“Experts say the findings are worrying as such content affects young people’s attitudes and behaviour towards love and sex, and may lead to sexual crimes” (Half of Teens Here Exposed to Pornography: Survey, Miss Janice Tai).
It is tempting to read our children’s exposure to pornography – based on findings gathered by Touch Cyber Wellness in Singapore (ST, Sept. 6) – with alarm, since the consumption of pornography is often perceived to be deleterious. A host of ramifications are associated with it. In the ST report, “[e]xperts say the findings are worrying as such content affects young people’s attitudes and behaviour towards love and sex, and may lead to sexual crimes”.
Woah. These are convenient leaps of logic, no? Besides, the aforementioned findings do not definitively contribute to these “expert” conclusions.
At the same time the survey conducted by Touch Cyber Wellness, the key agency providing counselling services for youths on cyber wellness issues such as addiction and other hazards on the Internet, did not throw up surprising results too. Of the 836 students aged between 13 and 15 polled, 50 per cent has watched or read sexually explicit materials. Five per cent of them first watched or read pornography when they were in lower primary school, 41 per cent when they were in upper primary school, and 54 per cent when they were in secondary school. In fact with the advent of smartphones the numbers could actually be higher.
For reasonable inferences to be drawn more details about the survey – on the methodology adopted, the questions asked, the assumptions made – should be provided. Otherwise the “experts” seem to be grasping at straws. 24 students from the three secondary schools were interviewed to supplement the survey qualitatively. Assistant manager of Touch Cyber Wellness Mr. Chong Ee Jay explains that based on these interviews, “many boys started viewing sexual content out of boredom or curiosity”. With a touch of hyperbole, ST reported how a nine-year-old boy had asked a woman to sleep with him, and how a 14-year-old girl searched online for breast enhancement supplements after watching pornography regularly.
Yet the drawing of conclusions from these anecdotes is hardly convincing, and does little to shape cyber wellness or sexual education programmes. It is easy to conclude that the viewing of pornography is necessarily negative, to advocate for youths to avoid it (an unrealistic proposition, nevertheless), when frank discourse on sex is instead needed.
That is not to say that an addiction to pornography is healthy either. The stories of individual struggles should also not be dismissed. But we short-change ourselves when we generalise conditions and motivations of these young Singaporeans, without going into much greater detail. Beyond the exposure to pornography, or perhaps extending a modified version of the survey to more students, it would be worthwhile to encourage the sharing of experiences, to understand how different individuals process the images or content. Only then can we – or should we – say more about the supposed “attitudes and behaviour towards love and sex”.