One in 10 children have watched pornography by the time they are nine years old, according to “disturbing” new research by the children’s commissioner for England.

The report found a quarter of pupils in their final year of primary school have already been exposed. It also showed much of the material being consumed by children and young people features violence.

Four out of five (79%) of those surveyed have seen pornography involving violence by the age of 18, while one in three young people have actively sought out depictions of sexual violence such as physical aggression, coercion and degradation.

The report, by Dame Rachel de Souza, also points to the harmful effects of exposure to violent pornography. Nearly half of the 16- to 21-year-olds who took part in the survey assumed girls either “expect” or “enjoy” sex which involves physical aggression, such as airway restriction.

De Souza said she was “deeply concerned” by the findings, particularly the normalisation of sexual violence online and the role it plays in shaping children’s understanding of sex and relationships.

“Throughout my career as school-leader I have witnessed the harmful impact of pornography on young people. I will never forget the girl who told me about her first kiss with her boyfriend, aged 12, who strangled her. He had seen it in pornography and thought it normal,” she wrote in the foreword to her report.

She added: “We urgently need to do more to protect children from the harms of online pornography. It should not be the case that young children are stumbling across violent and misogynistic pornography on social media sites. I truly believe we will look back in 20 years and be horrified by the content to which children were being exposed.”

The commissioner said it was “crucial” not to miss the opportunity offered by the online safety bill, which had its second reading in the Lords on Monday, calling for it to pass through parliament as an urgent priority. “Now is a vital moment to ensure that we understand the impact of pornography on children’s lives, and to legislate for a commensurate response,” she added.

The commissioner’s research, which is based on a nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 young people aged 16 to 21, plus focus groups with teenagers, comes at a time of growing concern about the influence of misogynists such as Andrew Tate on young boys and men, and the role of violent pornography in the abuse of women by the former Metropolitan police officer David Carrick.

Among other findings in the report, 38% of 16- to 21-year-olds said they had accidentally encountered pornography online, while 58% of boys and 42% of girls said they sought out online pornography themselves.

One in five boys watched it at least every day in the two weeks prior to the survey, compared with 7% of girls, and more than half (56%) of frequent consumers actively sought out violent sex acts, compared with 25% of infrequent viewers.

The report also found Twitter is the platform where the highest percentage of children and young people (41%) reported having seen sexual content, followed by dedicated sites (37%) and Instagram (33%). And about half (51%) of girls aged 16-21 have been sent or shown explicit content involving someone they know in real life, compared with 33% of boys.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: “This report makes for disturbing reading. Anything which normalises sexualised behaviours in children can be exploited by online predators, who are only too ready to trick children into performing sexually on camera.”

Richard Collard, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC children’s charity, added: “These findings show we cannot underestimate the sheer number of children of all ages that are being exposed to online pornography on a daily basis.

“The negative and long-lasting impact this can have on children and their views on sex and healthy relationships is deeply worrying and it is essential that the government implements strong measures in the online safety bill to protect them from seeing this type of content.”

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