SEIM: Background information

The importance of researching how young people make sense of sexually explicit internet material

Cultural taboos and concerns about how young people may react to sensitive questions means research into how young people experience SEIM is mostly avoided.  As a result, research about the impacts of SEIM relies on information obtained from adult samples or from adult perspectives about what it might mean to young people (Flood, 2009; Owens et al., 2012; Peter & Valkenburg, 2016).    

However, rather than assume what the impacts are for teenagers, there is a clear need to understand how teenagers actually process and navigate SEIM.  Insights can lead to greater understanding about how teenagers manage their exposure to SEIM.

Putting exposure into perspective

Currently it is difficult to know how many young people experience explicit sexual material online but research indicates an increasing trend, with unintentional exposure being the leading reason for exposure. Unintentional exposure to sexually explicit internet material has ranged from 19% among 10 to 12 year olds in the United States (Mitchell et al., 2007) to 84% among 16 to 17 year old Australian boys and 60% of Australian girls (Flood, 2007).

While trying to understand young peoples’ perception of the New Zealand classification system the Office of Film Literature and Classification (OFLC: 2013) found young people had concerns about sexual violence, which led onto New Zealand’s first study of talking directly with 14 to 17 year olds about the impacts of sexual violence (OFLC, 2016).

This pattern of finding pornography as a theme when not directly investigating is increasingly common in research.   Young people have claimed that the material is “always in your face”, “it can’t be avoided”, “it’s crazy … no-one’s looking at it seriously” (Walker, et al, 2015).

Although viewing sexual material is not new to teenagers who experience normal curiosity about sexuality (Albury, 2013), contemporary exposure has raised questions regarding the amount of exposure, the content, and if this reshapes one’s understanding of sexual relationships and potential impacts (Flood, 2009; Bloom & Hagedorn, 2015).


My philosophy is that I will approach this subject with sensitivity and respect, to allow a safe place for people to share any perspective about SEIM.  I believe teenagers have the right to share how they navigate SEIM and while I consider teenagers to be robust I am also aware the topic has potential for discomfort.  In planning this project I have done my best to be mindful of potential discomfort and to be considerate.  I also acknowledge the rights of parents to be informed of participation.


Albury, K.  (2014). Porn and sex eduation, porn as sex education. Porn Studies, 1:1-2, 172-181, DOI: 10.1080/23268743.2013.863654

Bloom, Z.D., and Hagedorn, W.B.  (2015).  Male Adolescents and Contemporary Pornography: Implications for Marriage and Family Counselors.  The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 23(1), 82-89. DOI: 10.1177/10664807145

Braun-Courville, D.K., & Rojas, M. (2009). Exposure to sexually explicit web sites and adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors.  Journal of Adolescent Health, 45, 156-162. Doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2008.12.004

Flood, M. (2009). The harms of pornography exposure among children and young people.  Child Abuse Review, 18, 384-400.

Mitchell, K. J., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2007). Trends in youth reports of sexual solicitations, harassment, and unwanted exposure to pornography on the Internet. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40(2), 116–126. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.05.021

Office of Film and Literature Classification: Te Tari Whakaropu Tukuata, Tuhituhinga.  (2016). Young New Zealanders Viewing Sexual Violence Discussion Group Findings. OFLC. NZ Govt.

Owens, E. W., Behun, R. J., Manning, J.C., & Reid, R.C.  (2012). The impact of internet pornography of adolescents: A review of the research.  Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 19 (1-2), 99-122. DOI:10.1080/10720162.2012.660431

Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P.M.  (2016). Adolescents and pornography: A review of 20 years research.  The Journal of Sex Research, 53(4-5), 509-531. DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2016.11143441 retrieved 24 August 2016.

Walker, S., Temple-Smith, M., Higgs, P., & Sanci, L.  (2015). ‘It’s always just there in your face’: young people’s views on porn. Sexual Health, 12, 200-206.