A new study reveals that a significant majority of children in UK were exposed to online pornography by the time they reached the age of 16.
The research, directed by UK National Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Children and conducted by Middlesex University, found that 53 percent of children aged between 11 and 16 had accessed pornographic content online, and 94 percent of them had viewed it by the age of 14.
The survey was done on 1,001 children in the age group of 11-16. About 28 percent of the 11-12 year olds had seen online porn, and as many as 65 percent of the 15-16 year olds had accessed the content.
A key finding of the research was that 28 percent of the children had come across porn accidentally, but 19 percent had sought it deliberately.
"Although many children did not report seeing online pornography, it is worrying that some children came across it accidentally and could be sent it without seeking it," said Dr Elena Martelozzo, a criminologist at Middlesex.
"If boys believe that online pornography provides a realistic view of sexual relationships, then this may lead to inappropriate expectations of girls and women," she added.
After the study was published, a Christian charity called CARE urged the government to "speed up its response to protecting children online."
"This new survey is both shocking and hugely alarming. The fight to protect the childhood innocence has reached a critical juncture," said CARE CEO Nola Leach. "We cannot sit back and allow the rising generation of children to be robbed of their childhoods because of a largely unregulated porn industry. The damage porn does to a child's understanding of normal sexual behaviors is truly disturbing."
The survey found that girls in general were more negative about pornography than boys. Many of the responses, especially among females, were potentially anxiety provoking including expressions of shock (27 percent), confusion (25 percent), feelings of disgust (23 percent), and nervousness (21 percent).
"They reveal the negative effects that being exposed to pornography can have; on children's emotions, particularly on first exposure; that a proportion continue to search for it after seeing it inadvertently; and how feelings of shock and confusion can dissipate as they become seemingly desensitized to the content," the report said.
Raj Samani, CTO of Intel Security, related the Middlesex study with a similar report by the company on an online magazine Professional Security: "Today's news from NSPCC ... is yet another reminder of the potential dangers open to 'smartphone kids'. Recent research from Intel Security found that only 40 percent of children aged between five and 12 years old are being supervised whilst using the internet, and over a third of parents have not made an attempt to find out what their child is doing online - worryingly leaving children to their own devices, stumbling upon this explicit content."
"Unfortunately, we can't make this content disappear and so it is down to the adults in these children's lives - parents, relatives, teachers - to do all they can to protect their kids through both technology and communication," Samani added. "For example, they should have the correct parental controls in place on all connected devices their children use."