Online Pornography and Youth

Several years ago, researchers Wolak, Mitchell, and Finkelhor published a highly disturbing article in Pediatrics magazine about youth exposure to online pornography which highlighted its effects on youth aged 10 to 17. Very few kids or young teens find their way into my office, but I’m beginning to see more and more young adults who started early and now struggle with the compulsion to watch online porn. According to Wolak and his colleagues, “rates of unwanted exposure to sexual material among youth increased from 25% to 44% from 1999 to 2006, despite similar increases in the use of protective filtering software over that period.”

Now think about what has happened in the last five years – high-speed internet access has come to hand-held devices that are present in most homes and carried by many young teens! It took a long time to download images through a dial-up connection, providing a buffer from both accidental exposures and repeated and prolonged exposure to sexually-explicit material. Then came “home movies” streaming on YouTube, and live footage being broadcast via webcams. A 25-year-old client told me last week that he “cut his teeth” on these latter images – “I knew it was real people having real exciting sexual hook-ups – better than I would ever have.” Now sexual material can be available immediately in the palm of your hand.

The developing brain is highly susceptible to trauma, drug abuse, and the powerful feelings that sex arouses. Like nicotine, alcohol, and drugs, sexual (even fantasy) exposure among teens is more likely to produce abuse/dependence than adult-onset use. Watching internet sexual images can encourage young people to view others as mere sexual objects – like the virtual images they watched repeatedly on the screen – and so negatively impact the development of future healthy intimate relationships.

Often men that I work with tell me that they’ve become “bored” with sexual encounters with their spouses. One man summarized his boredom quite succinctly: “she can’t measure up to the hotties that I’m finding online!”

This kind of raised male expectation began long before the internet. A presenter at a conference I attended last month showed fascinating images of Playboy magazine covers, beginning mid-century when the publication began. For quite a while, the women actually resembled women that you might recognize. Then poses changed, clothing became scantier and scantier, lips were parted to reveal the tongue, and cleavage increased. With the advent of air brushing, body shape and size were subtly changed and these idealized sex partners became super-human. No real woman can measure up!

In the same workshop we also viewed TV commercials spanning 60 years, which also up-sell male expectations of female appearance and behavior. But magazines and television can’t begin to compare to the intensity and immediacy of online pornography.

Repeated exposure to online porn ratchets up the risk for youngsters viewing this stuff today. Given that our brains are biologically predisposed to experience sexual encounters as rewarding, premature exposure to sexually-explicit material can function in the same way as early exposure to highly potent, addictive drugs, putting young people at higher risk for the development of sexual addiction.

Wolak and his researchers also note that children who are exposed to pornographic material may be harassed or sexually solicited online. This means that finding sex on the internet could lead to much more than unwanted exposure.

If you find yourself or someone you care about in this article, know that help is available. Look for a counselor or clinician who is a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT). These professionals have the training and experience to guide people through the morass that destroys relationships and keeps people isolated. Check for online screening devices that go way beyond Net Nanny.

Related Articles:
Compulsive Online Gambling among Teenagers
Women and Porn: Not Just a Guy Issue!
Porn Addiction is No Joke

© Copyright 2011 by Jill Denton, LMFT, CSAT, CCS. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Brad

    November 7th, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    As an adult male it is hard to always filter thru some of the stuff that you find online so I know that if I struggle with this then curious kids definitely have a struggle ahead of them. I guess that you have to hope that the parents are teaching them the difference between right and wrong and hope that they will make the right choices about what sites that they should or should not visit. You can’t be with them 24 hours a day so you better make sure that you prepare them for all of those times that you can’t be looking over their shoulders for them.

  • Greg A.

    November 7th, 2011 at 8:12 PM

    I’ll admit that I’ve looked at porn in my life but I am in no way addicted to any kind of pornography or sex. I don’t look at nor refer to women as sex objects, sluts, whores, or any other sexually-charged label.

    I’m seriously doubting the paragraph on minors looking at porn being solicited however. Of all the porn sites I’ve been to with any kind of community, the administrators will ban you by IP if you say you’re a minor.

  • Lenora Keen

    November 7th, 2011 at 10:48 PM

    Sexualization in the media’s at fault here. Again. Of course it is. *yawn*…I will always slap my forehead at that and say “That’s not the reason for XYZ issue!” because I think the media’s used as a whipping boy too often.

    That said, I won’t deny that the risqueness of TV ads and in magazines has increased dramatically over the past 40 years. If any network were to have shown suggestive ads like today’s to a TV audience back in the 1960’s or earlier, they would probably be kicked off the air for good!

  • FranciscoThompson

    November 7th, 2011 at 10:52 PM

    Here’s the thing with masturbation-you either do it or you lie about doing it. Kids with internet access are going to look up porn whether you like it or not, and if you don’t have internet, they’re going to peek at a porn magazine (usually supplied by older brothers in my experience).

    It’s part of growing up and those online filters btw are a joke. I know my sons were probably looking at porn when they were younger and I honestly don’t care if they did. That’s their business and I’m not going to pry into it.

  • anna

    November 7th, 2011 at 11:41 PM

    @Greg.A:A lot of things can dictate addiction.The age at which an individual is first exposed to porn,the frequency of viewing or being exposed to,family structure,the environment at home,presence or absence of good hobbies and many other things.And there really are a lot of young people out there who are addicted and they do have this object-ization of women in their head.And if a minor goes to a porn site and they say something like “exit if youre not of legal age” do you really think the youngster would click OK to exit??

  • R.T.

    November 7th, 2011 at 11:52 PM

    There’s not a boy in the world that’s never seen porn in some shape or form despite what all you moms may like to think. We dads know better. My dad gave me my first porn mag when I was thirteen. My mom would have killed him if she’d known. He had a stash of them hidden in the shed. It was all done with a wink and me swearing a solemn promise not to tell her I had it or where I got it if I was caught with it.

    I never did tell her (nor get caught with it). :)

  • Ben Christie

    November 7th, 2011 at 11:57 PM

    @R.T.–“It was all done with a wink and me swearing a solemn promise not to tell her I had it or where I got it if I was caught with it.”

    Awwww. You don’t see father-son moments like that on a Hallmark card! LOL. Heck, they are missing out on a whole new range there. “Congratulations on your first…” No, I won’t say it in polite company LOL.

  • James

    November 8th, 2011 at 5:15 AM

    @ Greg- how many of these kids do you think are dumb enough to admit that they are a minor?

  • Trudy Dominguez

    November 8th, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    Who needs porn anyway when you have reality shows? They all have their boobs hanging out or their tongue’s down some guy’s throat. That’s sanctioned, nay encouraged, and funded by the same networks that are bringing you all the news about how terrible porn is! Double standards don’t even begin to address that.

    Even if you could keep your children away from internet porn, they are seeing images not far shy of it right there in your living room and you’re on that couch with them condoning it.

  • Brad Burns

    November 8th, 2011 at 9:15 PM

    @WaltBoyd: “We normal guys are facing the same hurdles about unrealistic expectations as women do.” You’re all looking in the wrong place for love. Sex does not equate to love and nor does porn. Get yourselves away from the computer and go meet real flesh and blood folks. How about looking for a good personality over a nice face some time? That personality will last years beyond any physical attributes.

  • Emmanuel Chambers

    November 8th, 2011 at 9:34 PM

    Trying to stop boys of a certain age and upwards from seeing internet porn is like trying to eat soup with a fork. It’s impossible. Filters? Ha! Their pals are looking at it and showing them on their computers or taking screenshots and emailing them to them. Are you going to add a filter to all of their friends’ computers too? It’s everywhere and can’t be easily avoided.

  • C.N.

    November 8th, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    I don’t know what the answer is but making a fuss about it I don’t feel is it. Kids are fickle. They lose interest in everything after an initial burst of enthusiasm. Believe it or not, you can tire of pornography too. It’s the same old thing over and over. They will move on when they find a girl to love they can physically touch, not some anonymous airbrushed fake they would never meet in their lifetime.

  • BertaQueen

    November 8th, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    I don’t understand the appeal of porn at all. Maybe back in the early days of Playboy et al when woman appeared less sexually available I might have. These days however, contraception is very easy to get hold of for men and women and that sex before marriage isn’t frowned upon the way it used to be.

    Why look at a picture when it’s as easy to meet a real live woman for casual sex with no strings attached?

  • Sasha

    November 9th, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    Porn has affected a lot of people’s sexual lives and relationships no doubt. Just goes out to show why its production is still illegal in so many ‘backward’ countries!

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