Do you know what your child is watching online?

editorial image

If true it is not a statistic that will make easy reading for parents of teenagers.

Almost two-thirds of 15-16-year-olds admit they have viewed online porn.

The worrying figure has come from a nationwide survey by the NSPCC.

So today, at the start of Sexual Health Week, the Family Planning Association has decided it’s time to tackle the issue head-on.

And health professionals from NHS Lancashire Care’s Contraception and Sexual Health Team are following suit by urging young people: “Let’s talk porn!”

Now, before the team’s switchboard gets jammed by ouraged mums and dads, this isn’t as reckless as it might sound on the surface.

With pornography so widely and easily accessible on the internet, experts are adamant brushing it under the carpet and pretending it isn’t there is no longer an option.

Professionals say young people need to know what the risks are before they can make a decision whether or not to view such content.

“Watching porn can make real-world sex less enjoyable and makes people less happy in their relationships,” says Tania Cockcroft, from the county’s Contraception and Sexual Health Service.

“Our service promotes open discussions about subjects related to porn, such as body image, consent, communication, safer sex and the difference between fantasy and reality.

“Through conversations with partners and young people we have often found that the most successful way to have those discussions is through an open-minded, positive and non-judgemental approach to the topic.”

The FPA left little to the imagination when it launched its campaign in a blaze of publicity today.

It’s opening statment in a media release got everyone’s attention: “For Sexual Health Week this year, we’re talking about porn.”

It went on to explain just why it is taking such a forthright approach to a subject which, in most familes, is still a taboo subject. And it offered handy tips for both parents and those working in the sexual health field on how to deal openly with the topic when talking to young people.

“We want to support people to have more open discussions about subjects related to porn, such as body image, consent, communication, safer sex . . . and the difference between fantasy and reality,” said a FPA spokesperson.

“Through our work with parents, teachers and young people, we’ve often found that the most successful way to have those discussions is through an open-minded, positive and non-judgemental approach to the topic.

“Planning how to discuss porn, and topics related to porn, in an appropriate way can be daunting.”

And to underline the association’s role and its stance on porn, the spokesperson adds: “We’re a sexual health charity. We give straightforward information and support on sexual health, sex and relationships to everyone in the UK.”

Not surprisingly the NSPCC has done plenty of work on the subject of online porn and how young people can be protected from its impact on their values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour.

The charity says the online world has created incredible opportunities for young people to explore, experiment, socialise, create and educate themselves in ways which would previously have been unheard of.

But it has also exposed children to the risk of harm, including seeing extreme pornography and being vulnerable to sexting.

The NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner asked Middlesex University to look into how many children have been exposed to pornography and the impact for them of viewing such content. The research consisted of an online survey of 1,001 children and young people aged 11-16 across the UK, an online discussion forum and online focus groups.

The university’s findings were first published in 2016, but the statistics were update in May this year. While the headline figure of two-thirds of 15 or 16-year-olds having viewed porn online was startling for parents, other results of the survey put that into context.

The figures included just over half of 11-16 year olds surveyed (52 per cent) had never seen any pornography online. And the majority of 11-12 year olds (72 per cent) had not seen it either.

Of those who had viewed online porn, more boys (59 per cent) view online pornography, through choice, than girls (25 per cent).

Children were more likely to stumble across pornography (28 per cent) as to search for it deliberately (19 per cent).

Substantial minorities of older children (42 per cent of 12-16 year olds) wanted to try things out they had seen in pornography. A greater proportion of boys (44 per cent) wanted to emulate pornography than the proportion of girls (29 per cent).

The research also showed that pornographic material had been received by a quarter (26 per cent) of young people. A minority of young people had generated naked or semi-naked images of themselves; some of them had shared the images further.

Repeated viewing of online pornography may have a desensitising effect with young people feeling less negative over time and generally less anxious or disgusted by what they are seeing.

Almost half of young people (49 per cent) saw pornography as unrealistic. Most young people thought pornography was a poor model for consent or safe sex and wanted better sex education, covering the impact of pornography.

Young people wanted to be able to find out about sex and relationships and about pornography in ways that were safe, private and credible.

Some also touched on a lack of teacher awareness of the potential additional vulnerabilities faced by young people.

Need help? The Family Planning Association no longer runs a helpline in England due to lack of funding. But you can call the National Sexual Health Helpline provided by Public Health England on 0300 123 7123.