Online generation starts watching porn earlier

September 5, 2013 - 06:40

The first generation to have had unrestricted access to online porn is now entering adulthood. Will they approach sex in the same way as previous generations?

At some point, most boys begin to take an interest in naked girls. We all know that. The new study shows that the arrival of the internet has given them access to porn at an earlier age than before. Further studies will examine whether this will have a long-term effect the young people’s sex lives. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new Swedish study reveals that high-school boys currently aged 16 were only 12 years old when they first searched for pornography online. The boys started watching porn earlier than the preceding generations – and that may affect their relationship to sex.

”The generation that’s growing up today has had incredibly easy access to porn. Much more so than those currently aged 30, 40 and 50,” says Magdalena Mattebo, a doctoral student at Uppsala University, Sweden, who was the lead author of the new study.

“We have now collected the first data about the new generation. We will continue to monitor the young people to see if their porn use affects their sex lives in a way we do not yet know about.”

Girls only half as keen on porn
Most research shows that porn actually does not have a negative effect on the older generations’ sex lives. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Swedish study is based on questionnaires handed out to 53 randomly selected high-school classes in central Sweden.

A total of 477 boys and 400 girls took part in the study. All were aged 16.

It soon emerged that there were significant differences in how much time the two sexes spent on porn:

  • One in ten boys watched porn every day.
  • Only very few of the girls used porn on a daily basis. So few, in fact, that no general conclusions could be drawn about the relationship that this group of girls has with porn.
We have now collected the first data about the new generation. We will continue to monitor the young people to see if their porn use affects their sex lives in a way we do not yet know about.
Magdalena Mattebo

“We have yet to fully analyse the findings for the girls. It is, however, clear that their consumption pattern is different from that of the boys. In general, there are not many girls who watch a lot of porn,” says Mattebo.

“Fifty-four percent of the girls say they have used porn – and 30 percent say they do so regularly. That’s half as many as the boys.”

Hard for teachers to talk about porn

The researchers have so far only fully analysed and published the survey answers from the boys. However, some of Mattebo’s other studies indicate that both sexes change their behaviour as a result of easy access to porn.

The young people are perfectly aware that porn is fiction, but at the same time they say that porn is a source of inspiration that they use in their own sexual relationships. So we have a paradox here: they understand that porn is not reality, but they incorporate it in their lives. It is too early to say what long-term effects this paradox has on them.
Magdalena Mattebo

In one of the studies, she carried out focus group interviews with 17 adults, who had been working with young people for several years. This group included high school teachers and sex counsellors.

“They noted that the youths now have a rougher approach to sexuality. And the sensitive questions that the young people ask sex counsellors usually centre on having watched porn and then not being able to live up to the standards outlined in the porn. The adult interviewees also feel that the youths regard porn as a source of information about sex,” she explains.

“Porn creates special requirements – and thus also problems – for the young people. But the professionals are finding it hard to get a foot in because they lack the practical tools to discuss pornography with them.”

Young people inspired by porn

Facts

The study found that for the Swedish boys:

  • Ten percent watched porn every day.
  • Sixty-three percent watched porn once a week or a couple of times a month.
  • Twenty-seven percent watched porn once a year, less than once a year or never.

When, as part of another study, the researcher asked the young people themselves, it turned out that in many respects they regarded their porn consumption in the same way as the adults. Here, Mattebo conducted focus group interviews with 17 teenage girls and 18 teenage boys, asking them about their relationship with pornography.

“They say that in their experience of pornography, the woman is turned into an object that satisfies the man. They feel that the man is dominant and the woman is submissive,” she says.

“The young people are perfectly aware that porn is fiction, but at the same time they say that porn is a source of inspiration that they use in their own sexual relationships. So we have a paradox here: they understand that porn is not reality, but they incorporate it in their lives. It is too early to say what long-term effects this paradox has on them.”

Facts

When the boys in the study were aged 12:

  • Thirty-four percent of those who currently watch porn a couple of times a month or less had searched for porn on the internet.
  • Fifty-four percent of those who currently watch porn a couple of times a week or a couple of times a month had searched for porn on the internet.
  • Sixty-six of those who currently watch porn every day had searched for porn on the internet.

“They searched for porn on their own initiative and they watched it on their own,” says Mattebo.

The studies do, however, suggest that the young people regard porn as a special standard that they need to live up to in order to have good sex.

  • More boys than girls find inspiration in pornography, though both sexes are affected.
  • The girls feel a pressure to look like the porn models and to be familiar with lots of sexual techniques.
  • The boys feel a pressure to maintain an erection for hours – and also to have a large penis.

“They say they watch porn to satisfy their curiosity around sex – and then there are also many boys who see porn and masturbation as a good source of quick gratification,” says Mattebo.

Researchers: put porn on the school curriculum!

The apparent fact that young people’s porn use is partly dictated by their curiosity around sex acts as a strong case for improving sex education in schools, argue Mattebo and her colleagues, who suggest that Swedish schools ought to put pornography on their curriculum.

“This should be made into a central part of sex education. A course on how to provide sex education for young people ought to be a mandatory part of the Swedish teacher education,” says Mattebo.

“This doesn’t all have to rest on the shoulders of just one teacher. One could imagine an interdisciplinary collaboration between teachers, midwives and healthcare workers.”

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Read the Danish version of this article at videnskab.dk

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