Almost all young people will have watched porn by the age of fourteen

Updated: 

The majority of children are exposed to pornography by their early teens, leaving many at risk of becoming "desensitised" to its impact, a study has found.

Around 53% of 11 to 16-year-olds have encountered lewd material online, nearly all of whom (94%) have seen it by the age of 14, according to research by Middlesex University.

More than a quarter of that group (28%) had first been confronted with the explicit content when they were only 11 or 12.

Condoms
(Bret Hartman/AP)

Smartphones were a common way for children to access X-rated sites as 33% of those surveyed first saw pornography on a handheld device.

The survey, commissioned by the NSPCC and the Children's Commissioner for England, also discovered it was more likely for youngsters to find material accidentally (28%) than seek it out (19%).

The child protection charity said an entire generation of children was at risk of being "stripped of their childhoods" through exposure to pornography at a young age.

More than three-quarters of children surveyed - 87% of boys and 77% of girls - felt pornography failed to help them understand consent, while half of boys (53%) saw it as a realistic depiction of sex.

Child on a laptop
(Peter Byrne/PA)

Some children's approach to sex was also informed by pornographic scenes, with more than a third (39%) of 13 to 14-year-olds boys saying they wanted to copy the behaviour they had seen.

One of the 13-year-old boys said: "One of my friends has started treating women like he sees on the videos - not major - just a slap here or there."

Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England, said: "In recent years the Government and internet providers have done much to restrict children's access to pornography but there is no room for complacency - parents, teachers, regulators and the digital industry must not let up in efforts to do so.

"They must also do more to help children who do see porn to understand what they have seen. We know from the research that very many children are shocked, confused or disgusted by what they see and it is our duty to help them to question, challenge and make sense of it."

Person using laptop
(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Researchers talked to more than 1,000 children aged 11 to 16 as part of the study, which is the most extensive look at the impact of porn on secondary school pupils in the UK to date.