Processes Underlying the Effects of Adolescents’ Use of Sexually Explicit Internet Material: The Role of Perceived Realism (2010)

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Communication Research June 2010 vol. 37 no. 3 375-399

Jochen Peter-University of Amsterdam, Netherlands,
Patti M. ValkenburgUniversity of Amsterdam, Netherlands,


Although research has repeatedly demonstrated a link between adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit Internet material (SEIM) and sexual attitudes, the processes underlying this association are not well understood. More specifically, studies have pointed to a mediating role of perceived realism, but internally valid evidence is missing.             

To address these problems, the authors used data from a three-wave panel study among 959 Dutch adolescents. They investigated whether two dimensions of the perceived realism of SEIM— social realism and utility—mediated the impact of SEIM on adolescents’ instrumental attitudes toward sex (i.e., the notion of sex as primarily physical and casual rather than affectionate and relational). Structural equation modeling showed that more frequent use of SEIM increased both the perceived social realism and the perceived utility of SEIM. In turn, these two perceptions led to more instrumental attitudes toward sex. No evidence of reverse causality emerged.

From - The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research (2012)

  • Additionally, Peter and Valkenburg (2010) used data from a three-way panel study among 959 Dutch adolescents to address two dimensions of perceived realism: social realism and utility. The authors defined social realism as, “the extent to which the content of SEIM [sexually explicit Internet material] is perceived to be similar to real-world sex” (pp. 376–77) and utility as, “the extent to which adolescents perceive SEIM as a useful source of information about sex and as applicable to the real world” (p. 377). They also examined the influence of sexually explicit material on instrumental attitudes toward sex, that is, “the notion of sex as primarily physical and casual rather than affectionate and relational” (p. 375). This study suggests that as adolescents are more frequently exposed to sexually explicit material, their perceptions of the social realism and the utility of sexually explicit material increase. The study also suggests that the greater adolescents’ perceptions of social realism and utility of sexually explicit material, the greater their instrumental attitudes toward sex.