Whether they want to or not, the majority of teens are getting some of their sex ed 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 getting sexually transmitted infections.

Can you 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 life span is. He might even try to tell you that smoking could boost your sprint time. Sounds ridiculous, right? Here’s the problem: 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. Whether they want to or not, the majority of teens are getting some of their sex ed from porn. [1] 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. [2]

In porn, sex with strangers is made to look normal [3]—and more often than not, it’s more than one stranger at a time. In a study of popular porn videos, the number of sexual partners in a scene ranged from one to 19, and averaged at three. And the kinds of sexual acts pornographers get on film are often degrading, dangerous, or violent. [4]

“A competitive market means that pornographers are trying to outdo each other to come up with the most extreme images,” wrote John Wood, a therapist who works with youth addicted to pornography, in an article talking about porn’s effects. “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]

As a result, studies show that people who view porn are far more likely to think things like group sex or dangerous sex acts are more common than their non-porn–watching peers. [6]

And in many cases, attitudes make their way into behavior. 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 getting sexually transmitted infections. [7]

Sociologist 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, men who look at 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]

What pornography doesn’t show is what healthy sex is like, since most pornographers cut out things like kissing, cuddling, other positive kinds of affection, and partners being responsive to each other’s needs and preferences. [13]

They also cut out the consequences of the kinds of sex shown. [14] In porn, no one contracts sexually transmitted infections; there are no unwanted pregnancies, no cervical cancer, no intestinal parasites, and no skin tearing or bruises. And no matter how rough a person treats their partner, in porn, nearly everything looks like it feels good. [15]

In fact, in the study of popular porn videos, in nine scenes out of 10, a women was being hit, beaten, yelled at, or otherwise harmed, and the result was almost always the same—the victim either seemed not to mind or looked happy about it.  [16]

Not only does porn offer up a fictional version of sex education, but also that education is being delivered in a way perfectly tailored to how our brains learn. [17] Images are an especially powerful teacher, since they can pack in a whole lot of information that the viewer can understand very quickly. And while words are often interpreted as opinions, our brains are more likely to interpret images as facts; after all, it’s a lot harder to argue with something you’re seeing happen in front of you. [18]

Our brains also learn better when they’re sexually aroused. [19] When you add in the focused concentration of searching through pornographic images to find exactly what the user is looking for, and reinforcing what’s being taught with the reward of sexual climax, it creates the perfect conditions for wiring what porn teaches into the brain (See Porn Changes the Brain). [20]

As a result, consistent porn users wire their sexuality to looking at virtual images of unrealistic, surgically altered bodies. [21] Instead of learning to build relationships with real people, it often feels more natural and arousing to them to be alone in front of a computer. [22] “It’s sad,” said Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychology professor who studies porn’s effect on men. “Boys who are initiated in sex through these images become indoctrinated in a way that can potentially stay with them for the rest of their lives.” [23]

Click For Citations

[1] Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner and 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. and 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.
[2] Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In J. Stoner and 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; 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 and 2: 67; Mosher, D. L. and 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; Brosius, H. B., et al. (1993). Exploring the Social and Sexual “Reality” of Contemporary Pornography. Journal of Sex Research 30, 2: 161–70. 
[3] 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.
[4] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085.
[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] 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.
[7] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and 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., and Nelson, L. J. (2008). Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults. Journal of Adolescent Research 23, 1: 6–30; Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Tyden, T., and Hanson, U. (2005). Associations between Pornography Consumption and Sexual Practices among Adolescents in Sweden. International Journal of STD & AIDS 16, 2: 102–7; 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.
[8] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 27.
[9] MacKinnon, C. A. (2005). Pornography as Trafficking. Michigan Journal of International Law 26, 4: 999–1000; 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; 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., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085.
[14] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085; Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[15] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085; Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and 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., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085.
[17] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[18] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[19] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[20] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute.
[21] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction—a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 20767; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 109; Paul, Pamela. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 145.
[22] 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; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books, 109.
[23] Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 187.

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