The number of teenagers seeking sex therapy on the NHS has more than trebled in two years, according to official figures.
Experts blamed the jump on the increasing prevalence of pornography on teenager’s smartphones and social media, with one saying that youngsters expect sex to be “perfect every time”.
In total, 4,600 children and young people aged 19 or under needed psychosexual therapy in 2017-18 and 2018-19. During the previous two-year period, there were 1,400 referrals. Overall, teenagers make up 1 in 10 patients receiving sex counselling, compared with 1 in 30 two years ago, NHS Digital said.
Muriel O’Driscoll, a counsellor and psychosexual therapist who has treated teenagers, said: “With the young ones, sometimes, despite the availability of sex education, they often don’t know what they’re doing or expect sex to be perfect every time.
“They don’t know what they’re doing because they’re basing their potential experience on pornographic films or videos on Facebook and all the other media. They expect people to be able to have orgasms at a blink.”
O’Driscoll, who has worked for the NHS and Brook Advisory Centres and now practises privately in Merseyside, also said that boys and girls were sometimes concerned that their genitals did not look like or measure up to those they had seen online.
Children are stumbling on pornography online from as young as seven, a report found last month. The survey, from the British Board of Film Classification, suggested that three-quarters of parents felt their child would not have seen porn online, but more than half had done so.
Mary Sharpe, chief executive of the relationships charity The Reward Foundation, said: “The overuse of technology is creating teenagers who are anxious, depressed and with psychosexual problems. Since the advent of high-speed broadband in 2006, the prevalence of mental health problems has soared among young people. Are they linked?
“The internet and porn industries are doing their damnedest to deny it, but we think they are connected because symptoms so often clear up once people go through a digital detox that lets their brains resensitise to everyday pleasures.”
Claire Murdoch, the national mental health director at NHS England, said: “What is becoming abundantly clear is the need for other parts of society to start taking responsibility for their actions, exercise a proper duty of care and stamp out damaging online behaviour — so the NHS is not left to pick up the pieces.”