Impact of Easy Access to Pornography on Young People’s Sexual Relationships

Pornography is defined as sexually explicit media whose primary intention is to arouse its audience sexually (Malamuth & Hupin, 2005). Pornography can also entail descriptions, pictures and visual images of naked or half-clothed bodies typically portrayed in genital contact (Traeen et al, 2006). It is normal for young people to grow curious about sex and sexuality as their bodies undergo sexual maturity. The mass media can prove to be of great utility to young adults as they seek private and comfortable ways to earn about sexuality, sexual intercourse and the norms surrounding these subjects. Pornography has become more available for young people in this current age of technological advancement. Young boys no longer have to steal copies of outdated playboy magazines from their fathers or brothers just to get a look at a naked woman’s body. Sexual content has gone mainstream and is more likely than not to serve as a primary source of sexual information for young people. Sexual content is now readily accessible, in many diverse forms according to the user’s preference. Internet sites now include access to sexual content that is less contemporary, more bizarre, offer more anonymity for their users and are increasingly reducing the restrictions of access to the content is more available and more affordable (Cooper, 1998). In fact, the increasing appetite for sexual content among internet users has been the biggest primary driver of the internet industry accounting for a significant portion of revenue each year. This paper seeks to show the effects of pornography consumption on young people’s sexual relationships by utilizing available research on this subject. This paper makes the assumption that all of these young people eventually enter into sexual relationships which may differ on the degree of commitment but exist nonetheless.

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Small studies of adolescents residing in the United States showed that exposure to pornographic material was almost universal by the age at which most young people graduate high school (Byrant & Brown, 1989). Now that the internet and new media technologies such as smartphones have been made more accessible to young people, pornography is even more accessible than ever before. In a click of a button, young people have access to more pornographic content than a 1980s youth could have dreamt of even on his most imaginative days. The average American youth does not even have to visit the internet to access pornography, sexually explicit material is readily available on mainstream media channels on cable and satellite television (Roberts & Foehr, 2004).

The effects of pornography cannot be considered to be uniformly negative across all young adult users but a considerable number of research studies have emerged to show that the consumption of pornographic material is associated with a higher degree of negative outcomes than positive outcomes. In a study done by Brown & L’Engle (2009), increased consumption of pornographic material was found to be associated with riskier sexual encounters and greater incidence of sexual relations that occur on one occasion without the expectation for long term commitment (hookups) among young adults. Moreover, college students who consumed more pornography were found to engage in sexual activity with a higher number of partners and engage in sexual activities that are considered to be riskier such as oral sex than those who did not consume such material. Moreover, the study found that young people who viewed more pornographic material online had the tendency to have a higher number of previous sexual partners, would engage in more casual sex in the form of one night stands and had plans to engage with more sexual partners in the future than did those who viewed less pornographic material or viewed none at all. Moreover, according to a self-report questionnaire filled out by a large sample of undergraduate male and female young adults, it was found that individuals who had had more encounters with pornographic material are more accepting of extradyadic sexual activities in addition to having a higher number of sexual partners in their lifetime (Carrol et al, 2008)

Increased consumption of pornography can also lead to negative perceptions of individuals from their partners within a relationship. This is according to a study conducted by Bergner & Bridges in 2002, where females whose sexual partners engaged in the regular consumption of pornography characterized their partners negatively and expressed feelings that seemed to show that they perceived the repeated use of the pornographic material as a threat to the stability of their relationship with their partner. Moreover, these females often attributed a decrease in sexual intimacy to the partner’s use of pornographic material. The study also showed that the repeated viewing of pornographic material was directly correlated with an increase in problematic attitudes and behaviour such as the sexual objectification of women. The association of pornography consumption with these problematic attitudes was further proven by a study conducted by Foubert et al in 2011, which showed that increased consumption of pornographic material could lead to an increase in the display of aggressive attitudes towards sex, increased aggression towards women and greater acceptance of sexual abuse in the form of rape.

Pornography consumption could also lead to decreased commitment to relationships according to a study by Lambert et al in 2012 which found that pornography consumption had the effect of weakening commitment to one’s relationship and the engagement in higher risk sexual behaviour as a result of this decreased commitment. This study demonstrated that the use of pornography has negative effects on the level of commitment to sexual relationships among young people and resulted in a higher incidence of infidelity in college students who were in committed dating relationships. Moreover, a separate study conducted by Morgan in 2011 showed that pornography consumption within relationships is associated with an incidence of decreased sexual satisfaction by the partners involved in the relationship and could be associated with partner’s feelings of betrayal as a result of the pornography consumption itself (Manning, 2006).

In their study, Lambert et al (2012) hypothesized that the consumption of pornography will lead to an increased desire for sexual variety and increase the attention that subjects give to relationship alternatives and therefore, lower the commitment to the primary romantic partner. Specifically, that pornography consumption would be negatively correlated to commitment and infidelity and that commitment would mediate the relationship between the use of pornography and the occurrence of infidelity. The reason for this hypothesis could be because pornography consumers often view content from a variety of sources with a variety of actors who have different anatomic peculiarities. This may arouse interest from the viewer which may result in seeking alternatives that could replicate what is contained in the pornographic material. This interest will divert his/her attention from his existing sexual partner to the pursuit of other partners. This hypothesis was not only proven in their study which, as stated earlier showed that individuals who were frequent consumers of pornographic material displayed lowered levels of commitment to their romantic partners but can also be seen to have been proven in another study by Zillman & Byrant in 1988 where male and female students were exposed to pornographic material once a week for six weeks and then told to report on their satisfaction with their existing partners afterwards. Those who viewed the material reported being less satisfied with their sexual partners’ sexual behaviour and even appearance. This study also found that male subjects who engaged in the regular consumption of pornography as per the direction of the study were more dominating within the relationship and paid less attention to their sexual partners as opposed to those who did not.

All these studies show that the increased access to pornographic material has had negative effects on the sexual relationships of young adults with increases in risky sexual behaviour, increase in the number of sexual partners and diminished commitment to romantic relationships being of primal importance. However, the effects of pornography are not uniformly negative across all studies. Some studies have found that the increased access to pornography may actually be beneficial to young adult sexual relationships by influencing positive attitudes towards sex and sexuality in general and acting as a safe platform from which young people can engage in the sexual exploration of their significant others and themselves (Goodson et al, 2011). Moreover, a study conducted by Hald & Malamuth (2008) showed that users of pornography report specific benefits associated with their increased consumption of pornography. For instance, users reported increased sexual knowledge as well as the improvement of attitudes towards their sex life and towards the opposite sex and even a general improvement in the overall quality of life that they experience. The results of this study may suggest to the casual observer that an increased consumption of pornography may actually have a positive effect on the quality of sexual relationships among young adults but it is important to remember that this study was conducted on subjects who were already avid users of pornographic content who may have wanted to justify their use of this content by greatly exaggerating its positive effects on their lives and relationships.

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While the negative consequences of the easy access to pornographic material are overwhelming, the positive effects should not be negated. Specifically the creation of a safe platform for sexual exploration and sexual education for young adults and the creation of positive attitudes towards sexuality in general. However, young adults involved in committed sexual relationships should be aware of the negative consequences that their use of pornographic material can have on their attitudes towards their partners and on their relationships in general.

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