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Online and offline behaviours: the impact of porn on young people

I recently led some training for Romance Academy about the impact of porn on young people and the potential ways we can help young people navigate these pressures. It was a great training day where everyone got to closely examine the theories of how porn is impacting young people. One of the key ideas we explored is best summed up by a psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude in his book '_Virtually You'

"The ways in which we act, interact, speak, read, think and negotiate urges and goals online are remarkably different from the ways in which we handled these activities offline. What may be more remarkable, however, is that our online traits are unconsciously being imported into our offline life,"

A simple example of this can be found in contemporary slang. Originally, the 3 letter L O L was used online and in text messages as short hand for 'Laughing Out Loud.' A clever way to share body language and facial expression missing from text based communication. But LOL has moved from the online world and become an offline slang word. Sometimes used ironically or other times as a statement of enjoyment without actually laughing, the word “lol” is on many people’s lips. Online behaviour imported to the offline world.

On Safer Internet day this year, the theme was about encouraging every young person to “play their part” in keeping the internet a safe and enjoyable place for all. Making the internet a safer and more pleasant place is a worthwhile pursuit by itself but, if Aboujaoude is right, encouraging better behaviour online will also have an offline effect.

During the training day, we discussed how porn has rapidly changed since the invention of the internet. Sexual acts that once were considered specialist and fringe are now considered mainstream and common online. Speaking with educators and sexual health nurses, we often hear stories of young people trying things they have seen online and sadly injuring themselves or others from failing to understand that porn is not an instruction manual and is often misleading.

Young people tell us, in focus groups that we run, that they want to be able to talk about what they are exposed to online in safe and non-judgemental environments.  Young people deserve to have adults in their lives that are willing and able to discuss relationships and sex in appropriate and helpful ways. How young people act online needs to be a part of this conversation. For example, if their consumption of explicit media is rooted in disrespect, that attitude may become influential in their offline behaviour. If we can help young people to see the value in showing respect online then that positive online behaviour can also impact their offline attitudes.