With pornography being available at the mere click of a button and the average age of exposure to porn for teenage boys in SA being 9 years old, what is the effect of this on our children and teenagers? Rorke Wilson explores this below.

In 2010, when Fabian Thylmann acquired family-owned PornHub, he didn’t realise he was setting in motion a chain of events that would revolutionise the porn industry and even change the world.

The German-born utilised this software and his knowledge of the tech industry to turn PornHub into the world’s largest collection of free pornography. Right now, this seems inconsequential, as free pornography is available at the click of a button. However, at its inception PornHub was considered revolutionary as most porn-sites were restricted to those who were willing to pay for it (a process which could involve a lot of red tape and maybe even a few phone calls to your bank). With the creation of PornHub, pornography was now available to everyone, any time, free of charge; which was a massive deviation from the status quo.

An unintended side-effect of this is something deeply concerning to us at The Digital Law Co: just how easily children can get hold of pornography. A 2016 study by the American College of Paediatricians estimated that 85% of adolescent males and 50% of adolescent females have been exposed to pornographic material. An even more worrying statistic from a 2010 study found that a third of 14 – 16-year olds reported their first exposure to pornography was at age 10 or younger. This statistic has only gotten worse since then with the average age of exposure to pornography for young boys in South Africa being age 9, a lot of them being even younger than that.

This is particularly worrying because a child’s brain is simply not equipped to deal with such traumatising visuals. When our brain is presented with a visual the signal is passed through the visual cortex where its rationalised and then stored accordingly, however, a smaller “package” of the signal bypasses the visual cortex and goes straight to the emotional centre of the brain where it’s assessed to see if it’s particularly traumatising or emotional. When a child views pornography, the emotional centre of the brain deems the pornography as a traumatic experiencet, thus bypassing the visual cortex and storing the memory as if the child was in the room where the pornographic content took place, and not just something they saw on a screen. In simple terms, a child will store pornography as a real memory rather than a fictitious scene.

Viewing pornography isn’t only deeply distressing to a child, it can also alter their behaviour. Children learn about how to act the world by mimicking adults around them, this is why babies babble when their parents talk and why children are sent home with a letter after repeating a word they heard mom utter in a time of frustration. The way the memory of viewing pornography is stored leads a child’s brain to believe that it’s normal behaviour performed in public and something the child should mimic. Children can then become obsessed with acting out these adult sexual acts and are more likely to sexually assault their peers and become sexual offenders as they grow up.

Furthermore, pornography has created a culture of sexting among teens that is becoming increasingly problematic. Boys will harass girls for nude images, often relentlessly, until the girl gives in and sends them. A lot of time these images are distributed to other boys and in some cases WhatsApp groups are created solely for the purpose of sharing nudes the boys have received. This is even prevalent with boys who haven’t yet reached sexual maturity, with the nudes being treated as a social currency more than anything else.

As if the world wasn’t difficult enough to navigate as a child, pornography has made it even harder. Which is why parents need to do all they can to stop their child from accessing this content, or to at least make it more difficult to access. This can be done by switching on the safety settings on your child’s phone, computer and even the home wifi, or considering using filtering software such as Our Pact, Net Nanny  or K9.

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