What Happens When Children Are Exposed to Pornography?

Jocelyn Wikle

Most of us probably have people in our lives who struggle with an addiction of some kind, whether it be to smoking, using drugs, gambling, or other vices. An addiction develops when changes in the brain and body cause a person to "feel compelled to continue using a substance or partaking in an activity, even when doing so may cause harm." These substances or behaviors activate motivation and reward regions in the brain, resulting in an altered dopamine system. The thing about addiction is that oftentimes, the younger a person is when they are first exposed, the higher their risk for developing a serious addiction that can dominate minds and bodies, numbing them to the environment around them. This reality creates a strong motivation for parents, grandparents, schools, and lawmakers to focus on protecting children by preventing or delaying exposure to harmful substances and behaviors until their brains are more fully formed and their risk for developing dependencies is lessened.

One addiction that is becoming more normalized is viewing pornography, defined as "sexually explicit videos, images, or writing with the intent to cause sexual arousal in its viewers." Creating pornography is a huge billion-dollar industry. This is troubling because pornography is increasingly impacting children and youth in negative ways. With technology and the internet as a crucial and necessary part of life, pornography has never been more easily accessible to children: 93% of boys and 63% of girls report being exposed to internet pornography before the age of 18, with the average age of first exposure being 12 years old. Today's children are growing up in a sexualized cultural environment. As adolescents mature, it is natural that they search for information that they do not know. This includes searching for information about dating and sexual relationships, which may often lead to pornography. Thus, it is important to understand the ramifications when exposure to pornography starts at a young age.

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