THURSDAY, April 25 (HealthDay News) -- It's easy to blame
pornography for prompting young people to engage in risky sex, but
a new study suggests that the use of sexually explicit material
doesn't have a lot to do with sexual behavior.
The study looked at 4,600 people between the ages of 15 and 25
living in the Netherlands. Researchers asked the volunteers about
the amount and type of porn they used and about risky, adventurous
sexual experiences, such as how many partners they have had,
whether they had ever had sex with a same-sex partner or whether
they ever paid for sex.
The study found that only between 0.3 percent and 4 percent of
the sexual behaviors in question could be attributed to pornography
use. The findings were published online April 25 in the
Journal of Sexual Medicine.
"Pornography is not as big and bad a wolf as we thought it was, and maybe we should focus on other factors," said study author Gert Martin Hald, a clinical psychologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
"It does explain a portion of sexual behavior, but it is modest," Hald added.
One factor that could influence sexual behavior is a
sensation-seeking personality. Not surprisingly, participants in
the study who responded that they like wild sex and having exciting
sexual experiences were more likely to engage in risky, adventurous
It's possible that using porn makes people more open to new
sexual experiences in general, or makes them more aroused, which
then leads them to have more sexual experiences, Hald said. The
study could not determine, however, whether some of the connection
between porn use and sexual behavior was due to these indirect
Other factors that could contribute to sexual behavior are how
you are raised and other social influences, as well as genetics,
Hald said. "Each variable only contributes modestly, but it's the
interaction of factors that is really interesting and important,"
The sexual behaviors in this study aren't necessarily something
to worry about, Hald said. "Some people would say they're great and
introduces people to variety and improves their sex life, so we
refrain from calling these bad," he said.
Participants in the study completed an online survey in 2010
about their relationship status, ethnicity and other factors, as
well as about their porn use and sexual attitudes, including
whether they liked wild sex and how they felt about their sexuality
and being pressured to have sex.
The survey also asked participants about partner experience
(including the number of partners they had, age at which they first
had sex, whether they had ever had a one-night stand), adventurous
sex (such as whether participants had ever had a same-sex partner
or a threesome) and transactional sex (whether they had paid
someone or been paid themselves for sex).
The fact that the survey was conducted online and anonymously
probably lessened the chance that participants would lie about
their sexual attitudes and experiences, Hald said.
The researchers found a connection between using porn and having
more partner experience, adventurous sex and transactional sex for
both men and women, but the association was small for both genders.
Although the survey found an association, it did not prove a
Factors such as being religious or in a relationship did not
appear to affect the influence of porn use, with the exception that
there was an even more modest connection between porn use and
partner experience among women who were religious.
One expert said she thought the Dutch findings would also apply
to the United States.
"I think that these results would be similar in the U.S.," said Susan Tortolero, an associate professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences and epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
The new study, however, could have selected young people who
were more interested in porn because the researchers recruited
participants who would give their opinion about sexuality, she
Men were more likely than women to use porn frequently --
between several times a month and every day -- and to engage in
hard-core porn, which was "not at all surprising, [and] the most
robust finding in porn research," Hald said.
Most of the participants who said they used porn -- 89 percent
of the men and 70 percent of the women -- relied on the Internet
within the past year to get it. Even though access to the Internet
is so much greater than a few years ago, there has not really been
a spike in risky sexual behaviors, Tortolero said.
"Just like the study showed, many other factors [could] determine if a person is going to have risky sex," she said.
Porn is not necessarily harmless, however. "Porn can definitely
confuse a child, and it can create shame and discomfort if they get
exposed early," Tortolero said.
Parents should counteract messages that their children get from
porn, as well as how sex is portrayed in the media. They can do
that by talking with their children about what a healthy
relationship is, and about healthy, respectful sex.
For more about adolescents and sexual health, visit the
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