Porn and students: the reality

russell powell
Porn and students: the reality image

It hit the Rev Marshall Ballantine-Jones in 2016 as he attended a university conference on the harms of pornography to children. 

The harms of pornography 

“I was overwhelmed with the broad research about how terrible this is and completely underwhelmed by the lack of solutions and resources for dealing with the problem,” he says. “I knew my emerging teenage kids were going to be hit full frontal with this, as well as my nieces and my nephews and the kids at church. I wasn't satisfied.” 

"I was underwhelmed by the lack of solutions" 

A working definition of porn

This is what led this former Sydney Anglican rector to postgraduate work in the area of pornography – or, to give it a working definition, “sexual media intended to arouse”. Although he is yet to complete his research, Mr Ballantine-Jones gave a preview to a seminar organised by Anglican EdComm entitled “The effect of pornography and sexualised media on students”. 

The audience of educators was aware of the issues but, even so, the figures presented were stark. “I recruited more than 700 Year 10 students from several independent schools for my research,” he told the conference. “Overall, 70 per cent of male students and 21 per cent of females view pornography monthly or more. Most viewed pornography on mobile digital devices like phones, tablets and laptops. 

70% of male students view pornography monthly or more

Alarmingly, heavier porn users had significant compulsivity problems, posing greater risks for healthier long-term relationships, as well as more difficult recovery pathways.” 

"It's just a bit of porn": The normalisation of pornography is rising

While he is not due to report until the end of the year, Mr Ballantine-Jones says, “It is crystal clear that there are new forces impacting the lives of young people. Other emerging research is suggesting that ‘normalisation’, the social acceptance of pornography, is on the rise.” 

This was starkly illustrated by an example given to the seminar of a party hosted by one of the families at a local primary school. One of the mothers there was approached by her child who wanted to leave immediately. Then followed another child requesting to be picked up early. The mothers discovered that their children had been invited to the bedroom of one of the older siblings in the home and were shown pornography. 

"Social acceptance of pornography is on the rise" 

When the mothers approached the parents who hosted the party to complain about what the children had experienced, the father responded, nonchalantly, “What's your problem? It's just a bit of porn”. 

The impacts include behavioural addiction and less social empathy 

The problem, according to the research, is a range of negative effects on children (and adults) including an increased desire for uncommitted sexual exploration, significant behavioural addictions, less social empathy and an increase in sexualised behaviours on social media such as “sexting”. 

Mr Ballantine-Jones has been immersed in the statistics and his talk was loaded with charts and graphs. But, he says, the statistics can be translated into action in both schools and homes. 

“The environment of parental rules in the home is a significant factor,” he says. “This includes whether or not parents had rules against watching pornography, limitations on device access, or whether they maintain passwords for the student’s accounts, and so on.  Roughly, the stronger the rules, we saw a 40 per cent decline in the viewing behaviours of the students. 

“Parent communication was influential but not effective on its own,” he adds. “I found this very fascinating. Just because a parent has good communication with a child doesn't imply that the child's behaviour will follow [what the parent wants].” 

As expected, the behaviour of peers is very influential on pornography viewing and being at a Christian or church school doesn’t isolate students from the dangers of sexualised media. But, Mr Ballantine-Jones says, strong Christian influences help. 

“On the whole [the research] is saying the kids who have a cultivated, active religious and Christian family environment are going to turn out much better.”