Porn 101

What do we need to know?

WHAT IS PORNOGRAPHY?

Pornography (porn) is sexually explicit media which is primarily intended to sexually arouse the audience. It includes images of a person or people in the nude engaging in sexual activity or having real sex.

WHY DO WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT PORN?

The dramatic growth of internet technology has radically changed the way young people encounter and consume porn. Historic barriers to porn such as access, cost and privacy have gone, and the majority of young people are now exposed to or engaging with porn, often from a very young age(1). In New Zealand, this can be as young as eight years old(25). Porn is now affordable, anonymous, accessible and mostly acceptable – and research shows that it has become a primary form of sex education for young people (7). Porn is a powerful teacher, so we thought it’s time to start talking about it with our young people and asking some questions. Questions like … what is porn teaching us about sex? Is porn a good sex educator? Can watching porn change how we think and behave?

WHAT IS ONLINE PORN LIKE?

Research on online porn content shows that porn sex is less affectionate (very little kissing or foreplay) and more aggressive(2, 17). A metanalysis looking at the 50 top online porn videos indicated that 88% of online porn is physically aggressive (gagging, spanking, choking, hair pulling etc) and 49% shows verbal aggression towards women(2). 94% of this aggression is received with perceived pleasure, as porn stars are paid to act as if they’re enjoying it. The type of sex in porn is also changing, with anal-to-mouth (ATM) sex in 41% of videos and three or more partners in 28% of the videos(2, 21, 17). Online porn doesn’t often include consent, coercion is present in 10% of the videos and condoms are only used in 3% of the heterosexual sex scenes(23, 2).

How OFTEN DO YOUNG PEOPlE ACCESS PORN?

Heaps. Studies show that between 80-100% of kids will have viewed porn. A recent Australian study indicated 100% of boys and 67% of girls had viewed porn, and of the boys, 85% watched porn weekly or daily(1). Many young people first discover porn by accident, often at a very young age. One study showed that one-third of 10-year olds had accidentally seen hard-core porn online (16).

SO HOW MUCH PORN IS OUT THERE?

A lot. In 1972, at the very height of the Playboy magazine era, 7.2 million copies were distributed a month. By comparison, Pornhub, one of the most well-known porn sites today, has 81 million people visiting it every day. In 2017 alone, it had 28.5 billion visits and over 4 million new porn videos were uploaded. New Zealanders are big porn consumers and young people are our largest category of users on Pornhub(32).

WHAT IS “THE NEW PORN LANDSCAPE”?

This term is used to describe the emergence of a brand-new online porn landscape for young people, which is categorically different from that of pre-internet and pre-smartphone generations. It’s new in terms of: how much is out there; what type of porn is now ‘normal’; how easily it’s accessed and shared via personal devices; and how often young people use it.

HOW ARE YOUNG PEOPLE ACCESSING PORN?

Porn is super easy to access. Most kids watch it on their smart phones or on their own or their friends’ portable devices. A UK study recently showed that lots of kids watch it with friends – a quarter of 14-16 year olds and a third of 16-18 year olds had watched it with their mates(37). Most porn is free and while porn sites supposedly have an age restriction, no verification is needed, and any young person has easy, free and one-click access to extreme and hard-core porn.

How is porn impacting our young people?

We still have a lot to learn about porn in New Zealand. We recently undertook a youth stakeholder survey called Porn and Young People – What do we Know? with 622 New Zealand youth health professionals, school staff, youth workers and whānau.

This indicated that 94% of the stakeholders were concerned that porn is an issue for young people in New Zealand. The reasons for their concern were because of observed changes in young people’s sexual attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that they consider are influenced by the normalisation of porn and high porn usage amongst youth (25). In New Zealand, we don’t have specific local data yet on the impact of porn on youth – however there is a growing body of international research on this, indicating some potential harms. These are dependent on frequency of usage and content type, but here’s what they say:

SEXUAL ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS

Young people are a vulnerable and susceptible audience to porn – and porn has become a primary sex educator for them, shaping their sexual attitudes and beliefs and defining new sexual norms(7, 14). Studies indicate that exposure to porn increases the likelihood that teenagers, regardless of their gender, view women as sex objects and hold negative gender attitudes(5, 15). In one study, 70% of young people believed that porn made them view women as sex objects(16) and in another, 82% agreed porn leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex and unrealistic sexual expectations(16).

REAL LIFE SEX

Frequent porn usage has been shown to be associated with some poor sexual outcomes. Young people that watch a lot of porn are less likely to enjoy intimate behaviours such as cuddling and kissing and can find it more difficult to remain aroused during sex and to shift from porn to real life partners(2, 17, 10). Some may rely on porn to become and remain excited and can develop a preference for porn over real life partners(15). Frequent porn users also have an increased likelihood of developing porn-induced erectile dysfunction (difficulty maintaining an erection), with one study reporting 14% of young people were experiencing erectile dysfunction with moderate (less than once a week) porn use, which rose to 25% with weekly (or more) usage(9). A 2018 study also indicated that young adults that regularly watch porn reported reduced sexual satisfaction – even just with monthly use(40).

MENTAL HEALTH OUTCOMES

Young people’s brains are still developing, and some studies show an association between high porn usage and poor mental health outcomes such as depressive symptoms, less social integration, decreased emotional connection with caregivers and higher levels of delinquent behaviour(3). Porn has also been associated with a negative body image for girls and feelings of physical inferiority for boys, fearing they can’t measure up in both virility and performance(15, 16). 56-68% of youth in one study believed that porn leads to pressure on girls and boys to look a certain way(16).

SEXUAL BEHAVIOURS

A number of studies have shown that watching porn influences young people’s sexual behaviours. There are associations with high porn usage and early sexual experimentation and sexual intercourse, risky sexual behaviours, casual sex, an increased number of sexual partners and higher incidence of hooking up(15, 28, 29). Young people who watch porn are more likely to try sexual acts they watch in porn. For example, one study showed that 42% of the boys who watched porn wished to emulate what they saw in porn and 44% of them reported that porn had given them ideas about the types of sex they wanted to try out(14). Young people who watch porn are also less likely to use condoms, more likely to be sexually coercive and have an increased probability of sending sexual images/messages(28, 26).

SEXUALLY AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOURS

There is a strong association between regular porn consumption and sexually aggressive behaviour including forced sex, inter-partner sexual violence, sexual harassment and the perpetration of sexual coercion and abuse(26). One review looked at 22 studies on the link between porn and aggression and found that people who regularly view porn are four times more likely to be sexually aggressive(11). Of note – Porn is only one risk factor for sexual violence perpetration and increases the risk for some young people more than others.

COMPULSIVE PORN USE

More research is needed on porn usage and ‘addiction’, but we do know that adolescents’ brains may be especially vulnerable to problematic porn use – and studies are indicating that young people are more likely to develop compulsive porn usage(3). Some young people describe an inability to stop watching porn, even when it’s impacting their schoolwork, friendships, social life or partner. In a recent Swedish study, one-third of frequent users admitted they watch porn ‘more than they want to’ and 53% of them ‘think about sex almost all the time’(19). In another study, 10% of the 12 to 13-year-olds feared they were ‘addicted’ to porn(27). Some young people also find their preference for the type of porn changes with the more they watch – and they need increasingly violent and extreme porn in order to get aroused. There are a number of neuroscience-based studies supporting the idea that porn can be addictive. Check them out on Your Brain on Porn or Fight The New Drug.

SO, HOW DO WE HELP YOUNG PEOPLE RESPOND TO THIS NEW PORN LANDSCAPE?

A great start is to encourage and equip young people to develop what we call ‘porn literacy’ skills. These are skills that enable young people to critically examine and identify the negative messages in porn – and how the messaging relates to real life sexuality in terms of consent, respect, emotional connection, safety and health. Through this, young people are equipped with knowledge and tools to make informed and healthy decisions about porn, minimising the potential long-term harm. If you’re worried about a young person check out NEED HELP or if you’d like to learn more, have a look through some of our recommended RESOURCES.

I don’t think porn is helpful…. I think it’s really degrading to both men and women. And I don’t think that it should be there. But it was a resource that I had, so I took it.

— Male, 17 (24)

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