Four in Five 16-17-Year-Olds Have Seen Online Pornography | City, University of London x YouthSight

Youth Thinking | 10 May 2021

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In new research conducted for our client at LMU Munich and City, University of London we found that the majority of teenagers have watched pornography, with most accessing it through social media.

We polled over 1,000 16-17-year-olds, and of the 78% of respondents who'd watched explicit material online, 63% said they'd seen it on social media while 47% had accessed it through a pornographic website. The study also found that 46% of 16-17-year-olds had used a virtual private network (VPN) or Tor browser when viewing the content.

This study, which was covered by the BBC and The Telegraph, supports the case for the introduction of the UK government's Online Harms White Paper - to protect children from online pornography. But it also highlighted the likely challenges that will be faced with any regulations that are bought into effect. 

Lead author on the study, Professor Neil Thurman, said: “Until now, there was scant evidence on which media platforms and technologies children use to access pornography, and to what extent; this new survey fills that gap.

“The results suggest that the UK government was right to target social media platforms in its latest proposals.

“However, that 16- and 17-year-old users spend an average of more than two hours a month on dedicated pornography sites shows how important the regulation of such sites remains.”

The UK government’s Online Harms White Paper is designed to do what Part 3 of its 2017 Digital Economy Act (which was never implemented) did not – i.e., clamp down on social media platforms and search engines.

However, the extent to which 16- and 17-year-olds are familiar with VPNs makes clear that any regulation will not be a magic bullet.

City university London poll blog


Key Findings:

  • Four in five UK 16-17-year-olds have seen online pornography
  • On average respondents had watched pornography six days ago; but it was most common for them to have already viewed it on the day of the survey
  • 63% had seen pornography on social media platforms and 47% had seen it on a pornographic website; but it was much more recently viewed on websites than on social media
  • 46% had used a virtual private network (VPN) or Tor browser

Dr Neil Thurman, a Professor at LMU Munich and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in City’s Department of Journalism, said: “Our finding that 46% of 16- and 17-year-olds had used a VPN or Tor browser adds weight to concerns that restrictions on legal internet pornography – such as age verification checks – imposed by a single country may be circumvented by those the restrictions are designed to protect.

“Measures taken in individual jurisdictions, or that focus on only some media platforms, are unlikely to reduce children’s exposure to online pornography as much as some hope.”

The study is published in the international peer-reviewed journal, Policy & Internet.

Read the blog from Dr Neil Thurman here or access the full whitepaper report here.


Press Coverage


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