It is generally accepted that porn shouldn't be seen by children, and we even sometimes punish parents who fail to stop their children from finding porn.

How much are these laws based in science? Can a simple image cause real injury beyond mere disgust? Have there been any studies that track lives of people who were exposed to porn or other disturbing imagery as children or adolescents?

Note that I have also posted this question on parenting.SE.

  • $\begingroup$ I doubt you'll be able to find enough volunteers for an experiment (though you could find some victims and talk to them) $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Aug 29 '13 at 4:32
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak Victims? I've seen porn when I was a child, and I was not victimized by that. $\endgroup$ – forest Jun 18 '19 at 3:59

Pornography laws are a relic of the Victorian era, and not based on any science.

Research that can conclusively determine the effect of pornography on children is hard to come by due to the resultant ethical environment. Most research depends on self-reports: Surveys ask adolescents how much pornography they have been exposed to, and attempt to correlate this with other variables such as personal attitudes about sex. Such surveys are subject to a variety of memory and other biases affecting accuracy, but more importantly, correlations fail to establish cause and effect - that is, it is equally likely that pornography consumption affects attitudes as it is that pre-existing attitudes affect pornography consumption.

Nonetheless, a number of reviews of current literature on adolescents conclude that there is an association between consumption of pornography and certain negative attitudes about sex, and promiscuous and/or risky sexual behaviour. The reviews acknowledge that the data contains much contradictory evidence however, as well as failing to establish cause and effect.

UK Children's Commissioner's report: "Basically... Porn is everywhere"

DOI: 10.1080/10720162.2012.660431: "The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents"

Research on pre-adolescents is even more scant. A more conclusive effect is seen between exposure to depictions of violence and negative effects on attitudes, behaviour, and possibly sex offences. A landmark study from the 1960's (no longer ethical to replicate) demonstrated that children do role model from violent media. The reviews listed above extend this finding to attitudes and behaviours of adolescents exposed to pornography depicting violence. Evidence linking this to criminal offences in adulthood is still controversial however.

It so happens that the vast increase in availability of pornography through the Internet coincided with an overall reduction in physical sex offences, though again, establishing a cause and effect is difficult. No doubt that as pornography has become much more accessible to children, a large social experiment is being inadvertently conducted that might shortly lay this matter to rest.

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So I cross posted this question to Parenting Stack Exchange, and here's what I got.

In short, people who have viewed porn as adolescents have more sex and greater risk of sexually transmitted disease. And some of the kids who have stumbled upon porn on the Internet became averse to the Internet and some others developed unwanted recurring thoughts about the material they had seen.

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  • $\begingroup$ Imagine your child has been abused and murdered. And now you stumble upon a very graphic image documenting the deed on an imageboard like 4chan (where I in fact stumbled upon images of child pornography in the "random" section). How do you think that image would affect you? I'm pretty sure it would shock you to the core and never leave your mind again ever. I don't understand why you focus on pornography as the only harmful kind of image. $\endgroup$ – user3116 Aug 29 '13 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Ansis, if you read my review of that one study the guy quoted and you paraphrased as "And some of the kids who have stumbled upon porn on the Internet became averse to the Internet and some others developed unwanted recurring thoughts about the material they had seen." You'll see the study has some serious flaws. $\endgroup$ – user3433 Aug 30 '13 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ @AnsisMalins Actually, the bulk of my response is that "porn most often depicts intimate relationships in a highly unrealistic fashion, and therefore can be confusing or misleading to children". The Psychology Today blog, and the findings from the survey of children exposed to "unwanted" porn, were merely added to provide some additional areas of concern. Taal is right that there are flaws in the study, but its a bit problematic to do proper controlled scientific studies on this without running afould of major ethical concerns. $\endgroup$ – Beofett Aug 30 '13 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Beofett if they are highly inaccurate and could be argued as extremely, extremely skewed to the point where I can use them to actually cite my own opposing viewpoint - then I believe they should have never been published in the first place, but they certainly shouldn't be cited or repeated by anyone. There are problems with figuring out the answers to these questions - and I actually pointed out all of those problems so that perhaps some researcher in the future can take note of and account for them. I wish you did not delete my informative post at parenting as it will cause misinformation $\endgroup$ – user3433 Aug 30 '13 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Taal As I said on parenting, a long, rambling diatribe that in no way addresses the question, and instead is filled with completely random and irrelevant information, should not be posted as an answer. If you think my answer will cause "misinformation", please feel free to post your own answer. Then you can self-declare "victory" through altered screenshots of video games to your heart's content :) Just be sure to post an actual answer, and not an off-topic lecture. $\endgroup$ – Beofett Aug 30 '13 at 23:03

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