Written by Daniel Weiss
Conventional wisdom holds that most men look at pornography. This is certainly what the pornography industry, which stands to make incredible profit from mainstream acceptance, would have people believe. Those seeking the truth from the media will be sorely disappointed. Many news reports repeat unsourced, outdated and otherwise unreliable data,1 leaving many confused about the truth. Often, the numbers used publicly are extraordinary, but society tends to accept them without question, in part because most men have encountered pornography at some point in their lives and because many men consider pornographic images and films to be personal temptations that are increasingly difficult to avoid in the Internet age.
Overview: Contrary to popular opinion, not all men look at pornography. Pornography use appears to be highest among men in their later teen and early adult years. Many adult men, particularly married men and regular church attendees, have chosen to forego empty online sexuality and are often strengthened in this choice by family and church communities. These men need to be encouraged to stay the course in a hyper-sexualized society, and those who are currently involved with pornography need to be supported and equipped to leave behind their destructive choices. Further, church communities need to recognize their ability to influence men who are bombarded with pornographic imagery, by addressing the issue in a constructive manner.
Pornography and boys
Men’s pornography use most often begins with exposure to such material in childhood. The Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography reported in the mid-1980s that boys ages 12-17 were the largest consumer group of pornography. Another study, published in 1989, found that by the age of 15, 92% of boys had looked at or read Playboy. The average age of first exposure was estimated to be 11.2
In the past decade, most research has focused on how the Internet has impacted youth exposure to pornography. According to a survey of more than 500 college students in 2006, 73 percent reported having seen pornography online prior to age 18, including 93 percent of boys. An article about this study in Cyberpsychology & Behavior reported that the mean age for first online exposure to pornography for boys is 14.3.3
Exposure to internet pornography among college-aged males
- 93.2% – before 18
- 4.2% – after 18
- 2.6% – never
If exposed before age 18, age at first exposure4
- 8 – 0.6%
- 9 – 0.6
- 10 – 0.6
- 11 – 1.7
- 12 – 10.9
- 13 – 16.0
- 14 – 21.1
- 15 – 22.9
- 16 – 20.0
- 17 – 5.7
(numbers may not add up to 100% due to rounding)
Number of times spent viewing for more than 30 minutes5
- Never – 30.6%
- Once – 6.9
- Up to 10 times – 27.8
- More than 10 times – 34.8
(numbers may not add up to 100% due to rounding)
Wanted and unwanted exposure
The Crimes Against Children Research Center in 2005 found that 42 percent of youth Internet users (boys and girls) had been exposed to online pornography in the past year. Among those exposed, 66 percent reported they had only unwanted exposure. The rest (34 percent) reported either only intentional exposure or intentional a mix.6
Boys reporting online pornography exposure in 20057
A representative of the pornography industry told the COPA (Child Online Protection Act) Commission in July 2000 that 19 percent of visitors to the top adult-oriented websites reviewed by his group were under the age of 15.8
The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 19 percent of boys ages 12-17 say they have lied about their age to gain access to a website. One-quarter of boys ages 15-17 have claimed the same.9
Pornography and young adult men
Pornography use appears to be the greatest among college-age men, presumably driven by lax social morals found on university campuses and the departure from family rules and restrictions on Internet use.
A 2001 study of 506 undergraduate students from a public university in Texas found that 56 percent of men had ever accessed sexually explicit materials (SEM) on the Internet.10 Another study released in 2002 found that 72 percent of college-aged men had ever used the Internet to view pornography.11
In a 2008 study, 813 undergraduate and graduate students (500 women, 313 men) aged 18-26 were asked about their use of and views about pornography. Researchers found:
- 66.5% of emerging adult men (ages 18-26) reported that they agreed, at some level, that viewing pornography is acceptable
- 86% of emerging adult men reported having used pornography at some level in the past year, with approximately one fifth of men in that age range reporting daily or every-other-day use and nearly half (48.4%) reporting pornography use weekly or more.
- The study also revealed that, among the men:
- 14% reported no pornography use in the past year
- 17% reported using pornography once per month or less
- 21% reported using pornography 2 or 3 days per month
- 27% reported using pornography 1 or 2 days a week
- 16% reported using pornography 3 to 5 days a week
- 5% reported using pornography every day or nearly every day12
Statistics on men’s pornography use
Analyzing General Social Survey data from 2000 to 2004, economists Kirk Doran and Joseph Price determined that on average 27 percent of American men reported having watched an X-rated movie in the past year and 17 percent reported having visited a pornographic website in the past month.13
A 2003 American Demographics survey found that 14 percent of American men confess that they regularly look at pornography or visit strip clubs and another 30 percent of men say they do so on occasion.14
A March 2000 Zogby poll commissioned by Focus on the Family found that:
- 21% of people said they had ever visited a sexually oriented website
- 32% of men said they had done so
- 36% of men aged 18-29 had done so
The most recently released Nielsen Net Ratings15 data indicate that more than a quarter of Internet users in the United States visited a pornography site in January 2010, but the data did not break down the percentage of male and female users.16
According to other research, the numbers of men using online pornography in other countries are similar to those found in the United States. Using Nielsen Net Ratings data, The Independent on Sunday reported in 2006 that almost 40 percent of British men had used pornographic websites in the past year, and about 25 percent of men ages 25 to 49 had visited such a site in the past month.17
In 2007, Nielsen Net Ratings/Netview claimed that 35 percent of Australians who used the Internet in the first three months of that year had visited pornography or sexually oriented matchmaking sites. The research also indicated that one in five online pornography users was under age 18.18
While the numbers of men using pornography are alarming (globally in the tens of millions), the data indicate that a smaller percentage of men are using pornography or accessing it with any regularity than is commonly believed. This does not in any way minimize the harm of pornography to those who access it or to those in the family and community around them.
Factors reducing pornography use for men
While many men choose to not view pornography, the research shows several factors that correlate with lower rates of pornography use. Two of the strongest are marital status and church attendance.
In the Focus on the Family/Zogby poll, 21 percent of the public polled said they had ever visited a sexually oriented website, while18 percent of married people and 18 percent of those who call themselves “born again” Christians had done so. These numbers stand out from the use rates for singles (36%) and people in cohabitating relationships (36%).
Using General Social Survey data from 2000, researchers found that people who reported being happily married were 61 percent less likely to report using pornography. Those who reported greater church involvement were 26 percent less likely to use pornography.19
These researchers wrote, “The present study suggests that the strengthening of adult social bonds, especially those to religion and marriage, might reduce the attraction to cyberpornography in general, and, perhaps, child cyberpornography in particular.”20
The sheer number of men using pornography globally is a great concern because of the impact on intimate relationships, family bonds and social stability. Yet, greater clarity about the acceptance and use of pornography is necessary for both ministry and public policy outreaches.
Daniel Weiss worked at CitizenLink as the Pornography Issues Analyst. This article is reproduced with permission, and was originally published at www.myrocktoday.org, April 3, 2011
1 The best practice for citing statistics on pornography use is to treat all numbers with suspicion (people are prone to lie about this topic in surveys) and consider even the best numbers to be a snapshot of a particular place (nation) at a particular time that may or may not be true today. Indeed, most peer-reviewed research is three to four years old at a minimum and may be outdated in light of the fast pace of technology. Even with these limitations, this paper has compiled the best and most reliable research currently available.
2 J Bryant, D. Brown, “Use of pornography,” Pornography: research advances and policy considerations, Hillsdale (NJ): Erdbaum; 1989, p. 25-55.
3 Chiara Sabina, Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth,” CyberPsychology & Behavior. December 2008, 11(6): 691-693.
4 Sabina, Wolak, Finkelhor, “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth,” CyberPsychology & Behavior, 2008.
5 Sabina, Wolak, Finkelhor, “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth,” CyberPsychology & Behavior, 2008.
6 Janis Wolak, Kimberly Mitchell, David Finkelhor, “Unwanted and Wanted Exposure to Online Pornography in a National Sample of Youth Internet Users,” PEDIATRICS, Volume 119, Number 2, February 2007, p. 251, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/119/2/247. (accessed June 2, 2010).
7 Wolak, Mitchell, Finkelhor, “Unwanted and Wanted Exposure to Online Pornography in a National Sample of Youth Internet Users,” PEDIATRICS, February 2007.
8 Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse, Consortium for School Networking, June 2001, p. 5.
9 Amanda Lenhart, Lee Rainie, and Oliver Lewis, Teenage life online: The rise of the instant-message generation and the Internet’s impact on friendships and family relationships, Pew Internet & American Life Project, June 20, 2001, p. 33.
10 Goodson, P., McCormick, D., & Evans, A., “Searching for sexually explicit material on the Internet: An exploratory study of college students’ behavior and attitudes,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 101-117 (2001).
11 Boies, S. C., “University students’ uses of and recreations to online sexual information and entertainment: Links to online and offline sexual behavior,” Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 11, 77-89 (2001).
12 Jason S. Carroll, Laura M. Padilla-Walker, Larry J. Nelson, Chad D. Olson, Carolyn McNamara Barry, Stephanie D. Madsen, “Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults, Journal of Adolescent Research, Volume 23 Number 1 January 2008 6-30
13 Kirk Doran, Joseph Price, “Movies and marriage: do some films harm marital happiness?” http://www.nd.edu/~kdoran/doran%20price%202009.pdf, (accessed June 2, 2010).
14 John Fetto, “Baser Instincts,” American Demographics, June 1, 2003 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4021/is_5_25/ai_102102608/(accessed June 2, 2010).
15 While Nielsen Net Ratings is considered a leader in audience measurement, it never releases its data sets to the public for proprietary reasons, which does not allow independent verification of their claims.
16 “Thank sex for making the internet hot,” National Public Radio, March 7, 2010 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124419606 (accessed June 2, 2010).
17 Anthony Barnes, Sophie Goodchild, “Porn UK,” www.independent.co.uk, May, 28, 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/porn-uk-480084.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
18 Adele Horin, “Record numbers visiting porn sites,” Brisbane Times, May 26, 2007, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/news/national/record-numbers-visiting-porn-sites/2007/05/25/1179601708273.html(accessed June 2, 2010).
19 Steven Stack, Ira Wasserman, Roger Kern, “Adult Social Bonds and Use of Internet Pornography,” Social Science Quarterly, Volume 85, Number 1, March 2004, p. 82.
20 Stack, Wasserman, Kern, “Adult Social Bonds and Use of Internet Pornography,” Social Science Quarterly, Volume 85, Number 1, March 2004, p. 86.