In a massive survey on technology and sexuality conducted by Clue and the Kinsey Institute, with more than 140,000 responses from 198 countries, there was a hardly surprising headline. A large number of people not only use technology to meet sexual partners, but to learn more about sex, to track their own sexual experiences and to improve their sexual relationships.
In other words, tech and sex have become inextricably intertwined. They have also entered the world of children.
Most experts used to maintain that the average age of exposure to pornography comes around 11 years old.
A recent report by the internet security company Bitdefender claims that one in ten visitors to porn sites are under the age of 10. Unless carefully supervised by their parents, "children start visiting porn websites from an early age."
The anecdotal stories are shocking. One mother, a sex addiction therapist, did everything she knew to keep her 6-year-old son from being exposed only to discover that another 6-year-old kindergarten classmate (at their private Christian school, no less) showed him a porn video on his cell phone.
(We'll bracket off what a 6-year-old was doing with a cell phone to begin with for a moment.)
For some time, when asked about the effects of pornography on the young I have said, "We just don't know yet." It's only been in the last handful of years that porn has been so ubiquitously and freely (literally) available to anyone with access to the internet. I didn't see a Playboy until I was in high school. What does it do to a child to see hardcore pornography in video at ever-increasingly young ages?
We're beginning to learn.
A boy, age 5, has become the youngest person in Britain to be investigated by police for sexting.
Yes, sexting at age 5. The intimate picture of himself was sent to another child on an iPad.
An isolated occurrence? Sadly, no. "The number of cases where children have taken explicit pictures of themselves and sent them to others has soared in the past two years," wrote a team of Telegraph reporters covering the story. And the age of those drawn into the practice is getting increasingly lower.
But in some ways, this level of impact is tame. Even more disturbing is the stunning rise in the number of sexual assaults committed on children by other children. Last year there was a jump of 78% in the number of such cases in England and Wales. Reports reveal that there are 20 cases of sexual offenses by children on other children in those two countries alone every day.
Similar studies have proven the same trend in Australia.
Most believe it is tied to access to smartphones and the internet; access to images and video they simply cannot understand at their young age, yet which affect them profoundly.
Everyone says that parents must be more engaged.
Let's return to the 6-year-old with a smartphone and the parental decision to allow him to have it. Should this be allowed? This needs to be dealt with delicately, with nuance:
Are we out of our minds?
If I could get one series into the hands of every parent, it would be "The Under Protective Parent." The premise is simple: too many parents feel helpless standing against the current of culture in terms of how they are raising their children.
They aren't. Because here's the uncomfortable truth:
The child who sexts at age 5 is not at fault; it's the parent of the child who sexts at age 5 who is.
James Emery White
"Technology and Modern Sexuality: Results From Clue and Kinsey's International Sex Survey," Medium, August 9, 2017, read online.
Kirsten Jenson, "Kids Under 10 Make Up 10% of Porn Site Visitors," Protect Young Minds, August 24, 2017, read online.
"Boy, Five, is 'Youngest Person in Britain' Investigated by Police for Sexting," The Telegraph, July 11, 2017, read online.
Nicole Morley, "Number of Children Being Sexually Assaulted by Other Children is Soaring," Metro, February 3, 2017, read online.
Erin Parke, "Sharp Rise in Children Committing Sex Crimes in Kimberley," ABC News Australia, February 18, 2017, read online.