Adult content, online addiction and UK Sex-Ed

Life lessons: By 2019 every English secondary school will be required to provide sex education.

How can the internet be made safer? As new laws made to protect children from graphic websites are put on hold, The Day speaks to the NSPCC about the impact of adult content on young people.

“I was online and someone I had never heard of before messaged me and told me to check out this website. It was a porno website, and ever since I looked at it I have become addicted and I just feel weird. I am really ashamed and now I am getting emails from tons of porn sites. I am so scared my mum is going to find out.”

These are the words of an 11-year-old girl, taken from just one of thousands of calls Childline has received from young people deeply worried about pornography.

The government has promised action to prevent incidents like this. For example, a law requiring people to prove they are over 18 before accessing pornographic websites was due to come into force this month, but has been delayed.

According to the NSPCC’s Abbie Gillgan, this new law will have a big impact: “For young people who accidentally view pornography, the chance of it happening is going to be vastly reduced.” Indeed, stats show that 46% of children who have seen porn first saw it by accident.

“But it is not a silver bullet,” she adds, saying that education is also key. This means “giving young people the ability to analyse what they’re seeing and to understand that it’s not real life”.

Research shows that 28% of 11 to 12-year-olds have seen pornography, rising to 65% of 15 to 16-year-olds. “It’s never been as easy to access it,” Gillgan says, “and to be able to access quite extreme forms with a few clicks — that is new”.

For children, the fantasies that pornography promotes can be harmful: from encouraging risky sexual behaviour, to fostering warped views about consent, body image and gender relations.

Some even report feeling “addicted”. Gillgan recounts young callers saying that “something popped up, and since then I just can’t stop clicking”.

But she stresses that help is always available: “We would say to young people that there’s no point at which you can say ‘I wasn’t addicted and now I am’. If you feel uncomfortable about what you are watching — know that there are people you can talk to.”

What more should be done about the issue?


Reducing access is the way, some say. Age verification for websites is a big step, but we must cast the net wider. Social media sites like Instagram and Facebook are notorious for allowing pornographic content to slip through their filters — a huge problem given how many teenagers use these sites.

Education is the key, others respond. It is inevitable that young people will see pornography at some stage. They must be equipped with knowledge about healthy attitudes to sex so they can understand and deal with it when this happens. This means more frank and supportive conversations about sex at home and in schools.

You Decide

  1. Is sex education good enough for students your age?
  2. Should pornography be banned?


  1. After reading this article, do you have any questions or concerns about anything discussed within it? If you like, write these questions down. Is there somebody you feel confident you could ask the questions?
  2. Imagine you were in charge of devising the sex education curriculum for students your age. What topics do you think would be the most important to include? Discuss in pairs, small groups, or as a class.

Some People Say...

“The problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”

Pope John Paul II

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that in the last three years, Childline delivered 2,025 one on one counselling sessions about porn. Where the age was known, more than one in 10 of these sessions was with a child aged 11 or under, and 63% were with children aged 12-15. Where the gender was known, 58% of the sessions were with girls.
What do we not know?
Pornography addiction is not officially listed as a mental health disorder, and scientists are still working to establish how addictive it may be. Furthermore, there is no reliable research to suggest that a certain percentage of young people are “addicted” to pornography. Pornography affects different viewers in different ways, depending on factors including age, gender and the type of content being viewed.

Word Watch

A free 24-hour counselling service for children and young people in the United Kingdom. They can be reached on 0800 1111.
Images and films of people having sex or behaving sexually. Participants could be semi-naked or naked.
Part of the Digital Economy Act, prepared by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
“We need to take the time to make sure we get it right,” said a government spokesman. There is still uncertainty surrounding how the age verification process would actually work.
NSPCC’s Abbie Gillgan
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Abbie Gillgan is a project manager in the charity’s Child Safety Online team.
According to the NSPCC’s 2016 report, “I Wasn’t Sure It Was Normal To Watch It”.
Silver bullet
One simple solution to a complicated problem.
Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.
Talk to
You could talk to counsellors at Childline who are available 24 hours a day on 0800 1111. For more information follow the link under Become An Expert.


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