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Sunday, January 16, 2022

How exposure to pornography as a child can affect the young mind

The effects of pornography on a youngster's mindset can be lasting and more often than not, dangerous

Written by Shreya Agrawal | Itarsi |
January 14, 2022 5:30:39 pm
children, pornographyInitially, many teenagers who see it may feel guilt but eventually, excitement overpowers as they experience a dopamine rush. (Source: Pixabay)

Grammy-winning singer Billie Eilish, who turned 20 last month, recently opened up about the impact of viewing pornography online at a very young age. Discussing its implications, she revealed that her exposure to porn had given her nightmares and distorted her understanding and expectations of what sex should be.

“I think it really destroyed my brain and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn,” the singer said. “The first few times I, you know, had sex, I was not saying ‘no’ to things that were not good. It was because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be attracted to.”

Billie’s revelation, say experts, should encourage significant conversations around porn in the wake of its easy availability, and its grim impact on the mindset of young children — topics that are usually brushed under the carpet. In the current age of social media, pornographic content is easily accessible to adolescents online, completely altering their view of sex and sexual activities.

According to a survey commissioned by the British Board of Film Classification in 2019, 51 per cent of 11 to 13-year-olds had seen pornography online, of which most cases were accidental and for younger children, it was traumatic. Another 2017 survey of 1,001 young people and children in the United Kingdom indicated that 28 per cent of 11 to 12-year-olds had seen porn, while 65 per cent of 15 to 16-year-olds reported seeing it. With increased screen exposure during the pandemic, the figures have only risen.

Dr Pallavi Joshi, consultant psychiatrist, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru, said: “Initially, many teenagers who see it may feel guilt, but eventually excitement overpowers, as they experience a dopamine rush. Whatever acts on the pleasure principle, activates the reward circuit and can cause more and more indulgence in it.”

“Nowadays, schools have gone mobile and thus children and adolescents have free internet access. Additionally, some ever-enthusiastic parents open Facebook accounts of their children at a tender age. By all these means, they all become so-called ‘sexually literate’ at this stage in life in a different way,” added Dr Sanjay Kumavat, consultant psychiatrist and sexologist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.

How pornography affects an adolescent’s mindset

It becomes important to address the effects of pornography on a youngster’s mindset as it can be lasting and more often than not, dangerous. According to a 2011 study ‘The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents‘, adolescents who viewed violent and graphic pornography were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed.

Elucidating the same, Dr Kumavat said, “As the result (of viewing pornography), they may start unsafe sexual practices such as not using condoms and unsafe anal vaginal sex. Premature exposure also leads to permissive sexual attitudes (premarital sex, casual sex). Preoccupation or obsession with sexual thoughts also increases.”

children, pornography Adolescents may start unsafe sexual practices such as not using condoms and unsafe anal vaginal sex due to porn. (Source: Pexels)

Injudicious viewing of porn could lead to gaps between expectations and reality, leading to sexual uncertainty, dissatisfaction, anxiety and fear. “It can impact the ways in which teens tend to see and understand sexual relations, and can get associated with aggression and unnatural practices as well, as often teens may not be able to discern the difference between real and virtual and how content is created and constructed for a certain purpose,” Kamna Chhibber, head, department of mental health and behavioral sciences, Fortis Healthcare told indianexpress.com.

Porn not just alters their views about sex but also their understanding of relationships in general. Due to porn, teenagers “may try prematurely experimenting it due to very high curiosity with a clear motive of sensual and sexual pleasure with an available partner without focus on a sustained and long-term relationship which can actually help them in growing, resulting in high-risk behaviours and promiscuity. Sex would be viewed as something to be done for pure pleasure without question of emotive component, as that’s only shown in porn clips,” explained Dr Joshi.

Further, it changes one’s attitudes towards the opposite gender as an object of sex rather than another human being with dignity, experts told indianexpress.com.

Exposure to violent, graphic pornography

It is pertinent to note that children, nowadays, are not just exposed to porn at an early age but are also consuming far more explicit, violent and graphic content than ever because of its easy availability. This, additionally, leads them to be sexually aggressive and at times, violent for such content normalises it. In most cases, women are at the receiving end, highlighting the gendered implications associated with violent and graphic pornography.

“It may lead to early sexual exposure, leading to almost sexual addiction. The exposure may cause trauma and impair the young person’s social and interpersonal development. It may damage a child’s moral compass, potentially leading them to act out sexually against another person, commit an act of molestation, or sexual violence. The aggression may be in form of sadomasochistic behaviour. It may disturb sleep, lowered self-esteem, suicidal thoughts,” Dr Kumavat said, noting the impact of such sexually explicit content.

Agreed Dr Joshi and said that this can increase their aggression and make them less sensitive to others’ pain. “It can provoke anxiety in many and almost all get sleep disturbance for some time due to this.”

A wake-up call for parents

Eilish’s revelation and experts’ opinions about the impact of pornography on an adolescent’s mind should ring bells of caution. Experts believe the need is for parents to engage in healthy conversations with their kids about sex from an early age, to minimise the potentially-dangerous impact of pornography on their minds.

children, pornography There’s a need for open sex conversations from an early age. (Source: Pexels)

“Parents need to create an environment of open communication and share and discuss with children about sex, sexuality and pornography using the appropriate terminology. They should not shut down conversations when children bring up these topics. If there are some situations that emerge within the context of their friends or family members which children can be impacted by they should be discussed. There needs to be a focus on helping children develop critical thinking abilities in order to enable them to ask the right questions and work towards being media literate,” Dr Chibber said, discussing the role of parents.

Dr Kumavat added, “The role of parents is monitoring internet use, and rationing the IT use when not studying. However despite all this, if the child sneaks through such sites, explain to him/her and clear their doubts on the same in an age-appropriate manner.”

The need for sex-education

Despite all the advancements, sex education is still a hushed topic in Indian schools and households. The dearth of proper sex education leads the curious and impressionable young minds towards pornography, which, ends up doing more harm than good. Therefore, it becomes extremely essential for schools to introduce sex education in their curriculum so that children develop a better understanding of sex and related activities.

“Education at the right age and in the right perspective can help in removing confusion. A person can get scientific clarifications to many doubts, and if you make them speak out, it reduces guilt, anxiety, and uplifts self-esteem. In fact, sex education should be included in their syllabus right from the adolescent level so as to avoid myths and attempts to seek the same from unscientific manner,” Dr Kumavat told indianexpress.com.

Dr Chibber noted that sex education would also need to encompass an understanding of attractions and relationships, commonly experienced for the first time during teenage years. It is “to ensure children and teenagers develop a wholesome understanding of these aspects and questions that come to their mind are addressed with the right information using credible sources and the right experts”.

With Billie’s open account about the impact of porn on her, it’s hopeful that a positive sex conversation would be ensued with more people, especially parents and schools, actively ensuring proper sex education for children.

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