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Can watching porn make children become sex offenders?

Recent media campaigns have linked children watching online porn to an increase in the number of students committing sexual assault. Can watching porn make children become sex offenders? Read more here.

sex offender
One article linked sexually assaulting each other school students to the rise in online porn.

But is there any evidence that children watching online porn are related to an increase in sexual offending?

We know the public is concerned about the potential harm to young people watching online pornography.

READ ALSO: Was Miss Anambra kidnapped and forced to act in the lesbian sex video?

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Children watching porn

We also know how easy it is for children to watch online porn, not only on the computers in their bedrooms but their smartphones.

Most children come across online pornography accidentally. Most girls report feeling sick, shocked, embarrassed and repulsed by it but boys say they are sexually excited.

Of course, many young people search for it. In an Australian study of 200 young people, 38 percent of 16- and 17-year-old boys and 2 percent of girls said they searched for pornography.

Another Australian study reported 93 percent of males and 61 percent of girls aged 13-16 years old had seen porn. Another survey said 44 percent had seen online pornography. For both of these studies, we don't know if this was by accident or on purpose.

But can this rise in young sex offenders be attributed to watching more online pornography?

porn watching

What do we know?

We are aware children who watch pornography are more likely to be either physically or verbally sexually aggressive, especially if the pornography is violent. Behaviours range from verbal sexual harassment and unwanted kissing to rape. We also know that favorite porn is becoming more violent.

But has there been a corresponding increase in young people watching violent pornography to match the rise in sexual offending?

We don't know.

It is tempting to assume young people's easier access to more violent pornography explains the increase in sexual offending from 2011 to 2015. But we don't have any current data on that in Australia.

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Sex offender behavior

In the US, watching violent pornography is relatively uncommon and watching non-violent pornography is unrelated to sexual aggression.

We also don't know if watching violent pornography is the only factor in young people carrying out sexual assault. They could have been abused, be using alcohol and drugs, have witnessed domestic violence, or be acting out from what they see on the internet or from what they see at home.

As one eminent author on porn says:

"Some pornography under some circumstances may affect some people in some ways some of the time."

It is not to say children watching pornography is not harmful. It is.

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Sex offender

Children being exposed to pornography leads them to believe women are sex objects as women are devalued and degraded by pornography. Young girls who seek porn show more liberal attitudes to sex and believe it is fine to have sex without affection or love.

Young people who seek out online porn also tend to engage in unsafe sex and are more likely to be pressured by their peers into sexual activity.

However, watching porn doesn't always result in sexual aggression and pornography may not be the only factor in child sexual offending.

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Better ways to learn about sex

The central message from a media campaign to parents and teachers shouldn't be one of fear of children sexually abusing others, but that watching porn is not a good place for children to learn about sex.

Teach and explain

The difficulty is that in Queensland, for instance, schools are not required to teach sex education even though it is in the national curriculum with the choice to do so left up to the school and its community.

Also, many parents are too embarrassed to talk to their children about sex, let alone pornography.

Parents, especially fathers, need to explain that porn is staged; it is fiction. Most people do not look like porn "stars" and most people do not behave as they do. Pornography is not a sex manual.

But if young people cannot find out about the mechanics of sex within a caring relationship, they may access porn to know what to do and model their sexual life on it.

Parents, teachers and the media all need to talk to young people about pornography but not to give the message that if children do watch porn, they will sexually assault others.

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