Media Release 71% of Irish people agree that pornography is harming society, a new report commissioned by Women’s Aid has found.

24 Nov 2022

  • The majority of Irish people believe that pornography is too accessible to children, and that it is contributing to gender inequality and to coercion and sexual violence against women and girls. 
  • Despite a majority consensus in the study there is a very notable and statistically significant difference between male and female attitudes and levels of concern about pornography.
  • 75% of people agree that pornography makes children and young people vulnerable to requests to share intimate images and videos.
  • The vast majority (81%) of 18-25 year olds believe that pornography is increasing young men’s interest in seeking rough or violent sex.
  • 81% of all respondents want age-appropriate sexuality and relationships education in all schools which includes a focus on the negative consequences of exposure to pornography.
  • 71% believe that the Government and Tech Companies can and must do more to protect children and young people from exposure to pornography and to do far more, faster, to support victims/survivors of image-based sexual abuse.
  • Women’s Aid say its frontline support workers regularly hear disclosures where pornography is playing a role in the verbal, sexual and physical abuse women are subjected to by their male partners.

25th November 2022: Women’s Aid, a leading national organisation that has been working to prevent and address the impact of intimate partner violence and abuse since 1974, today releases a new report demonstrating national concern about the harm of pornography on society, and children and young people in particular.  The new ‘Time To Talk About Porn’ report includes statistics from a national representative survey conducted by RedC, confirm that the majority of the Irish public believe that porn is contributing to gender inequality, sexist double standards, unrealistic sexual expectations, normalisation of request for sexual images including among children, and directly contributing to coercion and violence against women and girls, including image-based sexual abuse.  This new survey indicates that there is a majority view across all ages that both the government and tech companies need to do more to protect children and young people from exposure to pornography and to do far more, faster, to support victims/survivors of image-based sexual abuse. There is strong support for age-appropriate education for children and young people about sex, relationships, mutuality, consent, and respect as part of school SPHE and RSE curriculum, which should include a focus on how pornography is not representative of any of these things.

Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid, says:

“Pornography is seen by the vast majority of the Irish population (71%) as harmful to society and pornography is believed to negatively impact healthy sexual/sexuality development, gender equality and consent. We have also found that almost two thirds of people (63%) believe that pornography leads to increased sexual violence in society.    One in two people (57%) believe that pornography increases inequality between men and women. 

Ms Benson continued:

“Revealingly, 76% of all young people surveyed (age 18-25) are concerned about the harm to society of current availability and prevalence of pornography and about the harmful impacts of pornography.  The vast majority (81%) believe that pornography is contributing to more frequent demand by some young men for rough/violent sex and undermining consent which is truly alarming as this is an age where many are engaging in their very first sexual relationships, and we know from engaging with young people and from other studies that what young men are expecting in sex due to their consumption of porn is something that young women in particular are genuinely fearful about.”

Ms Benson points to a gender difference trend consistent across almost every area of concern in the survey:

“Despite this majority consensus in the study there is a very notable and statistically significant difference between male and female attitudes and levels of concern about pornography. Women are more concerned and see it as more harmful than men do. While the majority of men (60%) agree that pornography is harmful to society, the level of concern is significantly higher among women (82%).  This gendered difference in opinion is consistent across almost every area of concern.  The survey also found that there is a majority belief that pornography undermines men’s respect for women, but not that it reduces women’s respect for men. This is most likely explained because pornography consistently and disproportionately portrays women in extreme degrading, humiliating and dehumanised ways - and because the most negative impacts of pornography in Ireland are experienced directly by women and girls. They are bearing the brunt of the harm.”

Ms Benson, explains why Women’s Aid carried out this research:

“We hear regularly from women accessing our frontline services that pornography regularly plays a role in the verbal, sexual and physical abuse they are subjected to by their male partners.  The levels of physical aggression during sexual assaults are shocking, with women disclosing that they have been strangled to the point of unconsciousness during sex and have been called the most horrific names.  Women have disclosed that their abusers have forced them to watch and re-enact pornography.  This includes disclosures where women have been raped and coerced into sexual acts, including with other men.  Women have also disclosed that their partners have criticised and compared them with women featured in pornography.”

Ms Benson continues:

“Women have also reported that children have been exposed to inappropriate content on their fathers’ phones including dating sites and sexualised photos or pornography.  We have also offered support to women who were recorded having sex without their consent or through coercion and whose intimate images were circulated online, including on porn sites.  Women have been threatened by their partners or exes to have images shared with others unless they gave into their demands.  That is why Women’s Aid conducted this research as an urgent priority.”

The connection between increased access to pornography and increased levels of violence against women is very real and is deeply concerning.  Most people (74%) in the survey agree that pornography negatively impacts on sexual development for young people and 75% of people believe that pornography makes children and young people more vulnerable to requests for sexually explicit images and videos.

Alexandra Ryan, businesswoman and survivor of image-based sexual abuse, adds her concerns:

“The negative exposure to sexually violent content at a young age is distorting young people's views of sex and the expectations of sexual activity. This undoubtedly leads to women of all ages being subjected to uncomfortable situations in their relationships.  I have no doubt in my mind that intimate image abuse (formerly mistakenly known as 'revenge porn') has strong links to this issue, and as a victim of intimate image abuse myself, it is so important to me to highlight the real effects it can have and to work on the prevention of this horrendous crime.  The taking and sharing of intimate footage is rooted in society's obsession with pornography, so it’s critical that we educate young people about the negative impact of pornography and focus on consent and safe sex."

Ms Benson, highlights that other research shows that boys as young as eight-years old are accessing pornography online and that one in every three porn videos depicts explicit sexual violence or aggression:

“Pornography undermines the social, emotional, cognitive and sexual development of boys, and it is young girls who pay the price.  It also harms young boys and men.  The exposure to pornography at an early age is a traumatic and confusing experience. Evidence shows that the earlier you watch pornography the more likely you are to suffer with depression and anxiety and experience sexual dysfunction.”

Women’s Aid is encouraged that, for the first time, pornography is specifically named as an issue that needs to be challenged in the Irish Government’s Third National Strategy to Prevent and Combat Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence 2022-2026. It is acknowledged that this needs to be addressed as part of the eradication of the social and cultural norms that underpin and contribute to gender-based violence through age-appropriate education, information and awareness programmes.

However, more needs to be done.  Women’s Aid makes a number of recommendations arising from the findings including: more in-depth research is required focusing on scoping the scale and impact of the porn industry, the impacts on children and young people’s healthy sexual development, image-based sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation in Ireland; We need open, honest and age-appropriate sexuality and relationships education in schools at both primary and secondary level; There is also a need to empower the proposed Online Safety Commissioner, through the Online Social Media Regulation Bill, with the authority to issueimmediate take down orders in cases of image-based sexual abuse.

Ms Benson concludes:

“Tech companies, and particularly social media platforms, can do much more to create and make accessible supports to victims/survivors of image based sexual abuse and the Government should examine practical and effective measures that might be taken to target the business model of a wholly unregulated international industry with an appalling track record of exploiting vulnerable people, including children, for profit.  Everyone needs to be involved in the conversations, the movement and crucially, the action, to fully eliminate misogyny, violence, abuse and inequality.  Rejecting degrading and negative sexual and gender stereotypes and standing up to industries that perpetuate these, is to everyone’s benefit now and for future generations.”

Ends.

The ‘Time to Talk About Porn’ Report will be launched at a webinar at 11am which will hear contributions from

  • Ailbhe Smyth, Chairperson of Women’s Aid
  • James Browne, T.D., Minister of State, Department of Justice.
  • Richard Hogan, Family Psychotherapist and author of ‘Parenting the Screenager.’
  • Dr. Gail Dines, Founder & President of Culture Reframed, and Professor Emerita of Sociology and Women's Studies, Wheelock College, Boston.
  • Sarah Benson, Chief Executive, Women’s Aid.
  • Professor Clare McGlynn KC (Hon), Professor of Law at Durham University, UK, with expertise in the legal regulation of pornography, cyberflashing, and online abuse.
  • Alexandra Ryan, Founder and CEO of Ireland's leading female-focused news website, Goss.ie and Ambassador for the Department of Justice intimate image abuse awareness campaign.

Register for the webinar at https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_wF_b6bigSa2niP3LJwx6og

For more information contact Christina Sherlock on 087 9192457 or by email christina.sherlock@womensaid.ie.

Notes for Editors and Producers:

  • Full report available here.
  • Launch photos sent to picture desks by Paul Sharp, Sharppix on 0866689087