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"Et Skada Bilde av Hvordan Sex Er":Ungdoms perspektiver på porno

Both Norwegian and international studies have established that children and adolescents are today exposed to pornography to a much greater extent than previous generations. At the same time, research, media coverage and various professional communities’ perceptions of how young people are affected by pornography have emerged as fragmented and deficient. The biggest absence has been young people’s own voices.

The purpose of this report has therefore been to give young people a platform to tell us how and why they watch porn. Listening to adolescents’ own experiences and reflections on pornography is important to understand the extent to which early exposure to pornography can affect sexual behaviour, perceptions of gender roles, relationships, and sexual consent.

The report is based on focus groups in Norway and questionnaires involving over 50 young people aged 14-19. This is our main source of information. We have also analysed inquiries to the national information platform for young people, ung.no, and the Norwegian Red Cross’ chat service Kors på halsen. We have obtained some data via a poll on ung.no and the Ipsos Children and Youth Survey 2019. Some 60 anonymous responses have been collected from followers of the Snapchat account Snapkollektivet.

In summary, we have made the following main findings:

  1. Children and young people have easy access to pornography: Around half of Norwegian 13-18-year olds have seen porn online. Of these, 57 percent watched porn for the first time before they turned 13. Young people report that they both actively look for and are involuntarily exposed to a wide variety of pornography. For the most part, they seek out sexual content through the most well-known porn sites, while many also receive links and marketing for porn via social media. Boys tend to be exposed earlier than girls, and both boys and girls report having strong impressions and memories from their first encounter with pornography. Secondary school (from around age 13-14) is the time when many young people start watching porn more regularly. This is a time when they start talking about porn and share sexual content between themselves. A few of the boys claimed that they did not watch it, and there may be a certain pressure among boys to engage with porn. Girls seem to talk less about watching pornography.
  2. Young people use pornography to learn about sex: The young people we met largely agreed that porn influences them in various ways. Among other things, they use porn to learn about sex and try out what they see. This can be a positive as well as negative experience. Several of the young people we interviewed pointed out that porn makes it easier to get to know one’s sexuality, likes and dislikes. Pornography therefore not only serves as entertainment, but as a tool for inspiration and information on how to have sex. Some watch porn out of curiosity, for fun, to fall asleep, or by habit. A high proportion of regular users stated that they had learned things they did not know about sex and other people’s bodies. At the same time, they believed that pornography could affect sexual preferences and attitudes in a way they perceived as negative. Many were concerned that watching a lot of porn before having sex for the first time can create false expectations and pressure about how sex should be.
  3. It is easy to find porn that contains aggression and violence: The young people we met mainly search for and watch mainstream porn, i.e. the type of porn that is most commonly watched among porn users in general. Within this category, there is a wide range from softcore porn to so-called hardcore content. Young people reported that they often see content where a man is controlling and dominating a woman. It is easy to find pornographic content with aggressive, coercive, or violent acts towards a woman, where the woman appears as if she likes it. Most of the regular users have seen porn containing Why do young people watch porn? What kind of pornographic content do they see, and how do they experience what they see? To what extent do young people believe that porn influences them? 8 < > «ET SKADA BILDE AV HVORDAN SEX ER» rough and aggressive sex, including depictions of sexual acts without consent. Those who prefer to see ”milder” content say that this is difficult to find.
  4. Unclear whether boys understand that pleasure in porn is often an act: Many of the boys claimed that they could easily distinguish acting from ”real sex” and that they realised that there is a difference between fantasy and reality. The girls, on the other hand, believed that it can be difficult to distinguish acting in porn from sex in reality. Some of the boys admitted that they had been surprised that reality doesn’t always match what they had seen in porn. Interviews with porn performers who specialise in rough and violent sex reveal that they often fake enjoyment, and may even experience both pain and degradation. For boys, the impression may be that girls enjoy dominant and aggressive sex to a much greater extent than they actually do. This was reflected in the fact that several of the boys claimed that it is easy to judge when female porn performers enjoy rough sex. Few questioned the fact that pornography is an act also in these contexts, and that what looks like pleasure may in fact not be very enjoyable.
  5. Young people believe porn is a factor in sexual coercion: When young people say they use porn to learn about sex, the question is what kind of sexual acts they are inspired by. Our data suggests that advanced and rough forms of sex have become normalised among young people, and that pornography to a very little extent teaches them the significance of consent and reciprocity. Both boys and girls express frustration that imitating sexual acts they have seen in porn can lead to disappointing and “bad sex”. Sometimes girls participate in sexual acts they have seen in porn despite their lack of enjoyment, feelings of pain and/or humiliation. This can be due to a lack of communi cation about what they like and want to try out, or that they are being coerced and wish to avoid making a ”bad impression”. As a consequence, these girls turn themselves into objects to be acted upon by another person, rather than being an active and participating sexual agent. In other cases, we hear of obvious sexual offenses where a ”no” or other expressions of non-consent have not been respected.
  6. Young people have mixed feelings about porn: This report shows that young people have an ambivalent and complicated relationship with pornography. They associate a number of positive emotions with watching porn, but they also find that much of what they see is problematic. In particular, young people point out that they get a wrong picture of women’s and men’s sexuality. Several of the girls believed that female enjoyment is misrepresented in the pornography they have seen. For example, female porn performers appear always available for sex, they have loud orgasms and participate in whatever their partner wants to do. This made many of the girls feel insecure, inadequate, and concerned about the unrealistic expectations placed upon them. Several boys also expressed concern that porn is made for men on men’s terms, and that they therefore do not learn about female pleasure. In addition to shame and worry about being caught, young people believe porn gives unrealistic standards for body image. They report on lack of self-esteem, a feeling of inadequacy or jealousy if a partner watches a lot of porn. Some worried that they watch too much porn, and some believed they were addicted. Problems becoming aroused without using porn is a topic of particular concern for boys.
  7. Watching porn may increase interest in nude images: Several of the young people in our study confirmed findings in previous reports that watching porn may lead to increased interest in nude images of people they know. Boys in particular agreed that watching porn can make them want to ask for “nudes” of someone they know. Nude pictures can be perceived as more exciting and personal than sexual images of strangers. Many believed that porn can inspire young people to produce their own sexual content, with or without a consenting partner. We have also heard examples of young people selling self- generated sexual content via social media.
  8. Pornography may increase interest in more aggressive content: Both girls and the boys believe that watching a lot of porn can increase interest in more extreme sexual content. Several of them knew about technological solutions that make it possible to delete the search history. We also see cases of young people seeking out child sexual abuse material and other strictly illegal content. Our data suggests that advanced and rough forms of sex have become normalised among young people, and that pornography to a very little extent teaches them the significance of consent and reciprocity.
  9.  Adolescents believe younger children should be better protected: The young people we interviewed had different opinions as to what age it is okay to start watching porn. But they largely agree that it should be limited for younger children. They point out that children can be exposed to images that they are not mature enough to handle, that they can be scared or not understand that the performers are acting. There were differing views on whether porn sites can or should be blocked for young people. Some said they wished there was a porn filter on their home computer when they were younger, while others believed such filters have little effect. There was a certain consensus that young people who are very keen to watch porn will be able to find a way around filters, but that this type of restriction can limit involuntary exposure for younger children.
  10. Young people want a better understanding of pornography: The young people in our focus groups largely agreed that they need a better critical understanding of what they see in porn. The main challenge is that adults around them either do not understand the role pornography plays in many young people’s lives, or that they do not feel comfortable talking about it. Young people believe that adults have a responsibility to talk to them about porn in an open and non-judgmental way, and that schools through sex education should help young people develop so-called porn literacy, or a critical understanding of pornography. Save the Children believes there is a great need to give children better protection against pornographic content online. Norwegian authorities should push for the porn industry and internet companies to develop technological solutions and other measures that limit access to pornography for children under 18. Norwegian authorities should look internationally to examine how to regulate the porn industry and other actors who facilitate the distribution of pornographic content, so that children are better protected against an industry that produces adult content. Furthermore, Save the Children calls for increased efforts both nationally and internationally to prevent the production and dissemination of child sexual abuse material.
Published 2020-11-06

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