Pornography, men, and boys

Porn like father like son Szego Aug 2016

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.

Pornography is a powerful and unhealthy sexual influence for youth and adults alike.

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-word 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 that compare countries' rates of sexual violence their rates of pornography use, 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.

There are other valuable writings on men, boys, and pornography online. These include the following:

Websites focused on men and pornography include the following:

Fostering resistance to pornography

How can we encourage young men’s (and women’s) critical resistance to pornography and encourage gender-equitable sexual relations?

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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

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.

XY's links page includes a section of links on pornography, here, and links on prostitution / sex work, here. Both sets of links need updating (want to help?).