Porn-exposure to Children: A Counter-statement to UNICEF report

By Wael Ibrahim. 20.6.2021

As the report from the UNICEF has made claims downgrading the harm done to children from exposure to pornography, it is a must to bring forth scientific proof of the damage it can cause youth. This has been studied for decades now since the advent of printed media up to the continuously progressing digital media, which makes content regulation more difficult for age-appropriate multimedia content. This UN agency made these claims based on a survey from 19 EU countries and, from thereon, disregards countless studies on the harms of pornography to children. The following claims are further debunked by representative studies that demonstrate how harmful, pornographic content is to children.

UNICEF arrived at these claims from a European report of 19 EU nations, where the majority of the youth who were exposed to gratuitous sexual content were feeling “neither upset nor happy.” In addition to this, the sources of UNICEF stated that around 39% of children from Spain were happy upon exposure to pornographic content (UNICEF, 2021). While some of the statistics may interpret children’s reaction to pornography as indifference and some even insist that they may feel “happy” upon being shown pornography, this should not be an indication that sexual content in these form of media would be healthy for them or at least would do no harm to them. Eliciting “happiness” from these young minds should not be the sole indication of unregulated exposure to pornography. 

These claims are not backed up by long-term studies that predict the impact of pornography on these children. Long-term outcomes show effects on comprehension and perspective towards sex, ingrained sexual psychology, and etiquette, risk of taking part in a sexually violent event, viewpoint on gender equality, adaptations of these behaviors in their own sexual and personal relationships (Quadara, El-Murr, & Latham, 2017). 

The 2020 EU Kids Online Study concluded that it is the children themselves who intentionally seek out pornographic content which might present an opportunity to provide answers to questions about puberty and sexual identity. This report also encouraged “seeing the nuances” leading youth to search sexual content on the web (UNICEF, 2021). While it cannot be denied that the sexual aspect of puberty is a significant part of human development, this is more to prepare the individual for healthy sexual practices that a mature individual would need in the future. Children chronically exposed to pornography are at significant risk of bad sexual behaviors, and the pleasure that they associate with watching pornographic media may be used as unhealthy adaptations to certain life events such as a decrease in the frequency of sexual contact with a partner or even dissatisfaction with sexual relationship (Regnerus, 2017). This also can affect the social, sexual, and romantic aspects of the personalities of these young people and can hinder them from building healthy relationships in the near future (Newstrom & Harris, 2016). 

UNICEF states that prohibiting the youth from viewing digital pornography may represent an infringement of the children’s rights, which the organization based on an expansive view of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UNICEF, 2021). As the children are considered the most vulnerable members of the society, special portions of the bill of rights are allotted for them to protect them from violations and these include the consideration of the best interest of the children involved (Le Roux, 2010). Since the content of television, cellular, and online pornography are not catered to children and have associated short-term to long-term complications to them, allowing continuous exposure to these lascivious forms of media may be an outright violation of these children’s human rights (Le Roux, 2010).

Because of the known harm to the children upon constant exposure to pornography such as permissive sexual personalities, regressive points of view on women, risk of sexually aggressive events by boys in the future, and victimization of women, pornographic exposure is a strong violation against children’s human rights as guided even by the international human rights framework (Binford, 2019).

UNICEF also faulted the age-verification system for accessing pornographic websites as this may deny youth access to what it calls “vital sexuality education (UNICEF, 2021). While first-hand intentions of porn-seeking behaviors are expected in children undergoing puberty, the age restriction for access must still be strictly regulated as not to derange the normal development of children in the sexual aspect. In a national survey, 87% of youth who claim to seek pornographic content belong to the youth ages 14 and above, which is developmentally appropriate in terms of sexual curiosity, with 95% of them being biologically male, and the rest of the 5% being female (Ybarra, & Mitchell, 2005).

In varying cross-sectional studies, there is a correlation found in the intentional exposure to pornographic content with an increase in the tendency for juvenile delinquency, substance addiction, and further high-risk sexual activity involvement, especially with the youth being the most vulnerable population in these aspects (Cho, 2016). Furthermore, porn-seeking behavior in children is also associated with depressive disorders and unhealthy bonds with their respective caregivers (Ybarra, & Mitchell, 2005).

While UNICEF has contributed significantly to the welfare of children around the world, its experts must still be reminded of the evidence-based facts that must be the basis of their statements. Assurance of the reliability of their statements is paramount, especially since they are well-respected organizations all over the world. Making claims disregarding scientific evidence can prove to be harmful to the very people they are trying to protect.

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References:

Binford, W. (2019). Viewing pornography through a children’s rights lens. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity. doi:10.1080/10720162.2019.1578311

Cho, E. (2016). Frequent Internet Pornography Use: Korean Adolescents’ Internet Use Time, Mental Health, Sexual Behavior, and Delinquency. International Journal of Human Ecology, 17(1), 27-37.

UNICEF (2021). Digital Age Assurance Tools and Children’s Rights Online across the Globe. A Discussion Paper. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Retrieved from: http://c-fam.org/wp-content/uploads/Digital-Age-Assurance-Tools-and-Childrens-Rights-Online-across-the-Globe.pdf

Le Roux, E. (2010). Pornography: Human right or human rights violation? HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, 66(2). doi:10.4102/hts.v66i2.847 

Newstrom, N. P., & Harris, S. M. (2016). Pornography and Couples: What Does the Research Tell Us? Contemporary Family Therapy, 38(4), 412–423. doi:10.1007/s10591-016-9396-4

Quadara, A., El-Murr, A., & Latham, J. (2017). The effects of pornography on children and young people. Australian Institute of Family Studies: Melbourne.

Regnerus, M. (2017). Cheap sex: The transformation of men, marriage, and monogamy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Ybarra, M. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2005). Exposure to Internet Pornography among Children and Adolescents: A National Survey. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8(5), 473–486. doi:10.1089/cpb.2005.8.473 

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