Jack Hughes was ten when he first saw pornography on the internet. He’d heard some of the other boys at his primary school talking about it at breaktime so that very afternoon, instead of settling down to his homework, he typed the word ‘porn’ into his computer.
Within seconds he was on the landing page of the UK’s most popular free porn site — no age verification required — and by doing so opened a portal to a world of X-rated sexual practices that he found both confusing and intriguing.
‘After two minutes, I clicked off it,’ says Jack*, aware that these were images he wasn’t meant to see. ‘But I’d taken the first step and I was curious. So a couple of weeks later, I went back and explored and kept coming back and started experimenting.
By the time he reached secondary school, Jack had a smartphone which meant he could click on porn sites whenever he liked. A small number of his classmates were so addicted he says ‘they ended up watching porn eight times a day and never leaving their rooms or doing anything else’.
Survation interviewed 1,010 boys in the UK aged 16 to 21 about their sex lives, for a study commissioned by the Daily Mail (file image)
All of this was going on without his parents’ knowledge. ‘I never needed to have the sex chat because I’d seen it all for myself,’ says Jack, who lost his virginity last year and has had several of what he describes as ‘hook-ups’ since.
Now 17 and a polite, well-spoken sixth-former, Jack’s experiences illustrate just how normalised porn has become for a generation of boys — a depressing reality borne out by the results of an exclusive survey into the sex lives of young people commissioned by the Daily Mail.
Of the 1,010 boys aged 16 to 21 interviewed by our pollsters Survation, 40 per cent of those who’d seen internet porn watch it at least a few times a week and 11 per cent of boys who have seen porn watch it every day, compared to only two per cent of girls.
Our findings also reveal the huge impact this is having on the attitudes of boys towards girls, sex and relationships. Whereas 61 per cent of girls who’d seen porn said it had had a negative impact on their expectations of sex, boys were much more likely to see porn as a positive influence.
Of boys who have had sex, a shocking 48 per cent admitted they have taken part in a sex act because they’ve seen it in pornography. Our research follows a damning new Ofsted report which found that easy access to explicit imagery has set unhealthy expectations of sex and is fuelling a school environment where sexual harassment and derogatory name-calling of girls is rife.
Over the past few months, thousands of female pupils have posted their experiences of this harassment and abuse on a website called Everyone’s Invited.
But it’s vital to hear boys’ perspectives, too, on the kind of social pressures they feel under to behave this way.
According to our research, more than one in four boys admit they have felt pressure from friends to be sexually active and, even more disturbingly, more than a third of boys who’d had sex admitted they have felt upset by a sexual activity they’ve taken part in. Meanwhile, one in four boys said friends and peers had egged them on to share details about their sexual experience — illustrating how male peer pressure is often the prime motivator for boys to behave in a certain way.
Jack Hughes, 17, said it’s commonplace among his friends to share nude images of girls and flirt by sexting
Jack admits it is commonplace among his friends to share nude images of girls and confidential text messages known as ‘sexts’.
Our research found that 44 per cent of all girls are aware of having their looks scored sexually by their peers, often in forums like this, where boys score ‘lad points’ for sex acts they’ve taken part in under the guise of ‘banter’.
A third of the boys in our survey who’d received consensual pictures of a sexual nature admitted sharing them with others, compared to only 10 per cent of girls.
Jack says: ‘Sexting is just normal. We know there’s a risk but that’s how we flirt nowadays.
‘Girls might be talked about as fit, ugly or heifers — and you get status in the group for saying you’ve had sex with someone good-looking.’ Anal sex is another way for boys to get kudos, says Jack — a sad fact also reflected in our survey which found that 48 per cent of the boys who have had sex have also had anal sex, and 17 per cent of those were under 16 when they had anal sex for the first time.
Boys are the unwitting targets of the porn industry
‘It’s been made to look more appealing in porn, and boys get more status because it shows how far a girl will go for you,’ admits Jack, who also says it is not uncommon for teens to have sex before they have even kissed, as our survey found.
Forty-one per cent of boys who had sex say they have taken part in an activity without kissing the other person first.
‘Kissing is seen as too intimate,’ says Jack. ‘You hear other boys talking about meeting up just for sex with someone from school after chatting on social media.
‘But because they have no emotional connection, they don’t kiss, which is something more romantic. They just go straight to oral and then vaginal sex.’ Jack stands by his insistence that this is how it is these days.
William Stringer, 15, from Chislehurst, Kent, said he thinks porn breeds misogyny and he doesn’t doubt that there are boys his age who hate women (file image)
‘I know this sounds a lot to older generations who take sex more seriously. For this generation, it’s born and bred into us.’
But William Stringer, 15, from Chislehurst, Kent, is shocked by the attitudes some boys have towards girls.
William, who has just left his local grammar school and has a conditional place at Harris Westminster Academy, says: ‘I think porn helps breed real misogyny. There’s no doubt in my mind that there are boys my age who hate women.
‘I’ve seen girls being asked intimate and embarrassing questions by boys who’ve run off laughing.
‘I also think that boys have seen so much porn by my age that when a girl turns down their advances, whether it’s at school, at parties, or online, they instantly turn around and call her a slag.
WHAT WE SHOULD SAY TO OUR SONS
- Talk about drinking: According to Eleanor Laws QC, a barrister who runs consent courses in secondary schools, it’s essential to talk to both boys and girls about their alcohol use when they socialise, as well as the legal implications of not getting explicit consent when they have sex.
Eleanor says: ‘Engaging in any sexual activity with someone when they are incapacitated is obviously illegal. It’s worth noting that if you are drunk but still capable of giving consent, it’s still consent, even if you wake up regretting it the next day.’
It’s always a good idea to get explicit, verbal consent at every stage of sexual relations by asking: ‘Are you OK with this?’
- Talk about masculinity: Discuss the pressures on boys to ‘over-conform’ to masculine stereotypes, advises Dr Angharad Rudkin, co-author of What’s My Teenager Thinking? Practical Child Psychology For Modern Parents. Talk about how this damages them, too, by stopping them expressing their true feelings or making them act in ways they secretly don’t like.
- Tell your child it’s natural to be curious about sex but hardcore porn is not a positive source of sex education. Direct them to healthier, more realistic guidance.
- Explain that no one should keep quiet if they hear a sexist comment. Suggest a toolbox of simple phrases like: “That’s not OK’, or, ‘That’s not funny’.
‘It’s as if they think every girl should agree because that’s what they have seen in videos.
‘There can be a pack mentality, so even if you see other boys being mean to a girl, few of us know how to stand up and say: “Hold on, that’s out of order.” So it keeps going.’
Add alcohol into this mix and you have a lethal cocktail which leaves girls vulnerable to unwanted advances.
One of the most shocking findings in our survey revealed that 40 per cent of the girls who’d had sex have had a sex act performed on them when they were drunk or unconscious.
Aaron*, 16, who attends a highly rated private school in North London says: ‘At parties, there’s this sort of joke that if you find someone completely out of it, then that’s your chance.
‘It’s all about the fantasy that you start having sex with a girl and that she wakes up and she wants to continue.’
This disturbing behaviour echoes a huge number of videos showing women sleeping, drugged or passed out being assaulted by men.
It’s only now that youth worker George* is older that he realises just how warped his attitudes were towards girls when he was a teenager because of his early exposure to hardcore porn.
The 25-year-old from St Albans, Herts, says: ‘After I lost my virginity at 16, I compared the girls I had sex with to the girls I saw in porn. Afterwards, I’d joke about how they looked during sex with my mates if I thought they didn’t look as good.
‘I didn’t have sex to feel close to a girl. I had sex to live out what I’d seen online.
‘We’d also get girls to send pics of themselves and share it in group chats. We egged each other on because we all grew up watching the same stuff. It groomed us all to treat girls that way.’
With dynamics like this, it’s no wonder that boys show much higher levels of sexual satisfaction than girls.
According to our survey, seven out of ten boys who have had sex say the first time they had oral sex was a positive experience compared to 55 per cent of girls. Sadly, 17 per cent of girls described it as a negative experience with a telling 42 per cent of the girls who’d had oral sex admitting they have felt pressured into it.
The first time boys had vaginal sex was also a positive experience for 73 per cent of males, compared to 57 per cent of girls. This week, the Everyone’s Invited website has set up a challenge, compiled with law expert Dr Rachel Fenton, to remind young people to call out derogatory comments, like ‘slag’ or ‘slut’.
But does our education system need to do more?
Jessica Ringrose, professor of sociology and gender at UCL Institute of Education, said when sexist and abusive behaviour goes unchallenged it becomes normalised (file image)
Almost a third of the girls we interviewed in our survey felt schools were not on their side, and Jessica Ringrose, professor of sociology and gender at UCL Institute of Education, points out that when sexist and abusive behaviour goes unchallenged it becomes normalised.
‘There’s a lot of victim-blaming in schools around girls — for example teachers telling them their skirts are too short which makes them afraid to report harassment when it happens,’ says Professor Ringrose.
‘This sends the message to girls that boys’ lives are more important than girls’ safety and wellbeing.
‘It’s got to the point where I see that girls completely accept unsolicited d*** pics (sexting images showing men’s genitalia) as normal. They don’t even have a framework to understand it is abusive.
‘This is why young people are turning to writing anonymous posts on the Everyone’s Invited website because they feel no one is listening to them and their schools aren’t taking them seriously.’
Ringrose believes it is vital that we act now and give young people the tools to manage their way through this with whole school policies around sexual harassment and more effective, intelligent relationship and sex education.
So it is crucial to listen to what boys have to say and instead of judging them, understand that they are the unwitting targets of a multi-million-pound porn industry that aims to draw young men like Jack in.
By the time many boys have sex for the first time — which our survey suggests is most commonly between the ages of 16 and 17 — they will, on average, have seen hundreds of hours of porn, so can we really blame them for believing that this is the ‘new normal’?
The time has come to tell them otherwise. As our survey has shown, the gap between boys’ and girls’ experiences of sex needs to be bridged urgently if young people are ever to enjoy the mutually respectful relationships they deserve.
- *Some names have been changed.
- For free comprehensive courses for parents and schools on how to talk to children and young people about porn and help them stand up to its effects, go to CultureReframed. See culturereframed.org. Professor Ringrose and colleagues developed a comprehensive online sexual harassment policy for schools during lockdown 2020 which can be found here: