The conference was addressed by seven under 30s. These included a psychotherapist, an educator and a youth worker who gave their professional opinions on the impact of pornography on young people with whom they work. Also speaking were two young men and one young woman who spoke with searing honesty about their own addiction to pornography and the effect this has had on their lives and relationships. The programme also included contributions from three MPs and clip from Baroness Kidron’s excellent film on young people’s internet use, InRealLlife.
When dealing with pornography and its effects it is hard to offer a visual aid (within reason!) to illustrate the problem; something that would speak as powerfully as the models of slave ships and the manacles that Wilberforce used so effectively in the fight to abolish the slave trade. The humble and powerful stories we heard last week are our most potent weapon; young men and women casting off the constraints of embarrassment and fear to sound the alarm for the sake of their generation and the next.
On the day of the conference The Times published a letter signed by all the speakers. Their unequivocal message: pornography is doing great harm to our young people and the Government and society must do far more to protect them and the generations to come. You can read the text below.
An audio recording was made on the day and hopefully it will be possible to share it with you in due course. However, you may find a documentary which shown last week on BBC 3 of interest.
Porn: What’s the Harm presented a snapshot of young people’s experiences based on a survey of 1,000 16- to 24-year-olds. The programme featured interviews with young people and those who work with them and was full of worrying statistics. Two facts stood out: firstly pinpointing 2002, when the internet became available in most households, as the time when porn use amongst young people became widespread; and secondly the worrying rise in teenagers’ requests for genital cosmetic surgery. There was also a look at sexting as experienced by 20-year-old Sophia, who spoke frankly about how easy it is to get drawn into it.
This programme is the second to be broadcast in the last year which seriously examines the negative impacts of pornography on young people; a clear sign that this is an issue which society cannot continue to ignore. The programme is not an easy watch but if you would like to see it, it will be available on the BBC’s iPlayer until 21st April.
Letter published in the Times 7th April 2014
We the undersigned, all under the age of 30, share a deep concern about our generation’s unprecedented consumption of internet pornography. There is currently an epidemic of unregulated online pornography, our generation is largely unprotected, and some are compulsive users of this free supply of hardcore material.
We have grown up surrounded by internet-enabled technology which enables everyone to be fully connected but also makes the most extreme material imaginable instantly available to even the youngest children.
Research and our collective experience show that pornography is taking a very real toll on the mental, emotional and physical health of many of our peers and poses a serious challenge to public health in the UK. It is very far from being the harmless and victimless activity portrayed by the increasingly powerful pornography industry.
Much has been done to educate the public about smoking, alcohol and drugs but the same is not true of pornography. It is warping young people’s views of sex and body image and impeding the formation of healthy relationships.
We urge the Government to:
- ensure that the major ISPs complete the introduction of network-level filtering* by the end of this year and encourage all remaining ISPs to do the same
- introduce legislation if self-regulation does not work
- make effective age verification** a priority
- launch a public health campaign to highlight the harmful and potentially addictive nature of pornography
- give parents encouragement and help with setting internet filters and talking to their children about the dangers of online porn
Jonny Adams, Chioma Ahunanya, Bethany Becconsall, Kate Massey-Chase, Sarah Percival, Aston Stockdale, Maktuno Suit
* plans for opt-in filters that were announced by David Cameron in July 2013
** in line with Baroness Howe’s Online Safety Bill