A groundbreaking study on porn use by 13- and 14-year-old teens shows an alarming number are watching "more times than they can count" and their parents are unaware.
"If you're 13 and you can't put a number on the times (you've used porn), that's a little frightening," University of Alberta researcher Sonya Thompson said, adding 35% of boys fell into that category along with 8% of girls.
"It's a concern in terms of kids' sexual health and role modelling. It seems this is a very big influence on their socialization."
Thompson said she hopes the survey results act as a wakeup call to parents about what their kids are up to.
She also said sexually curious teens who are watching porn are getting the wrong messages about healthy sexuality and don't distinguish between actors getting paid to perform and real-world sexuality.
"Parents need to be talking to their kids about porn in a non-judgmental way and to keep the conversation happening," said Thompson, who is also a sexual health educator.
In spring of 2003, Thompson analyzed responses to an hour-long questionnaire from 429 rural and urban Grade 8 students aged 13 to 14. She asked about their exposure to and use of sexually explicit material on TV, DVDs, movies and the Internet, as well as about their interaction with their parents about such material.
Thompson said she got the idea for the study after she noticed more and more students asking questions about explicit and hardcore sexual activity.
"I knew they had to be getting that from seeing it somewhere, but it's not something anyone talks about - especially in school," she said, adding she would like to see the topic addressed in the sexual health curriculum.
The Internet was the most common way for kids to get access to porn, with about three-quarters of students reporting such contact.
Thompson found almost one-quarter of the boys watched pornographic DVDs or videos "too many times to count" and 35% said the same about Internet smut. The corresponding figures for girls were 4% and 8%.
Thompson also found that boys tend to prefer privacy while viewing porn, but will sometimes invite other boys to watch with them. Girls, on the other hand, more often watch in same-sex pairs or in mixed-gender groups.
A spokesman for Alberta Education said while there is nothing in school curriculums specifically addressing pornography use, high school kids are taught about healthy and unhealthy behaviour in relationships.