Pornography and Adolescents Studies

Pornography and Adolescents

Pornography and Adolescents studies are listed below this introduction. An (L) in front of the link indicates a lay article, usually about a study. These relevant articles & videos by YBOP may be of interest:

Reviews of the literature & meta-analyses (by date of publication):

The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research (2006) – Excerpts:

Examining the systemic impact of Internet pornography, however, is relatively uncharted territory and the body of systemically-focused research is limited. A review of the research that does exist was undertaken and many negative trends were revealed. While much remains unknown about the impact of Internet pornography on marriages and families, the available data provide an informed starting point for policy makers, educators, clinicians, and researchers.

Direct Impact on Children and Adolescents The following effect are considered to have the most impact on children and adolescents who use or encounter pornography themselves:

1. In spite of the illegalities, youth have easy access to pornographic material and this can have traumatic, distorting, abusive, and/or addictive effects.

2. Youth are commonly being solicited, tricked, misled, or “mouse trapped” into viewing sexually explicit content online.

3. Research shows that exposure to pornography can make a lasting impression in young people and that this impression is most often described using emotions such as disgust, shock, embarrassment, anger, fear, and sadness.

4. The consumption of Internet pornography and/or involvement in sexualized chat can harm the social and sexual development of youth and undermine their success in future relationships.

5. Pornography consumption in youth has been associated with earlier onset of sexual intercourse, as well as increased likelihood of engaging in anal sex and sexual relations with people they are not romantically engaged with.

Mass Media Effects on Youth Sexual Behavior Assessing the Claim for Causality (2011) – Excerpts:

Studies of the impact of the mainstream mass media on young people’s sexual behavior have been slow to accumulate despite longstanding evidence of substantial sexual content in the mass media. The sexual media effects landscape has changed substantially in recent years, however, as researchers from numerous disciplines have answered the call to address this important area of sexual socialization scholarship. The purpose of this chapter is to review the subset of accumulated studies on sexual behavior effects to determine whether this body of work justifies a causal conclusion. The standards for causal inference articulated by Cook and Campbell (1979) are employed to accomplish this objective. It is concluded that the research to date passes the threshold of substantiation for each criterion and that the mass media almost certainly exert a causal influence on United States’ youth sexual behavior.

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

Increased access to the Internet by adolescents has created unprecedented opportunities for sexual education, learning, and growth. Conversely, the risk of harm that is evident in the literature has led researchers to investigate adolescent exposure to online pornography in an effort to elucidate these relationships. Collectively, these studies suggest that youth who consume pornography may develop unrealistic sexual values and beliefs. Among the findings, higher levels of permissive sexual attitudes, sexual preoccupation, and earlier sexual experimentation have been correlated with more frequent consumption of pornography…. Nevertheless, consistent findings have emerged linking adolescent use of pornography that depicts violence with increased degrees of sexually aggressive behavior.

The literature does indicate some correlation between adolescents’ use of pornography and self-concept. Girls report feeling physically inferior to the women they view in pornographic material, while boys fear they may not be as virile or able to perform as the men in these media. Adolescents also report that their use of pornography decreased as their self-confidence and social development increase. Additionally, research suggests that adolescents who use pornography, especially that found on the Internet, have lower degrees of social integration, increases in conduct problems, higher levels of delinquent behavior, higher incidence of depressive symptoms, and decreased emotional bonding with caregivers.

A New Generation of Sexual Addiction (2013) – While not technically a review, it was one of the first papers to distinguish young compulsive porn users from “classic” CSB subjects. The conclusion:

It is proposed that sexual addiction may be distinguished by two unique etiologies. The “contemporary” addict is suggested to be distinctive in that  early and chronic exposure to graphic cybersexual content within a highly sexualized culture drives sexual compulsivity, whereas the “classic” addict is driven by trauma, abuse, disordered attachment, impulse control impairment, shame-based cognitions, and mood disorders. While both may share similar presentations (compulsive behavior, mood disorders, relational impairment), etiology and some facets of treatment will likely be distinct.

“Classic” sexual addiction, while very much debated, has received a great deal of attention in the research, in the professional community, and in the popular culture. Treatment options, while not widespread, are varied and available, even to the extent that certified sexual addiction therapist training is conducted across the United States, allowing mental health professionals to receive extensive credentialing in work with “classic” sexual addiction.

“Contemporary” sexual addiction, however, is an underexplored phenomenon, particularly with children and adolescents. Research and literature are scarce and, interestingly, often published from countries outside the United States (He, Li, Guo, & Jiang, 2010; Yen et al., 2007). Research on young women and sexual addiction is virtually nonexistent. Specialized treatment with child and adolescent therapists trained in sexual addiction is extremely uncommon. Yet significant numbers of children, adolescents, and young adults are in need of just such specialized treatment, and the professional community is delayed in responding. Research, dialogue, and education are urgently needed in order to appropriately meet the needs of those youngest among our population who are struggling with sexually compulsive behavior.

Is sexual content in new media linked to sexual risk behaviour in young people? A systematic review and meta-analysis (2016) – From abstract:

Results: Fourteen studies, all cross-sectional in design, met the inclusion criteria. Six studies (10 352 participants) examined young people’s exposure to SEWs and eight (10 429 participants) examined sexting. There was substantial variation across studies in exposure and outcome definitions. Meta-analyses found that SEW exposure was correlated with condomless sexual intercourse; sexting was correlated with ever having had sexual intercourse, recent sexual activity, alcohol and other drug use before sexual intercourse, and multiple recent sexual partners . Most studies had limited adjustment for important potential confounders.

Conclusions: Cross-sectional studies show a strong association between self-reported exposure to sexual content in new media and sexual behaviours in young people. Longitudinal studies would provide a greater opportunity to adjust for confounding, and better insight into the causal pathways underlying the observed associations.

Media and Sexualization: State of Empirical Research, 1995–2015 (2016) – From the abstract:

The goal of this review was to synthesize empirical investigations testing effects of media sexualization. The focus was on research published in peer-reviewed, English-language journals between 1995 and 2015. A total of 109 publications that contained 135 studies were reviewed. The findings provided consistent evidence that both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to this content are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.

Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research (2016) – From the abstract:

The goal of this review was to systematize empirical research that was published in peer-reviewed English-language journals between 1995 and 2015 on the prevalence, predictors, and implications of adolescents’ use of pornography. This research showed that adolescents use pornography, but prevalence rates varied greatly. Adolescents who used pornography more frequently were male, at a more advanced pubertal stage, sensation seekers, and had weak or troubled family relations. Pornography use was associated with more permissive sexual attitudes and tended to be linked with stronger gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs. It also seemed to be related to the occurrence of sexual intercourse, greater experience with casual sex behavior, and more sexual aggression, both in terms of perpetration and victimization.

Longitudinal associations between the use of sexually explicit material and adolescents’ attitudes and behaviors: A narrative review of studies (2017) – Excerpts:

This review analyzed longitudinal studies examining the effects of sexually explicit material on adolescents’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

The aim of this study was to provide a narrative review of the longitudinal studies focusing on the effects of sexually explicit material use on adolescents. A number of direct associations between sexually explicit material and adolescents’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors were reported in the studies. Sexually explicit material seemed to affect several sexuality related attitudes, gender-related stereotypical beliefs, likelihood of having sexual intercourse and sexually aggressive behavior.

The reviewed studies found that the use of sexually explicit material may affect a range of adolescents’ attitudes and beliefs, such as sexual preoccupancy (Peter & Valkenburg, 2008b), sexual uncertainty (Peter & Valkenburg, 2010a; van Oosten, 2015), the sexual objectification of women (Peter & Valkenburg, 2009a), sexual satisfaction (Peter & Valkenburg, 2009b), recreational and permissive sex attitudes (Baams et al., 2014; Brown & L’Engle, 2009; Peter & Valkenburg, 2010b), egalitarian gender role attitudes (Brown & L’Engle, 2009) and body surveillance (Doornwaard et al., 2014).

The Impacts of Sexual Media Exposure on Adolescent and Emerging Adults’ Dating and Sexual Violence Attitudes and Behaviors: A Critical Review of the Literature (2017) – Abstract:

Dating violence (DV) and sexual violence (SV) are widespread problems among adolescents and emerging adults. A growing body of literature demonstrates that exposure to sexually explicit media (SEM) and sexually violent media (SVM) may be risk factors for DV and SV. The purpose of this article is to provide a systematic and comprehensive literature review on the impact of exposure to SEM and SVM on DV and SV attitudes and behaviors.

A total of 43 studies utilizing adolescent and emerging adult samples were reviewed, and collectively the findings suggest that (1) exposure to SEM and SVM is positively related to DV and SV myths and more accepting attitudes toward DV and SV; (2) exposure to SEM and SVM is positively related to actual and anticipated DV and SV victimization, perpetration, and bystander nonintervention; (3) SEM and SVM more strongly impact men’s DV and SV attitudes and behaviors than women’s DV and SV attitudes and behaviors; and (4) preexisting attitudes related to DV and SV and media preferences moderate the relationship between SEM and SVM exposure and DV and SV attitudes and behaviors.

Future studies should strive to employ longitudinal and experimental designs, more closely examine the mediators and moderators of SEM and SVM exposure on DV and SV outcomes, focus on the impacts of SEM and SVM that extend beyond men’s use of violence against women, and examine the extent to which media literacy programs could be used independently or in conjunction with existing DV and SV prevention programs to enhance effectiveness of these programming efforts.

Adolescent Pornography Use: A Systematic Literature Review of Research Trends 2000-2017. (2018) – Excerpts from sections related to porn’s effects on the user:

The aim of this systematic literature review is to map the research interest in the field and to examine whether statistically significant results have emerged from the areas of research focus.

Attitudes Towards Sex – Overall, 21 studies examined adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behaviors towards sex in relation to PU. Not surprisingly, intentions to consume pornographic material have been primarily linked to a perceived normalizing attitude considering PU and a significant impact to adolescents’ sexual attitudes and sexual behaviors.

Development – Counterintuitively, viewing pornography has been found to affect the development of values, and more specifically those towards religion during adolescence. Not surprisingly, viewing pornography has been shown to have a secularizing effect, reducing adolescents’ religiosity over time, independent of gender.

Victimization – Exposure to violent/degrading pornography appears to have been common among adolescents, associated with at-risk behaviors, and, for females in particular, it correlates with a history of victimization. Nevertheless, other studies concluded that pornography exposure did not have an association with risky sexual behaviors and that the willingness of exposure to pornography did not seem to have an impact on risky sexual behaviors among adolescents in general. Despite these, other findings indicated that overall, intentional exposure to PU was associated with higher conduct problems among adolescents, higher online sexual solicitation victimization and online sexual solicitation perpetration with boys’ perpetration of sexual coercion and abuse being significantly associated with regular viewing of pornography.

Mental Health Characteristics – Conclusively, and despite some studies not confirming an association between poorer psychosocial health and PU, the vast majority of findings converges on that higher PU during adolescence tends to relate to higher emotional (e.g. depression) and behavioral problems. In that line, Luder et al. suggested gender-related variations in the association between PU and depressive manifestations with males presenting with higher risk. This finding was in consensus with longitudinal studies revealing that poorer psychological wellbeing factors were involved in the development of compulsive use of sexually explicit Internet material among adolescent boys.

Social Bonds – Overall, there seems to be a consensus that adolescent frequent users of the Internet for pornography tend to differ in many social characteristics from adolescents who use the Internet for information, social communication and entertainment.

Online Usage Characteristics – Online usage characteristics were researched in 15 out of the 57 studies included in the present review. These suggest that common characteristics of adolescents exposed to online pornography and sexual solicitation victimization include higher levels of online game use, internet risk behaviors, depression and cyberbullying manifestations, and voluntary self-sexual exposure online.

Adolescents’ Sexual Behaviors – Adolescents’ sexual behavior in regards to PU was researched in 11 studies, with all studies reporting significant results. The study conducted by Doornward, et al. found that adolescent boys’ with compulsive sexual behaviors, including the use of explicit internet material, reported low levels of self-esteem, higher levels of depression and higher levels of excessive sexual interest. In that context, other studies have shown that boys who were found to engage in the use of sexually explicit material and social networking sites received more peer approval and indicated greater experience considering their sexual involvement. Furthermore, boys who demonstrated the frequent use of pornography tended to have sexual debuts at a younger age and to engage in a broader range of sexual encounters.

Consumption of sexually explicit internet material and its effects on minors’ health: latest evidence from the literature (2019) – From abstract:

A literature search was performed on PubMed and ScienceDirect in March 2018 with the query “(pornography OR sexually explicit internet material) AND (adolescent OR child OR young) AND (impact OR behaviour OR health)”. Results published between 2013 and 2018 were analysed and compared with previous evidence.

According to selected studies (n = 19), an association between consumption of online pornography and several behavioral, psychophysical and social outcomes – earlier sexual debut, engaging with multiple and/or occasional partners, emulating risky sexual behaviors, assimilating distorted gender roles, dysfunctional body perception, aggressiveness, anxious or depressive symptoms, compulsive pornography use – is confirmed.

The impact of online pornography on minors’ health appears to be relevant. The issue can no longer be neglected and must be targeted by global and multidisciplinary interventions. Empowering parents, teachers and healthcare professionals by means of educational programs targeting this issue will allow them to assist minors in developing critical thinking skills about pornography, decreasing its use and obtaining an affective and sex education that is more suitable for their developmental needs.

Viewing pornography through a children’s rights lens (2019) – A few Excerpts:

The negative effects indicated included, but were not limited to: (1) regressive attitudes towards women (Brown & L’Engle, 2009; Peter & Valkenburg, 2007; Peter & Valkenburg, 2009; Häggstrom-Nordin, et al., 2006); (2) sexual aggression in some sub-populations (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2005; Malamuth & Huppin, 2005; Alexy, et al., 2009); (3) social maladjustment (Mesch, 2009; Tsitsika, 2009); (4) sexual preoccupation (Peter & Valkenburg, 2008a); and (5) compulsivity (Delmonico and Griffin, 2008; Lam, Peng, Mai, and Jing, 2009; Rimington and Gast, 2007; van den Eijnden, Spijkerman, Vermulst, van Rooij, and Engels, 2010; Mesch, 2009).

Additional research indicates that pornography is being used to groom and lure children into sexually abusive relationships (Carr, 2003; “Online grooming,” n.d., 2015; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2015). Interviews of frontline service providers who work with child sex abuse victims conducted in May 2018 document that providers are witnessing what appears to be an increase in incidents of peer sex abuse among children and that the perpetrator commonly had been exposed to pornography in many of these incidents (Binford, Dimitropoulos, Wilson, Zug, Cullen, & Rieff, unpublished).

In addition to the literature that focuses specifically on the potential effects of children’s exposure to pornography, there is a much larger body of literature that considers the impact of pornography exposure on adults, including young adults. Like the research that focuses on children’s exposure to pornography, these studies also suggest a relationship between pornography exposure and social maladjustment, including social isolation, misconduct, depression, suicidal ideation, and academic disengagement (Tsitsika, 2009; Bloom et al., 2015; Campbell, 2018).

Studies of girls’ exposure to pornography as children suggest that it has an impact on their constructs of self (Brown & L’Engle, 2009).

Boys who are exposed to pornography as children show similar effects. They convey anxiety around performance and body dissatisfaction (“Child Safety Online,” 2016; Jones, 2018).

There appears to be a correlation between exposure to pornography and sexist views towards women (Hald, Kuyper, Adam, & de Wit, 2013; Hald, Malamuth, & Yuen, 2010).

Children of both sexes who are exposed to pornography are more likely to believe that the acts they see, such as anal sex and group sex, are typical among their peers (Livingstone & Mason, 2015). Adolescents of both sexes who are exposed to pornography are more likely to become sexually active earlier (Brown & L’Engle, 2009; Owens, et al. 2012), have multiple partners (Wright & Randall, 2012; Flood, 2009, p. 389), and engage in paid sex (Svedin Akerman, & Priebe, 2011; Wright & Randall, 2012).

The components of the adolescent brain and its unique sensitivity to sexually explicit material (2019) A few Excerpts:

The unique paradigms of the adolescent brain include the following: 1) An immature prefrontal cortex and over-responsive limbic and striatal circuits (Dumontheil, 2016; Somerville & Jones, 2010; Somerville, Hare, & Casey, 2011; Van Leijenhorst et al., 2010; Vigil et al., 2011); 2) A heightened period for neuroplasticity (McCormick & Mathews, 2007; Schulz & Sisk, 2006; Sisk & Zehr, 2005; Vigil et al., 2011); 3) Overactive dopamine system (Andersen, Rutstein, Benzo, Hostetter, & Teicher, 1997; Ernst et al., 2005; Luciana, Wahlstrom, & White, 2010; Somerville & Jones, 2010; Wahlstrom, White, & Luciana, 2010); 4) A pronounced HPA axis (Dahl & Gunnar, 2009; McCormick & Mathews, 2007; Romeo, Lee, Chhua, McPherson, & McEwan, 2004; Walker, Sabuwalla, & Huot, 2004); 5)

Augmented levels of testosterone (Dorn et al., 2003; Vogel, 2008; Mayo Clinic/Mayo Medical Laboratories, 2017); and 6) The unique impact of steroid hormones (cortisol and testosterone) on brain development during the organizational window of adolescence (Brown & Spencer, 2013; Peper, Hulshoff Pol, Crone, Van Honk, 2011; Sisk & Zehr, 2005; Vigil et al., 2011).

Blakemore and colleagues have led the field in adolescent brain development and has opined that the teenage years should be considered a sensitive period due to the dramatic brain reorganization that is taking place (Blakemore, 2012). The areas of the brain that undergo the most change during adolescence include internal control, multi-tasking and planning (Blakemore, 2012).

Blakemore and Robbins (2012) linked adolescence to risky decision making and attributed this characteristic to the dissociation between the relatively slow, linear development of impulse control and response inhibition during adolescence versus the nonlinear development of the reward system, which is often hyper-responsive to rewards in adolescence..…

Both infrequent and frequent use of pornographic internet sites were significantly associated with social maladjustment among Greek adolescents (Tsitsika et al., 2009). Pornography use contributed to delay discounting, or an individual’s tendency to discount future outcomes in favor of immediate rewards (Negash, Sheppard, Lambert, & Fincham, 2016). Negash and colleagues used a sample that had an average age of 19 and 20, which the author highlighted were still biologically considered adolescents.…..

We propose a working model summary, considering the unique paradigms of the adolescent brain and the characteristics of sexually explicit material. The overlap of key areas associated with the unique adolescent brain and sexually explicit material is noteworthy.

Upon exposure to sexually explicit material, the stimulation of the amygdala and the HPA axis would be enhanced in the adolescent, compared with the adult. This would lead to a more pronounced curtailment of the prefrontal cortex and enhanced activation of the basal ganglia in the adolescent. This condition, therefore, would compromise executive function, which includes inhibition and self-control, and enhances impulsivity. Because the adolescent’s brain is still developing, it is more conducive to neuroplasticity. The prefrontal cortex going “off-line,” so to speak, drives the subtle rewiring that favors subcortical development.

If the neuroplasticity imbalance continues over time, this may result in a relatively weakened cortical circuit in favor of a more dominant subcortical circuit, which could predispose the adolescent to continued self-gratification and impulsivity. The adolescent’s nucleus accumbens, or pleasure center of the brain, would have an exaggerated stimulation compared to the adult. The increased levels of dopamine would translate into augmented emotions associated with dopamine, such as pleasure and craving (Berridge, 2006; Volkow, 2006)….

Because of the organizational window of development during adolescence, cortisol and testosterone would have a unique affect upon brain organization or the inherent viability of various neural circuits. This effect would not be found in the adult because this specific window of organization has closed. Chronic exposure to cortisol has the potential, during the adolescent organizational period, to drive neuroplasticity that results in compromised cognitive function and stress resilience even through adulthood (McEwen, 2004; Tsoory & Richter-Levin, 2006; Tsoory, 2008; McCormick & Mathews, 2007; 2010).

The robustness of the amygdala post puberty, at least in part, depends on the magnitude of testosterone exposure during the critical adolescent developmental window (De Lorme, Schulz, Salas-Ramirez, & Sisk, 2012; De Lorme & Sisk, 2013; Neufang et al., 2009; Sarkey, Azcoitia, Garcia- Segura, Garcia-Ovejero, & DonCarlos, 2008). A robust amygdala is linked to heightened levels of emotionality and compromised self-regulation (Amaral, 2003; Lorberbaum et al., 2004; De Lorme & Sisk, 2013)…..

Contributions of Mainstream Sexual Media Exposure to Sexual Attitudes, Perceived Peer Norms, and Sexual Behavior: A Meta-Analysis (2019) – Excerpts:

Decades of research have examined the impact of exposure to nonexplicit portrayals of sexual content in media. There is only one meta-analysis on this topic, which suggests that exposure to “sexy media” has little to no effect on sexual behavior. There are a number of limitations to the existing meta-analysis, and the purpose of this updated meta-analysis was to examine associations between exposure to sexual media and users’ attitudes and sexual behavior.

A thorough literature search was conducted to find relevant articles. Each study was coded for associations between exposure to sexual media and one of six outcomes including sexual attitudes (permissive attitudes, peer norms, and rape myths) and sexual behaviors (general sexual behavior, age of sexual initiation, and risky sexual behavior).

Overall, this meta-analysis demonstrates consistent and robust relations between media exposure and sexual attitudes and behavior spanning multiple outcome measures and multiple media. Media portray sexual behavior as highly prevalent, recreational, and relatively risk-free [3], and our analyses suggest that a viewer’s own sexual decision-making may be shaped, in part, by viewing these types of portrayals. Our findings are in direct contrast with the previous meta-analysis, which suggested that media’s impact on sexual behavior was trivial or nonexistent [4]. The previous meta-analysis used 38 effect sizes and found that “sexy” media were weakly and trivially related with sexual behavior (r = .08), whereas the current metaanalysis used more than 10 times the amount of effect sizes (n = 394) and found an effect nearly double the size (r = .14).

First, we found positive associations between exposure to sexual media and teens’ and young adults’ permissive sexual attitudes and perceptions of their peers’ sexual experiences.

Second, exposure to sexual media content was associated with greater acceptance of common rape myths.

Finally, sexual media exposure was found to predict sexual behaviors including age of sexual initiation, overall sexual experience, and risky sexual behavior. These results converged across multiple methodologies and provide support for the assertion that media contribute to the sexual experiences of young viewers.

Although the meta-analysis demonstrated significant effects of sexual media exposure on sexual attitudes and behaviors across all variables of interest, these effects were moderated by a few variables. Most notably, significant effects for all ages were apparent; however, the effect was more than twice as large for adolescents as for emerging adults, perhaps reflecting the fact that older participants likely have more comparative, real-world experience to draw on than younger participants [36, 37]. In addition, the effect was stronger for males compared with females, perhaps because sexual experimentation fits the male sexual script [18] and because male characters are punished less often than female characters for sexual initiation [38].

These findings have significant implications for adolescent and emerging adult physical and mental health. Perceiving high levels of peer sexual activity and sexual permissiveness may increase feelings of internal pressure to experiment sexually [39].  In one study, exposure to sexual media content in early adolescence was seen to advance sexual initiation by 9e17 months [40]; in turn, early experimentation may increase mental and physical health risks [37].

The effect sizes found here are similar to those of other studied areas of media psychology such as media’s impact on violence [41], prosocial behavior [42], and body image [43]. In each of these cases, although media use accounts for only a portion of the total variance in the outcomes of interest, media do play an important role. These comparisons suggest that sexual media content is a small, but consequential factor in the development of sexual attitudes and behaviors in adolescents and emerging adults.

Child and Adolescent Pornography Exposure (2020) –  The two main tables summarizing this review:

Young People, Sexuality and the Age of Pornography (2020) – Excerpts:

In the list below an (L) indicates a lay article about a study.