Teen Porn 101

If they're taking their laptops and cell phones to bed with them, it's probably not to do homework.

Ethan Burnett spent a lot of time alone in his bedroom, and that was before he hit puberty.

Being alone for Ethan was okay, because in his room, he was comfortable. At his desk and his chair in the corner of his room, in front of his computer, he was comfortable. That wasn't the case when Ethan was at school or at church surrounded by other boys and girls his age.

Ethan (names of the teens in this story have been changed) was a gamer, and even at 12, he spent much of his idle time on the Internet. The first time he stumbled across pictures of people having sex, it fit. Like his games, the stream of Internet pornography did not stop, and even though looking at porn and masturbating felt wrong to Ethan, alone in his room, there was no one to stop him.

Illana Kohn
Illana Kohn

The technology got better as Ethan got older, and the millions of pictures became millions of videos; Ethan couldn't open all the doors if he tried. If he hadn't been so young, his parents might have thought that Ethan was shooting heroin. The dark rings around his sagging eyes in the mornings revealed little sleep from the night before.

But Ethan's parents, who live north of Houston, didn't flinch. They thought he was fine until a weekend-long binge of Internet gaming and masturbating while looking at porn made him sick with dehydration.

Ethan is part of the first generation of teenagers who are computer literate and have had fast, unlimited access to the Internet basically since birth. In fact, the rise of MySpace and Facebook has turned online communicating into the preferred method.

Advances in cell phone technology have allowed teens to get on the Internet in the back of their parents' cars, in restaurants and classrooms. These kids are well versed in texting, sending pictures, video chatting and whatever else pops up long before they can do a lick of algebra.

And like Ethan, they're getting hooked on porn.

"If a child has a computer or takes a cell phone to bed at night, I can guarantee that they're using it for some sexual purpose," says Steve Schultz, a director at the Oxbow Academy, a private residential treatment facility and one of the only programs in the country for young boys with pornography addiction. Oxbow also gets plenty of calls about girls who are addicted, but chooses not to treat them. Schultz doesn't know of any facility that does.

Dr. Robert McLaughlin, who treats teens at ADAPT Counseling, a private facility in Houston, adds, "In many cases, the kids are poorly supervised and the parents have a mistaken belief about what their kids are up to and are quite naive about what their children are really doing with their time."

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association and viewed as the bible among shrinks, doesn't recognize pornography addiction as an official disorder, although scientists in recent years have become more vocal about the notion. A researcher from the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, testified to members of the U.S. Senate in 2004.

"Even non-sex addicts will show brain reactions on PET scans while viewing pornography similar to cocaine addicts looking at images of people doing cocaine," Dr. Mary Anne Layden told senators. "This material is potent, addictive and permanently implanted in the brain."

The federal government has never formally funded a study into the sexual behaviors of adolescents, but the little research that is being done has produced staggering statistics.

The average kid sees his first pornographic image at age 11, and according to researchers at the University of New Hampshire, about 90 percent of children between the ages of eight and 16 have looked at porn. In fact, the largest group of Internet pornography consumers consists of teens between the ages of 12 and 17.

The New Hampshire researchers also found that most kids who watch porn on the computer weren't searching for it the first time they found it. If a sixth grader, for example, was doing a research paper on Abraham Lincoln and errantly Googled "Abe Lincon," one of the first things that would pop up is this definition: "This happens when a man shoots his cum on the girl's face, letting it run down her chin."

Armed with that information, a child could find all the porn he'd ever need, and it's not airbrushed pictures in Playboy kids are seeing.

"There's been lots of tits and ass out there since 3000 B.C., so if you're trying to make money off just another booby site, then you've got to be smarter," says Ray Morris, whose company in College Station handles Internet security for huge sites like Girls Gone Wild and Twistys. Morris has also worked in just about every technical area of the Internet porn industry, starting his first site in Austin in 1997. Early in his career, Morris flew to Dallas for a weekend to set up the first live video "adult chat" with sound.

"Maybe it's Asian midgets," Morris says. "If you have the best Asian midget site on the Internet, then everybody who wants that is going to buy from you. That's the content that is successful."

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