We must take a public health approach to tackle porn culture

We must take a public health approach to tackle porn culture

A public health lens informs the activities of the 3-pronged PREVENT – EQUIP – RESTORE approach taken by Porn Harms Kids. Given the extensive data available on the harms of pornography on children and young people – particularly related to the rise in mental health issues and preventable diseases such as Sexually Transmitted Infections, work must commence with prevention.

Pornography is a social problem and hence cannot be simply addressed by focusing on an individual level.  The paper: Health education's role in framing pornography as a public health issue: local and national strategies with international implications (2008), states:

Social issues from the public health perspective involve problems that affect individuals or groups beyond their capacity to correct. Social issues are detectable when responsibility is shifted from individuals being able to adequately make changes themselves, toward holding external social causes or influences accountable. It is clear that many aspects of pornography meet this definition of social issue, and warrant public health advocacy efforts.

An organisation that is part of our expert advisory panel, Culture Reframed, advises that pornography effects individuals, families, communities and the culture. Culture Reframed, drawing from over forty years of peer reviewed research, culled the following data on pornography:

1)     It has multiple harmful effects.

  • Limited capacity for intimacy
    • More likely to use coercive tactics
    • Increased engagement in risky sexual behaviours
    • Increased likelihood of perpetuating sexual harassment and rape
    • Decreased empathy for rape victims
    • Increased anxiety/depression
    • Habitual/addictive use

2)     It adversely affects all dimensions of health.

  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual
  • Physical

3)     It is getting worse.

  • Mainstream content is sexist, racist, and increasingly cruel, brutal, and degrading.

4)     It acts as a fast-spreading vehicle for other major public health problems:

  • sexual violence
  • depression/anxiety/low self-esteem
  • substance abuse
  • disease

5)     It is how most youth learn about and experience sex. 

Relevant Research to support these statements may be found on our Journal Articles page.

PREVENTION requires working with our Government and technology companies to prevent the harms of pornography from occurring in the first place. Reducing access through safeguarding homes with filters and device apps is one such measure; however, using this as a solo approach has significant limitations due to the broad range of families within community and an ad hoc response to pornography harms. The viability of limiting the delivery of pornography to children through technology-related child protection buffers, modelled after measures adopted in the UK, are important to consider.

PREVENTION includes reducing access through a range of ‘Digital Child Protection Buffers’, such as:

  • Safeguarding homes with filters and device apps.
  • Internet Service Provider (ISP) filters
  • Age-verification processes to access pornographic websites
  • Mobile device restrictions through use of SIM cards that restrict access to adult content unless and until the account holder completes an age verification procedure.
  • Public Friendly WiFi

Often the argument against filtering is that kids will find a way around it. However, only a very small minority of 12-15 year olds say they have disabled filters or parental controls.

  • Despite most children having information about staying safe online, a small number of 12- 15s say they are engaged in potentially risky online activities: they are more likely than in 2015 to say they have deleted their history records (17% vs. 11%), amended the settings to use a web browser in privacy mode (10% vs. 6%) and disabled any filters or controls (3% vs. 1%). (OFCOM, 2016)
  • This means that 97% of kids don’t know how or have not bothered to disable filters.

EDUCATION is required in every sphere of community: parents, children, teens, government and non-government organisations, schools, spiritual meeting places and sporting groups.

Parents need education, tools and knowledge to gain confidence to assist children to navigate the online space. It can be overwhelming and time consuming to find and access the limited resources available to address this relatively new issue. Through links to educational resources individually targeted for parents of children; parents of teens; and educators and professionals, Porn Harms Kids encourages parents, schools, government and community organisations to have regular and consistent conversations that help kids develop an “internal filter” to reject pornography.

Porn Harms Kids identifies that the work of Culture Reframed in producing a Parents and Health Professionals Program is an essential part of the solution.

Porn Harms Kids is committed to seeking out and where possible, reviewing educational resources for parents of children, parents of teens and educational settings, to determine the suitability of these resources to support children and young people’s mental and physical health.

Porn Harms Kids will be making available a policy framework for use by community organisations, early childhood centres and educational institutions, to provide an appropriate first response when dealing with a child who has been exposed to pornography. Educational resources such as these are currently not available.

RESTORATION is a key factor in public health for those children and young people faced with negative impacts of exposure and problematic use of pornography. An important key to ensuring health and wellbeing is to prevent these harms from occurring in the first place.

“Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. As such, early experiences are an important public health issue." 
(CDC, 2016)

A public health approach requires all levels (from the micro to the macro) of community and Government to be aware of the harms, and implement laws and policy changes that place children at the fore of protective measures.