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Is Online Porn Leaving Kids Too Sex-Savvy?

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This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

A college student at Duke University clearly remembers how he crept into his parents' bedroom as a boy to find a cache of pornographic magazines that his parents had hidden away.

"My little friend was over at my house, and my parents were gone, and we decided we were going to look for pornography," the male student, who chose to remain anonymous, told 2020's Lynn Sherr in 1993. His friend suggested that the porn could be hidden in the same place his parents hid his birthday presents - his mom's closet.

"And so we went in there, and there was this big box up on the shelf. And we opened it up and there were like tens and tens and tens of Playboys and Penthouses and things and, you know, it's just like porn bonanza," he said.

A decade later, young boys don't have to sneak around looking for porn. The hard-core images known as "adult entertainment" are everywhere. Go online and you'll easily find it on the Web, or in your e-mail in-box, regardless of your age or gender. Porn finds you at home, at work, even at the library - usually through uninvited spam.

But experts are concerned that boys who access pornography early on are spoiling their future sex lives. Exposure to porn can make young men less inhibited sexually, because they've seen it all, said Laura Berman, a sex therapist and the director of the Berman Center in Chicago.

"But it can also make them more inhibited, because they've never been involved with a real, live person, who has needs and feelings, and limits," said Laura Berman. "An Internet woman never says no, so she's easier to deal with than a real woman."

Porno Pop-Ups at Age 10

The sexual images on the Internet have a definite impact on young boys, who are now getting pornography pop-ups on their screen, Berman said.

"You become de-sensitized," Laura Berman said. "After looking at hours of Internet porn, sex is no longer exciting, or titillating. For these young men, who grow up watching these images and seeing them as ideal, they are disappointed by real women and real experiences."

It impacts the image of their own sexual selves and how they feel about themselves and their partners later on.

"It becomes their sex ed," Laura Berman said. "It is very rarely what they find in their real relationships."

Demystifying Sex for Girls

The availability of online porn has demystified sex for young women, making it more accessible, said Dr. Jennifer Berman, a urologist and co-director of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at UCLA. She says while porn can actually spice things up for some couples, the images and expectations can be detrimental for younger, impressionable people.

"It can create unrealistic expectations about what she should look like, what she should do, what she should expect - both for her, and for her partner," Jennifer Berman said.

Parents should monitor what their children do on the Internet.

"The porn is there, and if you don't want them to see it, find out about the parental controls available to you and use them," Laura Berman said. If children do see porn, use it as an opportunity to start a healthy dialogue about sex.

"Arm them with real information," she said. "Tell them that real women don't look like that, and may not like what they are doing in the pictures. This is a real opportunity to discuss sex with your child, and you have to use it to educate you child."

What About Adults?

Greater access to pornography may be influencing relationships - both sexually and emotionally - for adults, too. A recent study from the University of Florida revealed that among 86 married people who went to Yahoo's "Married and Flirting" or Microsoft's "Married But Flirting," chat rooms, more than 83 percent didn't see their electronic trysts as cheating.

One of the young men who spoke to 2020 said the exposure to porn early impacted his life greatly later on.

"I feel like I spent the first, like, four or five relationships, serious relationships of my life, working through the difference between what I took as gospel truth - you know, Penthouse Forum was it - and working out what real relationships were like," the student told 2020. "And when the emotional stuff came around and when I started falling in love, I fled. The information that I had at that point didn't leave room for the types of feelings that I was having."

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