Whether we realize it or not, we are all a part of an unprecedented social experiment. That is, the pornification of culture- worldwide. This is not a religious or political opinion. It is simply a reality. Over 87 billion porn videos were viewed on one site alone in 2015. That’s 12 videos viewed for every person on the planet. We can choose to deny it, vilify it, or celebrate it individually. But collectively, we are reaping the results and passing them along to future generations.
Again, we can disagree on the potential benefits or harms of adult explicit material (although there is a growing body of peer-reviewed evidence that porn use is damaging-for all ages- to the brain, body, relationships, and society). However, almost everyone agrees that porn is toxic for children. And yet, children are being deeply affected by the following trends:
- Children are getting much of their “sex education” online.
- The average age of first exposure to online pornography is 11 (some say it’s more like 9).
- The largest demographic of online porn users is aged 12-17.
- Kids and teens may be getting information overload on violent or degrading sexual behaviors (at a time when their brains are developing pathways that will carry into adulthood), but they are not learning online about healthy connection, passion, pleasure, trust, intimacy, affection, desire, and respect between partners.
- Children are being exploited online.
- In 2015, “teen” was the second most popular porn search word worldwide (“lesbian” was number one).
- Whereas the victims of “in person” sexual exploitation are sometimes 12-15 years old, victims of online sexual exploitation are getting even younger (average 5-7 years old). Law enforcement officials are seeing victims as young as 6 months old. Male victims of all ages are also becoming more common globally.
- Online exploitation includes bullying (posting inappropriate material), “sextortion” (threatening someone with exposure of material), child pornography, live-streaming video, and self-directed live rape (where the customer “directs” the abuse of a child via live remote video feed). According to the International Justice Mission, online sexual exploitation of children has “skyrocketed” in the past 2 years (as internet density expands throughout the world).
- Children are becoming perpetrators.
- “Sexting” and “sharing” (creating, downloading, forwarding, and receiving of inappropriate content) have become so commonplace (and hidden from parents through apps like SnapChat) that many kids and teens have no idea that they are actually committing serious crimes (producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography).
- As kids become more interested in “trying out” what they’ve seen online, we are witnessing a disturbing increase in youth-on-youth sexual crime, including sibling-on-sibling incidents.
- 73% of teens have smartphones. By the time they reach college, they have consumed a steady diet of porn/pornified media- some for more than a decade. The epidemic of campus rape is not surprising. Clearly, not all porn users will become sexual perpetrators. But 100% of sexual perpetrators are or have been porn users. There may or may not be a causal connection, but there IS a connection.
Basically, we have an online assault on the imagination of an entire generation. As these kids grow up, their view of sexuality is being warped. The culture is affecting them in ways that are just now coming to light, and will continue to be revealed in the years ahead.
Many argue that pornography has been around forever. True. But never to the degree of intensity that it is marketed to today’s youth. Porn has never been more violent, more degrading, and more accessible to children than right now. Welcome to the grand experiment.
Whenever I ask industry/government/church/education/service organization leadership what to do (which is every chance I get), the answer is always the same: parenting. For better or for worse, they point to mom and dad. Talk to your children. Listen to your children. Supervise your children. Educate your children about sex, sexuality, and how to relate to themselves and to other people. Instill in your children a strong sense of their value (and the value of others) as whole human beings. This is their best chance of emerging from the experiment with the ability to form lasting, loving connections in this world.