Perhaps not surprisingly, boys are much more likely to seek out pornography than girls, and use increases with age, research finds.
In one study surveying 471 Dutch teens ages 13 to 18, the researchers found that the more often young people sought out online porn, the more likely they were to have a "recreational" attitude toward sex--specifically, to view sex as a purely physical function like eating or drinking. Boys were much more likely to hold these views than girls, and they tended to hold these attitudes more strongly when they perceived the material as realistic, the team found. Another study not yet finalized will likely add more rigor to the way such variables are measured. Di Clemente, Ph D, and colleagues are using high-tech software to capture which and how many sex Web sites 560 young people access over 16 months.
The team also will survey the teens every two months on their sexual attitudes, onset of sexual behavior and frequency of sexually risky behavior.
Proactive parenting Most likely, many factors can buffer young people from online pornography's negative effects, say researchers.
Finding pornography on the Internet is as easy as Googling the word "sex," as the 40 million Americans who visit porn Web sites each year can attest.
Critics worry about online pornography's effects on adults' work and family lives, but even more about its impact on children and teens.
Despite the handwringing, however, only a handful of investigators have examined the validity of these concerns.
Many are reluctant to explore the topic, thanks to its morally loaded nature, the methodological challenges of Web pornography's effects on children studying an underage population, and the difficulty in showing whether exposure to online porn actually changes sexual attitudes and behavior."We need a lot more research to keep tabs on this phenomenon and to separate hype from reality," says sociologist David Finkelhor, Ph D, director of the University of New Hampshire's (UNH) Crimes Against Children Research Center and a lead researcher in the area.
To give the issue some perspective, his team has examined a variety of social trend indicators during the time that concerns about Internet use among the young have risen--between 19--and found that teens are actually displaying healthier behaviors in domains that might be negatively influenced by greater access to Internet porn."There have been drops in crime, drops in teen pregnancy, increases in the number of kids who say they're virgins, declines in various kinds of victimization and less running away," Finkelhor says.
"You have to hold that image on one hand as you're confronting all of the things that are happening online."That said, a few studies are beginning to show relationships between Web porn use among young people and sexual attitudes.
For example, those who frequent porn sites more often are more likely to view sex as a purely physical function and to view women as sex objects. 2, pages 247-257), for example, attorney Janis Wolak, psychologist Kimberly Mitchell, Ph D, and Finkelhor, of the UNH center, found that 42 percent of a nationally representative sample of 1,500 Internet users ages 10 to 17 had been exposed to online porn in the last year, with two-thirds reporting only unwanted exposure.
They're also more likely to hold such views if they perceive the material as more realistic, research finds. Each year about 40 percent of teens and preteens visit sexually explicit sites either deliberately or accidentally, studies here and abroad show. In fact, the incidence of unwanted exposure has risen for this age group, from about 26 percent between 19, to 34 percent in 2005, the team has found.