Skip To Content

    9 Alarming Ways Porn Affects Children And Young People

    One in four young people first saw internet porn aged 12 or younger and the effects of this are far-reaching and profound, as BBC Three's documentary Porn: What's The Harm? found.

    I've been involved in sex education for 20 years and it was literally one summer where we saw the change and that was 2002.At that time we worked just in senior schools with year 9 and year 10 which is 14- and 15-year-olds and up until that in a class of 30 we would maybe have three lads in the class who had accessed pornography and that would have been through Fiesta magazine (a much-read porno mag in the 80s and 90s) and that sort of thing.And after that summer when everyone seemed to get the internet piped into their homes, in September and October we found that it was only three lads out of 15 that hadn't accessed pornography. It was literally that quick.

    2. Children as young as five are now being told about the dangers of porn.

    Yes really, but on a very limited basis. In one session filmed for the BBC Three programme, children aged five were shown an image of man taking a picture of a boy on a mobile phone and asked whether that was right or wrong. They were also told to tell an adult if an older child shows them any rude pictures.

    The parents are spoken to first and told that their children can access things that the previous generation couldn't have imagined. The world "porn" isn't used.

    3. Many children really do see online porn by accident.

    It's the excuse of office workers across the globe, but the survey of 1,000 kids carried out by the programme makers found that only 22% were looking for porn the first time they saw it online. Everyone else found it accidentally or they were shown it by a friend.

    Many children click an innocent-looking link from an assumedly safe, porn-free environment like Facebook only to be shown something of a sexual nature.

    One girl who spoke to the documentary makers said: "When you're 11, 12 you have your page on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and little adverts come up on the side without you necessarily wanting to look at porn and if you click on it it will take straight to a pornography website.

    "It makes you feel a bit embarrassed, because I don't want to look at that."

    4. Schools have to provide some form of sexual education, but they don't have to teach kids about porn.

    The Education Act 1996 says schools must tell kids "about STIs and HIV and encourage pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and family life," but that's about it.

    Guidelines for schools on teaching sex and relationships - which is optional - were written in 2000, before the ubiquity of smartphones and broadband access. The only reference to the internet is in the context of stopping kids accessing rude pictures from within the school – the problem now is accessing porn in the home, something on which there's no official guidance for teachers.

    5. Thanks to porn, teenage boys and girls don't really know what women really look like - while girls as young as 12 are asking for labiaplasty surgery.

    The sculpture above, by Jamie McCartney, is called "57 Women" - from his "Great Wall of Vaginas" series - and was made by taking a plaster cast of ordinary, healthy women.

    But the young people who were shown this told the programme they looked "weird", "saggy", or "horrible" - because they don't conform to the pornstar aesthetic.

    Gynaecologist Dr Gail Busby told the programme that girls as young as 12 have been asking for cosmetic surgery to make their vulva and labia look more attractive, or to fit with the physical conventions set in porn films. None of them needed surgey for health reasons.

    6. Sexting and sharing compromising pictures among friends could get you arrested and put on the Sex Offender's Register for life.


    Police tend to be lenient on this, especially for first-time offenders. But, technically, it is an offence to share any image of a sexual nature featuring someone aged less than 18, even if the sender is also under 18.

    Police officers are doing talks in schools to point out that this is generating and distrbuting a child abuse image, which can put someone on the Sex Offenders' Register, which is irrevocable, meaning someone can never work with children.

    There's normally a lenient response from police - one officer told the programme that first-time offenders are themselves treated as victims - but they are also keen to point out that the legal risk is there.

    7. Teachers, parents and young people themselves don't understand how quickly young people can share images.

    Sexual images go viral very, very quickly - sometimes in a matter of hours - meaning that a sexy picture that was sent in confidence to a boyfriend or girlfriend can find its way on the smartphones of thousands of other young people not just one town but across the country.

    The programme spoke to Sofia, 20, from Blackpool, who experience this first hand aged 14 when an image she sent to a boy of her naked spread like wildfire among his peer group, across the local area then even further.

    She explains problem: "I was quite shy, I was like, I don't want to do that and because he was being so persistant with asking, I eventually gave in.

    "He showed his friends initially ... they sent it to their friends and so forth. I sent it on the weekend and I would say by Wednesday all the local schools had it.

    "I felt completely stripped of my value. I felt almost as if people were having intimate relationships with me without me knowing."

    She would get called a slag and a slut in the street, with the association of her and that image carrying on for 18 months, she says.

    8. Many of the images being shared by paedophiles and under-age porn sites were taken by children and young people themselves.

    The Internet Watch Foundation told the programme that there has been a large increase in the number of images being shared or sold by sites offering images of girls aged under 16. Many of them are taken straight from Facebook - to be then sold by "prolific child sex abuses websites".

    9. Maybe this isn't surprising but many porn stars have fairly depressing lives.

    Retired porn star Gemma Massey, who appeared in more than 20 films, says that the standard going rate these days is just £300 for a scene (it used to be much more), with a scene taking as long as 12 hours a day.

    "Some might take drugs to do the job," she says, adding that "some girls might do anal to get a bit more money".

    She didn't seem aware than children as young as 11 were watching her films.