A recent study commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found 94 percent of children who have been exposed to pornography have that experience before age 14, and 53 percent said they believed what they saw was a realistic depiction of sexual relations.
The study involved a survey of 1,001 boys and girls, ages 11-16, across four nations of the United Kingdom. The project was carried out by academics from Middlesex University in Hendon, London.
“Exposing children to porn at a young age before they are equipped to cope with it can be extremely damaging. Industry and government need to take more responsibility to ensure that young people are protected," said Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, to the Guardian. "Age-appropriate sex and relationship education in schools, dealing with issues such as online pornography and children sending indecent images, are crucial."
The study found more boys (59 percent) viewed online pornography by choice compared with girls (25 percent). More boys were found to want to imitate pornography (44 percent) compared with girls (29 percent). While the majority of boys thought online pornography was a realistic depiction of sex, fewer girls (39 percent) thought it was realistic.
“One of my friends has started treating women like he sees on the videos. Not major, just a slap here or there,” a boy said in the study, according to Russian Today.
Elena Martellozzo, a co-author of the study, said in the Russian Today article that boys' unrealistic perceptions of sex can lead to inappropriate expectations for girls. "Girls too may feel pressured to live up to these unrealistic, and perhaps nonconsensual, interpretations of sex. This is clearly not positive for developing future healthy relationships," she said.
According to Psychology Today, the earlier a child is exposed to explicit pornography, the more likely he or she is to engage in high-risk sex. "Not every child who is exposed to sexual content will struggle with a mental health disorder, but research shows that early exposure to pornography is a risk factor for sex addictions and other intimacy disorders," the publication reported.
According to the study, 53 percent of survey participants said they had ever viewed online pornography. While some of the children were seeking out online pornography, many came across it by accident through pop-up ads.
There are precautions parents can take to make sure their children avoid stumbling upon explicit media.
"Other common-sense approaches include moving the computer to the family room where others can easily view the screen, limiting the time on the computer so that no one is alone on the internet, and developing a mission statement that directs the family's use of the computer and the Internet," Focus on the Family suggested.
Focus on the Family also suggested you respond with care if you have found your child has been exposed to pornography.
"A harsh, impulsive interrogation will most likely just shut down your child. An unhealthy shame often leads to more acting-out with pornography," the organization stated.
Instead, learn how your child found online pornography, how often he or she viewed it and exactly what your child saw to prevent incidents in the future.