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Porn Viewed By Almost Half of Kids, Often Mistakenly (Update2) 

By Elizabeth Lopatto

Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) — Almost half of U.S. children ages 10 to 17 said they saw pornography online in the year before they were surveyed, a study says.

About 80 percent of those exposed said pornography was displayed during unrelated searches, sometimes as the result of a misspelled word, or during downloads, the study said. One in five intentionally entered an X-rated site without realizing they would be disturbed by its contents, the researchers said.

Filtering software, such as programs made by McAfee Inc. and NET Nanny Software International Inc., reduced the risk of unwanted exposure, as did educational presentations by law enforcement officials, the researchers said. The study is being published in the February issue of Pediatrics.

“I think we wrongly assume that kids know what pornography is,” said Janis Wolack, a researcher at the University of New Hampshire and the study’s lead author, in a Feb. 2 telephone interview. “Kids have an idea about it, but they don’t necessarily know what they’re going to see.”

The study was conducted using a telephone survey done between March and June 2005 across the U.S. Because the exposure was self-reported, some youths may have “characterized exposure incidents as unwanted because they were embarrassed to admit they sought out such material,” the researchers said.

The study found that children who sought pornography were significantly more likely to engage in rule-breaking, and to be withdrawn or depressed. Offline victimization, such as bullying, was found to be correlated with seeking pornography.

Gender a Factor

Boys accounted for eighty percent of wanted exposure to pornography in the study and more than one third of male internet users between 16 and 17 years old said they visited pornographic sites on purpose.

“`Youth,’ as usual, is a euphemism,” said Catharine MacKinnon, a leading feminist author and legal scholar, in an e- mail on Feb. 2. “Boys are receiving most, but not all of the exposure, and most boys are so exposed. Gender matters and is largely ignored here.”

The study did not look at long-term effects of pornography on children, said Wolak.

“A lot of kids aren’t very upset by what they might accidentally see, but we did see them being afraid to tell their parents, because they were afraid they’d be blamed by their parents,” she said. “In some cases we saw, they were.”

Younger children did tend to be more distressed than older children, she said.

Exposure to law enforcement education programs seemed to protect kids from unwanted pornography better than conversations with parents, according to study data. This was probably because the conversations with parents were taking place after the children saw porn, rather than before, Wolak said.


“I think with teenagers, unfortunately, it’s easier to say we should communicate than to do it,” said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist with the Pew Internet and American Life Project in a telephone interview Feb 2. “It’s really embarrassing, and not just for kids.” She suggested that parents closely monitor their children’s computer use.

Playboy Inc., publisher of the most widely read men’s magazine, said the company employed a number of precautions to prevent minors from accessing its online contents, including “access to the parental control device CyberSitter for members directly on our site,” Linda Marsicano, the Vice President of Corporate Communication in an e-mailed statement on Feb. 2.

The Chicago-based company recently acquired the Club Jenna site from porn star Jenna Jameson.

`Blocking Software’

“A lot of people have access to blocking software, but grownups can’t figure out how to use them,” said Dorn Checkley, the director of the Pittsburgh Coalition Against Pornography and “Ultimately, grownups just need to stop using all this pornography. It’s because the grownup market is so strong that teenagers have access to it.”

“The take-away message is that we need to take this problem seriously and not over-react,” Wolak said, noting that her study did not monitor the long-term effects on children.

“As for further research, it would be important to pursue the suggestions in existing clinical literature that children who are exposed to pornography can experience the same trauma, with the same consequences for them as adults, as if they witnessed the acts live,” MacKinnon said. “No one learns respect for women from consuming pornography.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in New York at