropriate sexual behaviour.  Schools deal with behaviours shaped by porn.  It may be sexting, teen pregnancy or habitual porn use that leads to declining academic results.  And so to say they shouldn’t talk about it is like telling a doctor to just treat symptoms and ignore the cause.

We can do sexual education better than pornographers.  So take a deep breath, and start the conversation today.


Should We Show Porn At School?

I once heard a story about a rugby coach from my high school showing the rugby team some porn on the bus trip back to school.  I guess they played well and he wanted to reward them?  Today it would be a sackable offence, but back then I guess it wasn’t such a big deal.  

This week, Dame Jenni Murray (a journalist and broadcaster from the UK) has publicly advocated for showing pornography to students in schools. But unlike that rugby coach, she isn’t just trying to reward the boys; she has an educational argument.

Her rationale is simple.  She says that we need to help young people analyse pornography so as to minimise its educational power.  She argues that sex education that simply focuses on biology and plumbing is failing our students.  Just as we analyse Jane Austen, so too we should analyse pornography, considering its power and ubiquity.

Now, to lay my cards on the table, I think the idea of showing students pornography is unwise in the highest order.  Perhaps Dame Jenni Murray is giving an extreme suggestion to make a point.  Either way, to show porn to minors is illegal in Australia, and we teachers (most days) would like to keep our jobs and our freedom.

However, I don’t think we should throw away everything she says.

Firstly, she’s right when she argues that sex education that is simply about plumbing is failing our students.  She’s right when says that pornography is a powerful teacher that needs to be countered.  And she’s right that we need to help students analyse the pornography we watch.

So if we’re not going to sit down in class and analyse porn, what can we do?

Here are a few suggestions.

We can talk about porn.  Finding appropriate ways within the life of a pastoral or well-being program to sit and talk about porn would help many young people.  Sure, it’s not as simple as sitting down and talking about it, but open conversation brings something hidden into the light.  We can also talk about it in PDH/PE classes and religious education classes.

We can equip students to analyse the porn they watch.  We don’t need to watch and analyse porn in the classroom with them, but schools can, in a range of subject areas, teach their students to critically analyse the media they watch.  They can pull apart other types of media, and be challenged to apply the same critical mind to pornography, and see if they agree with the message.  We can teach skills in critical analysis regarding the images that portray gender and relationships so that they are equipped to be critical of the message of pornography.

We can teach students about the harms of pornography, especially when consumed habitually.  Helping students understand the harms will help them to consider their own behaviour.

So before we consider breaking the law and watching porn with minors, there is a multitude of things we can do in our schools to help young people make healthy choices for their own well-being.



Porn & ‘I Want That One’

One of the things that most humans are good at is looking at something we don’t have and wanting it for ourselves.  We want to own what other people own.  We want to have the skills and abilities of others.  And boy, do we want to look like other people.  Like Andy in Little Britain, we look at others and say in our hearts, ‘I want that one’.

We compare ourselves to others and rate ourselves in the light of others.  And while some men have the innate ability to look at themselves in the mirror and be mightily impressed with whatever they see (I mean, shower + deodorant = looking good), for many women, the world of comparison is crippling.  On the one hand, it’s normal and we all do it.  But as my Mum once said, just because everybody is throwing deer poo at each other, doesn’t mean it is good for us or even a good idea in general.  Wise lady, my Mum. 

One of the effects of porn upon young women in our society is seen in the rise of requests for cosmetic surgery of the inner labia, which is part of the female genitals.  An article in the Huffington Post recently noted that 35% of GP’s surveyed (443 were surveyed) had had requests from young women for this kind of surgery.

Another recent article also noted that between 2000 & 2011 Medicare claims for vulvoplasty and labiaplasty nearly tripled.  To be fair, some of these procedures were medically necessary, but many of them were simply cosmetic.

These doctors noted the increased practice of women getting a Brazilian wax has played a part in this, along with pornography.  Young girls see images of naked women and compare themselves.  They then begin to believe that their own genitals aren’t normal, not realising that there is variation in how people look.

Combined with this is the reality that young men also have the belief that a woman’s genitals should look like the women in pornography, and they expect all women to look the same.  

So now we’ve just added another thing that young women are worrying about when it comes to their if there weren’t enough reasons already.  In fact, one of the articles mentioned a young woman whose boyfriend refused to have sex with her until she got surgery.  

So what do we do?  I write a lot about the educative power of pornography.  And I think that it is this aspect of pornography that needs to be powerfully countered.  

Young women need to be educated about their bodies in ways that are healthy and honest.  Maybe it’s older women talking to younger women.  Maybe mums need to have more awkward chats with their daughters.  Maybe sexual education needs to include single-sex classes that show young women that ‘normal’ doesn’t mean ‘porn actor’ and in fact, has a broad range.  Maybe we need to get graphic in a clinical kind of way.  

Maybe young men need something similar to help them understand how pornography isn’t a real depiction of real women.

For any women reading this, please know that any man who expects your genitals to look like what he sees in pornography is not worth your time.  He will likely remain a very lonely man-boy.

At the end of the day, we all want intimacy.  And intimacy is not so much about the specific look of genitals.  It’s about two people seeking the good of each other.  It’s about being vulnerable with another human and finding acceptance.  It’s born out of sacrificial love.  These things are at the heart of healthy and rich intimacy, not designer genitals (it seems so ridiculous even typing these words, but alas, this is the world we live in).

My hope is that young people look at the healthy romantic relationships around them and think ‘I want that one’ rather than airbrushed images of people and think that that is the surefire path to happiness and intimacy.  

Only 70 Schools?

News broke this week of a website containing naked images of Australian school girls.  The schools that the girls were from were named, with over 70 schools across Australia involved.  Four of the schools were within a 5 minute drive from where I live, and 4 more were in a 20 minute drive.  This came on the back of another scandal last week involving students in a prestigious Melbourne school distributing naked images of female students at their school.

Scores of young men uploaded the images, and reports stated that there were many cases of students requesting images of girls from particular schools or areas.

As a teacher and a parent, the whole thing is very concerning.  But it also gives an indication of the broader society at large.

This scandal indicates how prevalent and wide-scale sexting in our schools has become.  The website in question site proves what many people in the education world have been saying for a while: sexting is a common part of courting in the 21st century.  Girls feel tremendous pressure to meet the desires of their male peers for images of their bodies and many of them cave to that pressure.  They also feel this pressure within relationships, where boys demand images with threats of ending the relationship.  

Connected to this is the culture among young men of sharing pornographic images.  Many people are rightly asking the question: Who are these guys who are requesting, sharing and uploading these pictures?  What is wrong with them? 

The answer is that they are probably normal boys.  Sure, they’re not our finest, but their behaviour is far more normal than most people realise.  We might not like it, but we are encountering a new normal.

You see, boys have been sharing pornographic pictures on their phones for the last ten years.  And this whole issue of texting has exploded in schools over the same period.  It seems that in the mind of a teenage boy, it’s not a huge leap to go from sharing an image with your mates to uploading it online.

All of this is a result of a culture that celebrates pornography in a way never seen before.  And while so many in our society want to say that porn use is fine among adults, for those of us working with young people in schools, the cancerous results of widespread pornography consumption are clear.  This website is just the tip of the iceberg.  Lurking underneath are boys sharing these kinds of images privately, and it’s happening in nearly every school in the country, not just the 70 or so on the list.

So what do we do?

Well, here’s what we can’t do.  We can’t break the internet.  We can’t get rid of smart devices.  Parents can set some boundaries in their homes, but our technological world is here to stay.

If you’re a parent reading this, please have an awkward conversation with your children.  Talk to them about their porn usage.  Set boundaries.  Talk to your daughters about their worth beyond their appearance and teach them about the dangers of the internet.  If you’re not sure how to start, here’s a link with a wealth of resources for you that will help you think about talking to your children about porn.

If you work at a school, and especially if you are a leader in your school, please do something that goes beyond getting students in trouble.  We need to go beyond treating symptoms.

Clearly our boys need some re-education.  In a culture where their sex education comes mainly through pornography that is so often misogynistic, our boys need serious help.  Schools need to step up and not simply address the issue of sexting, but also the pornography use that shapes such poor attitudes towards women and fuels their desire for images.

Schools are in the business of education.  They can educate on porn directly in the classroom through curriculum and through pastoral or well-being programs.  They can build in sexual education programs that address porn. 

Schools also have the opportunity to educate indirectly, training their students to consider the messages contained in images that shape attitudes and behaviour.  And this can be done in History, English, Science, Visual Arts, Music and Drama classrooms.  We don’t need to simply leave it to PE and Religion classes. 

If you’re in a school and would like some help, please get in touch.  I'd love to work with your school to address this huge issue.

No amount of angry blog posts about the issue will make a dent.  We need to work with our young people from the ground up, where we slowly work to change the culture that celebrates porn and derides and abuses young women.  Because in this current culture, despite what the boys think, no one ends up winning.