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Pervasive problem

There's a common cliche of the coming-of-age child. Coming-of-age often conjures images of young lads huddled around a Playboy magazine, hoping their parents don't find out – but in reality, those days are long gone.

As technology developed, so did pornography. The advent of the Internet meant sexually charged images were at everyone's fingertips, and that problem has only increased over the years. At the click of a button, kids can view things no child should actually see. Now, the coming-of-age child is exposed not just to pictures but to videos of sexual encounters, some violent, some degrading, most, if not all, unrealistic.

It's harmful, it's pervasive and it's a problem that isn't going away.

The pornography industry paints a fiction as reality, setting false expectations for what bodies look like and how sexual intercourse works, according to St. Albert-raised burlesque dancer Layla Le Lay. Le Lay will be speaking at a panel discussion in Edmonton this Sunday about a docuseries, Brain Heart World, which delves into the world of porn and how it hurts people.

"A big thing that I bring in is the analogy that porn is fiction and it is designed to be fiction but it is not presented as fiction. It is tailored sex, which is not reality," Le Lay told the Gazette in a recent interview.

The documentary was produced by U.S.-based Fight the New Drug, whose vast number of cited sources are compelling. The organization references a review of 50 peer-reviewed sources linking pornography use to sexual violence, as well as research showing 88 per cent of pornographic scenes depict verbal or physical aggression toward women – nearly all of which the woman is depicted as liking.

Not everyone believes pornography is harmful, but the body of evidence points toward an escalating impact on the human brain as well as on human society. The younger a child is exposed to it, the more harmful it can be. Objectifying women or men often makes it easier to dehumanize them, and thus abuse them.

Our society has a porn problem and it's not difficult to find the link between pornography and horrific criminal activity – most specifically, child exploitation and sex trafficking. Sunday's panel discussion comes on the heels of a campaign launched at the Edmonton International Airport with Paul Brandt this past week to fight human trafficking. The initiative, #NotInMyCity, calls human trafficking one of the fastest growing crimes in Canada, with more than a quarter of victims being underage and more than half being Indigenous. Sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation are two major factors in this.

In light of this, parents have a hard job ahead of them, and education is key. Healthy and age-appropriate conversations about sexuality are essential to curbing the oversexualization of youth and reducing risk factors for our kids. If we succeed on that front, we could have a real impact in the war against sexual violence.