Pornography on phones
Children as young as 11 are seeing graphic sexual images on smartphones, study has foundiStock/IBTimes UK

Almost all young children have watched online pornography in their early teens, an extensive study of British secondary school pupils has revealed. Researchers found that 94% of the children said they have been exposed to explicit content by the age of 14.

The Middlesex University study, published on 14 June, has revealed that nearly 53% of the questioned children aged between 11 and 16 have come across pornographic material online, and more than a quarter of them (28%) have admitted to have been confronted with such content when they were only 11 or 12 years.

The researchers interviewed 1,001 secondary school students for their study commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the children's commissioner for England. The study warns that exposure to explicit content at such an early age will leave children at risk of becoming "desensitised" to its impact, the BBC reported.

The study has found that the majority of boys, who admitted to have watched pornography online believed what they viewed was a realistic depiction of sex, with more than one third (39%) of the 13 to 14-year-olds, and a fifth of the 11 to 12-year-olds wanting to copy the behaviour they had seen in porn clippings.

The main concern emerging from the study is that 87% of the boys and 77% of the girls felt that pornography failed to help them understand the concept of consent.

One third of the group were said to have first seen adult X-rated images on their smartphones. Researchers believe most of the youngsters (28%) may have found them accidentally - via a pop-up advertisement, instead of specifically looking up for porn content. Further, 135 of them said they have taken naked or semi-naked images of themselves, with over half of these children having shared the images with others.

The study noticed a common response from children (41%) who said they were "curious" the first time around when they viewed pornography. Some children have also expressed negative feelings ranging from shocked (27%) to confused (24%) or disgusted (23%), the researched noted.

Mistaking porn as real depiction of sex

One 11-year-old girl told the researchers: "I didn't like it because it came on by accident and I don't want my parents to find out and the man looked like he was hurting her, he was holding her down and she was screaming and swearing."

"A few of my friends have used it for guidance about sex and are getting the wrong image of relationships," a 13-year-old girl had said.

Another 13-year-old girl said: "It can make a boy not look for love, just look for sex, and it can pressure us girls to act and look and behave in a certain way before we might be ready for it."

Dr Elena Martellozzo, co-author of the study from Middlesex University, said: "Although many children did not report seeing online pornography, it is worrying that some children came across it accidentally and could be sent it without seeking it.

"If boys believe that online pornography provides a realistic view of sexual relationships, then this may lead to inappropriate expectations of girls and women. Girls too may feel pressured to live up these unrealistic, and perhaps non-consensual, interpretations of sex."

A boy from the 13-year-old age category said: "One of my friends has started treating women like he sees on the videos – not major – just a slap here or there."

Dr Martellozzo feels parents, teachers and policymakers have a huge task in protecting the safety of children, and that they should be provided with safe space to discuss sex education freely.

Stripped of childhood

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: "A generation of children are in danger of being stripped of their childhoods at a young age by stumbling across extreme and violent porn online."

Urging that businesses and government should take responsibilities to provide safety and security for young people, Wanless added: "Some companies have taken the initiative when it comes to online safety, and we will continue to put pressure on those that have not yet done so."

The impending Digital Economy Bill in the UK will bring in legislation that restricts anyone under the age of 18 from viewing pornographic material online, the government announced in May.