Are Kids Watching Internet Porn?

Aug 10 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

The introduction of the internet has made pornography more easily available than any time in modern history.  Responding to this development, some have worried that adolescents are looking at and watching porn, and plenty of it.

Is this true?

Drawing on a telephone survey of 1,500 youth, Janis Wolak and colleagues present some data giving us a clue.  They find that less than half (42%) of 10- to 17-year-old internet users had seen online pornography in the last year.  Most of them that had, further, had not sought it out.  The majority (66%) had come across the pornography by accident (e.g., they had entered a porn site without meaning to, been emailed an explicit image, or seen a pop up).

The image below shows unwanted and wanted exposure to pornography for boys as they age.  Only 1% of the boys 10- to 11-years-old had sought out pornography, by 12-13 about one in ten have done so, and by 16-17 over 1/3rd have (38%).  Unwanted pornography is a problem for boys of all ages. Seventeen percent of boys 10-11 encountered unwanted porn and this number increased as the boys aged.

Few girls seek out pornography: 2% of 10- 11-year-olds had sought out pornography, rising to 8% by 16-17.  Girls have the same problem with unwanted exposure to pornography; it happens about as frequently as it does for boys among 10- 13-year-olds and even more often among 14- 17-year-olds.

So there’s some data.  Whether it justifies the hand-wringing is for you to debate in the comments.

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Source: Wolak, Janis, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor. 2007. Unwanted and Wanted Exposure to Online Pornography in a National Sample of Youth Internet Users. Pediatrics119, 2: 247-257.

7 responses so far

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The 12-13 bracket is running behind kids from my neighborhood, lo so many years ago when offerings from Mssrs. Hefner and Guccione were snuck out of some Dad's stash. Just sayin'

  • Dan Gaston says:

    I think the reliability factor on teens responses here plays a large role. Which is always a huge problem in survey data of any kind, but especially among teenagers when they may be embarassed by their behaviour.

    I'm guessing, that especially for older teens, a lot of that "unwanted" porn is anything but. I'm willing to buy the numbers a little more for the younger age brackets where we see very little difference between males and females. Accidental exposure should be fairly consistent unless there are dramatic differences in browsing behaviour. And in terms of the types of sites where you may be "accidentally" exposed to porn (torrent sites, etc) I'm guessing the male to female teen visitor difference is minimal.

    • Kierra says:

      Girls might be getting unwanted exposure when other people on the net (be it their friends or random strangers in chat rooms) send it to them after they out themselves as female. Boys may not have as much problem with this route of exposure or might be less likely to class it as "unwanted" when it happens.

      • Dan Gaston says:

        That's entirely possible as well. Although I think chat rooms are becoming less and less popular among teens (but I could be wrong). And places like Chatroulette well, everyone is getting about the same amount of unwanted exposure I think.

        I think when I read this I actually hadn't considered the case that is question 2 in the survey (or answer two that was included in unwanted). Females are definitely going to end up as a higher percentage in that case.

        But I'll maintain my general point, especially for boys, that I'm guessing there is severe underreporting in the "wanted" porn exposure category. Teens being teens and all.

  • I think the reliability factor on teens responses here plays a large role.

    Yeah, I mean seriously. You're asking teenaged boys if their exposure to Internet pornography was "unwanted"?

    OH, SHITTE, MOM!!!!! Stop barging in to my room!!!! No!! I totally accidentally stumbled on the Hot Young Teen Beauties Web site!!! I SWEARZ!!!!!!!!!

  • Crissa says:

    I certainly think 'unwanted' pornography is a problem.

    The thing is, none of the solutions seem to affect the actual sources. As long everything from greek statues to hard core porn is sorted the same (on no boobies!) how is anyone supposed to know?

    Of course adults and kids will always produce sexual images, and merely sorting by age won't solve the problem of unwanted porn, as it's coming from their peers.