No excuses: televised pornography harms children (1999)

Harv Rev Psychiatry. 1999 Nov-Dec;7(4):236-40.

Benedek EP, Brown CF.


All youngsters are at some risk from exposure to televised pornography, as described above. At particular risk for harm, however, are the most vulnerable children in our society–children in single-parent homes, children with mental and emotional disturbances, mentally challenged children, children who have been physically and/or sexually abused, and children in dysfunctional families. Youngsters for whom television serves as a babysitter or parental surrogate unfortunately are exposed to few competing influences to television viewing. In addition, parents in such homes are least likely to know what their children are viewing and to be able to pass on their own values about sex and sexual behavior. The main possible effects of televised pornography that must concern us as clinicians, educators, and parents are modeling and imitation of language heard and behaviors observed in televised pornography; negative interference with children’s normal sexual development; emotional reactions such as nightmares and feelings of anxiety, guilt, confusion, and/or shame; stimulation of premature sexual activity; development of unrealistic, misleading, and/or harmful attitudes toward sex and adult male-female relationships; and undermining of family values with resultant conflict between parents and children. Much more research is clearly needed on this topic. Because of the ethical and procedural problems surrounding research on children exposed to pornography, ideal research designs may never be possible. Nonetheless, we hope that this article will stimulate further discussion and work. To devise public policy that protects children from potentially harmful material while at the same time respecting the media’s First Amendment rights, such public discourse and responsible research are essential.

PMID: 10579105