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  • Writer's picturewendistrauchmahoney

Pornography and the Child: The Dangers of Early Exposure

Public Health Research published in 2019 by NCOSE finds that "pornography is a social toxin that destroys relationships, steals innocence, erodes compassion, breeds violence, and kills love."

There is no doubt that children who are habitually exposed to pornographic and sexualized material at a young age are negatively affected later in life.

It used to be much easier to protect children from such exposure. However, sexualized language and imagery is now increasingly available to young children through materials found in libraries and online because of the Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curricula now widely available in schools. Community and school librarians have been perplexingly reluctant to remove reading material that contains pornographic or sexually graphic language and imagery, arguing it violates free speech or even worse, arguing children who struggle with their gender or other issues are helped by such materials.

The fact that such material is available in schools normalizes the content inappropriately. It would be very easy for a child to innocently believe that his teachers and school care givers would never allow content that wasn't safe. Honestly, it makes it all the more egregious that such content is made available in that environment. In some children, it could easily create an almost unresolvable cognitive dissonance for the developmentally immature mind.

On top of school exposure, cellphones and tablets are regularly put into the hands of very young children, giving them access to a wide range of inappropriate content that they are just not developmentally ready to digest. According to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), "more than half of the children in the U.S. now own smartphones." Most American children own some kind of internet accessible device by age 11.

Much of the debate right now seems to be focused on semantics. The discussion often centers on the kind of material that should be considered pornographic rather than addressing the developmental realities of children and adolescents and their ability to digest sexually explicit material.

For example, some educators now argue that books with tutorials on blow jobs, or how to have "safe sex," or how to feel pleasure, do not qualify as material that is harmful to the growing child. Young children have much greater access to materials with illustrations and language they are in no way prepared for developmentally. It is wholly disingenuous to say children are not being exposed to questionable content in schools and in public libraries. They absolutely are. Sadly, in far too many cases, the exposure is being minimized for political and cultural reasons that have nothing to do with preserving the innocence of children.

Some librarians and school officials consider these explicit materials educational and necessary. Among other things, they argue it might alleviate feelings of insecurity or isolation. Sadly, in too many cases, parents have no idea their children are being exposed to those materials. In others, the parents are not aware until their child tells them.

Parents are relegated to fighting for parental consent policies—a fight that is ridiculous on its face. Parents should always know and have choices about what their children are being exposed to. Schools should be in the business of teaching children the basics and not about sexuality. Below is just a small sampling of materials that are available to children in schools. It is very difficult to argue that this "educational" material is not pornographic in nature.

For many children, early exposure to sexualized material is confusing and unsettling. Many children are unable to express their feelings when exposed and can become depressed, anxious, act out, and in some cases even become suicidal. Children often do not or cannot tell their parents what they are seeing and reading, either out of confusion or guilt. Children will often hide feelings that they cannot manage developmentally and the effects on the child can be catastrophic over time.

Those who argue that children are wholly unaffected or the effects are minimal are not being honest. Moreover, even if the deleterious effects were few, there is really no good argument to destroy the innocence of a child. Even adults who are habitually exposed to explicit pornographic content can develop negative behaviors. There has been enough research on the topic to confidently assert that early exposure is not worth the risk. The default position when it comes to early exposure should be whatever is safest for the child. There is simply no downside to respecting their innocence as long as it is reasonably possible.

Damage Caused by Childhood Exposure to Pornography

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), whose mission is to protect individuals from all forms of sexual exploitation, conducts evidence based research on the longitudinal and "toxic effects" of pornography and sexualized material on human beings. NCOSE shows evidence that exposure to pornographic and sexual materials affects children negatively in a variety of ways.

According to a study recommended by NCOSE and found on the MDPI Open Access Journals, "Early consumption of sexually explicit material" can lead to a number of problems in adolescence, including but not limited to "sexual compulsions, increase in sexual aggression in males and victimization in females." Additionally, when exposed to sexually explicit material, children may become more likely to "share nude photos of themselves, perform poorly in school, suffer mental health problems, display risky sexual behaviors" and, later in life, may be more likely to "have sold and purchased sex."

Even if the first exposure to sexually charged content occurs in adolescence, the effects can still be devastating. NCOSE research shows that "93% of boys and 62% of girls had seen Internet pornography during adolescence." And a study in Australia of "941 15-29 year olds, reported the median age for first viewing pornography was 13 years for males and 16 years for females."

Exposure to sexually charged content can lead to "increased risk for committing sexual offenses and accepting rape myths." Such exposure can make children verbally and physically aggressive." It can cause children to form weaker bonds with caregivers and can make children much "more susceptible to addictions and developmental effects on the brain," according to a book written by Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt entitled, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.

The Australian Government and the Australian Institute of Family Studies looked at the effects of pornography on children and young people, confirming the findings published by NCOSE. The study found exposure to sexually explicit content "can influence a young person's expectations about sex, shape sexual practices, cause minors to engage in unsafe anal and vaginal sex, cause self-objectification and body surveillance" (self-conscious self-image), and more. The study found that younger children (aged 9-12) "are particularly likely to be distressed or upset by pornography."

What Can Parents Do When Their Child is Exposed to Sexually Explicit Material?

The Australian research states that "[p]arental controls are essential to harm-minimisation strategies. The Office of the e-Safety Commissioner (2016) cautions parents and caregivers: “You can teach your child strategies about how to deal with offensive material, but be vigilant, especially if your child is prone to taking risks or is emotionally or psychologically vulnerable”. The study goes on to say that children who have been exposed to sexually explicit material as minors is "extremely important to their ability to process their experience in healthy ways."

The Commissioner suggests "encouraging your child to talk" if they have seen something that has upset them. It is also important to "let them know that if they report viewing inappropriate content they won't be punished or have their access" taken away. With regard to being sent something online, children should know that "if they are sent something inappropriate online, they should know not to respond."

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