Pigtails and porn

February 12, 2007|By KATHLEEN PARKER

While America was riveted on a love triangle featuring a female astronaut driving 900 miles wearing a diaper, another significant story received little notice.

A new study reports that 42 percent of Internet users ages 10 to 17 have viewed online porn.

Another day. Another blip. America shrugs.

Porn has gone so mainstream that we hardly flinch at its mention anymore. No longer the dirty purview of the sleazy fringe, it's everywhere - in hotel rooms, on the Internet, in America's video cabinet.

But 10-year-olds?

I don't much care what adults do on their own time in their own space. But everyone - especially children - has a right not to see. Not to know.

These recent findings, published in this month's Pediatrics, are the result of telephone interviews with 1,500 Internet users. The University of New Hampshire researchers found that two-thirds of those exposed to porn didn't want to see the images and didn't seek them out. Most of these were ages 13 to 17, though a disturbing number were 10- and 11-year-olds. Such research is relatively new because online porn is relatively new.

Most adults over age 30 didn't grow up in a world where porn was so readily accessible. Today's raunchy new world forces a new question: Are children harmed by watching porn?

Once upon a time, when grown-ups roamed Planet Earth, no one had to ask that question. Of course viewing porn is harmful to children, who by definition are emotionally and psychologically unformed.

Images of two (or three or four) overendowed adults consorting like a troop of deranged baboons is frightful to a child.

Filters help, but not much. Researchers found that unwanted porn exposure occurred despite the use of filtering and blocking software in more than half the homes with Internet access.

Even the most innocent query produces porn. Googling "adult diapers" for a possible column about astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak, I found myself in the midst of diaper fetishists and paraphilic infantilists.

Some of these folks, by the way, are offended by diaper jokes now circulating thanks to NASA's femme fatale. Here's a bet: We'll see hate-joke legislation to protect the certifiably fragile psyches of "adult babies," as they call themselves, before we see anything aimed at protecting real children from Internet porn.

The multibillion-dollar mainstreaming of porn has distorted, among other things, our judgment. Other recent research shows that the more porn people watch, the lower their standards for protecting children. Dr. Mary Ann Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania, tells of one study in which people were asked various questions before and after watching quantities of porn. One question was whether we should restrict children's access to XXX-rated material. Post-porn, the number of people answering "yes" was reduced by half.

Assessing children's responses to porn is more difficult. But we can make reasonable assumptions based on adult research, a growing body of which suggests that porn is addictive and can be psychologically and emotionally damaging.

Like any stimulant, the effects of porn diminish with use. More is needed to achieve the same result.

Research also indicates that porn consumption is related to dysfunctional adult relationships. Children can't fare better. What are children to glean about grown-up relationships from watching men and women reduce each other to objects and orifices?

Not much that will be useful to them as they try to navigate intimacy with a real human being someday.

What a shame.

And if we had any sense, what a crime.

Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail address is kparker@kparker.com.

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