TSR users have been debating how pornography and sexualisation affects young people in our Relationships forum.
Join in the conversation here!

Research shows that sexual images have become increasingly common in advertising and mainstream media and that technological developments makes sexual content more visible and accessible. As a by-product of this, children and young people may develop unrealistic ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable in a romantic relationship (Bailey, 2011).
Here is what some of our users had to say on the subject:

Is easier access to pornographic material changing the attitudes of young people?

It will be interesting to see how the pornography addiction literature evolves over the years (due to such easy access now - extremely cheap basic computing, mobile smart phones etc.). [hellodave5]
As for pornography - it's been available to kids forever. [Clip]
Build a time machine, go back forty years. No magazines showing penetration in newsagents, in fact none showing erections or labia. No home video systems, so no badly copied porn on VHS. There are still two years to go before the Inside Linda Lovelace trial effectively decriminalised written porn. [unprinted]

Is the sexualisation of media harmful to society?

We have an incredibly unhealthy prudish attitude towards sex, and we have an incredibly unhealthy attitude towards our own bodies. As a species we are ridiculously suppressed and immature, and after making progress for the last few hundred years, recently people seem to want to drag us back to the dark ages and force people to cover up and be ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of their sexuality. [cole-slaw]
I don't know what kind of effect the sexualisation of media has. I suppose it normalises certain body images and disappoints everyone equally when they can't match it themselves or find a partner who can. [miser]
Personally I think it's quite harmful to culture. It's all the same - a culture based on the objectification of women. Looking at my girlfriend’s magazine with her (Cosmo), there isn't one picture that isn't Photoshopped. [hellodave5]

Does watching porn affect your brain?

There is now a load of evidence that shows porn physically alters people's brains when viewed often, and can also lead to erectile dysfunction when with an actual person. I gave it up completely a while back and it was honestly one of the best decisions I've ever made: I have more energy, am getting morning erections again, have more motivation and drive in life, and enjoy music and life in general much more without porn messing with my dopamine receptors. Women also seem a lot more attractive and I am a lot more confident around them.

Some key points from a German study:

this was the first brain-scan study on porn users. Researchers found several brain changes, and those changes were correlated with the amount of porn was consumed. The subjects were moderate porn users, not classified as addicted. In this study, experts at Germany's Max Planck Institute found:
Higher hours per week/more years of porn viewing correlated with a reduction in grey matter in sections of the reward circuitry (striatum) involved in motivation and decision-making. Reduced grey matter in this reward-related region means fewer nerve connections. Fewer nerve connections here translates into sluggish reward activity, or a numbed pleasure response, often called desensitization. The researchers interpreted this as an indication of the effects of longer-term porn exposure.
Lead author Simone Kühn said - "That could mean that regular consumption of pornography more or less wears out your reward system."

Some key points from a Cambridge study:

Compulsive porn users craved porn (greater wanting), but did not have higher sexual desire (liking) than controls. This finding aligns perfectly with the current model of addiction, and refutes the theory that "higher sexual desire" causes compulsive porn use. Drug addicts are thought to be driven to seek their drug because they want – rather than enjoy – it. This abnormal process is known as incentive motivation. This is a hallmark of addiction disorders.

The other major finding (not reported in the media) was that over 50% of subjects (average age: 25) had difficulty achieving erections with real partners, yet could achieve erections with porn.

Finally, researchers found that younger subjects had enhanced reward circuit activity when exposed to porn cues. Higher dopamine spikes and greater reward sensitivity are major factors in adolescents being more vulnerable to addiction and sexual conditioning. [Anonymous]
In my opinion it's just like the violence in media argument all over again. The people that used it as an excuse were proven to be mentally unstable prior to the crimes or victims of bad parenting. But most kids don't bat an eyelid at violence in the media, they just accept it's there and that it shouldn't be done in real life. But the news blew it out of proportion (yet again) and created a placebo effect. [Andy98]

Let us know what you think, get involved in the debate here!

For other discussions around this topic have a look at:

Should Page 3 be banned?

Is pornography an art form?

Are women objectified?

Do highly sexualized music videos change the way you look at women?