From a psychological perspective, sexuality is understood as the conjunction between anatomical, physiological, and psychological factors, and all the emotional and behavioral phenomena tied to sex, which start consolidating during adolescence. Sexual identity starts developing during childhood and can be modified by different factors, including social and external ones. From that perspective, having access to pornography becomes an important and relevant issue for teenagers and young people [1
]. Young people have been defined by the World Health Organization as individuals 10–24 years of age, and, for the purpose of this investigation, we will refer to youth and young people independently, understanding they are individuals aged between 10 and 24 years old.
Since the inclusion of the internet and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in daily activities, society has experienced changes in many areas, and social interaction has particularly evolved at a fast pace. The development of new intelligent devices with immediate and autonomous internet access has enabled instant communication and unlimited and immediate access to any type of content, including pornography. Pornography is not a recent or new phenomena and its appearance can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks [2
]; however, the new pornography that has appeared with the irruption of new technological devices has different and unique intrinsic characteristics, which differentiate it from the “old pornography”. Ballester et al. [1
] define it with the following:
Image quality: New pornography is based on high-quality recordings that are constantly improving in image quality.
Affordable: New pornography is widely affordable and most of it is completely free.
Accessible: There is a wide and unlimited offering, which can be accessed without restrictions and which can be seen from any device.
Unlimited sexual content: Sexual practices displayed in “new pornography” have no limits, including risky sexual practices or even illegal ones.
The literature shows that between 7 and 59% of adolescents intentionally access and consume pornography [3
]. The wide range and variability in the reported prevalence rates of pornography consumption in adolescents are due to the differences in samples, age of participants, and means of consumption. Prevalence rates for any type of consumption (intentional versus unintentional consumption) can range from 7 to 71%, depending on the measures used [3
]. Furthermore, studies analyzing gender differences found that 93% of boys and 52% of girls aged between 16 and 19 years old had watched pornographic material in the past six months [4
]. These gender differences were also reported by Ballester, Orte, and Pozo [5
], whose results show that online pornography consumption is significantly higher with boys (90.5%) than with girls (50%), with male participants also reporting a higher frequency of consumption than female participants.
Research focusing on age differences found that 50% of Spanish teenagers aged between 14 and 17 years old watch online pornography [6
]. Furthermore, Ballester et al. [1
] reported that almost 70% of Spanish young people aged between 16 and 29 years old consume pornography. Their results show that the age of first contact with pornography has advanced in Spain, with kids having their first contact with pornography at a mean age of 8 years old, and generalized consumption starting at 13–14 years old [1
The spread in ownership of mobile phones means that pornography can be accessed virtually anywhere and is watched by youth both privately and in groups. This new way of accessing and consuming pornography has a clear impact on sexual behavior, gender relationships, sexual aggression, and sexuality, especially on minors, who are sensibly vulnerable to pornographic content, as they are developing their sexuality [3
A recent study stated that 40.7% of participants reported having suffered negative consequences related to pornography consumption, either at a personal, social, academic, or professional level [7
]. Many authors have pointed out that pornography consumption in minors is associated with diverse negative consequences [1
]. For example, Burbano and Brito [8
] stated that watching pornography has a direct impact on the psychosexual development of teenagers, creating misleading and inaccurate educational models regarding sexuality. In addition, Peter and Valkenburg [3
] found that watching pornography as a teenager is associated with the appearance and increase of risky sexual behaviors, such as having unprotected sex, having sexual intercourse with many partners, or an increase in sexual aggression perpetration and victimization. Additionally, Burbano and Brito [8
] showed that consuming pornography at early stages, especially as a minor, is associated with new forms of online sexual victimization, such as sexting or online grooming.
Furthermore, the literature has shown a link between the consumption of pornography by young people and forensic and legal implications. Recent studies have highlighted an association between an early consumption of sexually explicit material and the appearance and exacerbation of paraphilias such as voyeurism and exhibitionism [9
]. Moreover, the research has pointed towards a modulated relationship between early consumption of pornography and compulsive consumption and an increase in sexual aggression perpetration by males and sexual aggression victimization in females [3
]. Finally, recent findings suggest a link between early consumption of pornography and increased engagement in online sexual behaviors, such as sexting, that can lead to further online sexual victimization, such as sextortion or online grooming [11
Thus, the aim of this paper was to analyze what is known so far about the impact and consequences that intentional pornography consumption has on young people, with a focus on the forensic challenges and implications that this phenomenon is having on youth.
In recent years, the body of research regarding pornography consumption has increased. Several studies have highlighted the effects of such consumption on the social and sexual development of youth and further related forensic implications that can have negative psychological and legal consequences. This narrative review aims to identify empirical and non-empirical research addressing the association between pornography consumption in young people and the social, sexual, and psychological consequences, as well as further forensic implications. A narrative review is a publication that describes and discusses the state of the science of a specific topic or theme from a theoretical and contextual point of view [12
]. For the purpose of this paper, a narrative review was conducted as a first approach and approximation to the state of the question regarding pornography consumption in youth, taking into account its limitations, including Spanish research, to previous reviews on the issue. We believe that since the publication of Peter and Valkenburg’s (2016) systematic review, relevant contributions have been made regarding youths’ intentional exposure to porn, and this study aims to review those and other contributions, including Spanish literature, to examine the actual state of the question. We consider this topic of considerable relevance to parents, the educational community, and health care practitioners working with young people who might be affected by this phenomenon.
Criteria for the inclusion in the review were as follows:
Research (either empirical or non-empirical but excluding doctoral dissertations) exploring pornography consumption in adolescent and young population
Research examining the association between pornography consumption in youth and the social, sexual, and psychological consequences
Studies investigating the association between pornography consumption in youth and the legal or forensic implications
The data included in this review were collected throughout October, November, and December 2020. The search included empirical and non-empirical research from 2000 to 2020, and we included research both in English and Spanish. The following databases were searched: SCOPUS, PsychInfo, MEDLINE, and PUBMED, using the keywords “pornography”, “youth”, “adolescence”, “minors”, “teenagers”, and “consequences”. In addition, reference lists of reviewed articles were examined in relation to the topic of research. Young people have been defined by the World Health Organization as individuals 10–24 years of age, and, for the purpose of this investigation, we refer to youth and young people independently, understanding they are individuals aged between 10 and 24 years old. Furthermore, it should be noted that most of the reviewed studies did not specify the type of pornography used in their research (heterosexual, queer, feminist, etc.), and the studies that did, analyzed exclusively heterosexual pornography.
4. Discussion and Conclusions
Young people’s psychological development and socialization are undergoing important changes due to the irruption of technology in daily life, and many of their interactions have moved to the online world. In this new virtual world known as cyberspace, youth have access to all kinds of content, including pornography, with research showing that the age of first exposure to online sexual content in Spain is around 8 years old, with generalized consumption beginning at 13–14 years old [1
]. In this sense, unlimited access to electronic devices has enabled a new way of accessing and consuming pornography in youth that can have a great impact on their sexual development and gender equality in relationships, with the consequent appearance of sexual alterations and forensic implications.
Regarding the consequences derived from the consumption of pornography in youth, studies indicate that the inherent characteristics of new pornography (immediacy and accessibility) reinforce the paradigm of addiction, resulting in a process similar to that of drug addiction, with shared neurobiological pathways, leading to dysfunctional consequences, such as neuroplastic changes and sexual dysfunctions in individuals with addiction [33
]. Moreover, consuming pornography at early stages can be a predisposing factor for developing hypersexualized behaviors; in fact, the consumption of pornography is the most frequently reported hypersexual behavior [28
]. In this sense, research has found that higher pornography use and sex-related online activities are associated with compulsive sexual behavior in youth, and the frequent consumption of pornography is associated with many behavioral problems, highlighting the role of pornography consumption in altered sexual behaviors in young people [17
Several studies have established the effect of pornography consumption and its influence on sexual attitudes, moral values, and sexual activity in young people [5
]. Given that young people often claim that they use pornography as a way to obtain sexual knowledge and information, it might be plausible to consider that such consumption can have an effect and impact on their knowledge about sexuality and their subsequent sexual practices, such as compulsive sexual behavior, precocious sexual activity, and more variety of sexual practices [3
]. Furthermore, porn consumption can have a learning effect on youth who end up emulating pornographic videos in real life, as well as engaging in high-risk sexual practices they have watched online [3
Additionally, pornography consumption has been especially associated with a greater tendency to have negative gender attitudes [1
]. Likewise, hypersexuality and the consumption of pornography can lead to unsafe and risky sexual practices and are associated with the increased comorbidity of mood disorders and substance use. Overall, research has found that the consumption of pornography can contribute to the ritualization or distortion of interpersonal and sexual relationships and the decontextualization of sexuality, which is a risk factor for the unhealthy development of an individual. It is suggested that as a result of the consumption of pornography, there may be an escalation of “hardcore” practices, as consumers need bigger and more violent stimuli to reach satisfaction after frequent exposure to sexual content [1
]. In this sense, it should be noted that young people consume pornography, among others, for educational purposes, due to a lack of references in sexual education, and this may contribute to the appearance of imitational patterns. Young people might feel pressured to do or imitate pornography in real life, with the risk of presenting dysfunctional consequences for themselves or others [29
Considering the forensic implications associated with the consumption of pornography in youth, studies have shown an association with the development of paraphilias, such as voyeurism and exhibitionism, and in this sense, it has been observed that the greater and earlier the exposure to sexual content, the more likely it is that young people might end up manifesting a paraphilia. Additionally, consuming “hardcore” pornography or sexually violent content could fuel the development of sexual sadism and pedophilia, as well as exacerbate the desire to carry out certain criminal behaviors, both in the physical and in the virtual [25
]. Along the same lines, research has shown a link between pornography consumption and an increased risk of victimization and perpetration of sexual aggression; the results indicate that greater consumption of pornography increases the likelihood of perpetrating sexual violence in men and increases the likelihood of being a victim of sexual violence in women [14
]. Regarding the forms of online sexual victimization, the consumption of pornography in youth has been related to sexting, and this victimization may be extended to other new behaviors, such as the non-consensual dissemination of sexual content, cyberbullying, sextortion, and online grooming. Recent research has highlighted that one out of five teenagers who consume pornography have shared autoproduced sexual content, and significant differences have been found in sexting behaviors between those who watch porn and those who do not [30
]. Furthermore, pornography consumption has been significantly associated with contacting unknown people online for sexual purposes, which is risky behavior that can lead to other forms of victimization, such as online grooming, sexting coercion, or image-based sexual abuse [42
Conclusively, the growing consumption of pornography in youth entails notable risks and implications in the emotional and sexual development of youth, contributing to the appearance of new criminal typologies and forms of online sexual victimization. In general, results from this narrative review highlight the impact that consuming pornography can have on healthy social and emotional development in young people, especially when the consumption of sexually explicit content takes place in the early stages of teen development. Our results indicate that early intentional exposure to pornographic content can negatively influence youths’ behavior by facilitating hypersexualization and contributing to the perpetuation of gender inequality patterns in sexual and emotional relationships. Furthermore, early consumption of pornography has been linked to several forensic implications, such as the exacerbation of paraphilias and the increase in online and offline sexual aggression perpetration and victimization, which, in turn, can have a negative impact on youth development. Future lines of research should assess the real, immediate, and future impact of the presented issues and challenges, as well as establish specific prevention, detection, and intervention plans targeted at vulnerable groups.
This study has been conducted as a narrative review to identify empirical and non-empirical research addressing the association between pornography consumption in young people and the social, sexual, and psychological consequences as well as further forensic implications, which enables a first approach and approximation to the state of the question and the psychological and forensic challenges regarding pornography consumption in youth. A further and deeper study of the presented topic should be carried out using systematic review methodology, and, thus, results presented in the study should be generalized with caution. It should be noted that technological advances mean that the literature in this field is very quickly dated and papers from 2012 and earlier may not completely reflect the current picture. Likewise, it should be noted that most of the reviewed studies did not specify the type of pornography used in their research (heterosexual, queer, feminist, etc.), and, the studies that did, analyzed exclusively heterosexual pornography. Further research should assess the impact of different types of pornography on the young population.