This week I attended an excellent conference in parliament which examined the effect of pornography on the adolescent brain.
Biopsychologist Dr William Struthers presented the latest research on brain development and outlined how early exposure to sexually explicit material affects development, attitudes and behaviour.
We learned that the arousal and reward areas of the brain develop before the area which governs context which means that early exposure to pornography exploits the developmentally compromised brain.
It is, quite literally, a violation of the childhood mind.
It is also a violation of the concept of consent; for over 80% of young people their first exposure to pornography is unintentional and memories of these first exposures are usually vivid and typically have negative emotional associations.
Children’s access to pornography is, in effect, an on-going experiment. However, the latest research shows that the greater the exposure to sexually explicit material the greater likelihood of developing poor self confidence, depression, social isolation and maladjustment and decreased bonding with parents and caregivers.
It is quite clear that the huge benefits of the technological revolution have come at a cost. We have to find a solution in order to protect generations to come.
This week Google’s head of UK public policy has rejected the proposals to block porn as default unless specifically requested by adults. She said the answer was greater education for parents.
She is quite right that there is clearly a great need to inform parents how harmful some internet content can be and to show them how best to protect their children. However, Ofcom’s research shows us that almost half of parents do not currently use a filter for websites which means that millions of children remain at risk from potentially harmful online content. We must act now in order to protect them.
Google makes a huge amount of money from online pornography – their head of public policy said that she had ‘no idea’ exactly how much - so it is hardly surprising that they should resist measures to restrict access to it.
Why should the internet industry uniquely rest outside regulation? Protecting children must be our first priority.
Vivienne Pattison, Director