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

AUTHOR(S)

Rothman, Emily F.; Beckmeyer, Jonathon J.; Herbenick, Debby; Fu, Tsung-Chieh; Dodge, Brian; and Fortenberry, J. Dennis

PUBLISHED

2021 in Archives of Sexual Behavior

KEY FINDINGS
  • This nationally representative survey found that 1 in 4 18-24 year-olds surveyed identified pornography as the most helpful source for learning about how to have sex. Additionally, this study found that adolescents who had healthy discussions with parents about sex were less likely to report that pornography was a helpful source of information about sex.
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%).... READ FULL ABSTRACT
EXCERPTS
  • "In contrast to what the adolescents reported, a quarter of young adults ages 18–24 years old reported that pornography was their most helpful source of information about how to have sex in the past year. Specifically, it was the most commonly nominated most helpful source as compared to other possible options such as friends, media, and health care professionals. Young adults who were male, not bisexual, Black non-Hispanic, from middle income-earning families, and who had ever masturbated were more likely to report pornography as where they learned the most helpful information about how to have sex."
  • "Although young adults may not perceive pornography as realistic, as at least one prior study has found (Wright & Ŝtulhofer, 2019), their skepticism about its realism may not prevent a substantial minority from seeing it as helpful when learning about how to have sex. This is potentially worrisome because most pornography is not created to be instructional, but rather to enhance sexual arousal, facilitate masturbation, provide escapism, and serve as entertainment. As such, pornography often depicts sexual acts that are exciting to watch but not easy, comfortable, or safe to replicate in a non-performance setting without training."
  • "Importantly, we did find that when adolescents perceived that they had had a helpful conversation with parents about sex recently, they were less likely to report that they saw pornography as a helpful source of information about how to have sex. The recency of the talk that the parents had with their children was important. When parents had had a talk about sex within the past year, adolescents were half as likely to report that pornography was the most helpful source of information about how to have sex. When parents’ most recent talk about sex was more than 1 year in the past, the percentage of adolescents who perceived pornography as the most helpful source of information about how to have sex doubled. This suggests that, in the absence of school-based comprehensive sex education, parents may need to plan on having more frequent conversations with their children about sex and sexual health—having what is often called “the talk” (about sex) once and considering one’s job as a parent complete may be associated with higher rates of youth sexual socialization from pornography."
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