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Blindsided Kids

Marcia Segelstein

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Thanks to the internet and the Supreme Court, pornography is now available in every home in America.

Pornography has long been a fact of life in America, thanks in large part to the publication of Playboy magazine in 1953. That marked a kind of coming-out party for porn, which until then had been largely undercover, if not underground. Pornography has come a long way from the days of Hugh Hefner, Playboy bunnies, and dirty magazines furtively purchased at the corner smoke shop. Thanks to the internet, and the Supreme Court, pornography is now available in every home that has a computer and access to the web. According to one estimate, there are currently more than four million pornographic websites in operation.

If you picture dirty old men when you think of who’s watching internet porn, it will surprise you to learn that the largest group of viewers of online pornography is children between the ages of 12 and 17. Those statistics come from the non-profit advocacy organization Enough is Enough, citing a variety of studies. And there are additional disturbing pieces of research data. The average age of first exposure to internet porn is estimated to be 11. Among 15-to-17-year-olds, 80 percent have been exposed to hardcore pornography multiple times. A Canadian study found that among 13- and 14-year-olds, 90 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls reported accessing sexually explicit media content at least once. There is evidence that much exposure is accidental, often happening in the course of doing homework.

Vulnerable Adolescents

The Witherspoon Institute, a research center based in Princeton, New Jersey, recently launched a two-year project to study the social costs of pornography.

Last December, a wide range of experts in various fields, hosted by Princeton University professor Robert P. George, met to present their research on the problem of pornography in our society. The project’s overview statement addressed the issue starkly:

Today’s pornography . . . is increasingly of the hard-core variety, meaning the presentation, through moving images, of real sexual acts, in which the focus of attention is on the sexual organs of the participants, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, adult or child. . . . A few futile attempts are made to protect children, but these attempts cannot withstand the tide of permissiveness. In a culture in which pornography is permitted to flourish . . . children cannot be insulated even from its direct effects, much less its indirect ones.

Dr. Jill Manning was one of the presenting scholars at the Witherspoon Institute gathering. A therapist specializing in pornography issues and problematic sexual behavior, she is also the author of What’s the Big Deal About Pornography? A Guide for the Internet Generation. Her practice includes many teenage patients, and she believes that adolescents are the most vulnerable audience when it comes to sexually explicit material because it can have a gravely negative impact on their sexual, psychological, and emotional development.

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