We were delighted to receive contact from Dr Marshall Ballantine-Jones PhD from Australia 2 weeks ago to which he generously attached a copy of his PhD thesis. Intrigued by his story, we followed up with a Zoom discussion a few days later.
Marshall told us that having attended a Summit in 2016 about research on the effects of pornography on children and young people, he realized there was no agreement about which educational interventions researchers should focus on going forward: educational interventions by parents? Education for young users? Or intervention by their peers? As a result, Marshall decided to set up his own set of educational initiatives in all three areas and try them out on a good cohort of people as the basis of his doctoral thesis.
The thesis is called “Assessing the effectiveness of an education program for reducing the negative effects of pornography exposure amongst young people.” It was submitted to the Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney and is an excellent review of the latest research in this area. It covers mental, physical and social harms.
Marshall conducted an initial study to develop a baseline survey about pornography viewing and attitudes to pornography in a sample of 746 Year 10 high school students, aged 14–16 years, from New South Wales (NSW) independent schools. The intervention was a six-lesson programme, aligned with the Health and Physical Education strand of the Australian National Curriculum, conducted on 347 Year 10 students from NSW independent schools, aged 14–16. The programme was developed by the researcher, in consultation with school teachers, parents, and high school students.
“The comparison of pre- and post-intervention data showed a significant increase in healthy attitudes related to pornography,positive views towards women, and responsible attitudes towards relationships. Additionally, students with regular viewing behaviours increased their efforts to reduce viewing, while increasing their unease about ongoing pornography viewing. Female students experienced mild reductions in self-promoting social media behaviours and pornography viewing frequency.
There was some evidence that the parental engagement strategy increased parent-student interactions, whilst peer-to-peer engagement helped reduce the influence of wider peer culture. Students did not develop problematic behaviours or attitudes after doing the course. Students who regularly viewed pornography had higher rates of compulsivity, which mediated their viewing behaviours such that, despite increases in attitudes opposed to pornography, unease about pornography viewing, or efforts to reduce undesirable behaviours, viewing prevalence did not reduce. Additionally, there were trends of increased tensions in male parent-relationships after the home engagement activities, and female peer-relationships after the peer discussions or from the social media teaching content.
“The program was effective at reducing a number of negative effects from pornography exposure, sexualised social media behaviours, and self-promoting social media behaviours, using the three strategies of didactic education, peer-to-peer engagement, and parental activities. Compulsive behaviours impeded efforts to reduce pornography viewing in some students, meaning additional therapeutic help may be required to support those struggling to produce behaviour change. Additionally, an adolescent’s engagement with social media may produce excess narcissistic traits, affecting self-esteem, and altering their interaction with pornography and sexualised social media behaviours.”
It is good news that many young viewers can be helped by educational inputs, but it is bad news that those who have become compulsive viewers cannot be helped by education alone. This means that government intervention such as through an age verification strategy is essential. It also means more therapists are required, those suitably trained, we hope, with an understanding of the compulsive and addictive potential of internet pornography, given how persistent compulsive use of pornography can be in young users. It is clear that a great deal more needs to be done both by way of educational initiatives and research into what is effective in reducing prevalence of use. We hope our own lesson plans and parents’ guide to internet pornography, both free, will contribute to this important educational task.
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