Opinion: Our kids exposed to an adult world
Melinda Tankard Reist
The Courier-Mail is to be commended for its series on the hypersexualisation of our young people — especially the impacts on children by allowing them to be exposed to porn even before their first kiss.
What has been documented here in the Generation Sext campaign is what I’m hearing everywhere I go.
Educators, child welfare groups, childcare workers, mental health bodies, medicos and parents are reeling.
All are struggling to deal with the proliferation of hypersexualised imagery and its impacts on the most vulnerable — children who think what they see in porn is what real sex looks like.
They tell me about children using sexual language, children touching other children inappropriately, children playing “sex games” in the schoolyard, children requesting sexual favours, children showing other children porn on their devices, children distressed by explicit images they came across while searching an innocent term, children exposed to porn “pop ups” on sites featuring their favourite cartoon characters or while playing online games.
The website PornHub is in the top five favourite sites of boys aged 11-16 according to ChildWise UK. The biggest selling genres of porn are those eroticising violence.
Boys are viewing violent depictions of sex, torture, rape and incest. They are having their sexual arousal conditioned by depictions of extreme cruelty, seeing women being assaulted for sexual pleasure — all while their sexuality is under construction.
In Australia there has been a significant increase in reports of child on child sexual assault — identified as “copycat sexual predators”.
AMA vice-president Stephen Parnis says the internet is exposing children to sexually explicit content teaching them that sex is about “use and abuse”.
“There are increasing levels of aggression and the physical harm resulting from sexual acts is becoming more apparent,” he says.
The Australian Psychological Association has seen the problem first hand.
“Over the past decade, we have seen a growing trend of younger children engaging in problem sexual and sexually abusive behaviours generally aimed at younger children — in other words, children sexually assaulting children,” their Senate inquiry submission said.
“Pornography is providing too many 10-year-olds with the mechanical knowledge to anally, orally and/or vaginally penetrate younger siblings, cousins and acquaintances.”
Girls especially are bearing the brunt of porn-inspired boys who have imbibed a sense of entitlement to the bodies of women and girls.
We continue to hear the cry “Boys aren’t treating girls with respect!”. But there’s no mystery as to the reason.
Girls tell me about boys demanding sexual favours, demanding sex acts they don’t like, pressured to provide naked images (including girls as young as 11 and 12), being ranked compared to the bodies of porn stars.
One young woman told the South East Centre Against Sexual Assault: “When you have sex with a guy they want it to be like a porno. They want anal and oral right away. Oral is, like, the new kissing.”
There is a growing body of global literature testifying to how boys who take their sexual cues from porn develop sexist attitudes and aggressive behaviours — which has a trickle-down effect on women and girls.
For too many boys, the debasement they see on screen becomes real life debasement of girls.
In 2012, the UK Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to porn has a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image.
A 2012 review of research on the Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents found that adolescent consumption of internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes, including acceptance of male dominance and female submission, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfil male sexual desires”.
The authors found that “adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed”.
In Australia, one in four young men think it is OK to pressure women to have sex.
Pornography normalises and eroticises violence against women as sexy. We have more than enough warnings by frontline service agencies about a public health emergency involving near-saturation rates of pornography consumption among men and boys.
This assault on the healthy sexual development of children has to stop if we want our children to engage in healthy sexual exploration and respect-based relationships, to know what real intimacy feels like.
The problem is so big and so vast it requires a whole of community approach. Parents, schools, educators, the medical profession, welfare groups, governments and regulatory bodies have to take action.
Fortunately there are signs that young people want something better. This is a message I received from a young woman who heard me speak.
“Hi Melinda. I was really touched by what you had to say and you opened my eyes to what sort of world we live in and at 16 I’m disgusted and amazed at what girls my age have to go through.
“You said something about being asked for nudes and that and personally I didn’t know what you meant by that as I haven’t been asked to do that … until today.
“To tell you the truth I wouldn’t have known what to do about it if you didn’t speak about it and I’m very grateful to you. The boy asked me for a photo or video and I said no — that’s when he called me “lame”. But I immediately told him I am more than just my body and you shouldn’t treat me like a piece of meat and instantly blocked him.
“Thank you for telling me that and I hope I have done the right thing and myself and other girls are taking action and we want to make a difference.
“I want to help girls feel like they are worth something. So thanks again you are an inspiration to us all and I hope to join your cause — Tiffany, 16.”
As published in The Courier Mail.