Today, digital pornography is a hot topic. Very hot.
Beliefs and opinions about porn’s availability, use, and effects abound, but facts are relatively scarce. There are pro-porn factions who think porn is great for sex and relationships; the more the better. At the same time, there are anti-porn factions who think porn is sending us to hell in a handbasket.
Interestingly, both groups want us to believe that porn is taking over the internet and maybe the world.
Unfortunately, neither side of this debate gives sufficient credence to facts when formulating their opinions. Recognizing this, I have culled information about the availability, use of, and effects of pornography from the latest academic and scholarly research, distilling the information into five factually accurate categories. From this, my hope is that people will form their own informed opinions about pornography.
Porn is Ubiquitous
- There are more than 2.5 million porn websites (Ogas & Gaddam, 2012). This number does not account for the countless number of erotic images on social media, dating sites, hookup apps, etc.
- 13% of all internet searches are porn-related (Ogas & Gaddam, 2012).
- Adult male porn users spend an average of three hours per week with porn. Some spend as little as five minutes per week; others spend up to 33 hours per week (Wéry & Billieux, 2016).
Kids Look at Porn, Too
- Current estimates place the average age of first porn use at 11 (Wolak, Mitchell & Finkelhor, 2007).
- One study found that nearly all boys and most girls use porn, though boys tend to look at it earlier and to view it more often (Sabina, Wolak & Finkelhor, 2008).
- In a study of 16-year-old boys, 96% admitted they were porn users, with 10% saying they looked at porn every day (Mattebo, Tyden, Haggstrom-Nordin, Nilsson & Larsson, 2013).
- Porn use among adolescent males and young men is almost universal. When a Canadian researcher tried to study the effects of porn on this population, he couldn’t, because he was unable to locate even one potential study participant who wasn’t already using porn. Unable to compare users to non-users, the researcher scuttled the experiment (Liew, 2009).
Reasons for Porn Use Vary by Person and Circumstance
- Motivations for porn use vary widely, with reasons often overlapping. One study found that 94.4% of porn users went online for sexual satisfaction. Other common reasons were feeling arousal (87.2%), achieving orgasm (86.5%), alleviating stress (73.8%), relieving boredom (70.8%), forgetting daily problems (53%), decreasing loneliness (44.9%), and combatting depression (38.1%) (Wéry & Billieux, 2016).
Porn Can Create Personal Problems
- Not all porn users feel good about their behavior. One study found that 61.7% of adult male porn users felt shame about porn use, 49% sometimes searched for sexual content that did not previously interest them or that they considered disgusting, and 27.6% self-assessed their porn use as problematic (Wéry & Billieux, 2016).
- Heavy porn use among adolescent boys is correlated with higher levels of risky sexual behaviors, relationship problems, truancy, smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use (Mattebo, Tyden, Haggstrom-Nordin, Nilsson & Larsson, 2013).
- People who use porn primarily to manage their emotions are more likely to experience porn-related problems than people who use porn to find sexual satisfaction (Wéry & Billieux, 2016).
Porn Can Undermine Real-World Sex and Relationship
- Increased porn use is correlated with decreased marital satisfaction in both the short-term and long-term. This link is stronger with male porn use than with female porn use (Perry, 2017).
- Porn use almost doubles the likelihood of getting divorced in the next four years, increasing the probability from 6% to 11% (Perry, 2017).
- Compulsive porn users often struggle with sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, and anorgasmia (inability to reach orgasm) (Rosenberg, Carnes & O’Connor, 2014). One study found that 26.7% of compulsive porn users reported issues with sexual dysfunction (Hall, 2012). Another study identified sexual dysfunction in 58% of compulsive porn users (Voon, Mole, Banca, … & Irvine, 2014).
Although digital technology facilitates, encourages, and drives modern-day porn use, tech itself is not a root cause of porn-related issues.
In fact, most people can use porn without problems, just as most people can drink alcohol without problems. Most often, it is individuals who are predisposed to emotional and intimacy-related difficulties thanks to genetics, trauma, and other factors, who experience porn-related problems, just as they might struggle with alcohol, drugs, gambling, and the like. But tech itself is neither the issue nor a root cause of the issue.
Hall, P. (2012). Understanding and treating sex addiction: A comprehensive guide for people who struggle with sex addiction and those who want to help them. Routledge.
Liew, J. (2009). All men watch porn, scientists find. The Telegraph. Retrieved Jan 16, 2015 from telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/
Mattebo, M., Tyden, T., Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Nilsson, K.S., & Larsson M. (2013). Pornography consumption, sexual experiences, lifestyles, and self-rated health among male adolescents in Sweden. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 34(7):460-468.
Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2012). A billion wicked thoughts: What the Internet tells us about sexual relationships, p 8. New York, NY: Plume.
Perry, S. L. (2017). Does viewing pornography reduce marital quality over time? Evidence from longitudinal data. Archives of sexual behavior, 46(2), 549-559.
Rosenberg, K. P., Carnes, P., & O’Connor, S. (2014). Evaluation and treatment of sex addiction. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 40(2), 77-91.
Sabina, C., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2008). The nature and dynamics of Internet pornography exposure for youth. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(6), 691-693.
Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S., … & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PloS one, 9(7), e102419.
Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266.
Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2007). Unwanted and wanted exposure to online pornography in a national sample of youth Internet users. Pediatrics, 119(2), 247-257.