UNITED KINGDOM—In preparation for a BBC Three documentary airing tonight called Porn: What's the Harm?, the news network conducted a study that polled one thousand people between the ages of 16 and 21 to get their opinion about online porn. The takeaway headline appears to be that, as the BBC itself puts it, "One in four young people say they saw online pornography by the age of 12."
Actually, 1,002 people were surveyed, not a clean thousand, for the survey that was conducted for the BBC by ICM between January 9 and 16.
According to the BBC's take on its own study:
* More than half of those asked thought seeing internet porn affected their expectations of sex.
* The most common response given in the survey, was that young men expect young women to behave like porn stars.
* Other comments included an expectation that young women would behave like "sex objects" while others reported unrealistic ideas of women's bodies.
* One in five of the young women questioned said they had never seen internet pornography, but only 4% of young men said the same.
* More than one-third of young people reported they had first seen online pornography by accident, either through searching for something else, a misleading link, or on social media.
* In addition to gathering tips and techniques, many respondents said they looked at online pornography to fill in gaps left by school sex education.
"The documentary, presented by BBC Radio 1 DJ and blogger Jameela Jamil, also investigates what is being done in schools to teach children and teenagers about sex and pornography," reported the BBC. "Dr. Miranda Horvath and Dr. Madeleine Coy, two of the UK's experts on sex and pornography, were involved in the analysis of the survey."
One element of the survey that is not addressed, however, is the definition of "porn," which could very easily vary widely among the people surveyed. One would think that the first order of business for any pollster when dealing with an issue related to a term whose meaning has become so widespread as to now encompass any activity that includes an element of titillation would be to define the term, especially when the survey is being used in a national conversation related to child safety!
One consequently wonders how the BBC could possibly address in any consequential way the harm porn causes young people when it fails to even define the core term. Could that not explain the discrepancy between how many girls said they had ever seen online porn compared with the percentage of boys who said they had? And because everyone reacts differently to visual cues, and thus needs to be judged individually as far as harm goes, is it not also true that one of the most important variables in assessing the potential harm a piece of intellectual property would cause an individual would be a clear definition of the IP being assessed for inherent harm? In lieu of that, is it not inevitable that the resulting conclusions will actually be generalizations whose value is restricted to the production of important sounding documentaries and alarming headlines?
Methinks the answer is yes.
Photo: Former porn star Gemma Massey, left, and BBC Three documentary host Jameela Jamil.