A newly-released study conducted by Middlesex University details the online world and how it opens children to the risks involved with viewing extreme pornography, as well as engaging in sexting.

The report, “I Wasn’t Sure It Was Normal To Watch It,” takes a closer look at the opportunities the online world presents to users, such as the chance for young people to explore, experiment, socialize, create, and educate themselves in ways that previously seemed impossible.  However, at the same time, it creates the chance for children to view pornography or become engaged in sexting.

Commissioned by the NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner, the report contained an online survey of 1,001 children and youth between the ages of 11 and 16 throughout the UK, in addition to an online discussion forum and online focus groups.

The findings suggest that young people are being exposed to online pornography at high rates, and that a large portion of children are inadvertently seeing it.  However, once they do see it, even mistakenly, some continue to seek it out, with a small segment looking to act it out in real life and a higher percentage of boys believing that what they view is realistic.

According to the results, more boys choose to view online pornography than girls.  While 28% of those between the ages of 11 and 12 had not seen online pornography, by the time they reached age 15, 65% of those interviewed said they had seen it in some form.  Interestingly, children were just as likely to witness it by chance as they were to purposely search for it.

Slightly less than half of those included in the stage two sample said they had never seen online pornography.  The majority of these children were younger and female.  Meanwhile, just over half of the stage two sample reported having been exposed to pornography by the time they were 16.  Of those who had seen it, 94% said they had done so by age 14.  Of those who said they were still viewing it, 46% said they were actively searching for it.

A greater number of boys reported viewing pornography than girls, both accidentally and deliberately.  In addition, boys were more likely to continue to view it, both accidentally and on purpose.

In terms of feelings and attitudes of those surveyed toward online pornography, girls held more negative views than boys.  While 53% of boys reported what they saw to be realistic, 39% of girls held the same view.

In total, 17% of respondents said they felt a sexual arousal the first time they viewed pornography.  This rose to 49% at the current viewing level.  Despite feelings of curiosity (41%), shock (27%), or confusion (24%) the first time they watched it, the majority of older children noted that they currently watch porn for pleasure.

The percentage of children who said they wanted to emulate what they saw increased with age, at 21% for 11-12 year-olds, 39% for 13-14 year-olds, and 42% for 15-16 year-olds.  In addition, 44% of males said online pornography gave them ideas about what they wanted to try in real life compared to 29% of females.

When asked about sexting, none of the respondents considered the topic to include the taking and sharing of photographs including their own naked body parts.  Instead, the majority of those surveyed interpreted sexting to be the writing and sharing of sexually explicit or intimate words with a person they knew such as a boyfriend or girlfriend.  While most did not report having taken a naked “selfie,” 123 did say they had taken a topless photo, and 41 had taken a photo showing their bottom half.  An additional 27 said they had taken a photo of their entire body while naked.

Study authors believe additional research is needed in order to directly determine the impacts and outcomes that viewing pornography has on the social, sexual, and cognitive development of children.