Pornography is ubiquitous and therefore parents must protect their children from its corrupting effects on teenagers’ sexuality and self-esteem, the institution of marriage and male-female relationships. Patrick Fagan, Senior Fellow and Director of the Centre for Research on Marriage and Religion at the Family Research Council, provides the social science behind the common sense in a report entitled “The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family and Community.” Some of the key findings were excerptedat 

A substantial factor in this shift has been the growth of digital media and the Internet. Two recent reports, one by the American Psychological Association on hyper-sexualized girls, and the other by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy on the pornographic content of phone texting among teenagers, make clear that the digital revolution is being used by younger and younger children to dismantle the barriers that channel sexuality into family life.

Though most U.S. parents (78 percent) are worried about their adolescents accessing Internet pornography, not all teenagers readily take to this sexualized culture. Most start out being ill at ease with any display of pornography: they tend to be upset or embarrassed, with reactions ranging from fear to shame to anger to fascination. In one survey, about a quarter were “very” upset by this exposure, but they tend not to report it.

Adolescents often come across pornography accidentally on the Internet. One study found that 70 percent of youth aged 15 to 17 accidentally came across pornography online. A study of 1,501 youth aged ten to seventeen examined unwanted exposure incidents more thoroughly: in 26 percent of the cases, respondents reported that when they tried to exit an unwanted site, they were actually brought to an additional sex site. The same study showed that out of the total number of unwanted exposure incidents, 44 percent of the time the youth did not disclose the episode to anyone else.

These initial reactions of disgust, however, rapidly dissipate so that older adolescents tend to use sexually explicit Internet material more often than younger adolescents and are twice as likely to report intentional pornography use as are younger adolescents. Repeated exposure to pornography eventually wipes out any feelings of shame and disgust and gives way, instead, to unadulterated enjoyment.

It seems too easy to blame technology, but what was once available only to adults in shady stores and cinemas now is easily accessible at home on any computer with web access to anyone, including (as Fagan notes) those who are not necessarily looking for it. Parents must monitor their children’s internet usage, install reliable family filters, and talk to their sons and daughters about what they see online.

Oswald Clark is the economics reporter of The Interim and an Ottawa and Boston based economist.