Trigger warning: Many readers may find the accounts in this article to be graphic and/or disturbing.
Whether they want to or not, the majority of teens are getting some of their sex education from porn. Researchers have repeatedly found that people who have seen a significant amount of porn are more likely to start having sex sooner and with more partners; and to engage in riskier kinds of sex, putting them at greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.

Imagine what would happen if your school’s health class was taught by a cigarette salesman. Chances are, you wouldn’t hear much about lung cancer or how much shorter the typical smoker’s lifespan is. He might even try to tell you that smoking could boost your sprint time. Sounds ridiculous, right? But that’s the kind of education millions of teens are getting about sex every day.

While porn is often called “adult material,” many of its viewers are well under the legal age. [1] In fact, the majority of teens are getting at least some of their sex ed from porn, whether they mean to or not. [2] And just like cigarette commercials show healthy people puffing away instead of the cancer-causing reality, porn is offering a completely warped idea of what partners, sex, and relationships are really like. [3]

Studies show that people who consume porn are far more likely to believe that things like group sex or dangerous sex acts are more common than their non-porn-consuming peers. [4] Why? Because that’s what they’ve seen in porn. In one study of popular porn videos, the average number of sexual partners in a scene was three, although the number ranged as high as 19. Today’s mainstream porn sites include whole categories of unprotected sex with strangers, brutal gang rape, and other dangerous and violent sex acts.

And porn keeps getting worse.

“A competitive market means that pornographers are trying to outdo each other to come up with the most extreme images,” explains Dr. John Wood, a therapist who works with youth addicted to pornography. “This contest to push the boundaries means that straight intercourse is considered too boring. Images of brutal anal sex and women being humiliated and degraded by two or more men at any one time are the new norms.” [5]

Researchers are finding that porn’s influence can and does find its way into teenager’s sexual behaviors. [6] For example, people who have consumed a significant amount of porn are more likely to start having sex sooner and with more partners, to engage in riskier kinds of sex that put them at greater risk of getting sexually transmitted infections, and to have actually contracted an STI. [7]

Sociologist Dr. Michael Kimmel has found that men’s sexual fantasies have become heavily influenced by porn, [8] which gets awfully tricky when their partners don’t want to act out the degrading or dangerous acts porn shows. [9] As a result, individuals who consume pornography have been shown to be more likely to go to prostitutes, [10] often looking for a chance to live out what they’ve seen in porn. [11] In one survey of former prostitutes, 80% said that customers had shown them images of porn to illustrate what they wanted to do. [12]

But just as harmful as the things porn shows is what it doesn’t show. Pornography doesn’t give an accurate picture of what healthy sex is like; they cut out things like talking, cuddling, bonding touch, and other ways partners are responsive to each other’s needs and preferences. [13] They also cut out the consequences of the kinds of sex portrayed in porn. [14] No one ever contracts sexually transmitted infections in porn. There are no unplanned pregnancies, no cervical cancer, no intestinal parasites, and no skin tearing or bruises.

In porn, no matter how rough a person treats their partner, nearly everything looks like it feels good. [15] In fact, in the study of popular porn videos, in nine scenes out of 10, a woman was being hit, beaten, yelled at, or otherwise harmed, and the result was almost always the same: the victim either responded with pleasure or had no response at all. [16]

Not only does porn offer a warped version of sex education, it also delivers that education in a way perfectly tailored to how our brains learn. [17] (See How Porn Changes the Brain.) Images are especially powerful teachers since they can pack in a whole lot of information that the viewer can understand very quickly. And while words are often interpreted as mere opinions, our brains are more likely to accept images as facts. After all, it’s a lot more difficult to argue with something you’re seeing happen in front of you. [18]

And what messages are young people learning so effectively from porn? A recent study of adolescent porn use concluded that the major messages presented by porn are male domination, hypermasculinity, and making male sexual pleasure the top priority. [19]

What kind of education is that?

“It’s sad,” says Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychology professor who studies the effects of porn. “Boys who are initiated in [to] sex through these images become indoctrinated in a way that can potentially stay with them for the rest of their lives.” [20] And think about it, what messages does that send to young women and girls who are consuming this content as well?

That’s what porn is: indoctrination, the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically. It isn’t just entertainment. It isn’t just titillating. It teaches a detrimental message from a specific worldview. We can limit the advancement of porn’s ideals by spreading the truth, especially to young people. And for those who feel caught up in porn’s web, it’s never too late to stop and even turn back its harmful effects. Click here to find out how.

Citations
[1] Peter, J. & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research. Journal of Sex Research, 53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441; Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908; Sun, C., Bridges, A., Johnason, J., Ezzell, M., (2014). Pornography and the Male Sexual Script: An Analysis of Consumption and Sexual Relations. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 1-12. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0391-2 (Finding that nearly half of college-age men report having been first exposed to Internet porn prior to age 13)
[2] Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908; Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3–20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute; Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 16-17; Prigg, M., & Sims, P. (2004). Truth About Dangers of Net as Half of Children Are Exposed to Porn. The Evening Standard (London), September 3; U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2003). File-Sharing Programs: Peer-to-Peer Networks Provide Ready Access to Child Pornography. Washington, D.C.: GAO, February.
[3] Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3–20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute; Carroll, J. S., Padilla-Walker, L. M., and Nelson, L. J. (2008). Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23(1), 6–30. doi:10.1177/0743558407306348; Layden, M. A. (2004). Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Science and Space, U.S. Senate, Hearing on the Brain Science Behind Pornography Addiction, November 18; Marshall, W. L. (2000). Revisiting the Use of Pornography by Sexual Offenders: Implications for Theory and Practice. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 6(1-2), 67. doi:10.1080/13552600008413310; Mosher, D. L. & MacIan, P. (1994). College Men and Women Respond to X-Rated Videos Intended for Male or Female Audiences: Gender and Sexual Scripts. Journal of Sex Research 31(2), 99–112. doi:10.1080/00224499409551736; Brosius, H. B., et al. (1993). Exploring the Social and Sexual “Reality” of Contemporary Pornography. Journal of Sex Research, 30(2), 161–70. doi:10.1080/00224499309551697
[4] Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., Kleiner, S., & Irizarry, Y. (2010). Pornography, normalization and empowerment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39 (6) 1389-1401. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9592-5; Doring, N. M. (2009). The Internet’s impact on sexuality: A critical review of 15 years of research. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(5), 1089-1101. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2009.04.003; Layden, M. A. (2004). Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Science and Space, U.S. Senate, Hearing on the Brain Science Behind Pornography Addiction, November 18; ; Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27(2), 41–44. doi:10.1016/S1054-139X(00)00137-3
[5] Woods, J. (2012). Jamie Is 13 and Hasn’t Even Kissed a Girl. But He’s Now On the Sex Offender Register after Online Porn Warped His Mind. Daily Mail (U.K.), April 25.
[6] Peter, J. & Valkenburg, P. M., (2016) Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research. Journal of Sex Research, 53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441; Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908
[7] Morgan, E. M. (2011). Associations between Young Adults’ Use of Sexually Explicit Materials and Their Sexual Preferences, Behaviors, and Satisfaction. Journal of Sex Research, 48(6), 520-530. doi:10.1080/00224499.2010.543960; Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Carroll, J. S., Padilla-Walker, L. M., & Nelson, L. J. (2008). Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults. Journal of Adolescent Research 23(1), 6–30. doi:10.1177/0743558407306348; Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Tyden, T., & Hanson, U. (2005). Associations between Pornography Consumption and Sexual Practices among Adolescents in Sweden. International Journal of STD & AIDS, 16(2), 102–7. doi:10.1258/0956462053057512; Wingood, G. M., et al. (2001). Exposure to X-Rated Movies and Adolescents’ Sexual and Contraceptive-Related Attitudes and Behaviors. Pediatrics, 107(5), 1116–19. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11331695
[8] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 27.
[9] Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908; MacKinnon, C. A. (2005). Pornography as Trafficking. Michigan Journal of International Law 26(4), 999–1000. Retrieved from http://repository.law.umich.edu/mjil/vol26/iss4/1; Raymond, J. (2004). Public Hearing on the Impact of the Sex Industry in the EU, Committee on Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities Public Hearing at the European Parliament. New York: Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
[10] Monto, M. A. (1999). Focusing on the Clients of Street Prostitutes: A Creative Approach to Reducing Violence Against Women. Paper submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice.
[11] Malarek, V. (2009). Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It. New York: Arcade, 193–96;MacKinnon, C. A. (2005). Pornography as Trafficking. Michigan Journal of International Law 26(4), 999–1000. Retrieved from http://repository.law.umich.edu/mjil/vol26/iss4/1; Raymond, J. (2004). Public Hearing on the Impact of the Sex Industry in the EU, Committee on Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities Public Hearing at the European Parliament. New York: Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
[12] Globbe, E., Harrigan, M., and Ryan, J. (1990). A Facilitator’s Guide to Prostitution: A Matter of Violence against Women. Minneapolis, Minn.: WHISPER.
[13] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866
[14] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866; Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[15] Frith, H. (2014). Visualizing the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’: emotion work and the representation of orgams in pornography and everyday sexual interactions. Journal of Gender Studies, 24(4), 386-398. doi:10.1080/09589236.2014.950556; Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866; Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[16] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866
[17] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. (102) New York: Penguin Books.
[18] DeKeseredy, W. (2015). Critical Criminological Understandings of Adult Pornography and Women Abuse: New Progressive Directions in Research and Theory. International Journal for Crime, Justice, and Social Democracy, 4(4) 4-21. doi:10.5204/ijcjsd.v4i4.184; Bridges, A. J. & Anton, C. (2013). Pornography and violence against women. In J. A. Sigal & F. L. Denmark (Eds.). Violence Against Girls and Women: International Perspectives (pp. 183-206). Santa Barbara, CA: Preager. (“[E]xposure to pornography is particularly problematic for youth because they often lack healthy sexual relationships that counterbalance the degrading and depersonalizing images of sex often depicted in pornography.”)
[19] Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908
[20] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold & Co., 187.

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