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Nationally Representative Survey of Teens Finds 84.4% of Males and 57.1% of Females Have Viewed Porn

In this study, researchers found that teens who were exposed to porn and considered porn to be realistic were associated with increased sexual aggression risk.

By September 9, 2021No Comments

Decades of studies from respected academic institutions, have demonstrated significant impacts of porn consumption for individuals, relationships, and society. "What’s the Research" aims to shed light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn’s harms in a variety of ways. Below are selected excerpts from published studies on this issue.

The full study can be accessed here.

Preliminary Insights from a U.S. Probability Sample on Adolescents’ Pornography Exposure, Media Psychology, and Sexual Aggression

Authors: Paul J Wright, Bryant Paul, Debby Herbenick
Published: February 2021

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Journal of Health Communication

Abstract

Sexual aggression is now widely recognized as a public health crisis. Using the sexual script acquisition, activation, application model (3AM) as a guide, this paper reports findings on U.S. teenagers’ exposure to pornography, motivation for viewing pornography, perceptions of pornography’s realism, identification with pornographic actors, and sexual aggression risk from the National Survey of Porn Use, Relationships, and Sexual Socialization (NSPRSS), a U.S. population-based probability study.

Sexual aggression was operationalized as pressuring another person into having sex despite their explicit declaration of nonconsent. Having been exposed to pornography and perceiving pornography as realistic were associated with increased sexual aggression risk.

A stronger level of identification with pornographic actors was associated with an increased probability of sexual aggression for males, but not females. A motivation to learn about others’ sexual expectations from pornography was unrelated to sexual aggression.

Results interpretation and discussion focus on the need for additional theoretical nuance and measurement specificity in the media psychology literature on pornography and sexual aggression.

Methods

The data for the present paper came from the National Survey of Porn Use, Relationships, and Sexual Socialization (NSPRSS), a population-based probability survey of Americans aged 14 to 60… The target population consisted of a nationally representative sample of adults aged 18 to 60 as well as an oversample of adults and their 14 to 18-year-old son or daughter.

Adults were recruited directly from KnowledgePanel, while adolescents were recruited through their participating parents. Parents were asked to provide their teenage respondent with total privacy while taking the survey and all participants were told that researchers would have no access to their names or other identifiers.

Pornography Exposure | Participants were asked whether they had ever viewed pornography (0 = No, 1 = Yes). Consistent with prior studies sampling teenagers (Braun-Courville & Rojas, 2009; Peter & Valkenburg, 2006), participants were told that by “pornography” the survey meant “sexually explicit pictures, videos, or livestreams showing clearly exposed genitals, or, in which people are clearly shown having sex, such as oral sex, vaginal sex, or anal sex.” Ninety-four youth (70.30%) had viewed pornography, 40 (29.70%) had not. More males (n = 54; 84.40%) than females (n = 40; 57.10%) had viewed pornography (Δχ2(1) = 11.84, p < .01).

Pornography Motivation | Motivation to learn about sex from pornography was assessed with the item: “I watch porn to find out what people expect during sex.” Response options ranged from 1 = Strongly Disagree to 5 = Strongly Agree (M = 2.25, SD = 1.32). Female (M = 2.50, SD = 1.50) and male (M = 2.07, SD = 1.14) motivations were indistinguishable (t(90) = 1.55, p = .13).

Pornography Realism | Perceptions of pornography’s realism were assessed with two items: “Sex shown in porn is realistic” and “Sex shown in porn is similar to sex in real life.” Response options ranged from 1 = Strongly Disagree to 5 = Strongly Agree. The items were highly correlated (r(89) = .84, p < .01) and averaged to form an index (M = 2.58, SD = 1.07). Female (M = 2.55, SD = 1.18) and male (M = 2.59, SD = 1.00) perceptions of pornography’s realism were almost identical (t(89) = −0.17, p = .86).

Pornography Identification | with actors in pornography was assessed with the item “It would be cool to be a porn star.” Response options ranged from 1 = Strongly Disagree to 5 = Strongly Agree (M = 2.11, SD = 1.26). Females (M = 1.84, SD = 1.19) were less likely to identify with porn stars than males (M = 2.40, SD = 1.29) (t(131) = −2.61, p < .05).

Sexual Aggression | Participants were asked whether they had ever “pressured someone into doing something sexual they didn’t want to do, including asking someone over and over to do something sexual with you, even after they told you no” (0 = No, 1 = Yes). Eleven youth (8.10%) had been sexually aggressive, 123 (91.90%) had not. The percentage (10.90%) of males (n = 7) who had been sexually aggressive was higher than the percentage (5.80%) of females (n = 4), but the difference was not statistically significant (Δχ2(1) = 1.16., p = .28).

Results

Consistent with expectations, having been exposed to pornography and perceiving pornography as realistic were associated with increased sexual aggression risk. Also, a stronger level of identification with pornographic actors was associated with an increased probability of sexual aggression, albeit at a marginal level of statistical significance.

Conversely, a higher motivation to learn from pornography was unrelated to sexual aggression. Sex was not predicted as a moderator a priori because meta-analyses of pornography exposure and aggression have found similar results for males and females (Allen et al., 1995; Wright et al., 2016).

Posteriori analyses by sex were conducted, however, for the following reasons. First, males and females differed on several of the predictors. Second, it has become common for pornography socialization studies to report results separately by sex, and this practice is beneficial for meta-analysts.

Because a minority of teenagers in the U.S. are sexually active (Lindberg, Santelli, & Desai, 2018), and of those who are sexually active a minority are sexually aggressive (Ybarra & Thompson, 2018), analytical samples for studies of teenage sexual aggression will generally be smaller than studies of more frequent behaviors.

Breaking results down by sex further reduces the size of analytical samples. That this reduces power and precision should be kept in mind when interpreting the present study’s results. Nevertheless, given the dearth of available data on the pornography psychology variables under examination here and the intuitiveness of the sex-specific findings, their insights-value deserves some consideration.

The full study can be accessed here.

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