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In This Study, 1 in 4 Young Adults Say Porn is the Best Resource for Learning About Sex

Among young adults, 29.5% of those who reported that they had never had a helpful conversation with parents about sex said that porn was their primary source of information about sex.

By August 16, 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.

The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults

Authors: Emily F. Rothman, Jonathon J. Beckmeyer, Debby Herbenick, Tsung-Chieh Fu, Brian Dodge, J. Dennis Fortenberry
Published: January 2021

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Archives of Sexual Behavior

Abstract

We analyzed cross-sectional data collected from a U.S. nationally representative survey of individuals ages 14–24 years old on what sources of information from the past year they considered to be the most helpful about how to have sex (n = 600 adolescents ages 14–17 years old, and n = 666 young adults ages 18–24 years old).

Among the 324 adolescents who indicated that they had been helped by at least one source of information, helpful information was most likely to have come from parents (31.0%) and friends (21.6%). Only 8.4% of adolescents said pornography was helpful. However, for those in the 18–24-year-old age group, pornography was the most commonly endorsed helpful source (24.5%), as compared to other possible options such as sexual partners, friends, media, and health care professionals.

Multivariable regression analyses revealed that indicating that pornography was the most helpful source of information about how to have sex, compared to the other sources, was inversely associated with being female (OR = 0.32, p = .001), inversely associated with identifying as bisexual compared to heterosexual (OR = 0.15, p = .038), positively associated with being Black compared to being white non-Hispanic (OR = 4.26, p = .021), inversely associated with reporting a household income of either $25 K to $49,999 (OR = 0.31, p = .010) or $50 K to $74,999 (OR = 0.36, p = .019) compared to more than $75 K, and positively associated with having masturbated (OR = 13.20, p = .005).

Subsequent research should investigate the role of pornography in both adolescent and adult sexual development, including why one-quarter of U.S. young adults say that pornography is a helpful source of information about how to have sex and what they think that they are learning from it.

Background

The aims of the present study were: (1) to identify what sources of information adolescents and young adults reported as the most helpful with regard to learning how to have sex, using a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents (14–17 years old) and young adults (18–24 years old); and (2) within the adolescent and young adult subgroups, identify characteristics of those most likely to report that they view pornography as the most helpful source of information about how to have sex.

Methods

Study data were from the 2015 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), a national probability sample of sexual health and behavior in the United States. The 2015 NSSHB was conducted using Ipsos (formerly GfK) KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based web panel that is representative of the English speaking, non-institutionalized U.S. population.

Because our study was focused on understanding sources that youth had learned the most helpful information about how to have sex, with an emphasis on those who identified pornography as the most helpful source, we limited the adolescent and young adult samples by removing the participants who reported they had not gotten any helpful information about how to have sex, as well as those who did not answer the item.

Among adolescents, 43% (n = 255) and 45% (n = 297) of young adults, reported they had not received any useful information about how to have sex. An additional 3.4% (n = 21) adolescents and 1.8% (n = 12) young adults did not respond to this item. Thus, the final analytical samples included 324 adolescents and 357 young adults. This means that 57% of adolescents and 55% of young adults had received helpful information about how to have sex in the past year from at least one source.

The analytical adolescent and young adult samples (i.e., the adolescents and young adults who had received helpful information about how to have sex) were 51% and 47% male, respectively. Adolescents were 96% heterosexual, 53% White non-Hispanic, 17% Black non-Hispanic, and 24% Hispanic. Young adults were 84% heterosexual, 47% White non-Hispanic, 14% Black non-Hispanic, and 30% Hispanic.

Results

Among adolescents, helpful information about how to have sex was most likely to have come from parents (31.0%) and friends (21.6%), but least likely to have come from sexual partners (6.9%) or a source other than those listed on the survey (4.7%).

Only 8.4% of adolescents said pornography was the most helpful source of information for learning about how to have sex. Among young adults, perceived helpful information was most likely to have come from pornography (24.5%) and sexual partners (24.1%), but least likely to have come from a healthcare clinician (5.6%) or a source other than the options we provided (2.5%).

Exploratory analyses revealed that female adolescents were disproportionately more likely than males to get what they felt was helpful information from sex partners (10.1% vs. 3.6%), whereas male adolescents were more likely than females to report that they got helpful information from pornography (11.5% vs. 5.7%), or a healthcare clinician (18.2% vs. 11.9%).

Similarly, among young adults, women were more likely to report receiving helpful information from sexual partners (31.7%) than from pornography (13.7%), and men were most likely to get what they felt was helpful information from pornography (38.9%) and their partners (16.8%), than from regular media (4.2%) or healthcare clinicians (4.2%).

Adolescents who had never had a helpful conversation with parents about sex were substantially more likely than those who had to report that media (23.4%) and sexual partners (12.8%) were their primary sources of information about sex. Adolescents who reported having had a helpful conversation with parents about sex within the last year were most likely to report that their parents were their most helpful source of information (34.3%), followed by friends (21.4%) and healthcare clinicians (13.3%).

Only 6.7% of adolescents who had had a helpful conversation with parents about sex in the past year reported that pornography was their most helpful source of information about how to have sex. Adolescents who reported they had a helpful conversation with parents about sex but it was more than 1 year in the past were twice as likely to report that pornography was the most helpful source of information about how to have sex in the past year (13.6% vs. 6.7%).

Among young adults, 29.5% of those who reported that they had never had a helpful conversation with parents about sex said that pornography was their primary source of helpful information about sex, whereas only 22.6% of those who had had a helpful conversation about sex with parents within the last year and 22.0% of those who had a helpful conversation about sex with parents sometime prior to the past year reported that pornography was their primary source of sex information.

The full study can be accessed here.

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