The New Bird and Bees: How Porn is Taking over Sex Education

Amanda Carroll
5 min readDec 4, 2020

From website advertisements to suggestive content being recommended through algorithms, sexually charged content is at the fingertips of every person with a wifi connection. Although parents do their best to protect their children, as soon as kids are given access to the internet, there is no way to monitor the content that they are exposed to. According to Professor Aleksandar Štulhofer, head of the sexology department at the University of Zagreb, up to 59% of all teens in the United States have intentionally accessed pornography. Although viewing this type of content is accepted as normal and is just dismissed as teens displaying curiosity about sex; the reality is that viewing sexually explicit materials at a young age negatively impacts the development of how they learn how to interact in sexual relationships.

Authors Note

Before addressing the impact that sexually explicit materials (SEM) have on children, I want to clarify a couple of things. Firstly, I want to address that although I am taking a stance against children being exposed to SEM online, I believe that children should be given proper sex education and shouldn’t be sheltered from the topic of sex. This is because a study done by Columbia University has shown that comprehensive sex education not only reduces teen pregnancy but it can actually decreases the risk of sexual violence. The purpose of this blog is to specifically address the impact of children coming into contact with pornographic material without proper sex education that would allow them to understand that those videos are not a representation of real relationships. Exposure to SEM can shape their views on sex without giving them the information and resources that would allow them to understand how to engage in sexual relationships in a healthy way.

The other item that I want to address is that the gender roles that are going to be discussed in this blog post are specifically referencing heteronormative and cis-gendered relationships. Although addressing LGBTQIA+ issues is an extremely important aspect of this conversation, the data that would be necessary to create a piece that could properly do that is currently not available and therefore will not be included in this analysis.

Repercussions of viewing SEM

Now that you are aware of how prevalent sexual media is among what children are viewing on the internet, you might be questioning how significant the impact is. While it may be normalized as ‘something that every teen does’, and parents often conclude that it’s just stemming from curiosity and that it does not have an impact on real sexual interactions, this is simply untrue. A study, conducted by Emily Rothman and Avanti Adhia, concluded that 54% of their adolescent sample size reported watching pornography to learn how to do something sexual. Teens are using the internet as a how-to guide and are therefore mirroring the behaviors that they are viewing. If that isn’t alarming enough in itself, the actual content that is serving as the blueprint for teens’ relationships is extremely troubling. Research from Ana Bridges, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas found that the pornography that is widely available on the internet often features extremely high levels of aggression. Among the videos that were analyzed for this study, which included a sample size of 304 videos, 88.2% of them contained physical aggression. It’s no wonder that if this is where teens are learning how to conduct themselves in sexual relationships that there is a strong correlation between sexually explicit material and future instances of sexually related aggression or domestic violence. This violence is being normalized to an impressionable young audience who are being shown that it is natural and apart of having sex.

Gendered Impact

Sexually explicit content negatively impacts development by reinforcing toxic gender roles among both men and women. When analyzing the impact that is found on boys that interact with sexual media, there is evidence that suggests that adolescent boys that consume this type of media are more likely to engage in sexual violence by mirroring the content that they are viewing. The need to fit the standard of being a ‘man’ in the sense that they are controlling the situation and being domineering is a perfect example of how SEM contributes to toxic masculinity. The term “toxic masculinity” is referred to by Medical News Today, as the “harmful concept of masculinity that focuses on strength, dominance, and sexual virility.” Toxic masculinity is being taught to young boys who are seeing and mirroring their role in relationships as an aggressor.

Young boys are statistically more likely to seek out and view pornography, therefore the behaviors depicted in SEM will reflect in their sexual interactions at a higher rate. However, young girls are still significantly impacted by the standards that are set in SEM. While boys are given an introduction to sexual violence in the sense of being dominating and “masculine”, young girls are shown that their role in a sexual relationship is complacency. Assistant professor Bridges’ research also shows that, in 95% of the pornography scenes that she analyzed, the victims of sexual violence and degradation responded to the interaction with neutrality or pleasure towards the abuse. This falsely reinforces the idea to young girls that emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are all natural parts of a relationship.

What’s the Takeaway?

So now that you know just how significant of an issue this is, what is the right way to address it? With how pervasive SEM is online, there is no realistic way to completely shelter children from being exposed. However, if we as a society are more keenly aware and educated of the impacts that viewing pornography has, and we are less dismissive of its effects, we would be able to combat the impacts that SEM is currently having on adolescence. Additionally, we have to address this issue is by focusing on educating children about healthy relationship dynamics, including comprehensive sex education to combat the misinformation that children might be receiving from unrealistic sources, such as porn. If parents and schools take the initiative to serve as the primary source of sex education and create an open dialogue for teens, we can make sure that we aren’t allowing the internet to educate our children for us.

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