Whenever health problems related to young people’s use of internet pornography appear in the press, the default answer of most journalists is to refer readers to their GPs. What if the GPs don’t know about the potential of porn to impact adversely on mental and physical health? This knowledge gap was a key theme at Scotland’s first Adolescent Health conference in Edinburgh on 17 November 2017. Organised by the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Adolescent Health Group, the conference attracted about 40 healthcare professionals. Most were doctors, though several nurses and at least one psychologist joined in.
Organisers invited Mary Sharpe to speak for an hour instead of the usual 30 -45 minutes to deliver a presentation on the impact of internet pornography on adolescent mental and physical health. The talk drew on the latest research in the field and on material from The Reward Foundation’s new one day RCGP-accredited workshop.
People in the adolescent age group of 10 to 25 years make up 19% of the UK population. Despite a common misconception about how healthy they are, adolescents use doctors just as much as other age groups. They are generally physically more healthy than older people, but typically they take more risks leading to a variety of problems, and indeed have relatively high rates of death mainly from accidents. Significant numbers of younger people have mental health issues too, with numbers increasing year on year. Addiction and mental health problems most commonly start in the adolescent period and can last well into adulthood.
There is also some good news about our adolescents depending on how the figures are interpreted. Drug-related health behaviours among adolescents are improving. Far fewer girls are becoming teen mothers, their conception rates in the UK having halved from 1998 to 2016. Might an increase in boys’ use of pornography that is free but as powerful as drugs on the brain be a contributory factor in both these areas? Compulsive use of internet pornography leaves users less interested in real relationships. The higher levels of sexual stimulation that the internet brings so conveniently via a smartphone may be playing a more significant part in these statistics than hitherto imagined. Drugs are illegal, girlfriends cost money but internet pornography is free and the women are always eager for your attention.
The doctors were surprised to learn of the ways that high levels of internet pornography use can produce symptoms in some patients that mimic other common conditions not least ADHD and depression. The general feeling was that in future these GPs will enquire about pornography use as a possible factor in their conditions when diagnosing patients. If they ask about units of alcohol, why not time spent on screens and porn in particular.
The Reward Foundation announced that they will be running the full-day course on The Impact of Internet Pornography on Mental and Physical Health in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London from January 2018 onwards. Details of these courses will be advertised in the next couple of weeks.
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