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Get insight into the impact of online pornography, what the law says and steps that are being introduced to protect young children from seeing adult content.

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What do I need to know about online pornography?

As children explore the internet they can sometimes come across sexual content accidentally, and some of what they become exposed to may be unpleasant, hardcore pornography and extreme images. But there are steps you can take to limit their exposure to this kind of inappropriate content.

Online pornography advice – a summary of what parents need to know about the issue
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As a result of their curiosity, or just by accident, children can stumble across Pornography online and be exposed to confusing and unrealistic images of sex and relationships. But there are steps you can take to limit their exposure.

Look out for changes in their behavior to see if they have been viewing pornography online. Signs of premature sexual activity increased interest in sexuality and the use of sexual language.

Other signs include; unexplained charges on bank cards, explicit pop-ups on browsers and deleting browsing history.

How easy is it to find?

Children can stumble across online porn through indiscriminate pop-ups ( these may appear if they have downloaded ‘free’ software), through content shared on social media, live streaming or sites that actively offer this content for free.

Although porn is readily available online, under the new plans, which are set to be rolled out in April 2019, users will be greeted with a warning page requiring them to log in via an age verification system.

They will need to provide ID in the form of a credit card, driver’s licence or via a designated card which can be purchased at certain shops – before they access adult content. This will mean that you’ll have to prove that you are 18 or over to access any porn site.  This will apply to all porn sites and those that don’t comply will be fined.

Online pornography facts and statistics

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Understanding – 53% of boys believed that the pornography they had seen was realistic compared to 39% of girls

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Exposure: Over 9  in 10 children have been exposed to porn online by the age of 14

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Use – 9  out of 10 parents who use parental controls think they are useful

From our own research, we also know that a quarter of children who’ve seen porn online discovered it through friends and a third were accidentally exposed to it. Parents also feel that porn online seems much more extreme and explicit than other media.

How can I tell if my child has been finding pornography online?

Some or all of the following signs may suggest your child could have been viewing pornography:

  • Signs of premature sexual activity, increased interest in sexuality and the use of sexual language
  • Unexplained charges on your or their bank cards
  • They switch screens as soon as you come near the computer
  • Inappropriate and explicit pop-ups start to appear on your computer
  • Changes in behaviour – perhaps becoming much more defensive, aggressive or secretive
  • Your child’s browser history may reveal search terms used or sites visited that you feel are inappropriate.
  • Maybe starting to explore their sexuality  and have changing attitudes towards women and girls or members of the same sex in the context of sexual relationships

Why do children activity look for porn online?

  • Out of curiosity – a friend may have talked to them about something and they are looking to find out for themselves
  • A way to explore their sexual identity
  • As an escape  to seek arousal
  • As a response to peer pressure or for ‘ a laugh
  • As a way to rebel and break the rules as it’s considered ‘taboo’

What is the impact of seeing porn on a child?

  • It may distort their understanding and expectation of sex and relationships
  • It can affect their development specifically if they are younger when they first view it
  • They can show signs of early sexualised behaviour and it may affect their sexual identity
  • It can lead to inappropriate expectations of girls and women and treating them more like objects
  • Girls may feel pressure to live up to these unrealistic expectations of sex
  • May develop feelings of anxiety  or depression
  • Become obsessed with acting out adult sexual acts they’ve seen
  • For boys it may shape their attitudes about masculinity and sexuality
  • It can also affect their body image and sense of what is normal for a girl or a boy

FAQ: Is pornography addiction a real thing?

There isn’t a universally accepted diagnosis for porn addiction.  However, experts who recognise a link between porn and addiction believe it to be a ‘hypersexual disorder’ which is characterised by an increased compulsion to watch porn even when it negatively impacts mental and, physical health and stops you for forming healthy relationships and functioning in everyday life.

More about Porn addiction

What does the law say about indecent images online?

To ensure that children are aware of what indecent images are and what they can do to report them to get them removed, discuss these terms with them when you feel they are old enough to understand.

What is revenge porn?

This is when an explicit or sexual image or video of a person is shared without their consent. It normally takes place when there is a relationship break down and ex-partner is seeking revenge. It is now a crime to carry out and carries a sentence to up to two years in prison.

Get support: www.revengepornhelpline.org.uk

What is an indecent image of a child?

Looking at indecent images of under 18s is illegal irrespective of how old they look. As these images are real young people it causes them harm and any image found should be reported to the International Watch Foundation. The UK has a strict prohibition on the taking, making, circulation and possession with a view to distribution of any indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child and such offences carry a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.

What is extreme pornography?

This is anything that features someone threatening a person’s life, an act that results in serious injury, bestiality or necrophilia. It is illegal to possess these images or videos and carries a sentence of between 2 -3 years and an unlimited fine.

Types of pornography that are illegal – even for an adult to have include acts that threaten a person’s life. These could be acts that could result in serious injury, degrading pornography, violent pornography (i.e. rape and abuse) and anything that involves those under the age of 18.

Learning about sex and relationships at school

Sex and relationship education is now compulsory in all schools in England, including academies and free schools. Primary school focus on a programme tailored to the age and maturity of children which includes learning about puberty before they experience it,  how babies are born, friendships, bullying, and self-esteem.

In secondary schools, SRE lessons teach children about healthy relationships and following new guidance will also cover specific issues such as pornography, sexting, harassment, and consent.

BBC News report explains changes to how sex and relationships education is taught in schools
Resource document

Article: 13 Reasons to talk with your kids about sex: The advantages of sex education

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FAQ: What is relationships and sex education?

Relationships and sex education (RSE) is learning about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up, relationships, sex, human sexuality, and sexual health. It should equip children and young people with the information, skills and positive values to have safe, fulfilling relationships, to enjoy their sexuality and to take responsibility for their sexual health and well-being.

How will this help your child?

  • Increase their knowledge of sexual risks such as STI (sexually transmitted disease, teenage pregnancy
  • Make them aware of issues around sexual abuse and partner violence
  • Promote healthy relationships
  • Improving their awareness of risks  around sharing nude photos and the negative influences of pornography on attitudes towards relationships, sex, and consent
  • If your child is SEND, it will also address their needs specifically
  • Children will also learn about LGBT-specific content in an age-appropriate way according to the law.
Resource document

Read more about proposed changes to Personal, Social and Health Education  (PSHE) from PSHE Association

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What’s your right as a parent about what they learn?

Some parts of sex and relationship education are compulsory – these are part of the national curriculum for science. Under the terms of the new guidance, you’ll be able to withdraw your child from some or all sex education. All schools must have a written policy on sex education, which they must make available to parents for free.

More to explore

Here are some other useful articles and resources to support your child on this issue.