May 29, 2014 3:10 pm

Why online porn is worse for your son than your dad’s sexy magazines were for you

WATCH: A new survey takes a look at what some kids are using the devices for, including sexting and pornography. Shirlee Engel explains.

TORONTO -  A new survey suggests Canadian kids are searching for pornography online more frequently, and some experts think parents have reason to be worried.

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Non-profit organization MediaSmarts suggests teen boys are searching for online pornography at very high rates in a “concerning pattern,” and that there may be a subgroup of boys forwarding sexts that can result in negative outcomes like bullying.

Thousands of students Grade 4 through 11 were surveyed across the country, but questions about sexuality were limited to those in Grades 7 through 11.

The survey found a third of boys who said they viewed porn said they did so daily, another third at least once a week, and almost one in five said it was at least once a month.

The report also concluded the number of students seeking pornography online has increased from 16 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2013. Since many young people didn’t have a personal cellphone nine years ago, Dr. Miriam Kaufman says the point may not be the “increase” but the access.

The difference? Kids used to get their hands on “light pornography” and “magazines,” but now they’re watching videos, said Kaufman, a public educator and paediatrician at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

“It looks more real,” she said. “And what those of us who are adults and who have had sex with real human beings know, is that porn is not real. Porn is fantasy and it’s fantasy that often perpetuates pretty major stereotypes about women and about sexuality.”

Kaufman doesn’t have a personal opinion on whether pornography is good or bad, and believes masturbation is a very safe sexual activity. She acknowledges that there may be more variety in online porn than what past generations saw in magazines, but believes it includes the same stereotypes.

“When you think that stuff is real, then you think the right way to have sex—the ‘real’ way to have sex—is without a condom, with zero or no foreplay, perhaps without consent, with the woman’s pleasure being just kind of assumed; that if guys do anything the woman will enjoy it. And obviously without any aspect of it taking place in the context of a relationship.”

She said some young people can become extremely insecure (about their penis size or ability to perform) from frequently watching online porn, and could also be affected by sexual stimulation coming in “through the eyes rather than through other parts of your body.”

When it came to sexting – defined in the study as the sending or receiving of sexy, nude or partially nude photos – the researchers only asked kids who had their own cellphone or regular access to one.

Here’s what they found:

Sexting study

Sexting infographic

Kaufman found it interesting that as age increased, more people were sexting.

“In some ways, you would expect this to be an activity that would trail off in Grade 11 and 12. You would kind of see it as something that younger people who consider a relationship by text to be an actual relationship [would be more interested in].”

The numbers on how many people are sending sexts and how many are receiving don’t match. This suggests sexts were often sent to multiple people or forwarded to others, said director of education for MediaSmarts Matthew Johnson.

Kaufman said that’s where the risk lies, since sexting in and of itself would be a pretty safe activity.

“It’s important to look at those students who are forwarding sexts because that is where the majority of the negative consequences happen,” said Johnson. “We really do have to focus on confronting what may be a culture of sharing sexts among a subgroup of boys and really help them to approach the question with an ethical and empathic frame of mind.”

How should we do that?

The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) provides some advice in a page on sexting, with a handy—if slightly unlikely—conversation translation for parents:

Sexting translation

The Feb. 2014 article suggests “despite its prevalence, we know very little” about sexting, partly because “technology is changing rapidly, making it difficult to study.”

But regardless of the technological changes, Kaufman isn’t aware of research showing kids who send sexts are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviours in the real world.

“We know that people are having actual in-person intercourse at about the same rate as a few years ago. And in fact at about the same rate as the last 20 years ago,” she said.

Studies in North America show by the end of Grade 12, about 50 per cent of kids attending school have had sex, said Kaufman, noting that students “never believe” her when she tells them.

“They’re always like: ‘Oh no, everybody’s had sex at my school except me.’ Well I can’t tell you how many people have told me that. It’s actually a lot of people out there lying to you and there are a lot of assumptions you’re making,” she said.

“In fact, a couple of years ago one study showed the first age of intercourse for boys was going up slightly.”

The CPS paper suggests reasons for sexting include experimentation and self-discovery—activities characteristic of adolescence. Texting also lets teens conceal who they are while expressing themselves in relationships that might not happen face-to-face, particularly relevant to shy or anxious kids.

The paper encourages parents to ask their kids what they know about sexting, and teach teens that “nothing in cyberspace ever really gets deleted.” Making sure your teen is aware they can be “arrested, charged and convicted for possessing and distributing child pornography, even when the pornography they are sending is of themselves.”

Read more on sexting and social media safety tips from the Canadian Paediatric Society here

Ontario’s not-for-profit organization Ophea also has helpful reading materials for parents and teens on Internet Safety – click here for links to “chat lingo” Internet slang translators, community supports and videos directed towards teens on the topic of sexting.

With a file from The Canadian Press

© Shaw Media, 2014

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