Anyone who suggests pornography is victimless is sorely mistaken, and this fallacious perspective is responsible for harming children across the country. Medical research demonstrating the harms of pornography is abundant and compelling. An excellent place to start is to listen to Sharon Cooper, MD. As a developmental and forensic pediatrician, Dr. Cooper has carefully studied the harmful impact adult pornography has on children’s development throughout her years of medical practice.
Dr. Cooper gave the keynote addresses titled “Pornography and the Colonization of Childhood” at the 2014 Summit for the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation (CESE), during which she expertly and persuasively demonstrated the clear and measurable impacts of pornography consumption on children’s brains, as well as the destructive behavioral patterns that ensue.
Children Are Especially Vulnerable to the Addictive Qualities of Pornography
First, regarding addiction, Dr. Cooper explained that because children’s brains are still developmentally immature, they are especially vulnerable to addiction. Research shows that the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which as Dr. Cooper notes, is a chemical strongly linked to the formation of addictions. The brain initially releases dopamine when someone experiences a “reward” from substances or behaviors including things like drugs, alcohol, nicotine, video gaming, gambling, food, sex, or masturbating to pornography. However, repeated exposure to dopamine causes neurons to stop firing when the award is consumed and to fire instead when a person is exposed to cues that predict reward. Ultimately, this can result in cues causing intense urges or cravings to consume the reward again. This process is particularly concerning when it involves children, since the natural “braking system” in children’s brains have not yet fully developed.
An additional harm of children’s exposure to pornography occurs when it leads children sexually abuse other children. For instance, research has shown that girls and boys were more than five times more likely to exhibit sexually aggressive behavior if they had consumed violent pornography.
Children are also harmed by pornography when adults use pornography to groom children for sexual abuse. For instance, adults may expose children to pornography in an attempt to decrease their inhibitions and to “teach” them various sexual acts.
Pornography’s Other Harms to Children
Other harms that can befall children due to pornography, whether they themselves are addicted or another individual who is addicted harms them, can include voyeurism associated with criminal actions, “sextortion,” where a bully elicits pornographic images from peers and then uses them as blackmail, and cyber harassment.
The child exploitation Dr. Cooper has witnessed through years of medical practice is devastating, and her testimony should give anyone who hears it a desire to combat the public health harms of pornography, as well as the facts to debate anyone who says pornography is harmless. Our children and society would be so much better off without the exploitive harms of pornography. Let’s continue to work toward a society where no child is under threat of becoming a victim of pornography’s horrific effects.