Introduction Much research portrays pornography as having negative effects on adolescents, including personally, relationally and socially. There is, however, little evidence on how any negative effects may be reduced. With only a small number of unevaluated school-based programs addressing pornography and sexualised media available, this gap in the literature justified the conducting an interventional study on whether known negative effects can be reduced in adolescents. Objectives A theoretical framework was proposed to reduce the personal, relational and social negative effects of pornography exposure, using three strategies: 1. didactic education; 2. peer-to-peer engagement; and 3. parental engagement. Methods Preceding the program design, a baseline survey was designed, implemented and validated in a sample of 746 Year 10 high school students, aged 14–16 years, from NSW independent schools. A six-lesson program was designed to align with the Health and Physical Education strand of the Australian National Curriculum and conducted on 347 Year 10 students from NSW independent schools, aged 14–16. Results Analysis of the validated baseline survey prompted questions about social media behaviours and narcissism, which the program integrated. Initial analysis of the intervention students confirmed those exposed to social media were more likely to have narcissistic traits, which mediated the effect that pornography exposure or sexualised social media behaviours had on self-esteem. Pre- and post-intervention comparisons showed increases in negative attitudes about pornography, positive views towards women, and responsible attitudes towards relationships. Students with regular viewing behaviours increased efforts to reduce viewing. Some female students reduced self-promoting social media behaviours and pornography viewing. Students did not develop problematic behaviours or attitudes after doing the course. Regularly pornography viewers had higher rates of compulsivity, which mediated their viewing behaviours and impeded efforts to reduce viewing. There were trends of increased tensions in male parent-relationships and female peer-relationships after the intervention, but not at a level of significance. Conclusion Overall, the program was effective at reducing several 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. The challenge of compulsivity raises questions for careers and educators, particularly whether additional therapeutic support is warranted.
Faculty of Medicine and Health, Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School
University of Sydney
Doctor of Philosophy