Throughout the years, intense legal, political, and academic discussions have centered upon the use of pornography and its implications. Currently, these discussions have been revived because the Internet provides not only adults but also adolescents and children with free and anonymous access to pornography. The easy availability of pornographic material for all age groups has raised questions about the extent to which people of different age groups are exposed to such material.
Although research on the issue is scarce, the existing studies suggest that younger people use pornography more often than older people (Buzzell 2005; Janghorbani et al. 2003; Traeen et al. 2004). This particularly applies to males – exposure to pornography is generally much more common among males than among females (Laumann et al. 1994). Young male adults and, with the advent of the Internet, also male adolescents seem to be the most frequent users of pornography. Exposure to pornography declines somewhat among people older than 30 years. People who are older than 60 are the least frequent users of pornographic materials. This age gap also shows in the fact that people older than 60 years are less likely than young adults to have ever been exposed to pornographic material (Traeen et al. 2004). Recent research from Scandinavian countries suggests that typically more than 80 percent of young adults have consumed some type of pornographic material sometime in their life (Haeggstroem-Nordin et al. 2005). For young male adults, this figure reaches nearly 100 percent. In contrast, only 63 percent of people older than 60 years have ever been exposed to pornography (Traeen et al. 2004). A study conducted in Asia suggests slightly lower figures, but still shows that the majority of young adults use pornographic material at some point in their life (Janghorbani et al. 2003).
Pornography is basically targeted at adults. However, the free and anonymous availability of pornography on the Internet has enabled adolescents to use such material. Studies from two culturally diverse countries – Taiwan and the Netherlands – have recently found that 50–70 percent of male adolescents and more than 20 percent of female adolescents have accessed different types of pornographic material on the Internet (Lo & Wei 2005; Peter & Valkenburg 2006). The respective figures for older people are generally lower, with less than 10 percent of women and less than 40 percent of men ever having been exposed to pornography on the Internet (Traeen et al. 2004). However, the diverging figures for adolescents and adults may also result from different investigation periods and different operationalizations of exposure to pornography on the Internet.
Generally, the comparability of research on the use of pornographic material is impeded by conceptual and methodological differences in the studies. The conceptual and operational definition of exposure to pornographic material often differs across the studies as does the sampling technique, the target sample, and the interviewing mode. Moreover, research on sexual issues is affected by cultural contexts and technological change. For an encompassing understanding of the implications of exposure to pornography, cross-culturally comparative research is needed, preferably also with a longitudinal component.
- Buzzell, T. (2005). The effects of sophistication, access and monitoring on use of pornography in three technological contexts. Deviant Behavior, 26(2), 109–132.
- Haeggstroem-Nordin, E., Hanson, U., & Tydén, T. (2005). Associations between pornography consumption and sexual practices among adolescents in Sweden. International Journal of STD & Aids, 16(2), 102–107.
- Janghorbani, M., Lam, T. H., & Force, Y. S. S. T. (2003). Sexual media use by young adults in Hong Kong: Prevalence and associated factors. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(6), 545–553.
- Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Lo, V.-h., & Wei, R. (2005). Exposure to internet pornography and Taiwanese adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behavior. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 49(2), 221–237.
- Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2006). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit material on the Internet. Communication Research, 33(2), 178–204.
- Traeen, B., Spitznogle, K., & Beverfjord, A. (2004). Attitudes and use of pornography in the Norwegian population 2002. Journal of Sex Research, 41(2), 193–200.
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