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Anthony Cleary: We need to free our kids from this ‘porndemic’

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Research shows the average age for a person viewing pornography for the first-time is 13. Photo: File Photo
Research shows the average age for a person viewing pornography for the first-time is 13. Photo: File Photo

Although we live in an unprecedented information age, we are often blissfully unaware of matters that would ordinarily shock us.

More often than not, it is only when we are confronted by statistics that our sensibilities are awakened, and we are conscious of the gravity of a situation.

This is borne out in our reaction to the prevalence of domestic violence, youth suicide and the needless loss of life on our roads. Statistics often point to the fractures and problems within our society.

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One of the most alarming and damning of all of these relates to the emergence of a “porndemic” in Western societies. Fuelled by ubiquitous technology and unrestricted access to the internet, pornography is being consumed more frequently and at a younger age.

Social research across Western nations shows that pornography consumption accounts for more than one third of all internet use and data transfers. This rose dramatically to over half during the lockdowns and social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, the average age for a person seeing pornography for the first-time is 13. And 22 per cent of those under 18 will access it before they have reached the age of 10.

Yes, statistics do shock. Once upon a time, alarm bells rang if children and young people were exposed to gratuitous violence or occasional swearing in late night television programs.

The emergence of a “porndemic” has changed all of this. Among other things, it has changed both the content and the accessibility.

“Close to the counter” magazines have given way to a very dark world, which young people carry in their pocket or backpack or keep on their study desk.

What often starts out as curiosity, soon exposes, and potentially traps the user into a world of physical and sexual violence, coercion and degradation. It is a world that distorts sexual intimacy and depicts women as sex objects.

For many children, hardcore pornography sites have become their principal source of sex education.

What was once meant to be carefully planned, prudently delivered and with parental consent and accompaniment has become a virtual experience of secrecy, which is highly addictive in nature.

And rather than accessing explicit “built for purpose” sites, youth are often exposed to pornography through the social networking sites they use, especially Twitter (now called X) and Instagram.

The negative impact this has on young people’s lives should never be underestimated.

Exposure to pornography affects people’s abilities to develop and maintain healthy and respectful relationships with others.

Most disturbingly, social research suggests that many young people seek to imitate what they have viewed, especially in relation to non-consensual sex, and physical and verbal aggression.

Ultimately, the voyeurs of pornography are victims. And they are vulnerable to online predators.

A disturbing trend in this virtual world of shame is that children and young people are sometimes groomed and are tricked and manipulated into sharing images of themselves, with devastating consequences.

The porndemic of our age requires both a radical and an immediate response.

Recently, the Federal Government decided that it would not require “adult websites” to implement age verification technologies. It was felt that there were a range of privacy, security and effectiveness issues that firstly needed to be resolved.

There is no quick fix. Our response to the porndemic must be multifaceted and must engage all within our community, especially schools, governments, social networking sites, technology companies and regulators.

Above all however, support must be afforded to families. To parents, in the ongoing education of their children in faith and life. And to children and young people themselves, so as to ensure that they are aware of the insidious and detrimental effects of pornography, and are supported in developing healthy and respectful relationships.

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