Today teenagers are watching more porn than their parents realize. And the porn they’re watching is much more “hardcore” than moms and dads could possibly imagine.

These were the main messages of “What Teenagers are Learning From Online Porn,” a recent New York Times story by Maggie Jones. It quickly became one of the most read and shared articles.

While this may be a surprise to many American parents who perhaps imagine porn as merely a naked centerfold, it wasn’t to scholars like me who immerse ourselves in the world of mainstream porn. We know how widespread violent, degrading and misogynistic pornography has become, as well as the implications for the emotional, physical and mental health of young people.

The question we’re asked most often is: “What can we do about it?”

Sure porn can be a healthy outlet for sexual urges, but the context needs to be understood first and it’s definitely not for younger viewers.

Parents are deeply concerned about the easy access their kids now have to porn via mobile devices.

The statistics paint a dismal picture. A recent U.K. study found that 65 percent of 15- to 16-year-olds had viewed pornography, the vast majority of whom reported seeing it by age 14. This is especially problematic given the findings of another study that found a correlation between early exposure to pornography and an expressed desire to exert power over women.

Yet for all this concern, they know surprisingly little about what mainstream porn looks like, how much their kids are accessing and how it affects them. The Times article, however, cited a 2016 survey that suggested most parents are totally unaware of their kids’ porn experiences. Jones called this the “parental naivete gap.”

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Ask parents to describe what they think of when they hear the word “porn.” They invariably describe a naked young woman with a coy smile, the kind of image they might remember from Playboy centerfolds.

However, porn is very different today…

They are shocked when they learn that the images from today’s busiest free porn sites, like Pornhub, depict acts such as women being gagged with a penis or multiple men penetrating every orifice of a woman and then ejaculating on her face. When we tell parents this, the change in the atmosphere of the room is palpable. There is often a collective gasp.

It bears repeating that these are the most visited porn sites – which get more visitors every month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined. Pornhub alone received 21.2 billion visits in 2015. We are not talking about images on the fringe.

Ana Bridges, a psychologist at the University of Arkansas, and her team found that 88 percent of scenes from 50 of the top-rented porn movies contained physical aggression against the female performers – such as spanking, slapping and gagging – while 48 percent included verbal abuse – like calling women names such as “bitch” or “slut.”

Bad for your health and can be addictive if parents aren’t careful

More than 40 years of research from different disciplines has demonstrated that viewing pornography – regardless of age – is associated with harmful outcomes. And studies show that the younger the age of exposure, the more significant the impact in terms of shaping boys’ sexual templates, behaviors and attitudes.

2011 study of U.S. college men found that 83 percent reported seeing mainstream pornography in the past 12 months and that those who did were more likely to say they would commit rape or sexual assault (if they knew they wouldn’t be caught) than men who said they had not seen porn.

Another study of young teens found that early porn exposure was correlated with perpetration of sexual harassment two years later.

One of the most cited analyses of 22 studies concluded that pornography consumption is associated with an increased likelihood of committing acts of verbal or physical sexual aggression. And a study of college-aged women found that young women whose male partners used porn experienced lower self-esteem, diminished relationship quality and lower sexual satisfaction.

It begins with parents

But in reality, they often have no idea what to say, how to say it, or how to deal with a kid who would rather be anywhere else in the world than sitting across from their parents talking about porn. At the same time, research shows that parents are the first line of prevention in dealing with any major social problem that affects their kids.

So what can be done?

Most current efforts focus on teens themselves and educating them about sex and the perils of porn. Although it is crucial to have high-quality programs for teens who have already been exposed, the fact is that this is cleaning up after the fact rather than preventing the mess in the first place.

For example, boys learn from music videos, violent video games, mainstream media and porn that “real men” are aggressive and lack empathy, that sex equals conquest, and that to avoid being bullied, they have to wear the mask of masculinity. Girls, on the other hand, learn that they have to look “hot” to be visible, be as passive as a cartoon princess and internalize the male gaze, leading them to self-objectify at an early age.

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Akhil was raised by movies, television, and the internet. A never-ending source of absolutely useless information. He would tell you more, but he was distracted by something shiny

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