When David Nath, one of the executive producers of Channel 4’s Generation Porn, was a schoolboy in the early Seventies, he and 30 friends shared one porn magazine between them. Nowadays, things are different. The moment that a 12-year-old becomes curious about sex, he says, “you’re not waiting for your turn on that magazine to come round in a month’s time”.

Indeed, it has never been easier – for better or worse – to access vast swathes of porn than it is in 2019. That’s what the new four-part documentary series, which kicks off tonight, makes abundantly clear. “Since this programme started,” it says just 90 seconds in, “85,000 people have gone onto Pornhub.”

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Young, internet-savvy teenagers are the main focus of Generation Porn. Peter Beard, another executive producer, explains that the show came to fruition when he and Nath came to a realisation: “If you entered adolescence after about 2006, free internet porn will have been a part of your life and will have had an effect.” Neither of them had any idea that Twitter had become one of the biggest free porn platforms on the internet. But when they interviewed a class of college students, every single one of them knew that full well. “What we thought would be interesting was to see what the gulf in knowledge between parent and child might be. We suspected it would be quite high.” 

They put that suspicion to the test. In episode one, footage of young porn actors, porn directors and internet porn entrepreneurs (including the founder of YouPorn, who has recruited his son into the family business) is interspersed with interviews with parents and children sitting uncomfortably in their living room talking about porn. One middle-aged woman, accompanied by her 17-year-old son, is given a laptop and asked to do a basic porn search. She’s shocked when she lands on what she considers to be rather extreme footage. Her son is unfazed. “That’s what I would deem the normal,” he shrugs. 

“We don’t talk about sex very well in this country,” says Beard. “In school, we only seem to talk about it in terms of reproduction and puberty, and where that vacuum is in the education and discussion around sex, online porn has exploded and dropped into the middle of that vacuum. I think that’s interesting, and possibly a little bit worrying, because if what takes the place of good sex education is watching pornography, it makes you wonder what young people might think sex is, or what they think relationships are.”

For 21-year-old Gianna, one of three young porn actors we follow in episode one, porn was how she educated herself. “My whole sex education was me going to a class and them forcing us to sign a card that said we would be abstinent until we got married,” she says. “That was it.” Kendra, her friend and fellow porn actor, agrees. “I feel like I was watching porn at such a young age because I never got real sex education. If I had been educated on sex, I wouldn’t have been having it at 13 years old.” Sex was never talked about, and yet, as the documentary tells us, it was only ever one click away. 

Not that any of the actors regret their choice of career. “Today was not work,” says Kendra. “I turned up, I f****d a guy, I got paid.” Gianna earns around $1,500 (£1,200) for three hours of work. When she was a teenager, she “felt guilty for enjoying sex. That’s why I love porn. I can be myself.” 

Gianna is clearly delighted when she ends up on the cover of Penthouse Magazine. Nath has a theory about that. “The same generation who have grown up with pornography on the internet is also the generation that is under pressure to be noticed and have an identity that makes them stand out amongst their peers,” he says. “This is a career that turns you into somebody rather than nobody. It’s interesting where the gulf is between Love Island and the choice to be in a porn film. I’m not saying they’re the same thing, but there is a similar notion of being noticed as a young person.” 

Neither Nath nor Beard profess to feel any judgement towards those who participate in porn – or indeed watch it. But they are concerned about how easy it is – as demonstrated in episode one by the creator of cult porn series Fake Taxi – for children to access it. “One of the characters who crops up later in the series,” says Beard, “when he started making porn, you literally had to go into an adult bookstore to buy it. So you had to at least look 18, and that was quite an intimidating idea. That’s who he’s still making porn for in his head, but the reality is that the new shop window is the internet, and he has no control over who sees that.” 

So how do we fix that? “Everyone sort of passes the buck about whose responsibility it is,” he says. “Parents would quite like schools to deal with it, schools would quite like parents to talk about it, and they’d all probably prefer it if there was some sort of restriction that would stop producers allowing children to watch it. But then the producers would say, ‘No, it’s the responsibility of parents to make sure that children under 18 aren’t watching’. It’s this constant cycle of who is responsible for having this discussion, with no one ever really coming up with a sensible solution for it… including us.”

Still, in their eyes, just having the conversation is valuable. “It’s a conversation you avoid otherwise,” says Nath of the talking heads sections of Generation Porn, “but if someone comes in with a camera and lights and you’ve agreed to talk about pornography for two hours, then the conversation’s being forced, in a way.” He laughs. “It’s a shame we can’t get round 25 million households in Britain.”

Generation Porn starts tonight at 10pm on Channel 4

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