Children and young people are confronted with sexually explicit content at a very early age via online channels. This is confirmed by a representative survey conducted by communication scientists at the Universities of Münster and Hohenheim in Stuttgart. Almost half of the 1048 14- to 20-year-olds surveyed said they had seen "hardcore pornography" with exposed genitals. Among the youngest subgroup, 14- and 15-year-olds, the figure is as high as one-third. Around half of these online findings are unintentional. For the first time, the online survey allows generalizable statements to be made about the social situation and the individual experience of young people when they first come into contact with pornographic images or films. The study appears these days in a publication of the Springer publishing house.
The average age reported by the children and adolescents at which they have first contact with sexually explicit media content is 14.2 years. Male adolescents, at an average of 14.0 years, are significantly younger than girls (14.8 years).
In addition, the study results show that first contact is apparently taking place earlier and earlier in young people's lives. The 14- and 15-year-olds who had already had contact with hard Internet pornography stated that they were on average 12.7 years old at the time of first contact.
Seventy percent accessed it via laptop, computer or smartphone. Other media such as television, video or magazines have largely become obsolete. After initial contact, significantly more boys use sexually explicit online services more frequently than girls.
The majority of first contact takes place at home. In 40 percent of cases, young people are not alone when they see pornographic images or films for the first time, but do so with friends. Between the ages of 14 and 15, this is true in as many as 60 percent of cases.
Around 50 percent are unintentional
In half of all young people, the first contact is intentional. However, gender-specific differences are evident here, which are also known from the research literature. "Of the girls, for example, just under 60 percent stated that contact with pornographic content was unwanted, while among the boys it was only 37 percent," said Prof. Dr. Vogelgesang. The researchers counted unwanted contact as, for example, being shown pornography by a third party or accidentally encountering this content online.
"The results also suggest," emphasizes Prof. Dr. Thorsten Quandt from the Institute of Communication Science at the University of Münster, "that children and young people are confronted with something they neither want to see nor really understand. Since media use often happens secretly , children and young people have to cope with processing this content on their own, without parental or school influence."
"Parents and teachers play only a subordinate role. The lack of guidance from educators is a serious problem," warns Prof. Dr. Quandt. "The study clearly demonstrates that initial contact in today's online age takes place at a very early age, even with content that is in part harmful to minors."
Pornography remains a taboo topic
According to the survey, more than half of young people do not talk to anyone about it after initial contact, and only 4 percent discuss the incident with teachers or parents. The willingness to discuss depends on how they felt when they first saw pornographic content, the survey found.
"If the young people were aroused by the content, their willingness to talk was significantly lower than if they found the content amusing or repulsive," reports Prof. Dr. Vogelgesang. Despite the increased openness in society and many educational campaigns, it is still true that "talking about one's own sexuality is still a taboo subject among many young people, which they are either largely left alone to deal with or explore with their friends."
Image of porn use needs to be corrected
Prof. Dr. Vogelgesang explains: "The results of the study suggest that the woodcut-like image of the lonely male porn user is partly wrong. For a not inconsiderable proportion of young people, their first contact with pornography is closely tied to their social context."
"The findings also raise important questions about howyoung people deal with pornography consumption ," adds Prof. Dr. Quandt. "They make it clear that this is not a marginal media use phenomenon. Rather, it is a widespread form of adolescent media use."
The study allows representative statements to be made for the first time about the exact circumstances of first contacts in the area of "public intimacy." The experts would like to continue research in this area and publish further results.
Source: Press release of the Universities of Münster and Hohenheim, 25.10.2017(PDF)
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