Nearly four-fifths of 16–17-year-olds have encountered pornographic content on the internet. Pornography is a multibillion-dollar business. Pornographic content is virtually ubiquitous on the internet, and surveys suggest that 25% of all searches lead to explicit content. Given the size of the market, it’s not surprising that young people are drawn to such sites, which are only a couple of clicks away.
Professor Neil Thurman of the Department of Media and Communication (IfKW) at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich, in collaboration with statistician Fabian Obster (Universität der Bundeswehr München), has carried out a study on the use of pornographic sites by young people. Based on a survey involving a sample of 1000 British adolescents, the survey also provides pointers for regulators and legislators in Germany.
Overall, 78% of users between the ages of 16–17 reported that they had encountered pornography on the internet. Moreover, many of them stated that they visited dedicated pornographic websites frequently. Those who participated in the survey admitted that, on average, they had last visited such sites six days before filling in the questionnaire. And many respondents said they watched porno videos and viewed picture galleries on that very day.
Analysis of the responses indicated that adolescents spent an average of two hours per month on commercial pornographic websites, almost always accessed on their smartphones or tablets. The survey also revealed that young consumers are also turning to social media portals for access to explicit material. Adolescent users of online pornography are more likely to be male.
Well acquainted with VPNs and the Tor browser
In Germany, the UK, France, and Canada, efforts are now underway to regulate access to legal online pornography, and in some cases measures have already been implemented. These include provisions for mandatory age verification before the admission of users to such websites. But, according to Thurman’s survey, around half of the respondents had used VPNs or the Tor browser. Both tools anonymise connection data, thus allowing country-specific restrictions to be circumvented.
‘At present, the online pornography market is highly concentrated. It is dominated by a few global firms. Indeed, only a handful of websites account for the majority of consumers,’ Thurman says. In the context of measures to protect minors, he suggests that, in addition to country-specific measures, there should also be pressure placed on the major global publishers of pornography to encourage them to introduce effective age restrictions in all the markets in which they operate. In addition, similar regulations should be applied, as is already happening in the UK, to social media platforms.