There's a vast amount of research on the harmful effects of pornography, and it's important that this information is accessible to the public. Weekly, we highlight a research study that sheds light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn's harms. These studies cover a wide range of topics, from the sociological implications of pornography to the neurological effects of porn-consumption.

The full study can be accessed here.

Pornography Consumption, Modality, and Function in a Large Internet Sample

Authors: Ingrid Solano, Nicholas R. Eaton and K. Daniel O’Leary
Published October 2018

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Journal of Behavioral Addictions (2018) 7(3): 574–583 The Journal of Sex Research (2018) Online, 1–12

Background – how many people actually regularly consume porn?

Although pornography research has surged in the last 30 years, consumption prevalence estimates vary widely, particularly for women (Hald, Seaman, & Linz, 2014). Previous research has demonstrated that pornography consumption is frequent and associated with a variety of important outcomes, yet methodological limitations have made definitive conclusions difficult on issues like consumption and function. This study explores pornography consumption time frames (when it is viewed), modality (video, pictures, narrative, etc.), and the function or purpose of use using a large internet-based sample.  In turn, the impact of these issues on pornography consumption prevalence estimates was evaluated.

Given previous findings regarding gender differences and the age-restricted samples of many previous studies, each of these three issues were evaluated with regard to gender and age. To those ends, often used pornography consumption rate formats (time frames including ever, past year, etc.) were compared with the intent to explore differential age and gender endorsements of use across different pornography consumption assessments. This is the first study to fully characterize these measurement issues in a single sample with a wide age range.

Methods – over 1,415 self-reported study subjects

Participants were recruited through the Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) data-collection website. MTurk uses “workers” (i.e., internet users over the age of 18) who create an account on the MTurk website and complete surveys for nominal fees. Studies have shown that data collected from MTurk are comparable in quality to those obtained from laboratory settings (Buhrmester, Kwang, & Gosling, 2011; Goodman, Cryder, & Cheema, 2013). Additionally, we expected that the anonymous nature of the online environment would minimize underreporting regarding sexually explicit questions and pornography use. A total of 1,415 MTurk users completed the study. Participants were required to live in the United States and be at least 18 years of age.

Results – a lot more people watch porn than often reported

While pornography consumption for young adults has been repeatedly reported to be approximately 75% for men and 30% for women, these rates are considerably lower than those found in this study. In this study, consumption rates of men were generally consistent (91–99%) across time frames, though women’s consumption varied more widely (60–92%). Interestingly, this range in reported rates for women is consistent with the variability found in previous literature, which may be indicative of a profound impact of assessment methods (Hald et al., 2014).

With age, a small, general decrease of pornography consumption appears to occur across age for both genders. In this study, 21% of individuals were over the age of 45, and the aggregate data analyses showed that pornography consumption declined monotonically across the decades. However, this result should be considered an exploratory observation and researched further.  This age-related finding coincides with previous research in a sample aged 18–49 which found that the likelihood of having viewed internet pornography decreased by a factor of 0.9 per year (Traeen et al., 2006). More age-related exploration should be conducted due to the bulk of pornography literature being based on adolescents and college-aged young adults (Short et al., 2012).

The vast majority of pornography consumption reported in this study occurred in three modalities: videos, pictures, and written pornography. Frequency of consumption of these modalities varied by both age and gender in our data. Men reported more interest in videos and pictures while women preferred videos and written pornography. In general, age-predicted consumption of videos and written pornography for women but age did not predict any modality in men. This is likely due to the ubiquitous nature of male pornography consumption.

Notably, 11% of women in our sample primarily consumed written pornography compared to other pornography modalities (with written pornography being 90–100% of the total pornography they consumed). When considering consumption, these women might not endorse pornography consumption if written pornography were not clearly included in the empirical definition. This may be an additional reason for previously lower estimates of women’s consumption. Alternatively stated, if written pornography had not been included in this study, our consumption rate for women using pornography in the past month would drop to approximately 49% from 60% reporting consumption. A similar pattern of decreased endorsement would have occurred across all time frames. The inclusion of written pornography in pornography research is at the discretion of the researcher. However, the loss of a significant number of women who use written pornography for the same function as pictures and videos (for both genders) is an important point of consideration and the decision should be informed.

The full study can be accessed here.

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