There is considerable research evidence that pornography, especially child pornography, results in adversely affecting the psychological development of children, with far reaching consequences in terms of their ability to function well as adults. Since children are the future of any society, it is critical that adequate measures be taken to ensure the healthy and well-rounded development of children in order that they grow up to be productive, humane citizens. One such measure is to ensure that children grow up free of the harmful effects of exposure to pornography.
Although there is no consensus on either the definition of pornography or its harmful effects, there is a wide body of research that establishes a clear link between pornography and both sexually and socially deviant behavior.
The effects of repeated exposure to pornography on adults have been shown to be addictive, often leading to sexual illnesses, and thereby endangering the adult ability to function as a responsible parent and family member.
There is evidence that links the effects of exposure to pornography with sexually deviant learned behavior by children, resulting in children acting out sexual assaults and developing distorted sexual and relationship values.
The harmful effects of child pornography on child development includes a host of social and psychological consequences, ranging from guilt, shame and fear to depression, hysteria, learning and interpersonal difficulties.
The widespread prevalence of pornography has grave implications for the future of today's children as well as societal welfare.
Several scholars have opined that the widespread availability and easy access to pornography poses a risk to wholesome societal values such as family, personal relationships, and the dignity of women and children.
Child abuse often leads to children growing up to be pedophiles or child abusers.
The growing trend of sex tourism, especially child sex tourism, leads to the dehumanization and degradation of children in developing countries besides carrying a huge health risk to both the child and the adult offender.
The explosion of pornography on the Internet is a problem that requires global co-operation and commitment to resolve, especially since the Internet allows children the easiest access to pornography.
Given the overwhelming evidence that pornography can, and does, have progressive harmful effects on both adults and children, it is important that government, social institutions, and family take the necessary steps to regulate the content and availability of pornographic material.
To do so, one important step would be to resolve the ongoing debate between the harmful effects of pornography and freedom of expression.
Steps also need to be taken to educate children about healthy sexual values and the dangers of interacting with strangers on the subject.
The existence of pornography is not a new phenomena and has, in fact, existed in human society down the ages. But, perhaps, at no time has pornography been so widely available or easily accessible as it is today, thanks to the media explosion and the Internet. The widespread availability and easy access, coupled with the increasing trend towards violent, aggressive pornographic material, poses a risk to wholesome societal values. This is particularly true in the case of children who are exposed to pornography, especially child pornography in their formative years. Indeed, there is considerable research evidence that pornography results in adversely affecting the psychological development of children, with far reaching consequences in terms of their ability to later function well as adults. Since children are the future of any society, it is critical that adequate measures be taken to ensure the healthy and well-rounded development of children in order that they grow up to be productive, humane citizens. One such measure is to ensure that children grow up free of the harmful effects of exposure to pornography.
Protecting children from the harmful effects of exposure to pornography, however, is easier said than done considering that society, including legislative and scholarly opinion, has yet to reach a consensus on whether pornography does, in fact, have significant harmful effects on human sexual and social behavior. For instance, public opinion including some social commentators, are of the view that pornography is primarily a form of entertainment and essentially harmless, even if it is sexually arousing. To support their point-of-view, they claim that there is no conclusive scientific evidence that pornography is harmful. Even the United States Supreme Court distinguishes between pornography and obscenity, with only the latter being unprotected by the First Amendment. It is, therefore, important to understand that the law disallows only 'obscene' pornographic material, which is defined as material that appeals to a sick, morbid, and shameful interest in sex; depicts offensive sexual acts that goes beyond socially acceptable behavior; and taken as a whole, lacks any political, artistic, literary or scientific value (Cline, 2001).
The problem with essentially 'harmless,' pornography meant primarily for adult entertainment is that it often becomes addictive, leading to an escalation effect. This means that over time, the addicted person requires rougher, more explicit, more deviant, and obscene sexual material to satisfy his craving (Cline, 2001). Thus, even so called 'soft porn' can, and does, have harmful effects since repeated exposure can lead to addiction and a craving for more obscene material involving rape, child molestation, and even sadomasochism. Obviously, this type of mind set implies that pornography can harm an adult's mental health, endangering the adult's ability to function well as a responsible family member, parent, or member of society. This is precisely why it is important to understand that the effects of pornography on adult behavior can ultimately affect children since adults who are sex addicts can deviate into child pornography, becoming insensitive to the harm they are causing children. Worse, such adults often begin to act out behaviors that they first see only as pictures and fantasize about. As a result, they often resort to showing children child pornography to break down their inhibitions and get sexually aroused themselves. For instance, in one study of 43 pedophiles, child pornography was used in every one of the cases investigated, as a method to convince the child that the act was acceptable and even stimulating (Cline, 2001).
Similarly, a child's exposure or involvement in pornography, irrespective of whether the material involves sexual acts featuring adults or children, can lead to progressively harmful effects on the psychological development of the child. Indeed, there is research evidence that establishes the link between pornography and sexually deviant learned behavior by children. For instance, according to one study, early exposure to pornography of children under fourteen years of age, can be related to greater involvement in sexually deviant behavior, especially rape. Further, much like adults, children too can grow addicted to pornography and soon escalate from soft porn to hard core sexual material. In fact, research shows that "males who are exposed to a great deal of erotica before the age of 14 are more sexually active and engage in more varied sexual behaviors as adults than males who were not so exposed." (Hughes, 1998).
The tendency towards varied and deviant sexual behavior by children exposed to pornography at an early age manifests itself quite early with some of them enacting the pictures seen in real life. For instance, there are documented cases of young children acting out sexual behavior learned through exposure to pornography such as the case of a 14-year-old boy who was found sexually molesting his sister after repeatedly viewing very graphic, rough, violent sexual images on cable TV (Cline, 2001). Similarly, in a study of six hundred American students of junior high age and above, researcher Dr. Bryant found that 91% of males and 82% of females had been exposed to X-rated, hard core pornography. Further, 66% of the males and 40% of the females reported a desire to try out some of the sexual behaviors they had seen (Hughes, 1998). Naturally, such desires will then impact the sexual and relationship values of youth.
In fact, the negative effect of pornography on family and marital relationships has also been well-established in several research studies. Indeed, these harmful effects have been well summarized by Dr. Bryant, "If the values which permeate the content of most hardcore pornography are examined, what is found is an almost total suspension of the sort of moral judgment that have been espoused in the value systems of most civilized cultures. Forget trust. Forget family. Forget love. Forget marriage. Here in the world of ultimate physical hedonism, anything goes." (MegaEpix) Thus, children who are exposed to pornography run the risk of growing up into adults with distorted sexual, familial, and relationship values that affect the personal lives of their spouses, significant others and ultimately themselves. Such individuals can pose a danger to society as well since repeated exposure to pornography can lead to a host of anti-social attitudes and behavior such as aggression towards women and children, indifference to pain and suffering of rape victims, and a higher willingness to believe and accept certain rape myths such as the one that says that rape victims enjoy the act (The Forerunner).