There are several reasons why opinion polls are not always reliable. One is that respondents sometimes lie to pollsters: for example, One Nation’s vote used to be regularly understated in the polls because many people didn’t like to be seen as racists.

If that’s a problem for opinion polls, imagine what it’s like for polls about s-x: a subject on which many people are used to lying as a matter of course.

That’s the essential background to a story from AP, reported worldwide overnight and published in this morning’s Australian, on the exposure of children to internet p-rnography.

According to the study by researchers at the University of New Hampshire, 34% of 10 to 17-year-olds had “had unwanted exposure to online p-rnography”. You have to go a fair way down in the story to get that figure, since presumably it wasn’t considered scary enough: the headline figures are 42% who’ve seen p-rn, and 66% of those who weren’t looking for it. (Multiplying those gives 28%, not 34%; the difference apparently is the kids for whom it was sometimes unwanted, but not always.)

Is that realistic? Well, think about it. You’re a teenager, and someone on the phone asks you if you’ve seen internet p-rn. You might answer “yes” without really giving it much thought. But when they follow up with “and were you looking for it?”, you’re on your guard. So you say, “No, of course not! I was shocked – shocked, I tell you – to discover such things.”

There are lots of unpleasant things on the internet, even for teenagers. You might be looking for information about the Holocaust and get the Adelaide Institute instead. Or you might be doing research on global warming and get the Lavoisier Group by mistake (no, I’m not going to provide links). But realistically, your chance of finding p-rn if you’re not looking for it is pretty slim.

So don’t believe those who tell you that they want internet censorship to protect children from unwanted exposure to p-rnography. What worries them is that it’s there to be found if you’re looking for it, and the kids (like the rest of us) are looking.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey