Pornography has a profound influence among men and boys.
Most everyday users of pornography are heterosexual males. Looking at, and masturbating to, pornography is the routine practice of large numbers of men. And most of the commercial pornographic industry caters to heterosexual men.
Pornography has an increasingly significant influence on boys' and men's sexualities. Pornography has become the default sex educator for large numbers of boys and young men, and to some extent girls and young women. In this XY collection, I have pulled together some key materials on pornography, men, and boys. Additions are most welcome.
There is compelling evidence that pornography shapes attitudes and behaviours, from experimental, correlational, and longitudinal studies and from meta-analyses of these. Pornography influences:
- Sexual attitudes: how boys and men see women and girls and how they see sex;
- Sexual interests and expectations: the kinds of sex and sexual acts boys and men want and expect to have;
- Sexual practices: the sexual practices boys and men participate in or try to have;
- Sexual violence: boys' and men's violence-supportive attitudes, and their actual perpetration of sexual coercion and violence.
(See below for a summary of this evidence, with links to relevant scholarship.)
Evidence of harm: Pornography teaches sexism and sexual violence
Watching pornography is bad for people’s relationships, their sex lives, and their treatment of others. Porn can make men rapey and women insecure. Sex is great, but porn is not.
First, pornography teaches sexist and sexually objectifying understandings of gender and sexuality. Pornography use leads to less egalitarian and more sexist attitudes, as shown in meta-analyses, experimental, and longitudinal studies among adolescents and adults.
Second, pornography use is consistently associated with poorer relationship quality. Men who use pornography have lower levels of sexual and relationship satisfaction, and women whose male partners use pornography use report reduced intimacy, self-objectification and bodily shame, and sexual coercion.
Third, pornography teaches sexually aggressive attitudes and behaviours. People who use pornography have more violence-supportive attitudes, as shown in both meta-analyses and further recent studies among adolescents and adults. People who use pornography are more likely to use actual violence, as meta-analyses in 2000, 2015 and 2017 showed. Experimental studies find that people shown pornography show increases in sexually violent attitudes and behaviours. Longitudinal studies find that pornography use predicts later sexually violent attitudes and behaviours, including sexual aggression and sexual harassment.
For a comprehensive review of the evidence of pornography's effects, see here. See e.g. pp. 15-18 of the PDF document on that page for a summary of the evidence regarding pornography's impacts on violence-supportive attitudes and on the perpetration of violence. Also see pp. 8-9 and 18-20 for discussion of the complexities of pornography's effects.
I provide a 1,000 summary of pornography's effects, with links to key research articles, in this piece. (I have excerpted some of this above.) And in this recent journal article with Maree Crabbe, we provide an updated account, in a paragraph, of the evidence of pornography's effects on sexual violence.
Three types of studies - correlational, experimental, and longitudinal - provide evidence of pornography's effects on sexually violent attitudes and behaviours. However, a fourth type of study, ecological studies of rates of sexual violence in countries, is only a weak source of evidence, as rates of sexual violence are shaped by multiple factors, of which pornography is only one.
Some writing on pornography asserts that pornography has little if any negative social effects. One example is McKee et al.'s book The Porn Report. This piece critiques the book.
The Men's Bibliography includes a substantial section listing academic scholarship on pornography, here. This includes sub-sections on pornography's content, pornography's effects, children and pornography, gay male pornography, and so on. The bibliography also includes a sub-section of readings on men and pornography.
Pornography and men
XY includes a range of commentaries on men and pornography. See e.g.
- Pornography: Ten points in ten minutes (a speech), by Michael Flood (2019);
- What Does Pornography Say About Me(n)? How I Became an Anti-Pornography Activist, a book chapter by Rus Funk (2004);
- The entire text of John Stoltenberg's book, Refusing To Be a Man: Essays on sex and justice (1990). (And see Michael Flood's review of the book here.)
- A book chapter, "Young Men Using Pornography", by Michael Flood, exploring heterosexual boys’ and young men’s use of pornography;
- Feminism is not a sex aid for men, by Jonah Mix
- Man-centric media impairs our ability to see the sexism in porn, by Matt McCormack Evans
- Don’t Be A Dick, a zine written (mostly) for men about the connections between the construct of masculinity, rape culture, and mainstream pornography;
- What Men "Using Porn" Actually Is and Does, by Julian Real;
- Objections to objectifications, by Cameron Bustamante;
- Just a john? Pornography and men’s choices - a speech by Robert Jensen (2005)
- The porn debate: Wrapping profit in the flag, by Stan Goff;
- Sex, sexual violence, and the sex industry: Some thoughts for boys and men, by Robert Jensen.
There are other valuable writings on men, boys, and pornography online. These include the following:
- The entire text of Robert Jensen's book, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (2007);
- "A letter to men - Porn is not just women’s problem", by Samantha Grey, August 25 2016
- "Porn Makes Men Terrible in Bed", by Emma Lindsay, Oct 18 2016
- "How Porn Teaches Men The Wrong Things In Bed", by Charles Orlando, May 11 2016
- "10 Things Porn Gets Horribly Wrong About Men", by Amanda Pulley, Jan 8 2014
- "One Man’s Journey: How I Stopped Watching Porn for 1 Year and Why I’m Not Going Back", by Dan Mahle, Feb 12, 2014;
- "A letter to my son about porn", by Harriet Pawson, Dec 9 2013;
- "Porn harms men, too", an early piece by Peter Baker (1990).
Websites focused on men and pornography include the following:
- What's Wrong with this Picture (WWWTP): A project on men and pornography (by Rus Funk)
Fostering resistance to pornography
How can we encourage young men’s (and women’s) critical resistance to pornography and encourage gender-equitable sexual relations?
- School-based education to address pornography’s influence on young people: A proposed practice framework: This new journal article (2021) by Maree Crabbe and Michael Flood describes the evidence on pornography’s harms to young people, explains why schools have a key role to play in addressing it, and outlines a framework for best practice in ‘pornography education’. (A summary of some of the article also can be found in this presentation by Michael Flood and Maree Crabbe (2017).)
- This presentation by Michael Flood (2016) explores key strategies for engaging men in resisting and rejecting pornography.
- The website It's Time We Talked, by Reality and Risk, includes valuable materials on engaging boys and young men in critical responses to pornography.
- White Ribbon New Zealand's 2016 campaign included messages about pornography, including pornography as an issue for fathers to address in encouraging their sons' respectful and consensual relationships.
- What's Wrong with this Picture (WWWTP) is a comprehensive project designed to support men in examining the impact of men’s viewing pornography, developed by Rus Funk.
- Funk also has contributed this piece, "Be Realistic: Demand the Impossible: Taking Action Against Pornography".
Talking to young people about pornography
There are some good resources for talking to children and young people about pornography. Here are some:
- 7 great tip sheets for parents, part of the excellent online resource on young people and pornography, ‘It’s Time We Talked’. They are sensible, accessible, positive, and evidence-based. Tip sheets here: https://itstimewetalked.com/resources/parent-tip-sheets/
- The Porn Conversation: 12 tips for discussing the dangers of online porn (and promoting healthy, educational alternatives) with teens and tweens. Children and Screens’ “Ask the Experts” series. https://mailchi.mp/921a602cf3ed/the-porn-conversation-12-tips-for-having-the-talk-12305780
- Talk soon. Talk often. A guide for parents talking to their kids about sex. Free online resource (115pp.), developed by the Western Australian (WA) Department of Health, 2018. https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/-/media/Files/HealthyWA/Original/Sexual-health/TSTO_V2.pdf
- The Practical Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships – an excellent resource for young people and parents. From the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, exploring relationships, consent, equity and sexual health. https://www.lovesexrelationships.edu.au/
Efforts to address men's demand for commercial sex
XY includes materials focused on efforts to 'end demand', whether the demand for prostitution / sex work or for other forms of commercial sex. See e.g.
- Don’t Buy It: Reducing men's demand for commercial sex
- Men: Paying for sex is incompatible with gender equality
- Men's roles in sexual violence and exploitation in prostitution and their prevention (Flood, 2009);
- Published scholarship on addressing demand: a bibliography
- Published scholarship on male clients: a bibliography
- Published scholarship on prostitution, sex work, etc.: a bibliography
There are histories of men's feminist opposition to pornography. For example, in 1992, profeminist male activists in Men Against Pornography took public positions against pornography and prostitution, in both a 'principle of accountability' and in materials on quitting pornography.