The Porn Crisis

It’s critical that all of us understand the impact of porn.

Far from being a private matter, Culture Reframed deems porn “the public health crisis of the digital age.” But just as the tobacco industry argued for decades that there was no proven connection between smoking and lung cancer, so, too, has the porn industry—with the help of a well-oiled public relations machine—denied the existence of more than 40 years of empirical research on the impact of its products.

Porn is widely available for free online — whether via Snapchat and Instagram — or by clicking to the largest porn site on the internet, Pornhub. Porn serves as the major form of sex education for millions of kids. And what are kids learning? That violence, degradation, and humiliation are central to sex.

Extensive research has shown that porn undermines the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical health of individuals, families, and communities. These studies also demonstrate that porn shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence, and gender equality.

Facts about Porn

  • Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined
  • About one-third of all web downloads in the U.S. are porn-related
  • Pornhub — self-described as “the world’s leading free porn site”­ — received 33.5 billion visits in 2018
  • In a content analysis of best-selling and most-rented porn films, researchers found that 88% of analyzed scenes contained physical aggression: gagging, choking, spanking, and slapping
  • 50% of parents underestimate how much porn their teens have seen
  • A meta-analysis of 22 studies between 1978 and 2014 from seven different countries concluded that pornography consumption is associated with an increased likelihood of committing acts of verbal or physical sexual aggression, regardless of age
  • A meta-analysis found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women”
  • In a study of U.S. college men, researchers found that 83% reported seeing mainstream pornography, and that those who did were more likely to say they would commit rape or sexual assault – if they knew they wouldn’t be caught – than men who hadn’t seen porn in the past 12 months
  • Thirty peer-reviewed studies since 2011 reveal pornography use has negative and detrimental impacts on the brain

Porn is Easy to Access and Free

Much of online porn is free and unfiltered, so the average age of first viewing of porn – whether intentionally or accidentally — is estimated by some researchers to be 12, and anecdotal evidence suggests as young as 8. Porn has become the de facto sex education for young people, as many parents are unaware of how widespread porn is on popular teen media, and comprehensive sex-education is absent from many schools.

And what are these kids looking at? Free and widely available pornography is often violent, degrading, and extreme.

A survey from the UK found that 44% of males ages 11–16 who consumed pornography reported that online porn gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try.

Porn is radically undermining the healthy development of children and youth, and contributing to increasing levels of sexual inequality, dysfunction, and violence.

The Effects of Porn on Boys

Extensive research has revealed that boys exposed to porn from a young age are more likely to:

  • have attitudes that support sexual harassment and violence against women
  • believe “rape myths” that justify or defend rape
  • demonstrate decreased academic performance
  • have decreased empathy for rape victims
  • have increasingly aggressive behavioral tendencies
  • pressure their partners to engage in porn-style sex (harmful, painful, degrading, aggressive, etc.)
  • experience difficulty in developing intimate relationships
  • develop sexual preoccupation and compulsive internet use
  • have increased levels of erectile dysfunction
  • experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and loss of intimacy

Hypersexualized Media

Girls are affected by their own and boys’ use of porn, but they are also subjected to a culture saturated with “hypersexualized media,” which reduces girls and women to sex objects. More than 20 years of research shows that exposure to sexualized images contributes to girls’ self-sexualization (defined as intentionally engaging in activities expressly to appear more sexually appealing), which often leads to others objectifying them, and is correlated with higher self-surveillance and body shame. Exposure to this type of material is related to feelings of shame, appearance anxiety, body issues and dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. There is evidence that for some adolescents, exposure to sexualized media is associated with greater sexual activity and an increased tolerance of sexual violence. This exposure has also led to an increase in victim-blaming and a decrease in empathy for rape survivors.

The Effects of Hypersexualized Media on Girls

Extensive research has shown that girls exposed to hypersexualized pop-culture images from a young age are more likely to:

  • have increased levels of anxiety and depression
  • suffer from low self-esteem
  • have an increased tendency to develop eating disorders and engage in self-harm
  • engage in risky sexual behavior
  • develop negative body image and self objectify
  • have an increased likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse
  • be at greater risk for sexting and to be sexually victimized

Facts About Kids and Porn

  • 39% of 14-year-olds report having seen porn, with about one-third of young people saying they had seen it for the first time at age 12 or younger
  • Minors who view pornography and other sexualized media are more accepting of sexual violence, and more likely to believe “rape myths” (such as the myth that “women enjoy being raped”)
  • Increased use of online porn decreases boys’ academic performance six months later
  • 15 is the average of age of receiving a sext
  • For teens, a significant relationship exists between frequent pornography use and feelings of loneliness and major depression
  • A study of 14- to 19-year-olds found that females who consumed pornographic videos were at a significantly greater risk of being victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault
  • A UK survey found that 44% of males aged 11–16 who consumed pornography reported that online porn gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try NSPCC
  • 75% of 18-year-old women say “pornography has led to pressure on girls and young women to act a certain way”
  • 70% of 18-year-olds say “pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes” about sex and that “pornography can have a damaging impact on young people’s views of sex or relationships”
  • In a study of young teens, 66 percent of boys reported porn consumption in the past year; this early porn exposure was correlated with perpetration of sexual harassment two years later
  • A study of 804 Italian males and females aged 14 to 19 found that males who viewed pornography were significantly more likely to report having sexually harassed a peer or forced someone to have sex

Want Solutions?

Culture Reframed offers a comprehensive, free online program for Parents of Tweens to help parents #StartTheConversation with their tweens. #ParentUp!