How porn is damaging our children's future sex lives

When a therapist friend told Ms Allison Havey that her then 13-year-old son was almost certainly viewing online pornography, she felt angry.

She said: "I was offended because I thought, why would he be doing that? It's deviant behaviour and he's not deviant."

What she now knows is that it is natural for boys to want to look at sexual imagery. In fact, the average age for first exposure to online pornography in the United Kingdom is 11.

For slightly older boys, it is completely normal - of 3,000 boys aged 13 to 18 surveyed, 81 per cent said they looked at it.

The good news is that teenage boys, when  asked, "Do you want  a close, intimate, fulfilling and happy sex life?",  still say yes...  We tell them, you need  to think about the three things any good sexual relationship is based on - friendship, romance  and intimacy.

Ms Havey, who, with Ms Deana Puccio has written a book dealing with this and other issues for parents in the digital age, says there are two major consequences.

First, this suggests that conversations about sexual behaviour have to happen much sooner and within the family.

Second, the conversation is now much more important because of the proliferation of online pornography, which boys are looking at on their mobile phones.

There is a risk to this generation, said the two authors, that online pornography could damage the sexual sensitivities of boys and their future relationships.

Girls, who are far less likely to be interested in pornography at this stage of their lives, are at risk too, from their partners and future partners who could mistake the fiction of online pornography for the "norms" of satisfying sex.

This has far-reaching consequences and it is something most parents do not know enough about.

What young people are viewing today is a world away from the type of pornography a generation who grew up in the 1970s and 80s might be familiar with.

We are not talking about hardcore images; it is the relatively tame videos that focus, obsessively, on male pleasure, particularly oral sex.

The vast majority of women have surgically enhanced breasts and female pubic hair is almost entirely absent.

By normalising such things, pornography could be conditioning boys to have unrealistic expectations of the women with whom they will have sex.

It is not only the images. The language on such sites is very particular - verbs such as nailed, hammered, pummelled and s******.

"Anyone would think it's an advert for a DIY store," said Ms Havey.

According to a 2014 Institute for Public Policy Research study, 77 per cent of young women say they feel pornography pressurises girls or young women to look a certain way and 75 per cent say it has led them to act in a certain way.

Researching the book, Ms Havey and Ms Puccio realised that laddism, far from being a phenomenon of sixth-form and university years, is actually prevalent among boys age 12 to 13.

"We have spoken to teenage girls who describe their guy friends as real Casanovas, collecting girlfriends like stamps and loudly bragging," said Ms Havey.

So what are the messages parents should be giving children - and how should they do it?

Ms Havey, who with Ms Puccio runs school workshops as part of a project called Rap (Raising Awareness and Prevention), said that when she asked groups of pupils how many had ever discussed online pornography at home, only a tiny fraction put up their hands.

She is convinced, though, that opening discussions with children at the start of adolescence is vital.

"The thing you need to get across to your kids is that the sex they see online is far removed from real-life experience," she said. "What's almost always missing are the very things a real relationship thrives on - kisses, hugs and sensuality."

The fact is, all parents want to protect their children. Online pornography is making victims out of teenage boys, as much as teenage girls because both sexes are extremely vulnerable and are all too often looking at these images and videos alone, said Ms Havey.

The good news is that teenage boys, when asked, "Do you want a close, intimate, fulfilling and happy sex life?", still say yes.

So here is the essential ingredient to get across - if that is what you want, you need to think about more than online pornography and smutty playground humour.

"We say, what you need to do is talk to girls, if you are going to find out what you both want," said Ms Havey. "We tell them, you need to think about the three things any good sexual relationship is based on - friendship, romance and intimacy.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'How porn is damaging our children's future sex lives'. Print Edition | Subscribe