DataPDF Available
A quantitative and qualitative examination of the impact
of online pornography on the values, attitudes, beliefs
and behaviours of children and young people.
By Elena Martellozzo, Andy Monaghan, Joanna R. Adler,
Julia Davidson, Rodolfo Leyva and Miranda A.H. Horvath
“…I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it…”
Revised May, 2017
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Foreword from the Research Commissioners
Turn the clock back a decade, and access to the internet was typically restricted to
the family PC in the front room or classroom, both of which could be monitored by
adults. In the intervening years, advances in technology have taken the internet from
the front room to the playground - in 2015 Ofcom reported that for the first time,
smartphones had overtaken laptops as the most popular device for getting online in
the UK. Only now are we beginning to understand the impact this is having on the
first generation of ‘smartphone kids.’
Whilst the online world has created incredible opportunities for young people to
explore, experiment, socialise, create and educate themselves in ways which were
previously undreamt of, it has also exposed children to the risk of harm, including
from seeing pornography and from sexting.
Protecting children from potential harm and educating them about both the physical
and online worlds are shared responsibilities in which parents, governments, policy-
makers and educators, and importantly, industry, all have vital roles to play. Young
people say that they want sex and relationships education, including discussions
about pornography.
The Children’s Commissioner and NSPCC wanted to understand the numbers of
children who view or who are exposed to pornography online, and its impact on
them. The research we commissioned from Middlesex University provides the most
robust and significant evidence of young people’s pornography viewing habits in the
UK to date.
The findings highlight, not only the concerning scale with which young people are
being exposed to online pornography, but also the numbers who are seeing it
inadvertently.
They reveal the negative effects that being exposed to pornography can have; on
children’s emotions, particularly on first exposure; that a proportion continue to
search for it after seeing it inadvertently; and how feelings of shock and confusion
can dissipate as they become seemingly desensitised to the content.
A significant minority want to emulate what they have seen in online pornography,
and there is a perception, particularly from boys, that what they have viewed is
realistic. These are worrying findings, given the acknowledgment by the young
people themselves that online pornography is a poor model for consent or safe sex.
Reassuringly, the findings also show that just over half of the sample reported that
they had never seen online pornography.
In the last few years, steps have been taken to curb the tide of pornography that
children and young people can access with ease. But it is clear from our research
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that there is no room for complacency. It is vital that effective safeguards are put in
place, alongside better sex and relationship education, both in the classroom and
online.
It cannot be right that so many children may be stumbling across and learning about
sex from degrading and violent depictions of it. We need to act to restrict their
access to such material and to ensure that they have spaces in which to discuss and
learn about safe relationships and sex. It is our duty to protect children from harm,
and so we must ensure this happens.
15th June, 2016
Authors’ Preface to the Revised Report, May 2017.
As part of routine review processes and given the continuing topicality around this
issue, the commissioners and research team have taken the opportunity to produce
a revised version of this report. The main revisions include the reporting of additional
statistical detail and further analyses that elucidate young people’s feelings about
pornography. Whilst there have been slight changes to some of the statistics
considered in the original report, it should be noted that the key conclusions and
policy implications of the revised report are unchanged from those originally drawn.
The team believes that the recommendations are as pertinent now as they were in
June, 2016.
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Acknowledgements
The authors of this report would like to thank the staff of the NSPCC and the
Children’s Commissioner for England who have been supportive, critical friends
throughout the project. We are particularly grateful to Jon Brown, Dr Graham Ritchie
and Dr Julia Fossi.
We are deeply indebted to the team at ResearchBods who worked hard to help us
access children and young people across the four nations of the UK; Lee Carrack
and Reuben Barker provided constant support.
We are also indebted to the expert members of the independent advisory board who
gave up their evenings and weekends to comment on drafts and to provide useful
feedback throughout. The members of the board were:
Abi Billinghurst, Founder and Director, Abianda;
Dr Maddy Coy, Deputy Director, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit,
London Metropolitan University;
Associate Professor Michael Flood, Sociology, University of Wollongong;
Professor Rosalind Gill, Department of Sociology, City University;
Reg Hooke, LSCB Chair and Independent Child Safeguarding Consultant;
Tink Palmer, CEO Marie Collins Foundation. Visiting Professor, University
Campus Suffolk.
Our thanks go too, to the children and young people who participated in the research
and the school staff who recognised the importance of this sensitive topic and
facilitated access. We also note that the quote in the title is taken from a research
participant.
Finally, the team would like to thank their families and friends, who gave us
additional support and space to conduct this valuable research.
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Table of contents
FOREWORD FROM THE RESEARCH COMMISSIONERS .................................................. 1
AUTHORS’ PREFACE TO THE REVISED REPORT, MAY 2017. ........................................ 2
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ...................................................................................................... 3
LIST OF FIGURES ................................................................................................................. 5
LIST OF TABLES ................................................................................................................... 6
1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ................................................................................................ 7
1.1 OVERVIEW OF RESEARCH BACKGROUND AND METHODS ............................................ 7
1.1.1 Ethics ................................................................................................................... 7
1.1.2 Safeguarding ....................................................................................................... 7
1.1.3 Methods of analysis ............................................................................................. 8
1.2 KEY FINDINGS ........................................................................................................... 8
1.2.1 Which children reported seeing pornography? .................................................... 8
1.2.2 Feelings and attitudes towards online pornography ............................................ 9
1.2.3 Risks and harms ................................................................................................ 10
1.2.4 ‘Sexting’ ............................................................................................................. 10
1.2.5 Young people as critical users of pornography ................................................. 12
1.2.6 Young people’s views on intervention ............................................................... 13
1.3 POLICY IMPLICATIONS ............................................................................................. 13
2 OBJECTIVES AND METHODS .................................................................................... 16
2.1 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES AND DESIGN ...................................................................... 16
2.2 ETHICS AND SAFEGUARDING ................................................................................... 17
2.3 ANALYSIS ............................................................................................................... 18
3 RESEARCH FINDINGS ................................................................................................ 20
3.1 REPRESENTATIVENESS OF THE SURVEY SAMPLE ..................................................... 20
3.2 EXTENT OF EXPOSURE TO ONLINE PORNOGRAPHY .................................................. 22
3.2.1 Numbers of children who have ever seen porn and with whom ........................ 22
3.2.2 Children and young people who actively searched for online pornography ...... 23
3.2.3 Frequency of encountering online pornography ................................................ 24
3.3 MEANS OF EXPOSURE TO ONLINE PORNOGRAPHY ................................................... 24
3.4 AGE AND GENDER DIFFERENCES IN EXPOSURE TO ONLINE PORNOGRAPHY .............. 25
3.4.1 Age differences in exposure to online pornography .......................................... 26
3.4.2 Gender differences in exposure to online pornography .................................... 28
3.5 SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS: ENCOUNTERING ONLINE PORNOGRAPHY ...................... 31
4 YOUNG PEOPLE’S FEELINGS & ATTITUDES ABOUT ONLINE PORNOGRAPHY 32
4.1 AFFECTIVE RESPONSES: HOW YOUNG PEOPLE FEEL ABOUT PORNOGRAPHY ............. 32
4.2 COGNITIVE RESPONSES: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM YOUNG PEOPLES ATTITUDES? 37
4.3 SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS: AFFECTIVE AND COGNITIVE RESPONSES ...................... 40
5 RISKS AND HARMS .................................................................................................... 41
5.1 EMULATING BEHAVIOURS ........................................................................................ 41
5.2 SHARED MATERIALS ................................................................................................ 45
5.3 SELF-GENERATED IMAGES: ‘SEXTING ..................................................................... 47
5.4 SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS: RISKS AND HARMS ...................................................... 53
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6 YOUNG PEOPLE AS CRITICAL USERS OF ONLINE PORNOGRAPHY .................. 54
6.1 EDUCATIONAL MITIGATIONS .................................................................................... 57
6.2 DO CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE FAVOUR INTERVENTION? ................................... 61
6.3 SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS: YOUNG PEOPLE AS CRITICAL USERS OF PORNOGRAPHY 64
7 DATASET LIMITATIONS ............................................................................................. 65
8 POLICY IMPLICATIONS .............................................................................................. 66
9 REFERENCES .............................................................................................................. 68
10 APPENDICES ............................................................................................................... 71
10.1 APPENDIX 1: METHODOLOGY ................................................................................... 71
10.2 APPENDIX 2: MATERIALS- ONLINE DISCUSSION FORUM ............................................ 77
10.3 APPENDIX 3: MATERIALS- STAGE 1 FOCUS GROUPS ................................................ 79
10.4 APPENDIX 4: POST SURVEY EMAIL TO YOUNG PEOPLE............................................. 81
10.5 APPENDIX 5: SAFEGUARDING EMAIL TO SURVEY RESPONDENTS ............................... 82
10.6 APPENDIX 6: MATERIALS- STAGE 3 FOCUS GROUPS ................................................. 84
List of figures
Figure 1: Recruitment from the four nations ......................................................................... 20
Figure 2: Stage 2 sample age ............................................................................................... 21
Figure 3: Stage 2 sexuality ................................................................................................... 21
Figure 4: Stage 2 school type ............................................................................................... 22
Figure 5: Do children first view pornography alone?. ............................................................ 23
Figure 6: Cross tabulation of age by active searching for pornography ................................ 24
Figure 7: Frequency of viewing online pornography ............................................................. 24
Figure 8: Device used to view online pornography for the first time ..................................... 25
Figure 9: Where pornography was seen for the first time ..................................................... 25
Figure 10: Ever encountering online pornography ................................................................ 26
Figure 11: Current viewing of online pornography ................................................................ 26
Figure 12: Actively searching for online pornography by age ............................................... 27
Figure 13: Frequency by age of viewing online pornography ............................................... 27
Figure 14: Actively searching for online pornography- gender differences ........................... 28
Figure 15: Seeing online pornography has led me to believe that sexual activities should be
enjoyable for everyone .................................................................................................. 38
Figure 16: Seeing online pornography has led me to believe that sexual activities should be
safe for everyone involved ............................................................................................ 39
Figure 17: Online pornography has given me ideas about types of sex to try out, by age ... 41
Figure 18: Online pornography has given ideas about types of sex to try out, by gender .... 42
Figure 19: Seeing online pornography has led me to believe that women should act in
certain ways during sex, by age .................................................................................... 44
Figure 20: Seeing online pornography led me to believe that men should act in certain ways
during sex, by age ......................................................................................................... 44
Figure 21: Did respondents know the people to whom they transmitted naked or semi-naked
images? ......................................................................................................................... 50
Figure 22: Cross-tabulation between gender and ‘has the online pornography that you have
seen shown you about safe sex?’ ................................................................................. 56
Figure 23: Seeing online pornography has led me to believe that sexual activities should be
agreed to by everyone involved, by whether or not they have had sex and
releationships lessons ................................................................................................... 58
Figure 24: Cross-tabulation between age group and ‘has the online pornography that you
have seen shown you about safe sex?’ ........................................................................ 59
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List of tables
Table 1: Stage 2 family heritage ........................................................................................... 22
Table 2: Initial feelings about online pornography 33
Table 3: Current feelings about online pornography ............................................................. 33
Table 4: Views about pornography seen .............................................................................. 35
Table 5: Photographing yourself naked or semi-naked. ....................................................... 48
Table 6: Photographing someone else naked or semi-naked ............................................... 51
Table 7: Seen a naked body, or private body part, belonging to someone else ................... 51
Table 8: Beliefs affected by pornography from 13-16 year olds who had seen it. ................ 55
Table 9: Teachers talking about online pornography ............................................................ 59
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1 Executive Summary
1.1 Overview of Research Background and Methods
This paper presents findings about young people’s experiences with online
pornography. It draws on data from the first national survey of secondary school
boys and girls regarding their attitudes and feelings about online pornography,
whether viewing it deliberately or accidentally. To our knowledge, this is the
most extensive survey of 11-16 year olds regarding online pornography. The
sample is representative of the four nations of the UK and includes boys and
girls. The project was designed and run by academics from Middlesex
University. It was implemented in conjunction with ResearchBods. The design
employed a Delphi
1
type approach (Linstone & Turoff, 2002) and consisted of:
1. An online discussion forum and four online focus groups with 34 children
and young people (11-16) from across the United Kingdom (England,
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) to inform the design of a survey
and identify emerging issues. The initial discussion forum and focus
groups were segregated by age;
2. An online survey with 1001 children and young people (11-16) across the
United Kingdom;
3. Six online focus groups with 40 children and young people (11-16) from
across the United Kingdom, to provide more in-depth information on
elements of the online survey findings. These groups were segregated by
both age and gender.
1.1.1 Ethics
The research was conducted in accordance with the Health and Care Professions
Council, the British Psychological Society and the British Sociological Association
ethical codes of conduct. Information was provided at the outset about the nature of
the survey and consent was obtained before and after completion, from responsible
adults and from the young people themselves. Each sub-section of the survey
included an option to ‘exit’, that could be clicked at any time and that led to a page
with contact information for relevant support organisations.
1.1.2 Safeguarding
A careful threshold for safeguarding was adopted for this research. A precautionary
stance was taken whereby child protection encompassed both safeguarding and
prevention of harm. The approach taken to safeguarding and promoting the welfare
of children was rigorous and conducted with regular consultation between the
research partners, commissioners and members of an independent advisory board.
In line with child protection guidance, it avoided unnecessarily criminalising of
children, whilst keeping their safety paramount.
1
The Delphi technique is ‘a method for structuring a group communication process so that the process is effective in
allowing a group of individuals, as a whole, to deal with a complex problem.’ (Linstone & Turoff, 1975:3).
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Information about the nature of the research was provided to all potential
participants, schools, parents and legal guardians as part of recruitment and was
reiterated before each young person participated. It was also made clear that
safeguarding processes would be adopted and that these would be between the
young people and appropriate providers of support/intervention, they would not be
between the research team and parents.
At the beginning of each online focus group and the discussion forum, participants
were reminded that they could leave the online platform at any time. In the online
survey, each sub-section included an option to ‘exit’, that could be clicked at any
point in the survey and led to a page with contact information for relevant providers
of support. All respondents could also click a button to request follow up support and
direct contact from ResearchBods, if they did not feel safe, or had an issue of
concern to disclose. Additionally, the senior members of the academic research
team worked closely with ResearchBods, commissioners and a senior child
protection officer, to promote safeguarding best practice.
1.1.3 Methods of analysis
Quantitative data from the survey were imported into SPSS and recoded as
necessary. Descriptive and inferential statistics are used in this report to highlight
differences of statistical significance. Qualitative data were imported into NVivo and
Excel and analysed using inductive thematic approaches and content analysis.
1.2 Key Findings
1.2.1 Which children reported seeing pornography?
1) Just over half of the stage 2 sample reported never having seen online
pornography, they were more likely to be younger and female;
2) Just under half of the stage 2 sample had been exposed to online pornography
by the age of 16 and of those who had seen it, 94% reported seeing it by age 14;
3) Of those who were still seeing online pornography, 47% (209/448) reported
searching for it actively;
4) Young people were as likely to find pornography by accident as to find it
deliberately;
5) Greater proportions of boys see online pornography than the proportions of girls
who see it--this is whether deliberately or accidentally;
Who has seen online pornography?
More boys view online pornography, through choice, than girls;
At 11, the majority of children had not seen online pornography
(28% of 11-12 year olds report seeing pornography);
By 15, children were more likely than not to have seen online
pornography (65% of 15-16 year olds report seeing pornography);
Children were as likely to stumble across pornography via a ‘pop
up’ as to search for it deliberately or be shown it by other people.
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6) Boys continue seeing pornography, more often and more deliberately than girls;
7) Older children are more likely to see pornography, more often, than younger
children, whether deliberately or accidentally.
1.2.2 Feelings and attitudes towards online pornography
1) Girls are more negative about pornography than boys;
2) Of the stage 2 participants who answered the question, a greater proportion of
boys (53%) reported pornography was realistic than the proportion of girls (39%);
3) A minority of respondents reported sexual arousal on first viewing pornography
(17%), rising to 49% at current viewing;
4) Older respondents (15-16 year-olds) who chose to view online pornography
predominantly reported doing so for pleasure;
5) Some of the respondents felt curious (41%) shocked (27%) or confused (24%) on
first viewing pornography;
6) The negative feelings subsided through repeated viewing of online pornography:
a) When asked about how they now feel about online pornography that they still
view, 30% reported that they remained curious (initially 41%), 8% remained
shocked (down from 27%), and 4% remained confused (down from 24%);
7) When asked to rate their overall attitudes towards pornography, mixed responses
included that it was unrealistic (49%), arousing (47%), exciting (40%), silly (36%),
exploitative (38%) and scary (23%);
a) Some of these attitudes varied by age and gender with more boys being more
positive, particularly in older age groups.
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Young people’s definition of ‘sexting’ is textual, not visual.
The vast majority of young people had not produced naked images
of themselves;
A minority of young people had generated naked or semi-naked
images of themselves; some of them had shared the images further;
Just over half of those who had taken intimate selfies had shared
them with others, these are mainly, but not always, people they
know;
There was limited knowledge of how to remove online images of
themselves.
Some older children want to act out the pornography they have seen.
Substantial minorities of older children wanted to try things out they
had seen in pornography;
A greater proportion of boys wanted to emulate pornography than
the proportions of girls;
Pornographic material has been received by a quarter of the stage
2 sample.
1.2.3 Risks and harms
1) Most young people in the stage 2 sample had not wanted to emulate anything
that they had seen in pornography. However, substantial minorities did report that
online pornography has given them ideas that they wanted to try out;
2) The proportions wishing to emulate pornography increase with age21% for 11-
12 year olds; 39% for the 13-14 year olds and 42% for the 15-16 year olds;
3) Some 44% of males, compared to 29% of females, reported that the online
pornography they had seen had given them ideas about the types of sex they
wanted to try out;
4) Twenty-six percent of surveyed respondents had received online pornography or
links to it and 4% reported sending others pornography online, or links to it.
1.2.4 ‘Sexting’
1) None of the children in focus groups described sexting as taking and sharing self-
generated photographs of naked bodies or body parts. Rather, they interpreted
sexting as writing and sharing sexually explicit or intimate words to people they
knew, normally their boyfriend or girlfriend;
2) The vast majority of survey respondents did not report having taken naked
‘selfies’, however:
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a) One hundred and twenty-three young people (13% of the respondents) had
taken topless pictures of themselves (88 boys, 33 girls and 2 young people
who did not identify in a gender binary way);
b) Forty-one (4%) had taken pictures of themselves that showed their “bottom
half naked” (26 boys, 14 girls and 1 young person who did not identify in a
gender binary way);
c) Twenty-seven (3%) had taken fully naked pictures of themselves (13 boys, 13
girls and 1 young person who did not identify in a gender binary way);
3) In total, 135 young people (14%) had taken naked, and, or, semi-naked images
of themselves. Just over half of them went on to share the images with others
(i.e. 7% of the survey participants shared images). Forty-nine of them had been
asked to share their pictures online:
a) Most boys who had shared their images reported not being asked to share the
pictures online, (67 out of 96 boys who had generated and shared such
images). Conversely, most girls who generated and shared naked or semi-
naked images reported that they had been asked to share the pictures with
someone (22/37) this difference may have implications for intervention;
b) The majority of respondents (30/49) who had taken and shared naked or semi-
naked self-images online, reported that they knew the person they showed
them to;
c) This leaves some who did not know the people with whom they shared
intimate images of themselves, this was a matter considered in terms of child
protection and safeguarding;
d) Twenty-five young people said that they had shared images of themselves
performing a sexual act (12 boys, 12 girls and 1 young person who did not
identify in a gender binary way);
4) During the stage 3 online focus groups, all participants were asked: “Would you
be able to remove an intimate image of yourself or would you need to get help?
(E.g. ChildLine/IWF partnership)”. Only the older children (15-16) knew about this
possibility and all age groups felt that not enough information was available to
children and young people;
5) Very few young people said they had:
a) created a fully-naked image of others--11/948 who answered the question (1%
of all respondents);
b) taken top-half naked pictures of someone else 34/948 who answered the
question (3% of the whole sample);
c) taken pictures of someone else, naked from the waist down 13/948 answering
the question (1% of all respondents).
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How do young people rate pornography?
Most young people saw pornography as unrealistic however a minority
rated it positively;
More positive responses came from boys, younger respondents and
those whose schools had not engaged with them about online
pornography;
Most young people thought pornography was a poor model for consent
or safe sex and wanted better sex education, covering the impact of
pornography.
1.2.5 Young people as critical users of pornography
1) As already noted, when reflecting back on their first encounter with online
pornography, young people tended to be negative, reporting shock, shame,
disgust, but also, curiosity;
2) Those who continued to view pornography tended to shift in their attitudes with
lower percentages reporting negative feelings after continued exposure;
3) Young people’s assessments of pornography varied. At least three quarters of
the stage 2 sample who had seen pornography (across ages and genders) felt
that pornography was a poor model for consent or for safe sex. However, as also
noted above, just over half the sample of boys saw pornography as realistic;
4) A few young people agreed that pornography had taught them about the roles
that men and women could play in sexual relationships:
a) The majority of young people disagreed with such statements but boys,
particularly younger boys, were the group from whom the most positive
assessments of pornography were reported;
b) The main body of this paper considers what young people may be learning
about sexual relationships and gender from pornography and how greater
viewing of pornography, whether deliberate or accidental, might influence their
behaviours;
5) Respondents from the online focus groups suggested that formal school
education on the issues surrounding online pornography may help to challenge
harmful attitudes towards women, or towards potentially harmful sexual
relationships that can stem from exposure to online pornography;
6) Survey data indicated that young people have mixed experiences of PSHE
classes. There is some evidence that more sex and relationship education and,
or, education about online pornography, may help young people disentangle the
competing emotions they experience when viewing pornography online;
7) Survey data also indicate that if young people have seen troubling material, it
may help to have a parent to talk to, but the findings are somewhat equivocal;
8) Young people were creative and often enthusiastic about potential opportunities
to improve their learning about sex and relationships and online interactions.
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1.2.6 Young people’s views on intervention
Young people were keen to participate in this research and very few withdrew from
the study (17 in total). In the focus groups, they commonly thanked the research
team for giving them an opportunity to talk about pornography.
1. The online discussion led to consensus about the importance of education
and the need for it to be relevant, and engaging;
2. Whether provided in the classroom, or digitally, young people wanted to be
able to find out about sex and relationships and about pornography in ways
that were safe, private and credible;
a. This was modulated by recognition that it may not be the most popular
subject or the easiest to deliver;
b. They suggested that awkwardness or difficulty could be alleviated with
specialist provision, particularly where young people are encouraged to
co-create their learning;
3. Young people highlighted the need for materials that are age and gender
appropriate. Some also touched on lack of teacher awareness of the potential
additional vulnerabilities faced by young people who do not identify as either
male or female in a binary manner;
4. The survey respondents were overwhelmingly heterosexual but there was
some concern expressed that young people who identified as LGBTQ
2
should
not be excluded from sex and relationships education;
5. When asked in focus groups, what they would design if offered the chance to
develop online materials of their own, young people suggested short videos,
to be hosted on an easily accessible website or an app;
a. However, some young people felt that resources should not be online
only, or were concerned that access should be private;
6. When directly asked about age verification, young people were generally in
favour but pointed out its limitations, this was also mentioned in focus groups.
1.3 Policy Implications
This section is intended to draw out implications of the research. It is hoped that
this will prompt further discussion as to how best to support young people and
facilitate their safe development, online and in the real world. There are potential
opportunities for involvement of key stakeholders including the internet industry
and NGOs, as well as for academics and government, the UK Council for Child
Internet Safety should also play a role.
1) An important finding was reported at the outset of this report and is that
approximately half of the young people who participated in this research did
not report viewing online pornography at all. Pornography is not something
that all secondary school children seek. It should be noted that the proportion
of young people who did report seeing pornography is smaller than previous
literature would predict and the lower proportion of those who indicated that
2
“LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer, and is used to designate a community of
people whose sexual or gender identities can create shared political and social concerns.” (Liberate Yourself, nd)
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they actively seek it out may reflect the comparatively young age range.
2) Although not true for all, pornography is something that many young people
do see, whether intentionally or not.
a. Boys are more likely than girls to actively search for pornography and
to do so more frequently and regularly;
b. Although some girls do choose to use pornography, these are in
significantly lower proportions than boys;
c. Most young people saw pornography as being different from reality, yet
there were some who saw it as realistic and something to be emulated;
d. Older research participants were less likely to be shocked by
pornography and more likely to use it for sexual stimulation;
e. Attention needs to be paid to the messages that boys take from
pornography, and what their expectations are for the girls with whom
they subsequently interact;
f. Similarly, attention needs to be paid to the messages that girls take
from pornography and how they may be being influenced within
potential or actual sexual relationships.
3) Young people who participated in the research highlighted variability in
education provision and quality in relation to online pornography. Addressing
this variability in safe, multi-faceted ways may enhance young people’s
abilities to challenge and engage with pornography as critical users.
4) Regulation of pornography and measures to control access to it were
considered by the participants and sometimes suggested as something for
children who were younger than the respondents, or in some other way that
would not limit their own access.
a. Implications here are that a determined young person could well
circumvent controls, but that better regulation may help to minimise
accidental exposure, particularly via ‘pop-ups’.
5) The research suggests that some young people are concerned or worried by
their exposure to pornography. These young people may require more
proactive support and advice and include those who have been sent
pornography that was not wanted as well as those who found material that
was unexpected or otherwise troubling.
6) There is a definitional issue in respect of sexting in that young people do not
recognise that the sending of intimate images is a form of sexting and that
such images could be illegal. Children and young people seem to have a
particular understanding of ‘sexting’ that is not shared by adults. This would
imply that policy-making and education programmes in regard to young
people exchanging naked/semi-naked pictures should be based on a clear
and accurate understanding of what young people are doing, and the ways in
which they describe their behaviours and should address legal issues;
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7) Implications of this research that relate to gender and age can only be tested
longitudinally. Also, if intervention is to be made or regulation introduced, then
efficacy should be evaluated. This would include the impact of potential age
verification measures and outcomes of educational awareness initiatives.
a. More research is needed that looks more directly at effects of young
people’s viewing of pornography on their development and
relationships.
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2 Objectives and Methods
2.1 Research Objectives and Design
This is the final report of a study commissioned by the National Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the Children’s Commissioner for
England to explore the feelings and experiences of children and young people about
online pornography, that would have been legal, had it been viewed by people over
the age of 18. The study centred on the exploration of the potential socio-cognitive,
behavioural and psychological impacts and experiences of UK adolescents’ (11-16)
exposure to online pornography.
Throughout the study, the following definition was adopted:
This definition of pornography was developed by the research team, drawing on
previous literature. The definition was designed to be clear and suitable for the
age groups participating in the research. It was approved by the relevant ethics
boards, universally endorsed by the children and young people who participated
in stage 1 of the research and consequently adopted throughout. It is
acknowledged, that this definition is slightly broader than others, such as
Malamuth’s (2001), and that even with the provision of this definition, there may
have been differences in what young people considered to be pornographic.
The rationale for the current research is threefold. Firstly, the extensive literature on
mass communications has consistently shown that continued engagement with
media can significantly shape people’s dispositional attitudes, tastes, knowledge and
behaviours (Bryant & Zillmann, 2002; Parisier, 2012). This is particularly the case
during adolescent physical, cognitive and social development (Escobar-Chaves, et
al., 2005). Secondly, contemporary adolescents are so immersed in online media
that it has been argued that there is no separation between, their “real” and “virtual”
existences and that we cannot be certain of what effects this will have on their
development (Carr, 2010). The internet is replete with explicit, easily accessible,
sexual content. As Peter and Valkenburg (2006) note, “the Internet also offers
numerous applications to engage in so-called cybersex, that is, suggestive or explicit
erotic messages or sexual fantasies that are exchanged with others via the
computer. […] Sex related words rank consistently at the top of terms used in search
engines” (Ibid, 2006:178). Thirdly, a systematic examination of the impact of online
pornography on UK pre-adolescent and young adolescents sexual attitudes and
behaviours had not been published previously.
By pornography, we mean images and films of people having sex or
behaving sexually online. This includes semi-naked and naked images and
films of people that you may have viewed or downloaded from the internet, or
that someone else shared with you directly, or showed to you on their phone
or computer.
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
The methods and materials used in this study are summarised here and more fully
articulated in Appendices 1-6. Stage 1 entailed use of an online discussion forum
and four online focus groups that were conducted with 34 young people (18 females,
16 males). These were split by age group, but not by gender. An additional six focus
groups were repeated at the third, final stage of this research, where 40 young
people (21 females and 19 males) were interviewed. The stage 3 focus groups were
stratified by age and gender.
Focus groups and the online discussion forum provided the basis for the majority of
qualitative data reported here, supplemented by qualitative responses provided in
Stage 2. Stage 2 was implemented in between the focus groups, and comprised a
national survey. This was completed in full by 1001 young people and generated the
quantitative data underpinning this report. All research participants were recruited by
a Research Agency, ResearchBods, who also hosted the online materials. Young
people were recruited via existing family survey panels and school survey panels. All
materials were designed by the academic research team and conformed to ethical
guidance of the British Psychological Society, British Sociological Association and
Health and Care Professions Council. Each research stage was approved by the
Middlesex University ethics processes and by an independent advisory board,
convened for this research project, further detail of ethics and safeguarding is
provided in the subsequent section.
2.2 Ethics and Safeguarding
A careful threshold for safeguarding was adopted throughout this research. A
precautionary stance was taken whereby child protection encompassed both
safeguarding and prevention of harm. The approach taken to safeguarding and
promoting the welfare of children, was rigorous and conducted with regular review
and consultation between the research partners, commissioners and advisory board.
In line with child protection guidance, the safeguarding processes were designed to
avoid unnecessarily criminalising children, whilst keeping their safety paramount.
Information about the nature of the research was provided to all potential
participants, schools, parents and legal guardians as part of recruitment, in a multi-
stage process, first to parents and schools. After initial permission to contact a young
person was obtained, information was provided to that young person. Each
information sheet, to both young person and adult, made clear that safeguarding and
child protection processes would be adopted and that these would be between the
young people and appropriate sources of support/intervention, i.e. that safeguarding
would not be between the research team and parents. If young people agreed to
take part in the research, then information about the study, how to consent, withdraw
and processes of safeguarding were reiterated before they participated.
Within the online focus groups and discussion forum, participants were reminded at
the beginning of each session that they could leave the online platform at any time.
In the online survey, each sub-section included an option to ‘exit’, that could be
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
clicked at any time and that led to a page with contact information for relevant
support organisations. All respondents could also click a button to request follow up
support and direct contact from ResearchBods, should they feel unsafe, or had an
issue of concern to disclose. Additionally, the senior members of the academic
research team worked closely with ResearchBods, commissioners and a senior child
protection officer who is a member of the advisory board, to promote safeguarding
best practice. As part of initial ethical approval, a protocol for responding to potential
high risk, safeguarding cases was developed. Additional information on ethics and
safeguarding for stage 2 is provided in Appendix 1.
Preliminary analysis of the survey data identified some responses that could have
caused concern, particularly around the issue of young people sharing intimate
images of themselves, which are illegal in the UK and may be classed as indecent
images of children. In some cases, young people had shared naked images of
themselves with people that they did not know. Three of the young people’s
qualitative responses may have also indicated potential grooming. All such answers
were examined in the context of all the responses given by the particular participant,
to ensure that the team had not misunderstood that respondent’s intentions.
The need to maintain confidentiality was balanced against protective disclosure
practices. Following the consultative process outlined above, it was agreed that two
cases could be considered to be of low risk and that six were of low to medium risk.
In line with the safeguarding policies of the research commissioners, advice from the
child protection expert and following additional university ethical approval, a protocol
was developed for responding to low risk cases and follow-up was made via
ResearchBods.
Five of the cases were followed-up directly with the young person concerned via the
family panel protocols in place, and three cases were made via school safeguarding
staff. Furthermore, ResearchBods flagged up organisations that would be able to
support young people and kept an open dialogue with all schools involved in the
research to provide ongoing information and assistance (please see Appendix 5).
2.3 Analysis
Qualitative focus group findings were scrutinised using a mixed application of
analytic induction, constant comparison and thematic data analysis methods (Attride-
Stirling, 2001; Goetz & LeCompte, 1981). Broadly, this entailed the following
procedure which was applied via NVivo and MS Excel software: 1) familiarisation
with the data, 2) generating initial codes, 3) searching for themes among codes, 4)
reviewing and refining themes, 5) validating, defining and naming themes and 6)
analytical saturation.
Quantitative survey data were analysed using standard parametric hypothesis
testing techniques. Following basic descriptive statistics, inferential tests were
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
utilised to gauge the extent to which observed findings were likely to be more
generally applicable. The following tests were used:
Independent Samples T-tests: used to determine if the (x
̄) mean differences
between two sample groups are statistical significant. These can only be used
to test interval or ordinal data.
One-Way ANOVA
3
tests: used to determine if the (x
̄) mean differences
between three or more samples groups are statistically significant. These can
only be used to test interval or ordinal data.
Pearson’s Chi-Square tests: used to determine if there is a statistically
significant difference between observed frequency distributions (generally
measured as percentages) and expected ones, and/or to test the
independence between categorical (nominal) variables, i.e. to determine if the
occurrence of one event/variable affects the probability of the occurrence of
another.
Additional information on analysis is provided in Appendix 1.
3
Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) is used to compare differences between means. In this study, this would typically be
comparisons between age groups or gender.
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
3 Research Findings
The findings first provide an indication of the extent to which UK adolescents are
exposed to online pornography. Following this, respondents’ affective (e.g. feelings,
emotions) and cognitive (e.g. sexual attitudes, rationales) responses to online
pornography will be discussed. The findings then move to a discussion of the
potential risks and harms associated with online pornography (e.g. sexting), as well
as educational factors, which may help to mitigate these negative possibilities.
3.1 Representativeness of the Survey Sample
As can be seen from the figures and tables below, the responses fairly accurately
reflect the composition of the UK in most of the desired characteristics. This is with
the exception of Wales (which was slightly over-represented) and Northern Ireland
(which was under-represented, due to significant resistance from school
“gatekeepers”) see Figure 1. However, these two countries are the smallest of the
UK’s 4 constituent parts, with population percentages of 4.8% for Wales, and 2.9%
for N. Ireland, compared to 8.3% for Scotland and 84% for England (ONS, 2014).
Figure 1: Recruitment from the four nations, N=1001
Most survey respondents lived in urban areas, 732 compared with 260 in rural areas.
The ages of the stage 2 sample are reported in Figure 2. Young people of 14 or 15
years old, comprised 49% of the entire sample and 16 year olds, made up the
smallest group of participants, at 9% of the total. Differences in participation rates
reflect recruitment challenges. For inferential statistics, three age categories were
created: 11-12; 13-14 and 15-16. By reducing the total number of groups in this way,
each was of a more comparable size to the other.
22
142
95 106 120
64 69
49
93
164
64
13
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
893
12 31
48
9 8
Heterosexual (Straight)
Homosexual (Gay or Lesbian)
Bisexual
Don’t know
Other (please tell us what)
Prefer not to say
127
165
122
237
257
93
Age 11
Age 12
Age 13
Age 14
Age 15
Age 16
Figure 2: Stage 2 sample age, N=1001
The gender of participants was fairly equally distributed, 472 (47%) were female,
522, (52%) were male and 7 (1%) did not identify in a binary manner. Participants
were also asked about their sexuality, see Figure 3.
Figure 3: Stage 2 sexuality, N=1001
The survey sample overwhelmingly reported being heterosexual, 893 participants
(89%). Young people were also asked about their relationship status and the vast
majority (845) were single.
Table 1 reports the sample’s family heritage. White British made up 84% of the
respondents, which is slightly higher than the last Census return of 80.5% for this
same category, although that proportion was only for England and Wales (ONS,
2012).
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Family Heritage
Frequency
White British
841
White Other
35
White and Black Caribbean
14
White and Black African
4
White and Asian
11
Any other mixed background
8
Indian
15
Pakistani
13
Bangladeshi
4
Any other Asian background
5
Caribbean
6
African
21
Any other Black Background
5
Chinese
10
Any Other (please tell us what)
3
Don’t Know
1
Prefer not to answer this question
5
Table 1: Stage 2 family heritage, N=1001
The type of school that stage 2 participants attended is reported in Figure 4. This
shows a slight under-representation from independent schools and from faith
schools in the sample (included in ‘other’) the latter reflects a denial of access to faith
schools for the research. One advantage of the family panels was that this became
the only route by which to recruit young people attending faith schools.
Figure 4: Stage 2 school type, N=1001
3.2 Extent of Exposure to Online Pornography
3.2.1 Numbers of children who have ever seen porn and with whom
When directly asked whether or not they have seen online pornography, (survey
question 13), 476 young people (48%) had seen pornography and 525 (52%)
372
128 110
7
38
267
20 23 34
2
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
reported not seeing online pornography. Figure 5, presents findings of whether or not
young people were by themselves when they first saw online pornography and
whether they expected to see it or not. Four hundred and sixty-four young people
answered this question. Of these, 46%, reported viewing online pornography for the
first time because it “just popped up” whether on their own (32%), or with others,
(14%), 22% reported having online pornography shown to them by someone else
without asking for/expecting it, and a further 22% searched for it on their own.
Figure 5: Do children first view pornography alone? N=464 (some selected more than one answer).
The older the respondent group, the more likely they were to have seen pornography
(65% of 15-16 year olds cf 28% of 11-12 year olds), and proportionally more boys
(56%) report having seen pornography than girls (40%, see section 3.4 for additional
information on age and gender effects). The proportion reporting ever having seen
pornography is relatively low and may reflect differences in sample composition
when compared to other studies. This is most likely because this research asked
young people to report on their experience, whilst they are still young, rather than
asking older people to think back to their first encounters with pornography. Other
studies have typically asked either older adolescents (e.g. 14-17) or young adults
(e.g. 18-25) about their initial and current experiences of online pornography (see
Horvath et al., 2013 for a review).
3.2.2 How many children and young people actively searched for online
pornography?
Four hundred and seventy-six young people answered this survey question, 28 of
whom preferred not to give a response, or said it did not apply to them. Of the 448
respondents who answered this question either ‘yes’ or ‘no’, 209 young people
(47%) reported that they actively searched for pornography, and of those who had
searched, 40% (N=83) were aged 15 followed by 28% (N=58) aged 14. It is worth
bearing in mind that the 209 young people who had actively searched for
101 99
148
64
103
16
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
160
Searched for
it on my own
With
someone else
or a group
On my own, it
popped up
With
someone else,
it popped up
Shown by
someone else
& I wasn't
expecting it
Shown by
someone else
& I was
expecting it
24
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
pornography represents 21% of the entire survey sample. Most young people did not
report actively searching for pornography.
Figure 6: Cross tabulation of age by active searching for pornography, N=476
As can be seen from Figure 6, proportionally more of the younger children report not
actively searching for pornography than those searching for it; differences in the
proportions of those who do and do not search for pornography diminish with age.
3.2.3 Frequency of encountering online pornography
Of the 476 respondents who answered question 22 (How often do you see
pornography online these days?), 34% (N=161) reported seeing pornography once a
week, or more. Only 19 young people were encountering pornography daily. This is
four percent of the sub-set who reported seeing pornography ever, or just under two
percent of the sample as a whole (see Figure 7).
Figure 7: Frequency of viewing online pornography, N=476
3.3 Means of Exposure to Online Pornography
As can be seen in Figure 8, of the 476 survey participants who reported seeing
online pornography, the greatest proportion (38%) first saw online pornography on a
20
73
116
209
58 78
103
239
5 14 9 28
0
50
100
150
200
250
300
11-12yrs 13-14yrs 15-16yrs
Have you ever actively searched for and found online
pornography?
Yes
Never
N/A prefer
not to say
4%
13%
17%
22%
24%
17%
4%
Everyday
Several times a week
At least once a week
A few times a month
A few times a year
Never
Prefer not to answer this question/NA
How often do you see pornography online these days?
Total
l
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
portable laptop, although mobile phone access was also relatively common (33%)
and just under a quarter first saw online pornography on a desktop computer (24%).
Figure 8: Device used to view online pornography for the first time, N=476
Figure 9: Where pornography was seen for the first time, N=476
Figure 9 reports on the locations at which young people first view online
pornography. Nearly two thirds (60%) of children and young people surveyed, who
had seen online pornography, reported seeing it for the first time at home, followed
by 29% who reported doing so at a friend’s house. In terms of whether this was
volitional viewing, 32% reported that the first time they saw it they were alone and it
just popped up, with 22% reporting that it was shown to them by someone else
without them expecting it.
3.4 Age and Gender Differences in Exposure to Online Pornography
This section considers potential differences in experiences of boys and girls,
depending on their ages. Subsets of the main, stage 2 sample are drawn on to
consider differences in experiences of those who have encountered pornography.
24%
38%
33%
2%
3%
Desktop computer (Mac, PC etc)
Portable computer (Laptop/ Ipad/ Netbook)
Handheld Device (e.g. iPhone/ Android
/Windows Smartphone/ Blackberry)
Gaming device (e.g. Xbox / Playstation /
Nintendo)
NA / Prefer not to answer this question
60%
29%
2%
6%
0.4%
3%
Home
At a friend's house
At a relative's house
School
Any other place (please tell us where)
Prefer not to answer this question
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
3.4.1 Age differences in exposure to online pornography
Figure 10: Ever encountering online pornography (Yes=476, No=525) below provides a
breakdown by age of whether survey respondents had ever seen pornography. As
can be seen, at younger ages, considerably more young people had not
encountered pornography than those who had encountered it, the difference starts to
decrease by 13-14 and by 15-16, has been reversed. By age 15-16, young people
were more likely to have seen pornography than not, a statistically significant finding
4
(see Figure 10). When asked their age on first encountering pornography, 94% of
those who reported an age, indicated that they had seen pornography by the time
they were 14 years old (418/447).
Figure 10: Ever encountering online pornography (Yes=476, No=525)
Similar results were found for the question: ‘Do you still see pornography online’?
5
(see Figure 11).
Figure 11: Current viewing of online pornography (Yes=227, No=219)
Whether first impressions of watching pornography were negative or positive, the
data clearly show an increasing proportion of UK children actively searching for
4
Χ2(2, N=1001)= 86.62, p<0.01, Phi=.29
5
Χ2(2, N=446)= 24.76, p<0.01, Phi=.24
83
165
228
209
194
122
11-12yrs
13-14yrs
15-16yrs
Have you ever seen online pornography? N=1001
No
Yes
22
78
127
59
74
86
11-12yrs
13-14yrs
15-16yrs
Do you still see pornography online? N=446
[No]
[Yes]
27
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
online pornography as they progress through their teenage years (see Figure 12),
this is a statistically significant age effect
6
.
Figure 12: Actively searching for online pornography by age (Yes=209, No=239, NA=28)
Finally, analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed significant age differences in
responses to the question ‘How often do you see pornography online these days’?
(F=12.67, p<.01), with the older cohorts tending to see online pornography more
frequently than the youngest cohort, as indicated in Figure 13.
It should be noted that in this ANOVA, it was not possible to control for differences in
group sizes and thus observed statistical significance could be due to the uneven
sample sizes between the three groups. This is the only analysis reported where
uneven group size could not be controlled and it should be interpreted with extra
caution.
Figure 13: Frequency by age of viewing online pornography, N=456
6
Χ2(4, N=476)= 21.13, p<0.01, Phi=.21.
20
73
116
58
78
103
5
14
9
11-12yrs
13-14yrs
15-16yrs
Have you ever actively searched for and found online
pornography? N=476
Does not apply to me / Prefer
not to answer this question
No
Yes
1 4 8
14
34
20
7
17
30
42
34
28
11
42 41
47 45
31
0
10
20
30
40
50
Everyday Several
times a
week
At least
once a
week
A few
times a
month
A few
times a
year
Never
Frequency of viewing pornography, by age
11-12yrs
13-14yrs
15-16yrs
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
3.4.2 Gender differences in exposure to online pornography
Significant gender differences were observed in regards to the question: Have you
ever seen online pornography
7
, with males reporting a higher frequency of exposure
than females. This explores whether young people had ever seen pornography,
whether intentionally, or not. Although there are some gender differences, these are
not extensive. The data in this research indicate that 40% (210/522) of girls have
ever been exposed to online porn, while for males, it is 56% (264/472).
Similarly, when considering whether they still see pornography, and taking into
account that this is both volitional and unintentional viewing, the picture is similar
with 59% of those males who answered the question (145/244) still seeing online
porn, and 40% (80/200) of females, who answered the question
8
. When considering
these findings as proportions of the whole sample, 31% of the boys and 15% of the
girls, reported that they still see pornography.
If looking at their intentional seeking of pornography, then the gender differences are
predictably wider. The proportions actively searching for, and finding, online
pornography, by gender are displayed in Figure 14.
Figure 14: Actively searching for online pornography- gender differences (Girls=210, Boys=264)
The proportions of young people who saw pornography and reported actively
searching for it online, are 59% males and 25% females. This would imply that,
following the viewing of online pornography, boys (11-16) are approximately twice as
likely to report actively searching for it as girls.
Finally, an ANOVA test revealed significant gender differences to the question ‘How
often do you see online pornography these days’?
9
The differences in frequency are
mainly at the most frequent end of the spectrum, where boys reported more daily
usage; both males and females tended to report seeing online pornography at least
a few times a month, whether intentionally or not. This finding can be contrasted with
7
Χ2(1, N=994) = 24.49, p<0.01, Phi=.16
8
Χ2(1, N=444)= 16.59,p<0.01, Phi=.19
9
F(1, 454)=29.82, p<0.01
155
59%
53
25%
96
36%
143
68%
13
5%
14
7%
Male
Female
Have you ever actively searched for online pornography?
N=474
Yes No N/A / Prefer not to answer
29
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
the other half of the sample who reported never seeing pornography at all. It is
possible that once a young person has encountered pornography, the likelihood
increases of encountering it again, even unintentionally. This might be for a variety of
reasons not tested in this research and could include the ways in which search
algorithms, and bots ‘learn’ (e.g. Parisier, 2012).
In previous research, it has been estimated that male viewing proportions can be as
high 83-100% (see Horvath, et al., 2013 for a review). The smaller proportions of
boys and young men reporting viewing pornography in the stage 2 survey may
reflect the younger age range considered within this study. It should also be noted
that the current research explored pornography viewing, whether or not it was
intentionally viewed, whereas previous research has not always considered this
distinction. Some other studies where gender differences are wider than in this study
have also taken a deliberate focus on regular, frequent consumption of pornography,
(e.g. Stanley, et al., 2016) thereby considering the area in which the current data
indicate there is the greatest discrepancy between two genders.
Potential gender differences in the rates of seeking out pornography were also
explored during the focus groups. The findings support the quantitative data
considered above. For example, a common answer given by male respondents was
that they actively search for online pornography:
With friends as a joke” (Male, 14)
Yeah, we all do” (Male, 13)
However, none of the girls in focus groups claimed they actively searched for online
pornography:
“No, I personally never searched for it” (Female, 15)
During the focus groups, the motivations as to why children and young people view
online pornography were also explored; common reasons given related to curiosity
and peer pressure. As these respondents claimed:
“Young people are curious about sex - and they are probably influenced by older
people to view it” (Female, 15);
“Well - they sort of want to seem more grown up than they are” (Female, 16);
“I think it would be peer pressure - as young people do it as a joke” (Male, 13);
“Wonder what other peoples
10
bodies look like” (Male, 11)
10
Please note that all extracts from online focus groups and surveys are inserted as typed by the original respondent,
including typographical errors.
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
“Sometime accidentaly you type in something and it takes you somewhere else”
(Female, 14)
However, when the curiosity element was further explored, it was found that
pornography may be thought to help children and young people, particularly from the
older groups, to understand further how sexual relationships work:
“probably - i think they want to know how it works” (Female, 15);
“Yeah - if they were uncomfortable with asking someone…” (Female, 15);
“there is a huge stigma about sex when you’re a teenager so they want to know”
(Female, 15);
“to have a better understanding of things” (Male, 14)
In sum, the findings suggest that about half the UK adolescent participants reported
having been exposed to online pornography at the time of the survey. Initial and
continued differences in exposure to online pornography between males and
females are relatively minor but statistically significant; with males on average
reporting slightly higher frequencies of exposure and approximately twice as much
deliberate access. Lastly, these age and gender differences resonate with similar
studies, such as Peter and Valkenburg’s Dutch study (2006) of 13-18 year olds,
which found that:
Seventy-one percent of the male adolescents and 40% of the female adolescents
had been exposed to some kind of online sexually explicit material […]. Adolescents
were more likely to be exposed to sexually explicit material online if they were male,
were high sensation seekers, were less satisfied with their lives, were more sexually
interested, used sexual content in other media more often, had a fast Internet
connection, and had friends that were predominantly younger.” (Peter & Valkenburg,
2006:178).
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
3.5 Summary of Key Findings: Encountering online pornography
1) Just under half of the stage 2 sample had been exposed to online
pornography; of those who had seen it, 94% were exposed by age 14;
2) Young people were as likely to find pornography via a ‘pop up’ as to
deliberately search for it or be shown it by other people;
3) The majority of the respondents first viewed pornography on either a portable
laptop or mobile phone;
4) The majority of the respondents first saw online pornography at home;
5) The age 15-16 respondents were more likely to have seen online pornography
than not. Of those who answered the question, 28% aged 11-12 had seen
pornography, compared with 46% of children aged 13-14 and 65% aged 15-
16;
6) Of those who have ever viewed pornography, just under half actively searched
for it;
7) The older respondents had seen online pornography more frequently than the
younger respondents;
8) In terms of exposure to online pornography, some gender differences exist
across the whole age-range 11-16:
a) Forty percent of females had been exposed to online pornography
compared to 56% of males;
b) Whether intentionally or not, 59% of males still see online pornography
after first viewing in comparison to 40% females;
c) When directly considering intentionality, males (59%) were more likely than
females (25%) to seek online pornography deliberately.
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
4 Affective and Cognitive Responses to Online Pornography: Young
people’s feelings and attitudes
4.1 Affective Responses: How young people feel about pornography
Given the levels of exposure to online pornography found, one possible concern may
be that young people are becoming desensitised (i.e. developing a diminished
emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure
to it). Some of the respondents’ statements could support this notion:
“Definitely different. At first, it might've shocked me but due to the increasing use of
sex and sexual themes in the media and music videos, I've grown a sort of
resistance against it, I don't feel disgusted or turned on” (Female, 13-14).
“1st time was strange - I didn't really know what to think. But now it's kinda normal;
sex isn't as taboo” (Male, 13-14);
“At first I wasnt sure it was normal to watch it, my mates have talked about watching
it so I dont feel bad watching it now” (Male, 15-16);
“Because young people are now open to seeing this kind of stuff you get used to it
so it's not as shocking but is still think it's disgusting and degrading” (Female, 13-14);
“Before I was confused about how and why, but now I understand more as my
friends have told me, sex ed classes. So I know why” (Female, 15-16).
Survey data are reported in Table 2, and show the percentages for the sentiments
that participants reported feeling the first time they saw online pornography. Of
these, the sentiment most selected by participants was curiosity at 41%, followed by
shock at 27% and confused at 24%.
Curiosity may have been selected frequently as it seems to be morally more neutral
than other options. Additionally, curiosity could be related to the possibility that some
children access pornography to find out more about sex and/or relationships. The
theme of children seeking more information about sex through online pornography
emerges in the data across the 3 stages of fieldwork.
More negative responses of shock (27%) and confusion (24%) and related feelings
of disgust (23%) and nervousness (21%) highlight the proportion of responses that
were adverse and potentially anxiety provoking. However, the data also indicate that
17% were prepared to acknowledge that they became sexually stimulated by what
they had seen, and a further 11% reported feeling excited. Data from a follow up
question regarding how participants now feel are presented in Table 3.
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Table 2: Initial feelings about online Table 3: Current feelings about online
pornography, N=227
When considering pornography that they still view, Table 3 shows that 30% of the
stage 2 sample, answering the question, remained curious (down from 41%), 8%
remained shocked (down from 27%), and 4% remained confused (down from 24%).
Conversely, sexual arousal reported by current viewers more than doubles in
proportion, rising from 17% to 49% and is a likely motivation for viewing
pornography. Furthermore, online pornography seems to make 16% of current child
viewers feel sexy, quadrupled from 4% who felt this way when they first saw online
pornography. This is still irrespective of whether they have deliberately looked for the
online pornography or not.
These mixed findings are also supported by the qualitative data already mentioned
and by excerpts such as these:
“Sometimes [I feel] disgusted - other times alright” (Male, 13);
“A bit uncomfortable because of the way they act in the videos” (Male, 14);
“Bad for watching it. Like I shouldnt really be seeing it” (Female, 14);
“Yes I was upset and felt sick” (Female, 14)
“I didnt like it because it came on by accident and I dont want my parents to find out
and the man looked like he was hurting her, he was holding her down and she was
screaming and swearing. I know about sex but it didnt look nice. it makes me feel
sick if I think about my parents doing it like that” (Female, 11-12).
Although some degree of curiosity was apparently satiated by the time respondents
returned to online pornography, at three in ten responses, this remains part of how
Affective
responses
N %
Curious 196 41%
Shocked 126 27%
Confused 116 24%
Disgusted 107 23%
Nervous 100 21%
Turned on 83 17%
Ashamed 54 11%
Excited 54 11%
Sick 51 11%
Scared 50 11%
Upset 29 6%
Happy 24 5%
Sexy 21 4%
Unhappy 21 4%
pornography, N=476
Affective
responses
N %
Turned on 111 49%
Curious 69 30%
Excited 52 23%
Happy 42 19%
Sexy 37 16%
Nervous 33 15%
Disgusted 29 13%
Ashamed 26 12%
Shocked 19 8%
Sick 16 7%
Unhappy 12 5%
Confused 10 4%
Scared 73%
Upset 63%
34
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
children feel about viewing online pornography. The proportion reporting feeling
ashamed from first time online viewing (11%) to current online porn viewing (12%)
remain largely stable; while, those feeling disgusted by current viewing falls to 13%,
from 23% upon first exposure and feeling nervous fell from 21% on first viewing, to
15% on current viewing. Yet, just over one in ten children who reported still seeing
online pornography, continued to react with shame and disgust. This minority
provides a partial counterweight to those respondents who reported finding positive
aspects to pornography.
To try to summarise the position from first time to current viewing, it should first be
noted that fewer young people report currently seeing pornography than having ever
seen it. The data do not permit robust conclusions to be drawn about motivations for
continued viewing or avoidance of pornography. However, the data do indicate that
for those who continue to view it, young people report being less negative and
generally less anxious or disgusted by pornography. It should also be noted that this
research gathered no data as to whether they are seeing something different when
currently viewing pornography than that which they first saw. We can see however
that as a group, young people’s attitudes are shifting. How this finding is interpreted
is important both in understanding young people’s development and their responses
to online pornography. The qualitative responses indicate that there is some peer
sharing of pornography and that, particularly for boys, there is a common idea that
pornography is ubiquitous and “normal”. This positive reinforcement may play some
part in their shifting attitudes.
The data may also reflect growing sexual maturation, as well as potentially higher
levels of resistance to the initial negative impacts of online pornography, as children
move towards adulthood. The data suggest that more positive responses toward
online pornography increase, both with age, from the 11-12s, to the 15-16s, and with
increased acclimatisation to repeated viewings; and commensurately, negative
responses decline. This could mean that some young people are demonstrating a
degree of resilience that they have developed, or it could show that they are
becoming habituated, or desensitised to shocking material. Unfortunately, the nature
of this cross sectional survey means that it is not possible to test any of these
explanations. If more can be ascertained about how this shift in attitudes comes
about, then more can be surmised also, about the implications for young people’s
future behaviours and for potential interventions.
As the data stand, there are some tentative conclusions that can be drawn for the
ways in which young people’s access to pornography are potentially controlled. If
successfully implemented, then increasing restrictions on children’s access to online
pornography, without concomitant educational awareness could potentially leave
them ill prepared for the (fewer) occasions when they do see it, assuming that it can
never be entirely filtered out. Raising the issue as part of sex and relationship
education, under the remit of improving sexual health and online safety, could
35
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Table 4: Views about pornography seen, N=447
* For these items, N=368 and the age range was 13-16
counter this by providing information and education on the topic that is appropriately
tailored and that does not leave them to build maladaptive coping strategies.
These data can be further elaborated through examination of the respondents’
replies to the question: ‘How much do you agree with the following statements? Most
online porn that I have seen was…’ The respondents were asked to evaluate most of
the online pornography they had seen, in terms of 14 different categories, using a 5-
point Likert scale (the combined Agree Strongly/Agree percentages are displayed in
Table 4).
Again, the overall picture is extremely
varied. For example, the largest
proportional response is ‘unrealistic’, with
49% stating that they agreed with this
assessment but other statements with
which sizeable proportions of the young
people agreed, include that pornography
is arousing (47%), shocking (46%) and
exciting (40%). The lowest rate of
agreement was to the proposition
regarding the educational or informational
use of online porn, at only 19%. This may
imply that although pornography may be
accessed for educational purposes, this
is not the main driver.
When interpreting these data, it is important to keep in mind that none of these
categories are mutually exclusive and that it is possible for one young person to both
be aroused and troubled by the content they view (or indeed by their own arousal).
This would mean that one possible interpretation of the data is that adolescent online
pornography viewers may be trying to cope with a degree of dissonance in their
responses to pornography. They realise it is not realistic and that it can be very
negative, but they are also sexually aroused by it and may find the transgressive
aspects exciting. Alternatively, the apparently contradictory responses may reflect
splits in the group, possibly along gender or age lines, with some sub-groups more
prone to being positive towards pornography and others tending to be negative.
Accordingly, potential age and gender effects were tested on the answers to this
question. The older respondents were significantly more likely to agree that
pornography was unrealistic or exploitative
11
. Across all age groups, survey
respondents were more likely to be neutral or to disagree with the idea that
pornography was fun, or exciting than they were to agree with it, but the differences
diminish with age (i.e. it is the older children who are most likely to find it fun, or
11
Unrealistic F(2, 444)=11.63, p<0.01 ; Exploitative F(1, 366)=4.23, p<0.05
*
Affective responses %
Unrealistic 49%
Arousing* 47%
Shocking 46%
Exciting 40%
Exploitative* 38%
Silly 36%
Amusing 34%
Degrading/Humiliating* 34%
Repulsive/Revolting 30%
Fun 29%
Scary 23%
Upsetting 21%
Boring 20%
Informative/Educational 19%
36
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
exciting, but it is still a minority overall)
12
. Consistent with earlier findings, older
children are less likely to report finding pornography upsetting
13
. No other age
differences reached statistical significance.
Some gender effects were also found. Boys were more likely to agree that
pornography was fun or amusing
14
, arousing
15
and exciting
16
and girls that it was
shocking
17
, scary or upsetting
18
, although the majority of both boys and girls found it
to be neither scary, nor upsetting. Just under a third of the boys agreed or strongly
agreed with the idea that pornography is exploitative (59/207 or 29%) in comparison
to half of the girls (80/160). This is a statistically significant difference
19
and is
repeated in their responses to ideas relating to whether pornography is boring,
degrading or humiliating, repulsive or revolting. In each case, girls are proportionally
more likely to concur than boys
20
. Where scepticism exists, it would seem to be split
along gender lines. This has potentially concerning implications for their behaviours
and expectations of one another within sexual relationships.
The level of amusement (34%) that young viewers report towards online
pornography could be seen as a less concerning finding that is reinforced by the
finding that 36% regard most of the online porn they have seen as silly. However, the
gender differences imply that boys flippancy may not be matched by girls’
experiences.
Although age and gender differences were found, it would not be appropriate to
entirely dichotomise young people’s responses, whether on age, gender or just
between those who do seek out and are aroused by online pornography compared
with those who find it boring or exploitative and so forth. This is because, as already
noted, the survey data are not derived from mutually exclusive items and analysis
could not have been undertaken to attempt to make such separation. It is perfectly
possible for any one young person to have identified problematic sexual scenarios
depicted within pornography, yet to report finding online pornography arousing.
12
Fun F(2, 444)=7.21, p<0.01 ; Exciting F(2, 444)=8.56, p<0.01
13
F(2, 444)=3.06, p<0.05
14
Fun T(444)=6.9, p<0.01, Mean for males is 2.91 and females 3.66; Amusing T(444)=5.4, p<0.01, Mean for males is 2.92
and females 3.5
15
T(365)=6.0, p<0.01 Mean for males is 2.42 and females 3.14. Please note that the smaller sample size for two items
reflects the research design in that 11-12 year old children were not asked about those items.
16
T(444)=8.22, p<0.01 Mean for males is 2.64 and females 3.58
17
T(444)=4.29, p<0.01 Mean for males is 3.01 and females 2.54
18
Scary T(444)=3.35, p<0.01 Mean for males is 3.55 and females 3.18; Upsetting T(444)=3.999, p<0.01 Mean for males is
3.62 and females 3.19
19
T(365)=3.98, p<0.01 Mean for males is 3.09 and females 2.60. Please note that the smaller sample size for two items
reflects the research design in that 11-12 year old children were not asked about those items.
20
Boring T(444)=3.21, p<0.01 Mean for males is 3.46 and females 3.13; Degrading or Humiliating T(365)=4.598, p<0.01
Mean for males is 3.22 and females2.65; Repulsive or Revolting T(444)=5.29, p<0.01 Mean for males is 3.42 and females
2.82
37
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
4.2 Cognitive Responses: What can we learn from young people’s attitudes?
As well as asking young people about their feelings, questions were employed to
assess their attitudes towards pornography. A statistically significant gender
difference
21
was found that indicated that higher proportions of boys (53% or
127/241) agree that pornography is realistic than girls (39% or 76/195). Significant
age differences were not found for this question.
Whether boys are more susceptible to a fantasised ideal, remains open to question
and we have no data about whether boys in the survey were more likely to be more
sexually active than the girls. Related findings include that a number of girls in both
Stages 1 and 3 say they were worried about how boys would see girls, in
comparison to the online porn models viewed, and how they were expected to
behave during sex. For example:
“It teaches people about sex and what it is like to have it - but I think it teaches
people a fake understanding of sex - what we see on these videos isnt what actually
happens in real life” (Female, 14);
“It can make a boy not look for love just look for sex and it can pressure us girls tom
act and look and behave in a certain way before we might be ready for it” (Female,
13);
“Yes and can learn bad things like watching anal sex and then some boys might
expect anal sex with their partner” (Female, 13).
Although female anxiety was clear, the respondents in the online focus groups
provided very little evidence of seeing, or hearing of such behaviour actually
occurring. Only one respondent indicated that:
“One of my friends has started treating women like he sees on the videos - not major
- just a slap here or there” (Boy, age 13).
This minimisation of violence is concerning, but the low incidence of such comments
must be borne in mind.
The report now turns to responses to a series of 10 items following the question:
‘How much do you agree with the following statements? Seeing online pornography
has…’. These items were asked of 13-16 year olds and measured with Likert scales
where lower mean scores indicated more agreement with the statements made and
vice-versa. Please note that these findings are considered further in the section
below on critical use of pornography. T-tests showed some statistically significant (x
̄)
mean gender differences, with males reporting marginally more positive
interpretations of their online pornography experiences than females. Examples are
given below and, as is noted in the footnotes, it should be remembered that
differences are not large although they are all in the same direction. In Figure 15,
21
Χ2(1, N=436)= 8.158, p<0.01, Phi=.14
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
about a quarter of all young people are neutral and just under a third agree with the
proposition that seeing online porn had led them to believe that sexual activities
should be enjoyable for all. However, girls are more likely to disagree with this than
boys and proportionally more boys (25% cf 16%) strongly agree with the sentiment
22
.
Figure 15: How much do you agree with the statement: Seeing online pornography has led me to believe
that sexual activities should be enjoyable for everyone, (Males=224, Females=167)
Figure 16 shows the findings related to the proposition that online pornography had
led to a belief that sexual activity should be safe for everyone involved.
22
T(352)=3.31, p<0.01) Mean for males is 2.26 and females 2.66. NB, Non Applicable answers were excluded from
significance testing.
25% 29% 26%
6% 4% 9%
16%
29%
25%
12% 9%
10%
21%
29%
26%
9%
6%
9%
Strongly
Agree
Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly
Disagree
Not
Applicable
...Sexual activities should be enjoyable for everyone
N=393
Total
Female
Male
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Figure 16: Seeing online pornography has led me to believe that sexual activities should be safe for
everyone involved, (Males= 224, Females=167)
When considering this sub-sample, it would seem that under half (44 percent or
171/393) of the young people agreed or strongly agreed that online pornography has
encouraged them to believe that sex should be safe for all involved. However, when
this is broken down by gender, then a higher proportion of the males agree with the
statement (54% agree or strongly agree 121/224) than the female respondents (30%
or 50/167)
23
. This finding is difficult to interpret as we do not have data that would
indicate what young people believed without accessing pornography. We can
however learn more from the focus group data, which reminds us that some girls
also reported potentially positive aspects:
It was helpful in some ways. I wanted to know what sex is. At least now I know.
(Female, 12)
When considering whether online pornography led young people to believe that sex
should be agreed to by everyone involved’, 55% (123/224) of the boys agreed or
strongly agreed with the proposition whereas again, a smaller proportion of girls
agreed or strongly agreed, at 35% (68/167)
24
. When considering the statistically
significant gender differences here, it is also worth noting that 11% (25/224) of
males, and 24% (40/167) of females either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the
statement, i.e. showing that they did not believe that pornography had portrayed
positive images about consent.
Whether or not the production and dissemination of pornography is inherently
misogynist, (e.g. Dworkin, 1989 or Mackinnon, 1991) these data are showing that
23
T(349)=5.31, p<0.01) Mean for males is 2.27 and females 2.95 NB Non applicable answers excluded from significance
tests.
24
T(351)=3.97, p<0.01) Mean for male is 2.18 and females 2.71.
29% 25% 22%
9% 4% 10%
15% 15%
29%
20%
10%
10%
23% 21%
25%
14%
7%
10%
Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly
Disagree
Not Applicable
...Sexual activities should be safe for everyone
N=393
Total
Female
Male
40
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
when asked, young people found both positive aspects to pornography and negative
ones. Opinions garnered now, may be tempered by age and subsequent experience.
However, these research responses cannot be matched with any kind of real world
data on the sample’s potential future or possible current sexual activity. We will
return to these findings in the section on young people as critical users.
4.3 Summary of Key Findings: Affective and cognitive responses to online
pornography
1) A greater proportion of boys (53%) concurred with the option that pornography
was realistic than the proportion of girls (39%);
2) Older boys (15-16 year-olds) were more likely to report using online
pornography for pleasure and less likely to report negative attitudes towards its
use than girls of any age and younger boys;
3) A minority of respondents initially reported feeling sexually stimulated by
viewing pornography (17%), this is in comparison to 49% after repeated
viewing;
4) Younger children were less likely to engage with online pornography critically
than older children and are more likely to report feeling upset by what they
have seen;
5) Some respondents felt curious (41%) shocked (27%) or confused (24%) on
first viewing pornography;
6) Repeated viewing of online pornography may have had a desensitising effect
upon some respondents:
a) When asked about how they now feel about online pornography that they
still view 30% remained curious (down from 41%), 8% remained shocked
(down from 27%), and 4% remained confused (down from 24%);
7) Respondents reported seeing online pornography in mixed ways; greater
proportions of boys were positive and greater proportions of girls were
negative:
a) For example, 44% of the 13-16 year olds agreed that online pornography
has encouraged them to believe that sex should be safe for all involved but
significantly larger proportions of males than females agreed or strongly
agreed (54% cf. 30%).
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
5 Risks and Harms
5.1 Emulating Behaviours
One of the possible negative consequences of exposure to online pornography is
that it can lead young people to believe that they should emulate the practices they
have observed. This idea emerged frequently during the online focus groups with the
older groups (13-14 and 15-16). When children and young people were asked about
what the risks may be when watching online pornography, some said:
“People may try things that can lead to harm” (Male, 13)
“It will make people look as women as objects and start treat them as objects” (Male,
14)
People will try to copy what they see (Female, 11)
“A few of my friends have used it for guidance about sex and are getting the wrong
image of relationships” (Female, 13)
“Its give a unrealistic view of sex and our bodies makes us self consious and
question why are bodies are not developed like what we see online” (Female, 13)
Statistically significant age differences
25
were found in response to the question:
“Has the online pornography that you have seen given you ideas about the types of
sex you want to try out?” As can be seen in Figure 17, a higher proportion of the
older cohort reported that online pornography has given them ideas of wanting to act
out sexual practices. This may be related to the greater likelihood of sexual activity
as they reach the age of consent although in all age groups, more young people did
not endorse this idea than those agreed with it.
Figure 17: Online pornography has given me ideas about types of sex to try out, by age groups, N=437
25
Χ2(2, N=437)= 10.84, p<0.01, Phi=.16
21% (N15)
39% (N58)
42% (N90)
79% (N58)
61% (N91)
58% (N125)
11-12yrs 13-14yrs 15-16yrs
Online pornography has given me ideas about types of
sex to try out
Yes
No
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Returning to the qualitative findings, we can see:
“I only try things that suit me and my girlfriend. We don't force anything. If didn't
watch some porn I wouldn't know what to do. My girlfriend enjoys what I do” (Male,
15-16);
“I think I am bi-sexual but I'm not sure. I might like boys a little more but some girls
are really nice and I can talk more to some of them. I think I would like to try some of
these things out with a boy” (Male, 13-14).
If pornography viewers are learning about safe, considerate, consensual sex, then
these figures do not appear to be problematic. However, when the sexual activities
that young people contemplate copying include behaviours like: Rough-sex; copying
the illegal activities defined as extreme pornography in the UK, (for example actions
which are likely to cause damage to breasts or genitalia); yielding to pressure from
boyfriends and girlfriends to have sex earlier; or indulging in risky online sexual
practices such as posting self-generated material, then the data are concerning. Add
in the potential dangers of sextortion and falling victim to online sexual predators,
then the darker area of online behaviour emulation takes on crucial child protection
and safeguarding aspects (Martellozzo, 2015). The key age group for intervention is
13-14, who reported nearly double the rate of assimilating ideas from online
pornography, when compared with ages 11-12 (21% to 39%).
Statistically significant gender differences
26
were also found in response to the same
question (see Figure 18). Some 44% (106/241) of males, compared to 29% (56/195)
of females, reported that the online pornography they had seen gave them ideas
about the types of sex they wanted to try out. Again, it is wise to exercise caution
when interpreting this finding, particularly as gender roles in initiating or engaging in
sexual activity may be at play here both in terms of the young people’s beliefs and
how these were reported to the research team.
Figure 18: Online pornography has given ideas about types of sex to try out, by gender, N=436
26
Χ2(1, N=436)= 10.75, p<0.01, Phi=.16
44% (N106)
56% (N135)
29% (N56)
71% (N139)
Yes No
Has the online pornography given your ideas about types of
sex you want to try out?
Male
Female
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
The focus group findings were broadly consistent with these data. When male
respondents were asked if they knew anyone who had tried something they saw on
online pornography, they stated:
“Yes. She tried kinky things - like tying to the bed and Punishing” (Male, 13)
“Yes, they tried to have sexual intercourse” (Male, 14)
When the question became more personal (Has pornography ever made you think
about trying out something you have seen?), most respondents said no, with very
few exceptions:
“Occasionally – yes” (Male, 13)
“Made me think but not actually do it” (Female, 13)
“I sometimes try a thing but it doesn't seem nice but it might just be that you need
someone else to do it to you.” (Male, 11)
“If me and my partner like it then we did more but if one of us didnt like it we didnt
carry on” (Male, 15-16).
The last two excerpts highlight the different likelihood of engagement in consensual
sexual activity with others when comparing the youngest and oldest participants. Age
differences were also found when considering whether pornography had influenced
their ideas about how women and men should behave sexually. ANOVA findings
indicated significant age differences
27
where the older respondents were more willing
than younger ones to disagree with this proposition and younger participants were
most likely to select the neutral option (see Figure 19). Please note that this item was
not asked of the 11-12 year olds.
27
F(1, 353)=9.43, p<0.01 mean for 13-14 year olds is 3.29 and for 15-16 year olds is 3.67; ‘not applicable’ results cut from
significance tests.
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Figure 19: Seeing online pornography has led me to believe that women should act in certain
ways during sex, by age groups (N= 165, 13-14 year olds and N=228, 15-16 year olds)
Similar results were found for the question asking respondents about how men
should behave
28
(see Figure 20). Again, please note that this item was not asked of
the 11-12 year olds.
Figure 20: Seeing online pornography led me to believe that men should act in certain ways during
sex, by age groups (N=165, 13-14 and N=228, 15-16)
28
F(1, 354)=7.8, p=0.01 mean for 13-14 year olds is 3.32 and for 15-16 year olds is 3.67; ‘not applicable’ results cut from
significance tests.
4%
20%
24%
26%
14%
12%
4%
12%
22%
25%
29%
8%
4%
16%
23%
25%
22%
10%
Strongly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Strongly Disagree
Not Applicable
...Women should act in certain ways N=393
Total
15-16
13-14
5%
17%
27%
25%
15%
12%
2%
16%
20%
26%
28%
8%
3%
17%
23%
25%
23%
9%
Strongly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Strongly Disagree
Not Applicable
...Men should act in certain ways N=393
Total
15-16
13-14
45
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
These results are evidence of some adolescents’ assimilation of ideas about male
and female expected behaviours during physical sex. What the data cannot tell us is
whether the ideas that they are assimilating relate to safe, considerate, mutually
enjoyable, sexual activities with a consenting partner, or coercive, abusive, violent,
exploitative, degrading and potentially harmful or illegal sex. Here too, we cannot
know whether their ideas would change with experience.
These findings were elucidated further by the qualitative data which tended to be
more negative:
“Well you see what is happening in porn and you almost get worried about other
peoples relationships and it puts me off having any future relationships as it is very
male dominated and not romantic or trusting - or promoting good relationships”
(Female, 13);
“It would put pressure to do things you dont feel comfortable with” (Female, 14);
“They (boys) become a different person - and begin to think that it is alright to act
and behave in such ways. The way they talk to others changes as well. When they
look at a girl they probably only thinking of that one thing - which isnt how women
should be looked at” (Male, 14).
[I] feel ponography does not show any consent in the act only shows sex and
nothing else to do with mutual relationships” (Female, 12-13)
5.2 Shared Materials
One aspect of pornography’s ubiquity is the ease and speed with which it can be
shared and self-generated. Most young people in this sample had neither received,
nor sent pornographic material however, 26% (258/1001) of respondents had
received online pornography/links, whether or not they had asked to receive them.
Much lower proportions reported that they had ever sent pornographic material to
someone else 4% (40/918). The discrepancy is clear although hardly surprising as
initiating and sending pornographic material to other people is different from either
requesting it or receiving it, particularly when it was unsolicited. When the materials
are self-generated, this would mean the distribution of images of under 18-year-olds
that would be illegal in the UK both to send and to receive.
Other potential explanations for this discrepancy include that some of the
pornography received will be have been sent by automated processes (bots) and
some by adults and young people not included within the sample but received by
those who completed the survey. Nevertheless, the disparity between the
sending/receiving figures was something considered further in the stage 3 fieldwork.
Most respondents in stage 3 concurred with the proposition that feelings of shame
and, or, embarrassment may preclude young people from admitting to sending
online pornography, even when guaranteed anonymity and confidentiality as part of
46
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
the research process, or even in admitting that they had seen pornography to
friends:
“Some people will say they haven’t seen it but they probably have” (Female, 14);
“Yeah - scared of being judged - or being in trouble because they are only young”
(Male, 14)
An attitudinal gap may have opened up between those children watching, or seeking
online pornography, and those forwarding on links to it, or initiating sending it on.
The former has to some extent, shed its social stigma, while the latter, still seems
unacceptable to many. Unsolicited receipt of pornography may also be associated
with some of the negative responses reported above:
“Often when on Tumblr, someone would have reblogged a post, or a post leading to
recommendations of pornographic .gifs. Normally, these take me by surprise and
make me feel quite uncomfortable” (Female, 13-15).
“On facebook peoples accounts get hacked and then the hackers post pornographic
videos and tag my friends in them and it pops up on my news feed” (Male, 11-12).
“On popular hashtags on instagram, which younger children can access, there are
some explicit pictures. Makes me feel irritated that people can come across these
when they don't want to or have tried to” (Female, 13-14).
During stage 3 of the online focus groups, the question how does pornography
affect children and young people’” was asked. Young people were also prompted to
think about whether someone they knew may watch too much pornography or if it
can become a problem; ‘addiction’ was a recurrent concept, across gender and age:
“they become addicted and they expect what is seen - in real life” (Male, 14)
“they start to become unhealthy and addicted” (Male, 14)
“yes bcus it can become a addcition so i worry about some of my friends spending
too long online watching porn than going out being social” (Female, 13)
Young people were also asked who they would speak to if they were worried about
using pornography too often. The majority said that they would speak to their friends:
i would speak to some of my best friends at shcool or some cousins
“Noone really - id get over it myself - maybe a close friend” (Male,13)
Very few would speak to their parents about it:
“I wouldnt talk to my family I would be too scared” (Female, 13)
“yes i would be shy to talk to family” (Female, 13)
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
A couple of respondents said they would seek help online:
“Probably an online service” (Girl, age 15)
“nspcc or child line” (Female, 16)
“I would probably speak to someone who doesnt know me - so like a service which
you can call or onlin where they wont ever know me. This way I wouldnt feel like they
would be judging me” (Female, 15)
5.3 Self-Generated Images: ‘Sexting
In stages 1 and 2 of the research, self-generated imagery emerged as a potential
area that warranted further investigation. In stage 3, this was followed up directly and
all participants across the research stages have now been sent information
regarding the removal of self-generated imagery that they may have inadvertently, or
intentionally, posted online (or may have been posted about them).
During the stage 3 focus groups, the question “What does sexting mean to you?”
was asked and there seemed to be an agreement among children and young people
from all age groups that sexting meant:
“Texting about sex” (Female, 13)
Texting with sexual comments” (Female, 14)
“Texting someone dirty things” (Male, 14)
Talking about sex byt text” (Female, 12)
It was noted during the interviews that none of the children referred to sexting as
“self photographing nude body or body parts and sending to others” (Jaishankar,
2009:21). They seemed to interpret sexting more as writing and sharing explicit
messages with people they knew. When asked whether they had ever photographed
themselves fully or partially naked, qualitative responses included:
I filmed myself masturbating and their response made me feel good about myself
(Male, 13-14);
“I fingered myself and sent it to a boy” (Female, 15-16)
“I was horny and sent a picture of myself to my boyfriend at the time. I regretted t the
day after; it was dumb. I broke off the relationship because of it. He didn't pressure
me into it” (Female 15-16)
The survey data indicated that the vast majority of children and young people did not
report having taken such ‘selfies’, see Table 5. Of the 135 who reported that they
had, 123 had taken topless pictures of themselves (13% of the 948 who answered
this question) and 27 (3% of those answering the question) had taken fully naked
48
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
pictures of themselves. As can be seen in Table 5, boys were more likely to engage
in this activity than girls and the most common form of this kind of selfie is “top half
naked”. However, there is a more even gender split when it comes to the few young
people who have sent fully naked images. One or two young people who do not
identify in a gender binary way also reported engaging in this activity.
Fully naked
Top half naked
Bottom half naked
%
N
%
N
%
N
No Total
97.2
921
87
825
95.7
907
Yes Total
2.8
27
13.0
123
4.3
41
Boys Yes
1.4
13
9.3
88
2.7
26
Girls Yes
1.4
13
3.5
33
1.5
14
Non-Binary Yes
0.1
1
0.2
2
0.1
1
Table 5: Photographing yourself naked or semi-naked, N=948, (some selected more than one answer).
It is illegal for children to create such pictures, transmit them to others, and for others
to possess, download, store or view them. Follow-up questions indicated that 41%
(55/135) kept the images to themselves, although 55% (74/135) shared the images.
This latter figure is concerning as more than half of the children who took naked
photos of their bodies or body parts, had either physically shown the images to
someone else, or had transmitted images online to one or more contacts. This is
despite a shrewd understanding of the potential consequences, in school at least:
“Your rep will be ruined: (Male, 14)
“They could save it. And its illegal as its classed as distribution of child pornography
if your under 18 - even if its yourself” (Male, 13)
“You have no control over it once sent” (Female, 13)
“Blackmail” (Female, 15)
“If you send it to one person - the entire school will have seen it by the next day”
(Female, 16)
When trying to extrapolate from these data, it is important to note that those
reporting having taken a fully naked image of themselves constituted less than 3% of
the entire sample (27/1001), a proportion that declines if asked whether they had
sent it online to another person, or shown it physically to anyone else. To gauge the
extent of a potential problem, it may be useful to consider that there are
approximately 2.7 million schoolchildren aged 11-15 in England alone (Department
of Education, 2015). The proportions considered in the survey data might therefore
equate to approximately 72,900 young people potentially taking fully naked images
of themselves. If some of them lost an insecure device, or had it stolen, or hacked,
then those images may be circulated further afield.
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
During the online focus groups, the question: “Would you be able to remove an
intimate image of yourself or would you need to get help? (E.g. ChildLine/IWF
partnership) was asked across all age groups and only the older children (15-16)
knew that this was possible:
“no there should be more help” (Male, 11)
“if reported early enough, it is possible” (Male, 16)
“I think it is something [removing the photos] you can do yourself” (Male, 15)
However, nobody knew how to institute take down actions and where to go should
they become worried about their own intimate images. They all felt that not enough
information is available to children and young people on this issue. This finding
prompted the research team to revise debriefing materials to ensure that both young
people and schools received clear guidance on how to institute take down” requests
regarding self -generated naked images.
The survey also asked respondents why they created naked and semi-naked
pictures of themselves. Of the 135 young people who reported self-generating naked
or semi naked images, 69% (93/135) reported that they wanted to do so, although
20% (27/135) did not. Again, the latter figure is the more worrying, with one in five
self-taken naked/semi-naked pictures of children, seeming to derive from some form
of pressure or coercion. Two credible external sources of such pressure may be:
Boyfriends or girlfriends pushing for sexually explicit images of their adolescent
partners; or, online contacts seeking to extract indecent images of children from
victims, potentially as part of their online grooming or sexual abuse activities. Such
possibilities are perhaps supported by the finding that 36% of children, who took
naked or semi-naked self-photographs (49/135), reported that they had been asked
to show these images to someone online, presumably to be transmitted to the
requester, over the internet. Although numbers are low, there is a significant gender
difference. Girls reported sharing images after being asked to (22/37) whereas boys
reported sharing images without being asked (67/96)
29
. When respondents who had
taken naked or semi-naked self-images were asked if they knew the person to whom
they showed the images, 61% of those who shared them (30/49) replied that they
did, indicating that the bulk of these images probably remained localised within the
child-producers social circle, or boyfriend/girlfriend (Figure 21).
29
Χ2(1, N=129)= 12.61, p<0.01, Phi=.31 (excluding those who said that they would prefer not to answer the question)
50
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Figure 21: Did respondents know the people to whom they transmitted naked
or semi-naked images? N=49
This leaves 31% (or 15 young people) who did not know the person to whom they
showed the image. These findings can be considered in the context of other
research. For example, one study suggests that the original recipients, even if known
to the young people, may not be the last recipient as up to 60% of sexually explicit
sexts have been estimated to be disseminated beyond the original recipient
(Bowlin, 2013). Also, Stanley et al. (2016) have specifically considered the roles of
potential coercion in sexting. Their large-scale, multi-country study indicates that the
more boys use pornography and the more often that they use it, the more likely they
are to put pressure on girls to send them self-generated materials.
Each naked image passed on potentially constitutes a criminal act, that of
possessing, transmitting, viewing or downloading indecent images of children. Of
those young people who had taken naked or semi-naked pictures of themselves,
14% (19/135), reported that they had shared the image with another person without
asking the recipients permission first, this has the potential to draw the recipient into
illegal behaviour. Also, this is a gross breach of ‘netiquette’, exactly the kind of
inappropriate (and here illegal too) online behaviour that invades children’s privacy,
and exacerbates their negative feelings towards online pornography.
Widening the scope beyond taking naked/semi-naked photographs of themselves,
into the sphere of taking similar pictures of others, Table 6 reveals that
approximately 4% of all who answered the question (34/948) had taken topless
pictures of someone else. Numbers are too low to disaggregate who they took
pictures of, but from a risk and harm perspective, if they had taken a picture of
another child of similar age to themselves then, they could have created indecent
images of children. Even if this was of a boy’s bare chest, such an image could
constitute a Level 1 prohibited image in UK law (with level 5 being the most serious),
constituting erotic posing with no sexual activity (Sentencing Council, 2012). Thirteen
of the 948 respondents had taken pictures of someone else naked from the waist
down. Again, although the percentage is low (just over 1%), it still represents 13
61%
31%
8% Yes
No
Does not apply to me /
Prefer not to answer this
question
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
children potentially committing an illegal act when the subject in the image was a
similarly aged child under the age of 18.
Fully naked
Top half naked
Bottom half naked
%
N
%
N
%
N
No Total
98.8
937
96.4
914
98.6
935
Yes Total
1.2
11
3.6
34
1.4
13
Boys Yes
0.5
5
2.1
20
0.6
6
Girls Yes
0.4
4
1.3
12
0.5
5
Non-Binary Yes
0.2
2
0.2
2
0.2
2
Table 6: Photographing someone else naked or semi-naked N=948
This paper now turns to more sexually explicit and kinetic material, that of sending
someone online, a picture of a young person performing a sexual act, either solo or
with others. The qualitative extracts have already touched upon this activity but we
turn here to responses when young people were asked directly about such activity.
The vast majority (95%) did not report sharing sexually explicit material. However, 25
(2.5% of the sample) stated that they had sent a picture of themselves performing a
sexual act to an online contact and 23 young people indicated that they would prefer
not to answer the question. As already noted, all the under 18s who sent on those
materials are technically guilty of disseminating an indecent image of a child. Current
police guidance (Home Office, 2016) and Crown Prosecution Service policy (CPS,
2016)
30
are not to prosecute consensual transmission or possession between older
children. The emphasis is one of safeguarding, health and online safety promotion,
rather than the criminalizing of young people and placing those involved onto the sex
offenders register. However similar cases have been prosecuted in the USA. This
reinforces the view that sharing self-generated images has become a more normal
part of modern growing-up, even if it is not all pervasive (Espinoza, 2016).
When asked if respondents had ever seen a naked body or intimate body part of
someone they actually knew, the results are displayed in Table 7. Seventy-three (8%
of those who answered the question) had seen such an image of a close personal
friend; 15% (144/961) had seen that of an acquaintance; 3% (31/961) saw images of
their partners and 8% (77/961), of someone they knew as an online only contact.
A close
personal
friend
An acquaintance
Your partner
A person you
know only
online
N
%
N
%
N
%
N
%
Yes
73
7.6
144
15
31
3.2
77
8
No
864
89.9
788
82
784
81.6
839
87.3
Doesn’t apply
24
2.5
29
3
146
15.2
45
4.7
Table 7: Seen an image of a naked body, or private body part, that belonged to someone else, N=961
30
Paragraph 50, CPS Guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
These findings do not show that sharing naked images of themselves or of others is
prevalent in the 11-16 year-old cohort. The 15% who had seen a sexual or intimate
image of one of their acquaintances is the highest proportion for all the combinations
of sexting investigated. Many activities around self-generated images are reported
in much lower proportions. The activity may be more associated with the older
children considered here and, or, may be more likely once they are sexual active. It
is also important to note that the findings reported earlier indicated that young
people’s definition of ‘sexting was more about erotic text than it was about images.
Finally, it is noteworthy that the proportion of young people reporting that they have
sent or received sexually explicit text messages is lower in the current study than in
the recent large survey of young people aged 14-17 in five EU countries (Stanley, et
al., 2016). This is almost certainly because that study concentrated on heavy users
of pornography so the differences here are likely to be methodological but the
combined findings suggest that more research is required.
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
5.4 Summary of Key Findings: Risks and harms
1) Older respondents were more likely to report that online pornography had
given them ideas about sexual practices that they wanted to act out;
2) Nearly double the proportion of 13-14 year olds (39%) reported assimilating
ideas from online pornography compared to the 11-12 year olds (21%);
3) Some 44% (106/241) of males, compared to 29% (56/195) of females,
reported that the online pornography they had seen had given them ideas
about the types of sex they wanted to try out;
4) Twenty-six percent (258/1001) of respondents had received online
pornography or links to it;
5) Four percent (40/918) reported that they had ever sent pornography online, or
links to it;
6) Young people seemed to interpret ‘sexting’ more as writing and sharing
sexually explicit or intimate words to people they know than as the sharing of
intimate images;
7) The vast majority of children and young people did not report having taken
intimate ‘selfies’, however;
a. Thirteen percent (123) had taken topless pictures of themselves (boys
and girls), and three percent (27) had taken fully naked pictures of
themselves;
b. Forty-one percent (55/135) kept these images to themselves, 55%
(74/135) shared them with others;
c. When respondents who had taken naked self-images were asked if
they knew the person who they showed them to, the majority of
respondents who had taken naked self-images 61% (30/49) reported
that they knew the person they showed them to;
d. Some reported passing them on to people they did not know (31% or
15/49). This was a matter considered in terms of child protection and
safeguarding;
8) Just over a third of children, who took naked or semi-naked self-photographs
(49/135), reported that they had been asked to show these images to
someone online;
9) Very small proportions of young people in the sample overall reported that
they had:
a. taken a fully naked photograph of others 1% (11/948);
b. taken top-half naked images of others 4% (34/948);
c. taken pictures of someone else naked from the waist down 1%
(13/948);
10) Twenty-five children had sent a picture of themselves performing a sexual act;
11) Few young people in the focus groups were confident about how to institute
“take down” actions to remove online intimate images.
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6 Young People as Critical Users of Online Pornography
The research gathered opinions, attitudes and experiences from over 1000 young
people, in three separate stages. The design and implementation of measures was
closely monitored and the over-riding concern throughout was for young people’s
rights and sensitivities as research participants. Yet, it should be noted that this
research is about young people’s experiences of materials that are not intended for
their use and are not aimed at an audience of 11-16 year olds. As such, the decision
was taken very early in the research that this project would not ask young people
about any specific types of pornography, nor would the research describe any types
of pornography that young people may not otherwise have known about. This means
that nothing can be said about what those who have reported viewing pornography
have actually seen. This must be borne in mind when trying to interpret the research,
particularly in attempting to unpick findings that seem at first glance to be
contradictory. Readers should also keep in mind the developmental, cognitive and
social changes that are at play within the young people who participated in this
sample. For example, there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that risk
taking behaviours may be more likely in adolescents, particularly when social and
emotional arousal are high (e.g. Blakemore & Robbins, 2012; Wolf et al., 2013).
This section returns to items regarding how pornography may have influenced young
people’s beliefs. Participants were given 10 statements to consider and rate
according to how much they agreed or disagreed with each. The mean scores for
that question are reported in Table 8, broken down by gender. The lower the mean
score, the more agreement there is for the particular item (rated from 1--strongly
agree to 5--strongly disagree). As can be seen, there were some positive ideas
about sexual behaviour that were endorsed by young people and some negative
ideas about sexual behaviour that were largely rejected, irrespective of gender. For
example, both boys and girls rejected the idea that either men or women should be
coerced into sex and they are both generally positive about the notion that sex
should be safe and enjoyable for all.
On their own, such attitudes are relatively uncontentious. However, this question
asked young people about whether pornography had led them to believe these
things. If taken at face value, this would point to some potentially redeeming features
of pornography found as young people explored their developing sexuality.
Alternatively, it is possible to argue that by asking young people to consider what
they feel about pornography, the research has itself required them to rationalise and
think about it in ways that they might not otherwise have done.
It is thus possible that whether positive or negative, part of what we are seeing in
these findings is a post-hoc rationalisation, superimposed to explain their previous
behaviour and activity. At a time in their development when adolescents have much
to learn and are keen to experiment, their ideas and responses may be in part, a way
to justify their desire to explore pornography further (this justification could have
55
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
been for themselves and for the researchers). This section provides additional
context for those findings, starting with the table below.
Item
Gender
N
Mean
Std.
Deviation
Decreased my respect for women that
have sex with many people.
Male
200
3.43
1.16
Female
151
3.35
1.28
Total
351
3.39
1.21
Decreased my respect for men that have
sex with many people.
Male
198
3.55
1.08
Female
150
3.37
1.22
Total
348
3.47
1.15
Helped me to learn about safe sex.
Male
204
3.46
1.16
Female
156
3.90
1.05
Total
360
3.65
1.13
Led me to believe that women should act
in certain ways during sex.
Male
201
3.59
1.14
Female
153
3.42
1.20
Total
354
3.52
1.17
Led me to believe that men should act in
certain ways during sex.
Male
200
3.55
1.16
Female
155
3.49
1.15
Total
355
3.52
1.16
Led me to believe that women should
sometimes be pressured into having sex
in certain ways.
Male
201
4.15
1.07
Female
156
3.94
1.16
Total
357
4.06
1.11
Led me to believe that men should
sometimes be pressured into having sex
in certain ways.
Male
199
4.18
0.96
Female
154
4.10
0.93
Total
353
4.15
0.95
Led me to believe that sexual activities
should be enjoyable for everyone
involved.
Male
203
2.26
1.06
Female
151
2.66
1.21
Total
354
2.43
1.14
Led me to believe that sexual activities
should be safe for everyone involved.
Male
201
2.27
1.15
Female
150
2.95
1.23
Total
351
2.56
1.23
Led me to believe that sexual activities
should be agreed to by everyone
involved.
Male
203
2.18
1.16
Female
150
2.71
1.31
Total
353
2.41
1.25
Table 8: Beliefs affected by pornography from 13-16 year olds who had seen it.
Firstly, it should be noted that the neutral score of neither agreeing nor disagreeing,
was three. Thus, anything lower than three indicates movement towards agreement
with a statement and anything over three indicates movement towards
disagreement. The statistically significant gender differences shown in bold were
explored earlier in this paper. Although differences are relatively modest, they
generally show that boys are more positive and girls more ambivalent or negative
towards online pornography. For example, 25% (59/241) of the males compared to
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
8% (16/195) of females reported that the online pornography they have seen has
shown them about safe sex although these are clearly a minority in both groups (see
Figure 22).
Figure 22: Cross-tabulation between gender and ‘has the online pornography that you have
seen shown you about safe sex?’ N=241 males; N= females 195
Significant gender differences
31
were also found in regard to the related question
asking about giving consent. The results show that 23% (55/241) of the males
answering the question compared to 13% (25/195) of females, reported that online
pornography has shown them about giving consent. Again, it should be noted that in
both cases, the majority of young people did not think that pornography had shown
them about consent. This was also considered in the focus groups:
“Consent is not shown [in online pornography] the man just does as he pleases
without gaining consent” (Female, 13);
“Both the man and woman have always seemed happy with what is happening when
I have seen anything” (Female, 14);
“They [both men and women] just go ahead and do it” (Male, 16);
“Its not usually [shown] - they just have sex or the man usually dominates the
woman” (Male, 15)
Other explanations for the findings reported in Table 8 can be considered in the
context of what else may have informed young people’s attitudes towards sex and
relationships. In particular, the potential influence of schools and families. There was
limited evidence about the roles of parents when young people reported
experiencing problems with pornography and we cannot know whether the
31
Giving consent Χ2(1, N=436)= 7.20, p<0.01, Phi=.13. Similar findings were observed when young people were asked about
gaining consent, however these did not reach statistical significance.
24.5%
75.5%
8%
92%
Yes No
Has the online pornography that you have seen shown
you about safe sex? N=436
Male
Female
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
conversations or reported problems came first. Whether or not they had spoken with
parents made no difference to the answers reported above. In contrast, there were
statistically significant relationships with what had happened in school and young
people’s beliefs about pornography, these are presented next.
6.1 Educational Mitigations
Young people’s assessments of what they have learned from pornography may be
expected to be associated with their general awareness and experiences online.
Potentially, they may also be influenced by material considered in school. The first
noteworthy finding here is that not all young people had formal school education on
these areas and it did not appear to be a frequently taught subject anywhere:
There's been a total lack of sex education in my school.” (Female, 16)
I think it does yes, as I'm not going to lie, porn really opened my eyes - I have never
been taught sex ed. in school so it was kind of up to me to find out all about it.”
(Male, age 15)
“I had about 4 lessons in 5 years of school.” (Male, 16)
Individual T-tests were run using participants who reported that their teachers had
talked to them about online pornography during sex education or PSHE classes in
comparison with those young people whose teachers had apparently not run such
lessons. The T-tests were used to assess whether beliefs ascribed to pornography
were related to whether or not young people remembered teachers talking with them
about pornography at all, as well as the extent of education they may have received
about sex and relationships. The findings begin to highlight the impact that teaching
may be having on young people as critical users, facilitating their development and
safety online. Influences by teachers were observed among the children who had
seen online pornography. Fifty-four percent (101/186) of 13-16 year olds who had
been spoken to by teachers about online pornography agreed that sexual activity
should be enjoyable versus 46% (59/129) not spoken to (this fell just short of
statistical significance)
32
.
Figure 23 shows a cross tabulation of two key questions: Firstly, ‘have any of your
teachers ever talked with you about online pornography, during sex education or
PSHE classes?’ Secondly, ‘seeing online pornography has led me to believe that
sexual activities should be ‘agreed to by everyone involved’. It shows that 55%
(102/186) of participants whose teachers had talked to them about online
pornography either agreed or strongly agreed with this sentiment compared to 41%
(53/129) whose teachers had not. It should be noted here that neither group is
outstandingly swayed one way or the other
33
.
32
T(285)=1.91, p=0.057 mean: had lessons=2.35 mean: not had lessons=2.62; “not applicable” excluded from analysis.
33
T(285)=2.07, p<0.05, mean: had lessons=2.29, mean: not had lessons=2.60 ; “not applicable” excluded from analysis
58
| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Figure 23: Seeing online pornography has led me to believe that sexual activities should be agreed to by
everyone involved, Not had lessons: 129; Had lessons=186
A statistically significant result was also found with a similar comparison on the item
‘…led me to believe that sexual activities should be safe for everyone involved’
34
. In
this case, 48% of participants whose teachers had talked to them about online
pornography (90/186) either agreed or strongly agreed with this sentiment compared
to 37% whose teachers had not (48/129). Statistically significant results were also
found for the potential impact of teachers on whether pornography had decreased
young people’s respect for women who had multiple partners. This was less evident
for young men (just short of statistical significance). The research participants tended
to disagree with the idea that online pornography had decreased their respect for
people who had sex with many others. Being neutral about the concept was more
common among those who had had some lessons
35
.
Before interpreting these findings further, it is important to note related findings.
These include that participants whose teachers had talked to them about online
pornography during sex education or PSHE classes also reported receiving a
significantly higher number of school sexual education lessons
36
than their
counterparts, see Table 9.
34
T(282)=2.21, p<0.05, mean: had lessons=2.46, mean: not had lessons=2.79 ; “not applicable” excluded from analysis
35
Decreased respect for women with multiple partners, T(282)=2.16, p<0.05 mean: had lessons=3.30, mean: not had
lessons=3.62; Decreased respect for men with multiple partners, T(279)=1.91 p=0.058 mean: had lessons=3.41, mean: not
had lessons=3.67 ; “not applicable” was excluded from analyses.
36
Χ2(3, N=651)= 76.72, p<0.01, Phi=.34
32%
23%
19%
10%
6%
10%
23%
18%
33%
9%
9%
8%
Strongly Agree
Agree
Neutral/NA
Disagree
Strongly Disagree
Not Applicable
...Sexual activities should be agreed to by everyone
involved N=315
Not had Lessons
Have had Lessons
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Formal Sex and Relationships Lessons Received
None to Few
Lessons (0-2)
Few to
Medium (3-5)
Medium to
Many (6-7)
Many Lessons
(8-11+)
Had lessons on
pornography
N = 361
68
109
74
110
%
18.8%
30.2%
20.5%
30.5%
No lessons on
pornography
N=290
133
94
33
30
%
45.9%
32.4%
11.4%
10.3%
Total
201
203
107
140
% of all respondents
30.9%
31.2%
16.4%
21.5%
Table 9: Teachers talking about online pornography, during sex education or PSHE classes, N=651
Messages that young people may take away from pornography and how they
interpret it are also related to their age and possible maturity. Statistically significant
age differences37 were found in response to the question has the online
pornography that you have seen shown you about safe sex?” The findings show that
the older cohorts reported that the online pornography they have seen has shown
them about safe sex in higher proportions than the youngest group, i.e. six percent
of 11-12 year olds, 22% of 13-14 year olds and 18% of 15-16 year olds (Figure 24).
Figure 24: Cross-tabulation between age group and ‘has the online pornography that you have seen
shown you about safe sex?’ N=73, ages 11-12; N=149, ages 13-14; N= 215, ages 15-16
Does this mean that younger children are more likely to be critically aware about
pornography than older children? It is possible that as older children are more
37
Χ2(2, N=473)= 9.64, p<0.01, Phi=.15
5.5%
22% 18%
94.5%
78% 82%
11-12yrs 13-14yrs 15-16yrs
Has the online pornography that you have seen shown you
about safe sex? N=437
Yes
No
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exposed to pornography, they become more desensitised to it and thus less likely to
be negative about it. This would be an indication of harmful attitude formation with
potential serious ramifications for behaviour. It is also possible that with maturity,
comes more selectivity in what is seen and what messages are taken from
pornography. Thus, it might be possible to interpret the age findings here as
demonstrating greater critical awareness, particularly if young people have also
received more lessons about relationships and have more direct experience in
general. This might be a more positive outcome. However, neither possible
interpretation can be tested in the current data set. It would require prospective,
longitudinal information, richer data about what is being viewed and how it is
assimilated. Such research would pose significant practical and ethical challenges.
The current dataset does give us some indications of the importance of the context
in which pornography is taught in the class room, both in terms of gender differences
and possible maturation effects. Firstly, it should be noted that of the overall sample,
737 participants remembered some sex education lessons, 254 (25% of the sample
as a whole or 34% of this sub-set) reported that they have received an average of 3-
5 school sex education lessons, 60 (6% of the whole sample) reported that they had
received none at all, and 186 (19% of the whole sample) were not sure of how many,
if any lessons they had received.
Next, we need to consider potential impacts of teaching about online pornography
specifically and sex education in general, in the context of young people’s responses
to online pornography. This is not a simple matter and reflects the participants’
different experiences and attitudes. In some respects, they seem to be generally
critical about pornography, with most of them feeling that it does not provide a good
model for gaining consent, nor of safe sex (Figure 22). Relatedly, gender differences
that are consistent with the wider literature were also found and indicate that the
young people who do think that pornography has taught them about consent and
safe sex are more likely to be male than female. Conversely, about half the sample
believed that online pornography had helped them to believe that sexual activity
should be safe, enjoyable and agreeable to all concerned. These positive beliefs
were somewhat more likely when online pornography had reportedly been
considered in a classroom setting (Figure 23).
One interpretation of the findings could be that by teaching about pornography, a
greater proportion of pupils are likely to find positive aspects to it, and presumably
will find it more acceptable as a result. This may be a concern similar to one felt by
some parents and could lead to reluctance to discuss online pornography or healthy
sexual relationships at all. It is suggested that it is not the most plausible response to
the findings presented here and to simply ignore online pornography would do young
people a disservice. As one young person said in the stage 3 focus groups:
“thank you for inviting me its helped me learn that I’m not the only person with the
same thoughts about this topic.” (Female, 13-14)
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The prevalence of online pornography means that it is very unlikely that young
people will be unaware of its existence, nor that it can be filtered out of their lives
entirely (Nash, et al., 2016). This is further reinforced by the findings reported earlier
in this report indicating that many young people find pornography by accident, or that
it is sent on to them. With well-considered educational interventions and properly
supported public health information, it may be possible to help young people to
become more critical users of online pornography between first viewing it and
subsequently seeing it. Without such education and intervention, it is possible that
they will become increasingly inured to online pornography and that gendered
interpretations and expectations will go unchallenged.
6.2 Do Children and Young People Favour Intervention?
In the first two stages of the research, participants made a number of comments that
warranted further exploration. For example, this was an additional comment made
during the stage 2 survey:
I don't think that online pornography should be dismissed as the internet becomes
more accessible to everyone as such a young age, I do think that stricter guidelines
should be placed and that people should learn about the effects of pornography
before and after being exposed to the content' (Male, 16)
As a form of triangulation, and as part of the Delphi informed approach taken,
several of these ideas were tested during the third stage focus groups. The
opportunity was also taken to ask young people directly about whether they felt
pornography access should be limited and they were asked about age verification:
“yes its needs to be more regualted now everybody has phones and tablets u can
go past a wifi hotspot and access any thing” (Female, 13)
Young people in focus groups generally supported age verification but pointed out its
limitations in terms of being able to access their parents’ credit cards and also asked:
“why can people have sex at 16 and get married but can not legally access porn at
16” (Female, 13)
The online discussion led to consensus about the importance of education. Many
participants emphasised the need for a radical revision of their school sex and
relationships curriculum, in order to take better account of their burgeoning needs for
knowledge, to satisfy their curiosity and to help them to stay safe, both physically
and online.
“I think it would seem more secret/tempting if you didnt talk about it at school”
(Female, 12)
“My mum had me when she was young and always says she wishes more
information was available” (Female, 14)
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A strong view that was voiced across both genders and all age groups was related to
open discussion on online pornography in all schools, religious and secular:
“It should whatever type of school - whetehr catholic protestant muslim or jewish
should have pshe” (Female, 14)
This was modulated somewhat by recognition that it may not be the most popular
subject or the easiest to deliver:
“Sex ed doesnt really mention porn so I think it should be but no one would take it
seriously and find it awkward” (Male, 15)
“No. It is a joke at our school. No-one pays attention as everyone sees it as a bunk
lesson - as there is no exam” (Male, 13)
“yeah - but each year they just tend to repeat information - making the class become
useless” (Male, 14)
“I think at this age - were all just immature about this sort of thing” (Male, 14)
The respondents demonstrated a keen awareness of the difficulties that addressing
sex and pornography raise for teachers and children and in terms of how discussions
about pornography should be run. So that it is not too awkward for children and
teachers, the respondents suggested:
“I think it would start awkward but would help to be told that things you see arent
always normal or expected” (Male, 13)
[It would help to] have a specialist person do the classroom discussion and not a
teacher that you see all the time” (Female, 13)
“Once our teacher did a lesson about sexting and made us come up with a rap about
the dangers - we worked it groups and it was a fun lesson with a positive outcome; I
think a similar thing could be done with porn” (Male, 15)
“Maybe they should call it sex not pornography so kids dont go looking for it”
(Female, 12)
“I think both boys and girl should be in same group” (Female, 12)
This last comment expressed a counter veiling view within the focus group
concerned and was in response to other suggestions that such education should be
in groups divided by male/female:
“But then if they have the genders in different classes - their education may vary
(also non-binary people would feel awkward)” (Female, 15)
“Maybe get some famous youtuber to give out advice as people such a zoella have
been a big inspiration to many teenage girl” (Female, 14)
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“You dont learn how to have bisexual/Lesbian sex in a sex ed class. It is hard for
gay girls or guys to learn things, so reading a blog or watching a few porno's you can
atleast learn a basic move or see how it is actually done if you had no idea” (Female,
13-14).
Participants were also asked what they would design, if they were offered the
chance to develop online materials of their own. Short videos were suggested, to be
hosted on an easily accessible website or an app:
“different info for different ages. Have short videos and info on who to contact if you
need more help or have questions” (Female, 12)
“but with someone presenting it from tv” (Male, 11)
“im not sure about the look but it would be accessable to everyone - but maybe just
teenagers to make sure they are ready” (Female, 15)
Some young people felt that the resource should not be online or were concerned
that it should be:
“private so no one know what question you asked” (Male, 12)
“It shouldnt be on internet” (Female, 12)
“i think a website would just add more to the web that young people can get
confused with” (Male, 14)
These findings demonstrate that young people have clear ideas about how
interventions could be constructed and delivered and perhaps most importantly, that
they would welcome such interventions.
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6.3 Summary of Key Findings: Young people as critical users of
pornography
1) Focus group participants suggested that formal school education on issues
surrounding online pornography can help to mitigate the harmful attitudes
towards women and sexual relationships that can stem from exposure to
online pornography;
2) Young people who have had education about online pornography within
school may be less likely to be negatively influenced by online pornography
than young people who have not had lessons about online pornography;
3) Sex and relationships education may be associated with greater awareness of
the issues surrounding pornography;
4) The online discussion led to consensus about the importance of education and
the need for it to be relevant and engaging;
5) Young people wanted access to information on sex and relationships and
about pornography in ways that would were safe, private and credible;
6) This was modulated somewhat by recognition that it may not be the most
popular subject or the easiest to deliver;
a) Awkwardness could be mitigated against with specialist provision,
particularly where young people are encouraged to co-create their learning,
e.g. young people suggested short videos, to be hosted on an easily
accessible website or an app;
b) Materials need to be age appropriate and to take into account young
people’s gender identities;
7) When directly asked about age verification, young people were generally in
favour but suggest that it was likely to be of limited efficacy.
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7 Dataset Limitations
Having presented the key research findings, this report now considers some of the
limitations of the dataset, then moves on to implications of the findings.
The research was rigorously designed and conducted and stage 2 is based on a
large sample that is fairly representative of the UK’s 11-16 year olds. This is the first
such study, to our knowledge. These data were supplemented and enhanced by rich
qualitative findings from a smaller, cross UK set of online focus groups and an online
discussion forum. However, all the data are cross sectional, provide limited access to
causal pathways and rely on self-report.
Young people were asked to reflect back on their first exposure to online
pornography and to judge its verisimilitude. They were asked to think about how they
felt about pornography initially and currently and what they think that they may have
taken from it/feel about it overall. The research team are grateful to the young people
who genuinely seem to have answered honestly and openly about their feelings and
experiences. However, there was no follow up over time and there is no way to
assess either, whether their feelings or experiences change, nor how they might
change in the future. Additionally, by asking children about how they felt on first
exposure to pornography and how they feel now, they may have inferred that they
were expected to feel differently and to rationalise in ways that they may not
otherwise have done.
Self-report requires both self-insight and self-disclosure. The breadth of comments
made and general care with which the survey was filled out were positive indicators
of young people’s engagement. Their online etiquette during focus groups likewise
showed an enthusiasm and willingness to engage openly with the research.
However, it is possible that they may have been unwilling to disclose activity in
response to some of the more intrusive questions asked.
These limitations are acknowledged to help maintain a cautionary note in drawing
inferences from this research report. The research has enabled conclusions to be
drawn about associations between young people’s attitudes, experiences and
responses to online pornography. These are further elucidated by children’s own
insights into how their cognitive and affective responses may have influenced their
behaviours, both as individuals and with one another. The research cannot talk
about observable outcomes or impacts of online pornography. That would require
longitudinal data, ideally within a cohort or other prospective study. If new
educational tools and other interventions were to be considered, then these would be
amenable to testing via a randomised control trial, or matched comparison design.
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8 Policy Implications
This section is intended to draw out implications of the research. It is hoped that
this will prompt further discussion about how best to support young people and
facilitate their safe development, online and in the real world. There are potential
opportunities for involvement for key stakeholders including the internet industry
and NGOs, as well as for academics and government. There is a role for
UKCCIS in co-ordinating a stakeholder response and actions.
1) An important finding was reported at the outset of this report and is that
approximately half of the young people who participated in this research did
not report viewing online pornography at all. Not all secondary school
children seek out pornography, irrespective of how they identify in terms of
gender. The comparatively low proportion who actually viewed pornography
in this study may be related the younger age range of this sample, 11-16
rather than older adolescents e.g. 14-17 or rather than surveys of young
adults, e.g. 18-25 year olds.
2) Although the proportions were lower in this sample than in others,
pornography was still something that many young people reported seeing,
whether intentionally or not:
a. Older research participants were less likely to be shocked by
pornography and more likely to be aroused by it;
b. In keeping with other literature, this study indicates that boys are more
likely than girls to actively search for pornography and to do so more
frequently and regularly;
c. Although some girls do choose to use pornography, these are in
significantly lower proportions than boys;
d. Proportionally more of the boys were likely to be positive about
pornography or to see it as a normal part of their lives than the
proportions of girls;
e. Proportionally more of the girls were likely to be concerned about
pornography and more negative about it than the proportions of boys;
f. Although most young people saw pornography as being different from
reality, there were some who saw it as realistic and something to be
emulated;
g. Attention needs to be paid to the messages that boys take from
pornography, and what their expectations are for the girls and other
boys with whom they subsequently interact;
h. Similarly, attention needs to be paid to the messages that girls take
from pornography and how they may be being influenced within
potential or actual sexual relationships;
3) If intervention is to be considered, then young people wanted approaches
that:
a. foster safe, secure online engagement;
b. are private and not entirely online;
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c. are gender and age appropriate;
d. help teachers and, or, specialised staff to co-create learning with young
people;
e. support them in ways that acknowledge their social-sexual
development and perceived peer group expectations;
4) Young people also highlighted variability in educational experiences in
relation to online pornography. Improving their access to relevant sex and
relationship education in safe, multi-faceted ways may enhance young
people’s abilities to challenge pornography as critically developed viewers.
Specialist PSHE teachers, and ways to enhance online confidentiality, safety
and security, could be better incorporated within educational provision in
ways that challenge disjointed deficiencies of current practices;
5) Approaches telling young people to just not look, or that try to prevent them
from accessing pornography via age verification were considered by the
participants and sometimes suggested as something for children younger than
the particular participant, or in some other way that did not affect individual
respondents directly;
a. Implications here are that a determined young person could circumvent
controls, but that better regulation may help to minimise accidental
exposure;
b. The research suggests that some young people are concerned or
worried by their exposure to pornography. These young people may
require more proactive support and advice and include those who have
been sent pornography that was not wanted as well as those who
found material that was unexpected or otherwise troubling;
8) There is a definitional issue in respect of sexting in that young people do not
recognise the sending of intimate images as the predominant form of sexting,
nor that such images could be illegal. Children and young people seem to
have a particular understanding of ‘sexting’ that is not shared by adults. This
would imply that policy-making and education programmes in regard to young
people exchanging naked/semi-naked pictures should be based on a better
understanding of what young people are doing, and the ways in which they
describe their behaviours;
6) There are a number of implications of this research that can only be tested
longitudinally. Also, if intervention is to be made, then such intervention should
be evaluated for efficacy;
a. More research is needed, centred on young people, to test directly the
impacts and outcomes of their viewing of pornography on social,
sexual and cognitive development.
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10 Appendices
10.1 Appendix 1: Methodology
Stage 1 Methods: Online focus groups and discussion forum
The aim of stage 1 was to inform stage 2 (the survey) and to ensure that the
questions designed were pertinent to the aims and objectives of the research.
Furthermore, this stage also identified a number of significant and contemporary
themes regarding online pornography that are present in children and young
people’s milieu. The online focus groups and each discussion forum were conducted
through a non-video and non-audio chatroom interface. As a result, participants’
emotive reactions and corresponding valence strength--which could otherwise have
been partly gauged via a documentation of their facial expressions, postures, hand
gestures and vocal tonality-- could not be ascertained. As such, qualitative analysis
is of purely textual data.
Stage 1 Data and Sample
Findings for stage 1 were obtained from a discussion forum, implemented in age
segmented variants and from four, in-depth qualitative focus groups with 34 young
people (18 Females, 16 Males). These groups were also segmented according to 3
age groups. Their age and gender breakdowns are as follows:
Group
Age
Size
Gender Composition
Group 1
Ages 11-12
N=3
2 Females
1 Males
Group 2
Ages 13-14
N=14
9 Females
5 Males
Group 3
Ages 15-16
N=9
7 Females
2 Males
Group 4
Ages 15-16
N=8
0 Females
8 Males
Table A1: Focus group stage 1 age and gender
The young people who participated in stage 1 were recruited via ResearchBods,
drawing on their UK wide family panels. ResearchBods also provided the online
platform for implementation of each discussion forum and the focus groups. It should
be noted that they provided invaluable access and useful technological support for
participants and the academic research team. The materials used were designed by
the academic team, and vetted via Middlesex University’s ethics procedures. The
researchers who facilitated the online discussion and focus groups were all from
Middlesex University.
Stage 1 Overview of Materials
All materials for the research are available in the following appendices. Due to
developmental differences, the focus group schedules used for each age group were
slightly different. For example, regarding the question: “Do you think that online
pornography has any effects on young people’s relationships with girlfriends,
boyfriends, parents, siblings and friends”, the subsequent questions given to the
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older group (15-16 years old) included all three of the following items whereas the
younger groups were only asked 1 and 2:
1. What do you think the effects (positive and negative) are?
2. How do you think pornography has had the effects you’ve described?
3. Which relationships are most often affected?
Barring a few semantic tweaks, particularly to follow up questions, all participants
were asked about the same broad areas.
Stage 1 Analysis and NVivo Coding Procedure
The focus group findings were analysed using a mixed application of analytic
induction, constant comparative and thematic data analysis methods (Attride-Stirling,
2001; Goetz & LeCompte, 1981). Broadly, this approach includes a systematic
examination of qualitative data, which consists of identifying, organising,
classifying/coding, cross comparing and validity testing of dominant contextual
themes and categories. The procedure entails: 1) familiarisation with data, 2)
generating initial codes, 3) searching for themes among codes, 4) defining, reviewing
and refining themes, 5) testing the reliability and validity of each theme and 6)
analytical saturation. This procedure was supported by the use of NVivo software, for
the following chronological actions.
1. All 4 focus group transcripts were uploaded onto an NVivo file, and separated
by their respective groups;
2. All participants were coded with a male or female category, as well as with an
age and respective focus group number;
3. After further familiarisation with the data, the second level of coding was
based on participants’ answers to all of the questions in the forum variants
and focus groups. That is, each set of answers was coded to find broad,
contextual, common themes, which were then further evaluated, refined and
validated;
4. A matrix coding query was then run to examine how each of the three age
groups concurred in their answers to the following questions, which were
asked of all participants:
What reactions did you have to online pornography the first time you
saw it?
What reactions do you have to online pornography now?
Does online pornography seem realistic to you?
Does online pornography make young people want to try things out?
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Do young people learn anything from online pornography (e.g.
pornography as pedagogy)?
Do you think that viewing online pornography has any positive effects
on young people?
Do you think that viewing online pornography has any negative effects
on young people?
5. Differences and similarities between age and gender were then compared and
analysed. Overall, this led to the development, refinement and validation of 7
recurring themes, which represented the main findings of this initial analysis.
6. Steps 1-5 were then applied to an analysis of the online discussion forum
data. These findings were then used to inform development of the stage 2
survey.
Stage 2: The Online survey
Stage 2 Methodology
The stage 2 survey was informed by the findings from stage 1 and the currently
available evidence base on the impact of online pornography on children and young
people, including Horvath et al (2013) and IWF (2015). Skip Logic and filtering were
used in the construction of the online survey to allow answers from specific
questions to direct participants to relevant follow up items, also to allow for age-
appropriate variants. This was particularly relevant to questions that were phrased
with harder or more adult concepts such as those concerning the creation or
distribution of self-generated pornographic images online.
The stage 1 online discussion forum variants and focus groups were facilitated and
closely monitored by three members of the research team. Their embeddedness
within the research process allowed for a rapid yet thorough initial analysis of the
material generated by the young people who participated. Areas that were included
in the stage 2 survey, from stage 1 included: the amount and quality of sex education
that respondents had received at school; the demographic representativeness of the
participants in the survey; the sexuality of some of the older participants (in the 15/16
forum) and the extent of seeing or producing self-generated images of themselves or
contemporaries. Given the proximity of designing stage 2 to the running of stage 1,
the language used by the participating young people, and their experiences were
readily absorbed into the stage 2 survey.
The stage 2 survey was submitted to the commissioners and the advisory board for
their feedback at the design stage. Suggestions and requests were incorporated into
an amended draft that was subsequently submitted for ethical review.
Stage 2 Participants
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Within stage 2, ResearchBods was commissioned to implement the online survey;
this was to obtain a nationally representative sample of 11-16 year olds. This market
research company has extensive access to over 50,000 people, including children
and young people, via panels of families and of schools. The same organisation also
facilitated access for the stage 1 and stage 3 focus groups. As with stage 1, all
research materials and ethical matters were designed and dealt with by the research
team at Middlesex University, supported by the independent advisory board and the
commissioners of the research. One thousand and one children aged 11-16, fully
completed the survey and consented to their data being used for analysis.
Stage 2 Overview of Materials
Before young people participated in the research, information sheets were provided
and initial consent was obtained. In line with best practice
38
for online research, final
consent was also obtained prior to submission of data. The information sheets
contained a definition of pornography as defined in section two of this report.
The survey consisted of 44 questions most of which were ‘closed’ where participants
selected from options provided (the full survey can be accessed on request). There
were however free text boxes provided and several open-ended questions to allow
young people to respond in ways that better reflected their situations or experiences
and to facilitate richer findings. All questions explored children’s direct experiences
and attitudes towards online legal pornography.
The first ten questions were demographic. The remainder of the survey was divided
into separate sections, specifically: ‘How you use the internet; Have you ever seen
online pornography; Your experiences the first time you saw online pornography;
Your on-going experiences with online pornography; Your attitudes and feelings
towards online pornography; Your behaviour around online pornography’; and finally,
‘The effects of online pornography on young people’.
Stage 2 Ethics
The research was conducted in line with HCPC and BPS ethical codes of conduct.
As noted above, information was provided at the outset about the nature of the
survey and consent was obtained before and after completion from young people
and from legally responsible adults. Each sub-section of the survey included an
option to ‘exit’, that could be clicked at any time and that led to a page with contact
information for relevant support organisations. Of the 1018 survey respondents who
provided initial consent, 17 did not give final consent; their data have been excluded
from analysis (leaving 1001 responses in the final dataset).
38
British Psychological Society, 2013
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
Stage 2 Safeguarding
All respondents could also click a button to request follow up support and contact
from the team at ResearchBods, this was if they did not feel safe, or had an issue of
concern to disclose. No respondents clicked on the button. Additionally, the senior
members of the research team worked closely with ResearchBods in safeguarding.
A preliminary sift of the data found some responses that could have caused concern.
These answers were examined in the context of all the responses given by the
participant, to ensure that we had not misunderstood each respondent’s intention.
The team initially identified approximately a dozen cases that warranted additional
consideration. In some cases it may have been a misplaced attempt at humour on
the part of the young person filling out the questionnaire, but there was also limited
evidence of illegal or potentially risky online activity (e.g. participants claimed they
had been sharing indecent pictures/videos of themselves masturbating and/or naked
online).
The team took advice from a senior child protection officer who was a member of the
independent advisory board and from the research commissioners. It was agreed
that two cases could be considered to be low risk and that six were of low to medium
risk. Mindful of the need to protect potentially vulnerable young people, but also to
avoid the risk of criminalising or stigmatising them unnecessarily, steps were taken
to ensure that information was shared, in line with the safeguarding policies of the
commissioners of the research. Additional ethical approval was sought for
responding to low risk cases and follow up was made, via ResearchBods. Five of the
cases were followed up directly with the young person concerned via the family
panel protocols in place and three referrals were made to school safeguarding staff.
Furthermore, ResearchBods signposted organisations who would be able support
young people and kept an open dialogue with all schools to provide support at any
point after the research, in case they needed further information or assistance.
In addition, the team were mindful of responses relating to ‘sexting’ (see findings). It
was thus decided to send out a repeat of the debriefing to all participants (including
those for whom safeguarding steps were taken) and to provide both the young
people and schools, with additional specific information on ‘sexting’.
Stage 2 Analysis
Quantitative data from the surveys were imported into SPSS and recoded as
necessary. Descriptive statistics were generated for all of the demographic,
categorical, ordinal and attitudinal data. Following this, inferential statistical methods
were used to determine if the observable differences in respondents’ answers were
statistically significant or the result of chance.
Qualitative responses to the open-ended questionnaire items were imported into
NVivo and analysed using inductive thematic approaches as well as some basic
content analysis. These methods have been consistently shown to generate valid
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
and contextualised findings from large textual databases (Krippendorff, 2012), and
provided a form of methodological triangulation that helped to validate findings.
Stage 3: Online Focus Groups
This final stage of the research was conducted with children and young people (11-
16) from across the four UK nations. The questions were informed by the findings of
the survey and were crafted using vernacular and idiomatic language style, used by
the different aged children about their experiences with online pornography. Given
that the online discussion forum variants had yielded limited data, these were not
repeated in stage 3.
Stage 3 Data and Sample
Group
Ages
Gender
Size
Group 1
Ages 11-12
Females
N=7
Group 2
Ages 11-12
Males
N=6
Group 3
Ages 13-14
Females
N=7
Group 4
Ages 13-14
Males
N=6
Group 5
Ages 15-16
Females
N= 7
Group 6
Ages 15-16
Males
N=7
Table A2: Focus group stage 3 age and gender
Please note that the remaining appendices include examples of materials used with
participants in the research. Information sheets, consent forms and debriefs were
created for participants, their parents or legal guardians and schools. These are
available from the authors.
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10.2 Appendix 2: Materials- Online Discussion Forum
All participants were pre-screened to confirm that they had seen pornography.
Preamble
Thank you for agreeing to take part in the discussion forum, this forum is being run
by (INSERT NAMES). As you know we’re going to be talking about pornography that
you may have come across online and in the media. There are no right or wrong
answers to the questions, we just want your opinion. Please remember that within
this forum, you may have different opinions, which is fine. You can agree or disagree
with each other, please just be polite and kind whilst you are discussing the
questions.
Please remember that if you reveal something to us that may indicate risk to yourself
or another identifiable person, or illegal activity, we need to make sure you are ok
and will pass your details to an organisation who can offer assistance.
If you disclose something, we (the researchers running the discussion forum or focus
group) will let ResearchBods know and they will have to contact you directly via
email to check on your wellbeing, provide you with information about sources of help
and support and to let you know that they are passing your details to an organisation
who can offer you assistance. This is to protect you and all others who participate in
this research. If you do disclose something, we will not inform your parents, and they
have given their permission for you to take part knowing that they will not be told if
you disclose something that makes us concerned. Please see Table A3 for the
questions asked.
Closing remarks
That’s all the questions and discussion we have for this forum, thank you all very
much for taking part, you have been brilliant. When the forum is closed, we will send
you an email that gives you some more information about the project we are running.
The information will also contain the team's contact details and some other
information about people you can contact if you’d like to talk to someone about any
of the issues we’ve covered today. Please do read the email.
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Stage 1 Online Discussion Forum Questions for 11-12 year olds
Date question
introduced to
Forum (2015)
Question
20th April
1) What are the things that you enjoy doing the most online? What
is so fun about them?
20th April
2) Do you have a smartphone to go online? If you do, are you
allowed to take it to school with you? Do you use your phone at
school? Are you allowed to?
20th April
3) What does the phrase “online pornography” mean to you?
22nd April
4) For the rest of this forum we are going to be discussing
pornography and what we mean is: “images and films of people
having sex or behaving sexually online. This includes semi-
naked and naked images and films of people that you may
have viewed or downloaded from the internet, or that someone
else shared with you directly, or showed to you on their phone
or computer”. Some pornography is not online e.g. magazines
and videos, but we are only discussing online pornography.
What do you think of our definition? Does it make sense? What
would you change about it? How can you tell if something is
pornography or is not pornography? Please give examples of
the specific things that help you to tell the difference.
24th April
5) Do young people watch pornography on their own or with
someone else? Why do you think they watch it on their own or
with someone else?
27th April
6) Do you think that other young people should be protected from
pornography? How would you protect them from it? How do
you think pornography affects young people?
27th April
7) Who do you think should talk to young people, like you, about
pornography and why would you choose these people?
30th April
8) Do you think parents should talk about pornography to their
children?
30th April
9) Do you think that schools should explain what pornography is
and how it effects young people and do more to help you keep
yourself safe online? If you think schools should be involved,
who should speak directly to the young people like you (e.g.
someone brought in from outside, one of your teachers, a
school counsellor, etc.)?
Table A3: Discussion Forum Questions
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10.3 Appendix 3: Materials- Stage 1 Focus Groups
Stage 1 Online Focus Group Questions for 11-12 year olds
All participants were pre-screened to confirm that they had seen pornography.
Main questions are numbered, prompts are alphabetized.
Preamble/icebreaker
Thank you for agreeing to take part in the focus group today, this group is being run
by (INSERT NAMES) and we will be taking you through the session. As you know
we’re going to be talking about pornography that you may have come across online
and in the media. There are no right or wrong answers to the questions, we just want
your opinion. You don’t have to disclose information about your own experiences,
you can talk in the third person. Please remember that within this focus group, you
may have different opinions, which is fine. You can agree or disagree with each
other, please just be polite and kind whilst you are discussing the questions.
Please remember that if you reveal something to us that may indicate risk to yourself
or another identifiable person, or illegal activity, we will need to make sure you are ok
and pass your details to an organisation who can offer assistance.
If you disclose something, we (the researchers running the discussion forum or focus
group) will let ResearchBods know and they will have to contact you directly via
email to check on your wellbeing, provide you with information about sources of help
and support and to let you know that they are passing your details to an organisation
that can offer you assistance. This is to protect you and all others who participate in
this research. If you do disclose something, we will not inform your parents, and they
have given their permission for you to take part knowing that they will not be told if
you disclose something that makes us concerned.
Let's start by you all briefly introducing yourselves. Please note that you can use any
name you like here, it can be your own, or it can be one you've made up.
Does anyone have any questions before we start?
1) What are the things that you enjoy doing the most online? What is so fun
about them?
2) Do you have a smartphone to go online?
a. If you do, are you allowed to take it to school with you?
b. Do you use your phone at school? Are you allowed to?
3) What is “online pornography”?
For the rest of this focus group we are going to be discussing pornography and
what we mean is “images and films of people having sex or behaving sexually
online. This includes semi-naked and naked images and films of people that you
may have viewed or downloaded from the internet, or that someone else shared
with you directly, or showed to you on their phone or computer”. Some
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
pornography is not online e.g. magazines and videos, but we are only discussing
online pornography.
4) Does our definition of pornography make sense to you?
a. What is good/bad about our definition?
b. What would you change about our definition?
5) What reactions do you have to online pornography?
a. The first time you saw it?
b. And now?
6) Why do young people look at online pornography?
a. Does it seem real?
b. Does it make young people want to try things out?
c. Do young people learn anything from it?
d. What messages do you think it gives out to young people?
7) Do you think that online pornography has any effects on how young
people are with people (girlfriend/boyfriend/mum/dad/brother/sister/friends)?
a. What do you think the effects (positive and negative) are?
b. How do you think pornography has done this?
8) What would you say to another young person who was thinking about
viewing pornography for the first time?
a. Would you like your brother or sister to see pornography?
9) Have your parents ever talked with you about online pornography?
a. If they did talk to you, how did you feel (Embarrassed? Interested?
Shamed? Mature? Guilty? Happy?)
b. If they did talk to you, when and where did they talk to you about online
pornography?
c. If they didn’t talk to you, would you like your parents to talk to you about
online pornography?
d. When and where should they talk to you about it?
10) Do you think your teacher at school should talk to you about
pornography?
a. Why do you/don’t you think teachers at school should talk about
pornography?
b. Is there anything you would like teachers to address in particular?
c. Is there anyone else you think could talk to young people about
pornography?
Closing remarks
That’s all the questions and discussion we have time for today, thank you all very
much for taking part, you have been brilliant. When we sign off from this chat, we will
send you an email that gives you some more information about the project we are
running. The information will also contain the team's contact details and some other
information about people you can contact if you’d like to talk to someone about any
of the issues we’ve covered today. Please do read the email.
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
10.4 Appendix 4: Post Survey Email to Young People
Stage 2 additional e-mail sent to all young people who participated in the survey
Thank you for completing the survey about online pornography. About 1000 young
people have now completed the survey and we’re very grateful to you all. Many of
you said really interesting things. Some of you said things that show us you may be
concerned about online pornography or about naked pictures of people you know
being online.
This note is to remind you that there are people you can talk to for a bit more
information. If you want to talk with anyone about the survey or things it’s made you
think about, then we can be reached by phone or e-mail either to ResearchBods or
Middlesex University and our contact details are at the end of this message.
You may remember that we provided you with a list of places where you could also
find more information or some support if you have had bad experiences with online
pornography. We also wanted to remind you that you can get in touch with Childline,
their contact details are also at the bottom of this message.
If you are concerned about what is happening to you or has happened to someone
you know, please follow this link to the Child Online Protection Centre website for
help and advice www.thinkuknow.co.uk
Lastly, there are a couple of places where you can find out more about what to do if
you’re worried about ’sexting’: this is a short flyer: swgfl.org.uk/products-
services/esafety/resources/So-You-Got-Naked-Online/Content/Sexting-Sml-Flyer
booklet.aspx or this link gives you more information: swgfl.org.uk/products-
services/esafety/resources/So-You-Got-Naked-Online/Content/Sexting-Toolkit
ChildLine can be contacted either by phone (0800 1111) or online
www.childline.org.uk
The Middlesex Research team can be contacted via Dr Elena Martellozzo, phone:
020 8411 5269, Email: e.martellozzo@mdx.ac.uk
To reach ResearchBods, then the phone number is: 0113 246994 (ask to speak to
any on the ‘Middlesex Project Team’) or the Email is: hello@surveybods.com (with
the subject line 'Middlesex’)
Thanks again for taking part in the research.
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10.5 Appendix 5: Safeguarding Email to survey respondents
Stage 2 Safeguarding Email
Safeguarding Email (sent by ResearchBods in medium or high risk safeguarding
cases or low risk cases where information needed to be shared as a matter of
safeguarding practice)
Dear *,
During the survey you took part in, you mentioned something about _ which caused
the researchers to feel worried about you or someone else, they let us know and
have asked us to check how you are doing. Because of what you mentioned, we are
going to pass your details on to (insert organisation name) who will get in touch to
offer you support and help.
We wanted to let you know that there are lots of sources of support and help
available if you need them. After this paragraph, you will find contact details for a
number of support agencies. Asking for help and support can feel really difficult, but
there are lots of people out there who are trained in talking to people like you about
issues of pornography, the internet and sex.
Childline
Free and confidential helpline for children and young people, no problem too big or
too small.
If you’re feeling worried, scared, stressed or just want to talk to someone you can
contact Child Line by telephone, 1-2-1 webchat or email.
Calls don’t show up on phone bills.
Phone: 0800 1111 (FREE)
Get Connected
Free, confidential helpline for young people who need help but don't know where to
find it. You can contact them by phone, email and webchat.
Phone 0808 808 4994 (1pm-11pm every day) Email:
www.getconnected.org.uk/email-us/
Webchat: www.getconnected.org.uk/#livechat (1pm-11pm every day)
CEOP’s thinkuknow
A website with the latest information on the sites you like to visit, mobiles and new
technology. Find out what’s good, what’s not and what you can do about it.
https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/
What to do if you’re worried about ’sexting’?
There is a short flyer available here: www.swgfl.org.uk/products-
services/esafety/resources/So-You-Got-Naked-Online/Content/Sexting-Sml-Flyer-
booklet.aspx or this link gives you more information: www.swgfl.org.uk/products-
services/esafety/resources/So-You-Got-Naked-Online/Content/Sexting-Toolkit
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| Martellozzo et al., 2017
The Hideout
A space to help children and young people to understand domestic violence, and
how to take positive action if it's happening to you.
www.thehideout.org.uk/over10/default.aspa
Young Minds
Website with information and advice for young people about abuse, anger, anorexia,
anxiety, ADHD, Autism & Asperger’s, bipolar disorder, bulimia, bullying, depression,
OCD, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia and self-harm. www.youngminds.org.uk
Rape Crisis national helpline
Free, confidential helpline for young women aged over 14 who have experienced
sexual violence or abuse. Open every day between 12 - 2.30pm and 7 - 9.30pm.
Calls don’t show up on phone bills.
Phone: 0808 802 9999
National domestic violence helpline
Free helpline that offers support and information to women and children experiencing
domestic violence. Open 24 hours a day.
Phone: 0808 2000 247
Stop it Now!
Stop it Now! UK and Ireland is a child sexual abuse prevention campaign. They
support adults to play their part in prevention through providing sound information,
educating members of the public, training those who work with children and families
and running our freephone confidential helpline available to:
adults worried about the behaviour of other adults or children and young
people
those worried about their own sexual thoughts or behaviour towards children,
including those with concerns about their online behaviour
friends and relatives of people arrested for sexual offending, including internet
offending
any other adult with a concern about child sexual abuse including survivors
and professionals
Phone: 0881000900 Email: help@stopitnow.org.uk Web: www.stopitnow.org.uk
You can also always contact us:
The research team at Middlesex University:
Dr Elena Martellozzo, phone: 020 8411 5269, Email: e.martellozzo@mdx.ac.uk
or ResearchBods: Email: hello@surveybods.com (with the subject line 'Middlesex’).
Tel: 0113 246994 (ask to speak to any on the ‘Middlesex Project Team’)
Best wishes
The ResearchBods team
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10.6 Appendix 6: Materials- Stage 3 Focus groups
Focus Group Questions 11-16 year olds
All participants were pre-screened to confirm that they have seen online
pornography. The focus groups were divided by gender (binary) and age (11-12, 13-
14 and 15-16)
The main questions are numbered, prompts are alphabetized.
Icebreaker
1. Did any of you take part in our study before?
a. If so, what did you think of it? (Researchers to briefly remind all
participants what stages 1 and 2 involved)
Today, we’re going to ask you a little bit more about how young people and children
view pornography, what they think about it and what they feel about it. We’re
interested in what you think and feel yourself and what you think other people might
think and feel. Before we go any further, we’d also like to remind you that this is a
confidential and secure site. Please do still show respect to one another during this
conversation and of course, if you want to leave the group at any time, you are free
to do so. Also, please do not ask other young people in the group for personal
contact information.
2. Why do you think children and young people view pornography?
(Once open-ended question has been answered, then…)
a. If not already mentioned, then: Do you think that they might want to
know more about sex and relationships?
b. Have you ever deliberately searched for online pornography to find out
more about sex and relationships?
c. Where did you look for online pornography?
d. How useful was the information you found?
e. Have you found useful sex and relationship education (that wasn’t
pornography)?
f. Was some of the information that you found pornography?
g. Was any of the useful information pornography (if applicable)?
h. Did you search for pornography deliberately for sexual and relationship
educational purposes?
i. Are you ever concerned about the type of pornography you have found
others using?
j. How about the pornography you have seen? Has it concerned you?
3. What do you think are the risks of watching online pornography?
4. Do you know anyone who has tried something they saw in online
pornography?
a. Has pornography ever made you think about trying out something you
have seen?
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5. Do you ever worry that someone you know might be using online
pornography too often?
a. If so, in what way?
b. Would you say you are/or someone you know is, addicted to porn?
c. Who would you speak to if you were worried about using pornography
too often?
6. How are women generally treated in most of the online porn that you
watched?
a. How do you think this may influence people of your age?
b. How does this make you feel?
c. What do you think sexual consent is? (for the older group only)
d. How is consent shown in the online pornography that you have seen?
(for the older group only)
7. What, if anything, have you learned from watching online pornography?
8. How, if at all, do you think watching online pornography influences a girl
or boy your age?
a. Does it depict some people or types of people in a unrealistic way?
b. Do you think that online pornography puts young people under
pressure to have sex earlier?
c. Have you ever felt regret, or been upset about what you have seen in
online pornography in any way?
9. How do you feel when you watch online pornography?
10. Do you think that anything needs to ‘be done’ about pornography?
a. Do you think that PSHE should be compulsory for all secondary school
children, whichever type of school they go to?
b. Do you think online pornography should be discussed in class?
c. How could classroom discussion be run so that it is not too awkward
for you or for your teachers?
d. Do you think that any children, their parents or schools should be able
to opt out of sex, relationship education and online safety?
e. If you could create an online resource that would help young people
learn about sex and relationships, what would it look like and who
would you like to access it?
f. Do you think that there should be stricter controls about who accesses
online pornography (e.g. age verification)?
Self-generated images
11. Have you heard of ‘sexting’?
a. What does sexting mean to you?
b. Do you think it’s pornography if you produce a naked picture (or
intimate part) of yourself?
c. What do you think are the risks involved of taking a naked picture or
video of yourself?
d. If you did send a naked picture, then how would feel if it was shared
with other people without your permission?
e. Did you know that it is possible to remove intimate images that have
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been shared online?
f. Would you be able to remove an intimate image of yourself or would
you need to get help? (E.g. ChildLine/IWF partnership)
g. Do you think there is enough information for children and young people
on the issue of sexting?
h. Do you think that everyone should be told about how and when to
remove information they regret posting online?
Sending and Receiving online porn
12. Do more people send online pornography and links to it, than will admit
it? a. Do some people say they haven’t sent it when they have?
b. Do you think that young people may be scared to say that they have
sent on links to online pornography?
13. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
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©The authors, all rights reserved.
If you would like to know more about this research or to contact the
authors, please e-mail us:
CATS@mdx.ac.uk
FPS@mdx.ac.uk
This report may be cited as: Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A, Adler, J. R., Davidson, J,
Leyva, R. and Horvath, M. A. H. (2017). “I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it…” A
quantitative and qualitative examination of the impact of online pornography on the
values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of children and young people. London:
Middlesex University doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.3382393
www.mdx.ac.uk/fps
www.cats-rp.org.uk

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Article
Full-text available
Incidents of child sexual abuse (CSA) are frequently documented and have recently attracted intense police, public scrutiny and efforts of social control across the Western world. This paper aims to explore the very concerning issue of online CSA and the way in which the police is responding to this growing problem. It will present some of the challenges the police in the United Kingdom face daily in dealing with the threats to children’s online safety. It argues that although proactive undercover policing has helped police forces to unmask sex offenders1 who predate innocent victims online, the advancement of technology is making the work of police officers more and more challenging. The findings presented have been collected over the last decade (2003-2013) during two exploratory, grounded theory studies, which involved the interviews with 21 police officers and forensic examiners and the observation and analysis of three police operations at the London Metropolitan Police Paedophile Unit in London. Keywords: online child sexual abuse, online safety, technology, undercover policing, police challenges