Pornography - Overview

“The availability of free Internet porn means not only that pornography is instantly available to anyone of any age, it also means that porn has permeated the culture to the point where its dominant messages about women, men, sex and power have permeated areas that we don’t think of as porn: advertising, film and television.”

Michael Messner, University of Southern California[1]

One of the biggest concerns voiced by parents of young Internet users is the easy access to pornography that the Web provides. There are millions of porn sites online, making hardcore sexual images that were once very difficult to obtain now just a click away.

Trying to control porn in a global medium like the Internet is difficult at best. Most Internet pornography, while offensive and distasteful to many users, is not illegal. As well, countries have different cultural standards and legislation regarding sexual material and content that is banned in one jurisdiction may be easily accessible on servers in another.

To contextualize pornography, we have to recognize that today’s youth live in a highly sexualized media culture where the lines between pornography and popular entertainment have become increasingly blurred. As one young person told the UK Office of the Children’s Commissioner, “Basically, porn is everywhere.” [2] Even those youth who don’t seek out pornography are frequently exposed to highly sexualized content: in fact, they are more likely to encounter sexual material on TV or in music than through the Internet. [3] Popular culture has in general become significantly more sexualized, especially in the way that it portrays women. [4] As a result, kids say that efforts should be made to teach them – and particularly young children – decision-making skills that will help them avoid inappropriate material online and deal with the sexualized content they encounter in all media. This is where parents and teachers play an important role.

Teens are less likely to be supervised than younger kids and more likely to access the Internet using mobile devices such as MP3 players, smartphones and tablets, [5] which means they have more opportunities to encounter this sort of content through their online activities. Adolescents are also naturally curious about sexuality and the Internet provides a convenient and private way to get answers to their questions.

It should come as no surprise that many teenagers seek out pornographic Web content. According to MediaSmarts’ research, 35 percent of students in Grade 11 have looked for pornography online. While boys are only slightly more likely to say that they look for pornography rarely (once a year or less) they are three times more likely to say that they look for it once a month and fourteen times more likely to say they look for it once a week or more. This difference is reflected in the favourite sites youth reported: while only one pornographic site was listed in the overall top 50 sites, it ranked 15th among boys in grades 7-11 and 75th among girls in the same age group. [6]


[1] Quoted in Bielski, Zosia. “In the age of Internet porn, teaching boys to be good men.” The Globe and Mail, April 21, 2012.
[2]. Horvath, Miranda A. H. and Alys, Llian and Massey, Kristina and Pina, Afroditi and Scally, Mia and Adler, Joanna R. (2013) Basically… porn is everywhere: a rapid evidence assessment on the effects that access and exposure to pornography has on children and young people. Project Report. Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, London, UK.
[3] Jayson, Sharon. “Kids See More Sex on TV Than Online Research Suggests.” USA Today, August 8, 2011.
[4] Erin Hatton, Mary Nell Trautner. Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone.
[5] Steeves, Valerie. (2014) Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Life Online. MediaSmarts: Ottawa.
[6] Steeves, Valerie. (2014) Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Sexuality and Romantic Relationships in the Digital Age. MediaSmarts: Ottawa.