Calls for Ofcom to stand up to pornography industry

New data from CEASE (the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation) shows parents are leaving it too late to talk to their children about pornography.

Twenty-one per cent of parents of 11-13 year olds have talked to their children about pornography, despite 13 being the average age at which a child first sees pornography.

The same polling found 0% of the UK public think it’s appropriate for children to see pornography at the age of 13 or under.

Parents were most likely to talk to their child about pornography when they were 14-15 years old, by which time two-thirds of children have already been exposed to pornography.

However, the burden of protecting children from the harms of online pornography must not lie solely with parents.

The Online Safety Act (2023) mandates for effective age verification on any website or social media platform that carries pornographic content. Yet in its guidance for the implementation of the Online Safety Act, the regulator Ofcom is failing to clearly define ‘highly effective’.

By not defining what highly effective age verification is, Ofcom is not only failing to meet the mandate given to it by Parliament, but it is also allowing the pornography industry a free pass to implement the weakest age verification method allowable so that regular visitors are not deterred and the pornography platforms’ profits are not hit too hard by the loss of underage visitors to their sites.

Dr Lucie Moore, Chief Executive of CEASE, said: “Given the number of lawsuits in action against Pornhub and its parent company, Aylo, for trafficking and profiting from the filmed sexual abuse of others, we are calling on Ofcom to set the bar for age verification, and set it high.

“The pornography industry has had countless opportunities to implement robust age verification to prevent children from accessing their material, but they have repeatedly chosen profits over basic safeguarding.

“I know how difficult it can be to talk to our children about sex, relationships and pornography. But if we don’t educate our children about sex, the pornography industry will.

“Mainstream online pornography is increasingly violent, and our polling shows that the public believe it has a major influence on young people’s idea of what ‘normal’ sex and relationships look like. As a result, we are witnessing a tsunami of normalised sexual violence in young people’s lives.”

Dr Lucie Moore, Chief Executive of CEASE

Lord Bethell, member of the House of Lords and age verification campaigner, said: “The ubiquity of online pornography and the pace at which technology is developing means that even the most engaged tech-savvy parents will always be playing catch up.

“It’s simply not realistic to expect parents to bear the full weight of responsibility for safeguarding children and young people online. The technology exists for social media and pornography companies to be able to protect children from seeing violent and misogynistic pornographic content.

“The Online Safety Act clearly gives Ofcom the job of defining what effective age verification should look like. We should not allow the pornography or tech industries to negotiate the standard of age verification which has already been set in UK legislation.

“Ofcom has a duty to ensure our children and young people are protected from the mental and physical harms of degrading, violent online pornography. The world is watching as we fulfil our pledge to make the UK the safest place in the world for a child to be online. We must not lose our nerve now.”

Lord Bethell

From CEASE’s Public Attitudes to Pornography polling report, conducted by More in Common in January 2024, there is public consensus that watching pornography is harmful for children and teenagers.

  • 92 per cent of the UK public think watching online pornography is harmful to younger children.
  • 76 per cent think watching online pornography is harmful to teenagers.
  • 90 per cent of 18-26 year olds think online pornography has a major impact on what teenagers perceive to be normal sexual behaviour.
  • 18-21 was the age-range most frequently selected as appropriate to first be exposed to pornography.

Another key finding from the research is that women who are most likely to experience the harms of pornography – such as misogynistic attitudes and behaviours and the normalisation of violence during sex – are most likely to be porn-critical.

There is a generational and gender split when it comes to the harm of pornography to adults, with 69 per cent of Generation Z women (those aged 18-26) seeing accessing pornography as harmful compared to just 49 per cent of men in Generation X (those aged 43-58).

The full British Public Attitudes to Pornography report can be found here.