Porn: The Facts for Youth

The Facts

A lot of young people watch porn to get ideas about sex and think it will make them better lovers. However, research show us that using porn can have the opposite effect!

“I thought the stuff on Pornhub was real and so do my mates. It’s important we know it’s not.”
—NZ male, 16 yrs, TLP 2020 Youth Survey.

35%

of porn scenes showed coercion (45)

IS PORN THE NEW NORMAL?

Porn isn’t new. What is new is how much is out there – a lot. One of the world’s biggest porn sites has 130 million visitors daily, with 42 billion visits in 2019 alone. Last year, over 6.8 million porn videos were uploaded worldwide (20). The content has also changed, with research suggesting sexual violence is normalised in mainstream porn (48).

75%

of NZ 14-17 year olds have seen porn (41)

WHO’S WATCHING?

Anyone that wants! Anyone can access porn – and a recent New Zealand study indicated 75% of boys and 58% of girls aged 14-17 yrs had viewed porn. 1/4 of these young people had seen porn by age 12 or under (41). So there’s tonnes of porn out there and tonnes of young people are watching it.

73%

of NZ young people that watch porn, say they use it as a learning tool (41)

PORN – A LOUSY SEX-ED TEACHER

Porn is a now a main form of sex education for young people, and they use porn to get ideas about sex (7)But porn gives confusing messages about sex and can normalise aggression, pressuring people into sex, sexism and racism. It also doesn’t usually include the important parts of great sex: consent, emotional connection, pleasure, safety or respect. One study showed verbal consent was shown in only 10% porn videos (10) and most porn focuses on male pleasure, with another study showing only one in five porn scenes show a woman climaxing (21).

70%

of young people believed porn encouraged them to see women as “sex objects” (41)

PORN AND WOMEN/GIRLS: SHAPING ATTITUDES

Porn can shape our attitudes towards women and girls – but not for good. Watching porn can increase a teenager’s likelihood to view women and girls as sex objects and in one study, 70% of young people believed porn made them view women as sex objects (16). Another study showed that 94% of aggression in porn is directed at women – but 95% of the time, women act like they like it (because they’re paid to!). This is confusing and can suggest that women and girls enjoy being insulted or hurt during sex (2).

89%

of NZ young people, believe porn influences them (41)

PORN AND BEHAVIOUR – WHAT WE SEE, WE DO

Watching porn can shape our expectations and our behaviour. One study showed that 42% of boys who watched porn wanted to copy what they saw in porn and 44% of them said porn had given them ideas about the types of sex they wanted to try out (14). In another study, 82% of the young people agreed porn leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex and unrealistic sexual expectations (16). Young people who are big porn users are also more likely to start having sex earlier, have riskier sex and be less concerned about consent (11, 22, 26). They can also end up more coercive (pressuring people into sex) and more sexually aggressive with their partner than other young people (10, 11).

Even when we think porn doesn’t affect us, the research suggests it probably does.

14%

of young males in one study were experiencing erectile dysfunction (9)

PORN AND SEX LIVES – RUINING THE REAL DEAL

A lot of young people watch porn to get ideas about sex and think it will make them better lovers. However, research shows us that using porn may have the opposite effect! For example, some high porn users find it difficult to stay aroused during sex without porn and can struggle to shift from porn to sex with their real-life partners (19). Others might have unrealistic sexual expectations of their partners based on what they’ve seen in porn, and then pressure their partners into performing sexual acts that their partner doesn’t enjoy.

One study reported that 14% of young people were experiencing erectile dysfunction (difficulty maintaining an erection) with moderate (less than once a week) porn use, which rose to 25% with weekly or more usage (9). Another study showed that 10% of 18-year-olds had less interest in sex with real-life partners as a result of porn use (19). So you’re probably getting the point – porn may not be that good for your sex life.

56-68%

of youth in one study believed porn leads to pressure on girls/boys to look a certain way (16)

PORN AND MENTAL HEALTH - OUR MINDS MATTER

Watching lots of porn use has been associated with poor mental health outcomes in some young people including depressive symptoms, loneliness and feeling less connected to family (10, 15). Some young people also experience negative body-image watching porn as they feel physically inferior and/or that they can’t measure up in performance to porn stars.

53%

of youth in one study ‘think about sex all the time’ (19)

IS PORN ADDICTIVE?

More research is needed on this, but we know that when we watch porn, a chemical called dopamine is released in our brain, which makes us feel good. We naturally want to keep going back to porn to get this feeling and start to crave more of it. Once we’ve started, it can be difficult to stop!

Some young people use porn to help with stress and to manage negative emotions, and can create habits around their usage that are hard to break.

We don’t tend use the term ‘addiction’, but some young people who watch a lot of porn describe an inability to stop, even when their porn use is impacting their schoolwork, friendships, social life, or partner. In a recent Swedish study with young people, one-third of frequent porn users admitted they watch porn ‘more than they want to’ and 53% of them ‘think about sex almost all the time’ (19).

Some young people also find their preference for the type of porn changes with the more they watch – and they need increasingly violent porn in order to get aroused.

Get some help here

PORN AND WOMEN/GIRLS: SHAPING ATTITUDES

Porn can shape our attitudes towards women and girls – but not for good. Watching porn can increase a teenager’s likelihood to view women and girls as sex objects and in one study, 70% of young people believed porn made them view women as sex objects(16). Another study showed that 94% of aggression in porn is directed at women – but 95% of the time, women act like they like it (because they’re paid to!). This is confusing and can suggest that women and girls enjoy being insulted or hurt during sex(2).

IS PORN THE NEW NORMAL?

Porn isn’t new. What is new is how much is out there – a lot. One of the world’s biggest porn sites has 115 million visitors daily, with 42 billion visits in 2019 alone. Last year, over 6.8 million porn videos were uploaded worldwide (20). The content has also changed, with research suggesting  many porn videos include aggressive and coercive themes.

WHO’S WATCHING?

We now know that children as young as 8 are being exposed to porn, often finding it by accident (14, 16, 25). A NZ study showed that 75% of NZ 14-17 year olds have seen porn (41). Some teenagers have said that it’s harder to stay away from porn than it is to find it.

PORN – A LOUSY SEX-ED TEACHER

Porn is a now a main form of sex education for young people, and they often watch porn to get ideas about sex(7). But porn gives confusing messages about sex and can normalise aggression, pressuring people into sex , sexism and racism. It also doesn’t usually include the important parts of great sex: consent, emotional connection, pleasure, safety or respect. One study showed verbal consent was shown in just 16% of ‘teen porn’ online(44) and most porn focuses on male pleasure, with another study showing only one in five porn scenes show a woman climaxing(21).

PORN AND BEHAVIOUR – WHAT WE SEE, WE DO

Watching porn can shape our expectations and our behaviour. One study showed that 42% of boys who watched porn wanted to copy what they saw in porn and 44% of them said porn had given them ideas about the types of sex they wanted to try out(14). In another study, 82% of the young people agreed porn leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex and unrealistic sexual expectations(16). Young people who are big porn users are also more likely to start having sex earlier, have riskier sex and be less concerned about consent(11,22,26). They can also end up more coercive (pressuring people into sex) and more sexually aggressive with their partner than other young people(10, 11). Even when we think porn doesn’t affect us, the research suggests it probably does.

PORN AND SEX LIVES – RUINING THE REAL DEAL

A lot of young people watch porn to get ideas about sex and think it will make them better lovers. However, research show us that using porn can have the opposite effect! For example, some high porn users find it difficult to stay aroused during sex without porn and can struggle to shift from porn to sex with their real-life partners(19). Others might have unrealistic sexual expectations of their partners based on what they’ve seen in porn, and then pressure their partners into performing sexual acts that their partner doesn’t enjoy. One study reported that 14% of young guys were experiencing sexual difficulties (such as erectile dysfunction) with moderate (less than once a week) porn use, which rose to 25% with weekly or more usage(9). Another study showed that 10% of 18-year-olds had less interest in sex with real-life partners as a result of porn use(19). So you’re probably getting the point – porn may not be that good for your sex life. You don’t even have to watch a lot of porn to notice an effect – a recent study showed that young adults who consumed porn monthly reported decreased sexual satisfaction(40).

PORN AND MENTAL HEALTH – OUR MINDS MATTER

Watching lots of porn use has been associated with poor mental health outcomes in some young people including depressive symptoms, loneliness and feeling less connected to family(10, 15). Some young people also experience negative body-image watching porn as they feel physically inferior and/or that they can’t measure up in performance to porn actors.

IS PORN ADDICTIVE?

More research is needed on this, but we know that when we watch porn, a chemical called dopamine is released in our brain, which makes us feel good. We naturally want to keep going back to porn to get this feeling and start to crave more of it. Once we’ve started, it can be difficult to stop! Some young people who watch a lot of porn describe an inability to stop, even when their porn use is impacting their schoolwork, friendships, social life, or partner. In a recent NZ study with young people, 42% admitted ‘they would like to watch less porn but find it hard not to’ (41). 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 – if you want to know more about this, check out Fight the New Drug

SO PORN’S EVERYWHERE – WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT??

A great start is to simply start talking with your mates and/or some adults you trust and start asking questions. At the end of the day, we all want great sex, so we need to start asking things like …is porn a legit educator? What’s porn telling us about sex? Are porn companies really interested in young people having healthy sex lives? And how is watching porn changing how we think and behave?

WANT TO SAY ‘NO’ TO PORN?

“I was 8 or 9yrs when I first looked for porn. I hadn’t known anything about sex before watching porn….I understand now that watching so much porn led me to have an unhealthy relationship with sex.” Male, age 15 yrs (38)

If any of the above is triggering for you, or you think you need help, there’s some good tools at I NEED HELP. Or If you’d like to read more, check out our RESOURCES.