A study, to be published this month in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has been getting surprisingly little coverage in the US. The paper, titled "Does Viewing Explain Doing? Assessing the Association Between Sexually Explicit Materials Use and Sexual Behaviors in a Large Sample of Dutch Adolescents and Young Adults", tries to examine the influence of watching pornography (which is currently being called sexually explicit material or SEM by researchers) on sexual behaviors among teens. The researchers surveyed 4,600 young people aged 15 to 25 who live in the Netherlands.
What they found was that there are statistical associations between watching pornography and some behaviors, like having what they call "adventurous sex", but that the associations are, statistically speaking, weak, and that there are other factors that may just as well account for, or at least mediate, the relationship between watching sexually explicit material and doing sexually explicit things. From an NBCNews.com blog post:
For example, Hald [the lead author] explained, "only 2-3 percent of our sample engaged in transactional behaviors, and the proportion of these behaviors explained by porn viewing was only 1 percent for men and 2 percent for women." Other factors, he said, such as poverty and culture, were more important.
That was true across the board. The frequency of looking at porn explained only about .3 to 4 percent of behavior.
"This suggests that frequency of [porn] consumption is just one factor among many that may influence the sexual behaviors of young people," the study concluded.
It's much easier, of course, to blame porn than to blame poverty when adults go looking for something to blame for the high rates of teen STIs and unintended pregnancies in the US. Although I'd suggest we spend a little more time paying attention to what we as grown ups are doing when we produce sexual panics and then deny our hand in their production. Like poverty, bad things rarely "just happen" and even when they do, its our responses to them that can change the world. I'm not sure complaining counts (if I were right about this, and we all stopped it, online comment fields would be blissfully empty and Facebook would be a much nicer place to visit).
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