Pornography and the Male Sexual Script: An Analysis of Consumption
and Sexual Relations
Chyng Sun •Ana Bridges •Jennifer Johnason •
Received: 17 July 2013 / Revised: 26 August 2014 / Accepted: 3 September 2014
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
Abstract Pornography has become a primary source of sexual
education. At the same time, mainstream commercial pornog-
raphy has coalesced around a relatively homogenous script involv-
ing violence and female degradation. Yet, little work has been
done exploring the associations between pornography and dyadic
sexual encounters: What role does pornography play inside real-
world sexual encounters between a man and a woman? Cognitive
script theory argues media scripts create a readily accessible heu-
ristic model for decision-making. The more a user watches a par-
ticular media script, the more embedded those codes of behavior
become in their worldview and the more likely they are to use
those scripts to act upon real life experiences. We argue pornogra-
phy creates a sexual script that then guides sexual experiences. To
test this, we surveyed 487 college men (ages 18–29 years) in the
United States to compare their rate of pornography use with sex-
ual preferences and concerns. Results showed the more pornog-
raphy a man watches, the more likely he was to use it during sex,
request particular pornographic sex acts of his partner, delib-
erately conjure images ofpornography during sex to maintain
arousal, and have concerns over his own sexual performance
and body image. Further, higher pornography use was nega-
tively associated with enjoying sexually intimate behaviors with
a partner. We conclude that pornography provides a powerful
heuristic model which is implicated in men’s expectations and
behaviors during sexual encounters.
Keywords Pornography Male sexuality Sex education
Cognitive script theory Relationships
The explosion of pornography online as well as its inﬁltration into
the popular culture has raised questions about its inﬂuence on the
sexual lives of adolescents and emerging adults. Pornography is a
multi-billion dollar industry and is easily accessible to all ages by
virtue of its affordability, accessibility, and anonymity (Cooper,
1998). As such, a majority of boys and girls will be exposed to
pornography before age 16 (Sabina, Wolak, & Finkelhor, 2008),
before the average age of ﬁrst intercourse of 17.1 years (Centers
for Disease Control, 2012). These high rates of pornography
exposure come at a time when federally mandated abstinence-
only sexual education programs have been shown to be inef-
fective at helping adolescents make informed and healthy sexual
choices (Kohler, Manhart, & Lafferty, 2008). The absence
of an effective sexual health narrative coupled with the growing
proliferation of pornography raises important questions about
pornography and its associations with sexual experiences and
expectations. Does pornography inform sexual choices? Spe-
ciﬁcally, we ask how pornography use, particularly frequent use,
is associated with intimate dyadic heterosexual sexual behavior
in college men.
By age 17, an overwhelming majority of boys (93 %) and
girls (62 %) have been exposed to pornography (Sabina et al.,
C. Sun (&)
School of Professional Studies, New York University, New York,
NY 10012, USA
Interpersonal Systems Laboratory, Department of Psychological
Science, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, USA
College of Humanities and Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth
University, Richmond, VA, USA
Department of Sociology & Anthropology, James Madison
University, Harrisonburg, VA, USA
Arch Sex Behav
2008), with 66 % of boys and 39 % of girls having seen at least
one form of pornography within the past year (Brown &
L’Engle,2009). A majority of those exposures (66 %) were
accidental or unwanted (Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2007).
Another report indicated that 87 % of men and 31 % of women
report using pornography for sexual purposes, with 11 % of users
viewing pornography once a week or more (Boies, 2002;Carroll
et al., 2008). Rates of exposure and use are relatively uncommon
among children under the age of 13 (Sabina et al., 2008).
Research shows that these rates represent increases in exposure
and are not limited to the United States (Flood, 2007;Ha
Nordin, Sandberg, Hanson, & Tyde
Wolak et al., 2007).
High rates of pornography exposure and use are due in part to
the leading role the internet plays in the sexual education of teens
and young adults (Buhi, Daley, Fuhrmann, & Smith, 2009).
Adolescents are online about 12.5 h per week (Chartier, 2008),
with 75 % of ‘‘online youth’’ using the Internet to ﬁnd health
information, often with a sexual focus (Rideout, 2001). Research
shows that online pornography is a signiﬁcant sour ce of sex
education for young people (Alexy, Burgess, & Prentky, 2009;
¨m-Nordin et al., 2006;Ha
son, & Larsson, 2009; Hunter, Figueredo, & Malamuth, 2010),
that it is lacking in information about the consequences of risky
sexual choice s (Pardun, L’Engle, & Brown , 2005),and that it
portrays inaccurate and unrealisticexpectations about sexual
encounters (Tsitsika et al., 2009).
Research shows that increased pornography exposure is asso-
ciated with earlier and/or quicker onset of sexual activity, more
permissive attitudes toward casual sex, and a higher likelihood of
engaging in risky sexual behaviors such as anal sex, sex with
multiple partners, and using drugs or alcohol during sex (Braun-
Courville & Rojas, 2009;Brown&L’Engle,2009; Peter &
Valkenburg, 2006). Exposure is also associated with less pro-
gressive gender roles, an acceptance of more negative gender
stereotypes including a sexual hierarchy of dominant men and
subservient women, more acceptance of sexual violence, as well
as more sexual harassment perpetration among male adoles-
cents (Brown & L’Engle, 2009;Ha
¨m-Nordin et al., 2006;
Malamuth & Impett, 2001; Villani, 2001). Pornography use has
also been shown to have a negative impact on the self-esteem of
girls (Stewart & Szymanski, 2012) and an increase in physical
insecurities related to sexual performance and body image among
both men and women (Lofgren-Ma
˚rtenson & Ma
On the other hand, some researchers have found evidence that
pornography is associated with neutral (Garos, Bettan, Kluck, &
Easton, 2004) or potentially positive (Kimmel, 1990; McKee,
2007) outcomes. For example, pornography has been found to
function as a form of sex education for young people that can
provide information about the human body and sexual practices,
thus increasing a sense of sexual competence and liberalization
and decreasing sexual shame (Brown et al., 2006;Huston,
Wartella, & Donnerstein, 1988; Johansson & Hammare
MacDonald, 1990; McKee, Albury, & Lumby, 2008).
Nevertheless, with online mainstream pornography over-
whelmingly centered on acts of violence and degradation toward
women, the sexual behaviors exempliﬁed in pornography skew
away from intimacy and tenderness and typify patriarchal con-
structions of masculinity and femininity. Content analysis of
best-selling pornographic videos, for example, reveals that over
88 % of scenes involve acts of physical aggression, with 70 % of
the aggressive acts being perpetrated by men, and 87 % of the acts
being committed against women (Bridges, Wosnitzer, Scharrer,
Sun, & Liberman, 2010). Such acts stand in sharp relief against
more intimate acts, which were relatively infrequent, such as issu-
ing verbal compliments, embracing, kissing, and laughing.
These forms of violent mainstream pornography have been
shown to have negative associations with relationship quality
and feelings of intimacy. Stewart and Szymanski (2012) found
that pornography was negatively associated with relationship
quality, particularly in longer-term relationships, and that female
consumers of pornography experienced feelings of inadequacy
and lower self-esteem compared to women who did not use
pornography. Additionally, other research on women has docu-
mented a decrease in self-esteem and feelings of sexual desir-
ability associated with the male partner’s use of pornography
(Bergner & Bridges, 2002;Shaw,2010; Zitzman, 2007). Por-
nography use, particularly among men, also increases the amount
of non-relational,‘‘isolated and solitary’’(Cooper, Putnam,
Planchon, & Boies, 1999, p. 82; see also Ferree, 2003)sexual
activity, creates harsher judgments among men regarding their
female partner’s physical attractiveness (Zillmann & Bryant,
1988), thus exacerbating women’s feelings of insecurity (Berg-
ner & Bridges, 2002) and is associated with decreased sexual
satisfaction in partnered men (Bridges & Morokoff, 2011;Stack,
Wasserman, & Kern, 2004).
Additional research is considering the ways in which the
increasing use of pornography translates into perceptions of
reality regarding actual sexual encounters. Tsitsika et al. (2009)
found that among Greek adolescents, exposure to‘‘sexually
explicit material’’fosters ‘‘unrealistic attitudes about sex and
misleading attitudes toward relationships’’ (p. 549). Peter
and Valkenburg (2008a,b,2010a,b) found that the more por-
nography adolescents watch, the more likely they are to believe
the material reﬂects real-world sexual practices and the more
instrumental (less relational) they are in their approach to sex. The
authors hypothesized that the vast and contradictory information
about sexuality portrayed in pornography creates dissonance and
sexual uncertainty, particularly when it differs from information
presented by families and schools. Frequently, the use of por-
nography leads to a greater preoccupation with sex and more
frequent distractions by sexual thoughts. Peter and Valkenburg
(2008a) concluded that‘‘sexual arousal as a result of exposure to
SEM [sexually explicit material] may cue sex-related cognitions
Arch Sex Behav
in memory…and may eventually lead to chronically accessible
sex-related cognitions, that is, sexual preoccupancy’’(p. 227).
This focus on the cognitions of pornography is rooted in
‘‘cognitive script s’’theory, which argues that media provide a
heuristic model outlining‘‘what should or should not be hap-
pening, how people should or should not behave in response
to what is or is not happening and what the outcomes of a
particular course of action should be’’(Wright, 2011, p. 348).
Heuristic processing describes the way in which information
is processed quickly and without much deliberation and can be
contrasted with systemic processing, which is about deliberation,
weighing of facts, and conscious analysis. Media, in other words,
create an easily accessible memory structure for real-world
decision-making that circumvents critical analysis.
Pornography then, as a core component of sexual socializa-
tion, provides a (gendered) heuristic ‘‘sexual script’’which ‘‘tells
us how to behave sexually’’(Gecas & Libby, 1976,p.37;seealso
Gagnon & Simon, 1973; Simon & Gagnon 1986). Once ac quired
and activated (Wright, 2011), consumers use pornographic sex-
ual scripts to navigate real-world sexual experiences and guide
sexual expectations. The cognitive processing of these sexual
scripts takes place without forethought, done primarily through
habit. For example, pornography use by men is in part motivated
by the exclusive focus on sexual rewards (i.e., pleasure) without
any of the costs (i.e., commitment or disease) (Cline, 2001;
Wingood et al., 2001), consequently diminishing the level
of forethought used while viewing (Wright & Randall, 2012).
Thus the more pornography is viewed, the more preference for
and reliance onthe pornographic sexual script userswill exhibit
during dyadic sexual encounters because it will be the easiest to
cognitively activate and behaviorally enact. In other words, por-
nography is not simple fantasy; it is an easily accessible template
Purpose and Hypotheses
Our study explores the question of how pornography relates to
the sexual experiences of heterosexual college men. While pre-
vious research has investigated the associations between por-
nography and individual behaviors, attitudes, and feelings related
to sex and sexuality, our study looks at the role pornography plays
during dyadic sexual encounters and its associations with men’s
intimacy and sexual concerns. Consistent with sexual script
theory, we expect the sexual script s embedded in pornography to
serve as a heuristic model for understanding and making deci-
sions during intimate sexual behavior. Consequently, we expect
that the more men watch pornography, the more they will report a
preference for and reliance on pornography to obtain and/or
maintain sexual excitement, and the more they will report
incorporating pornography into dyadic sexual encounters. Fur-
thermore, in line with previous research on individual attitudes,
we expect that pornographic sexual scripts will be negatively
associated with sexual intimacy and positively associated with
sexual insecurities. Our speciﬁc hypotheses are as follows:
H1 Higher use of pornography will be positively associated
with sexual insecurities.
H2 Higher use of pornography will be positively associated
with increased reliance on pornography to obtain/maintain
H3 Higher use of pornography will be positively associated
with integrating pornography with sex.
H4 Higher use of pornography will be negatively associated
with enjoyment of intimate behaviors during sex with a partner.
As part of a larger, multinational study, 1,880 heterosexual men
and women residing in the United States consented to participate
in our survey. Most (N=1,562) indicated they were college
students; non-students were excluded. Because we were inter-
ested in typical college-aged participants, and over 85 % of full-
time college students are between the ages of 18 and 29 years
(U.S. Department of Education, 2012), we thus excluded an
additional 66 participants who were younger than 18 years or
older than 29 years. Of the remaining 1,496 participants, 32.6 %
were men (N=488, including a man who responded randomly
and who was later excluded), and the rest were women. Research
has consistently found that men’s and women’s pornography
consumption patterns are quite different (Hald, 2006) and pos-
sibly produce different effects. Thus, we focus on male college
students in the current study and will analyze their female
counterparts in a later paper.
Participants for the current study therefore were 487 hetero-
sexual U.S. male college students (ages 18–29 years) residing in
the United States (Table 1). Most (88.7 %) respondents indi-
cated they attended a public college or university. Most (91.4 %)
respondents were White and 86.0 % lived in the South. Average
age was 19.98 years (SD =1.88). The majority (over 70 %) of
male and female guardians of these participants had completed a
college degree. Participants were primarily Protestant/Christian
(34.7 %) and Catholic (33.7 %); 16.4 % of participants were not
religious. Participants reported an average level of importance of
their religious faith (M=3.46, SD =1.76, scale from 1 not at all
important to 6 very important). Only 34.0 % reported agreeing or
strongly agreeing that religious faith was important to them.
Regarding relationship status, most participants (59.8 %)
were not in a relationship. We recorded relationship status so that
all participants who reported not being in a relationship or in a
Arch Sex Behav
non-monogamous relationship were not considered to be in
committed relationships, whereas participants who reported
being in a committed relationship, married, or cohabiting with a
partner were coded as being in committed relationships. One-
third (33.1 %) of participants were in committed relationships
and 66.1 % were not.
Most participants (88.1 %) reported having had prior dyadic
sexual experiences, including being naked, touching genitals,
engaging in oral sex, or having sexual intercourse (vaginal or
anal). More speciﬁcally, 75.4 % of participants reported having
engaged in sexual intercourse. Of the 367 respondents who
reported having engaged in sexual intercourse, 12.5 % had done
so prior to the age of 16, 68.1 % ﬁrst had intercourse between 16
and 18 years of age, and the remaining 19.4 % ﬁrst had inter-
course at 19 years of age or later. Most (82.0%) sexually expe-
rienced respondents reported 3 or fewer prior sexual partners.
Frequency of Pornography Use
Two questions assessed the frequency of current pornography
use: (a) On average, how often do you use pornography for
masturbation? and (b) How often do you view pornography but
not for masturbation? Each item was answered on an 8-point
Likert scale (1 =never, 2=less than once a year,3=afew
times a year,4=once a month,5=a few times a month,6=
1–2daysaweek,7=3–5daysaweek,8=daily or almost daily).
The two items were signiﬁcantly correlated, r=.28, p\.001.
Both items loaded signiﬁcantly onto a single factor (standardized
loadings were .54 and .38, respectively).
Other Aspects of Pornography Use
In addition to assessing frequency of use, for descriptive pur-
poses we asked participants to indicate what kind of pornogra-
phy they consumed most often (magazines or books, video on
demand or pay per view, cable television channels such as
Playboy, pornographic digital video disks, and the internet) and
to estimate, in dollars, how much money they spent on por-
nography per month. We also asked the respondents their age at
Table 1 Demographic information for the full sample
Age (years) – 19.98 (1.88)
White 445 (91.4 %) –
Black/African American 18 (3.7 %) –
Asian 17 (3.5 %) –
Hispanic/Latino 10 (2.1 %) –
Native American 12 (2.5 %) –
Paciﬁc Islander 1 (.2 %) –
White (non-biracial) 426 (87.5 %) –
Midwest 3 (.6 %) –
Northeast 39 (8.0 %) –
South 419 (86.0 %) –
West 0 (.0 %) –
Protestant 169 (34.7 %) –
Catholic 164 (33.7 %) –
Jewish 19 (3.9 %) –
Other 11 (2.3 %) –
No religion 80 (16.4 %) –
– 3.46 (1.76)
Not in a relationship 291 (59.8 %) –
In a relationship but not monogamous 31 (6.4 %) –
Committed relationship but not cohabiting 139 (28.5 %) –
Cohabiting 12 (2.5 %) –
Married 10 (2.1 %) –
Prior sexual experience 429 (88.1 %) –
Age at ﬁrst sexual intercourse
Never had intercourse 61 (12.5 %) –
Younger than 12 years 3 (.6 %) –
13–15 years 43 (8.8 %) –
16–18 years 250 (51.3 %) –
19–21 years 63 (12.9 %) –
22 years and older 8 (1.6 %) –
Number of sexual partners in the past year
None 92 (18.9 %) –
1–3 273 (56.1 %) –
4–6 40 (8.2 %) –
7–9 15 (3.1 %) –
10 or more 5 (1.0 %) –
Parental educational attainment: male guardian
Less than high school degree 9 (1.8 %) –
High school degree or equivalent 53 (10.9 %) –
Some college, no degree 50 (10.3 %) –
College degree 169 (34.7 %) –
Graduate or advanced degree 190 (39.0 %) –
Parental educational attainment: female guardian
Table 1 continued
Less than high school degree 4 (.8 %) –
High school degree or equivalent 50 (10.3 %) –
Some college, no degree 65 (13.3 %) –
College degree 217 (44.6 %) –
Graduate or advanced degree 140 (28.7 %) –
Responses coded on a scale from 1 (not at all important)to6(very
Arch Sex Behav
ﬁrst exposure to pornography and the age at which they ﬁrst used
pornography for masturbation. These last two items were sig-
niﬁcantly correlated, r=.56, p\.001.
Three questions assessed sexual insecurities: (a) I am concerned
about how good I am at sex; (b) I am concerned that my penis is
not big enough; and (c) I am concerned that I cannot sustain my
erection long enough (including concerns about loss of erection
or premature ejaculation). Each item was answered on a 6-point
Likert scale, from 1 (strongly disagree)to6(strongly agree).
Cronbach alpha for the three-item scale was .78. All items loa-
ded signiﬁcantly onto a single factor (standardized loadings
were .69, .69, and .57, respectively).
Reliance on Pornography to Obtain/Maintain Sexual
Three questions assessed participants’ preference for and reli-
ance on pornography to obtain and/or maintain sexual excite-
ment: (a) It is easier for me to reach orgasm by watching por-
nography and masturbating than by having sex with a partner;
(b) When I am having sex with a partner, I intentionally think
about images from pornography to maintain my excitement; and
(c) Using pornography to masturbate is more exciting than
having sex with a partner. Each item was answered on a 5-point
Likert scale, from 1 (never)to5(always).Cronbach alpha for the
three-item scale was .57; however, examination of alpha-if-
item-deleted statistics and item-total correlations (ranging from
.37 to .44) indicated all three items contributed to the scale’s
reliability (de Vaus, 2002). All items loaded signiﬁcantly onto a
single factor (standardized loadings were .53, .71, and .50,
Integrating Pornography with Sex
Three questions assessed participants’ integration of pornogra-
phy with sexual interactions with a partner: (a) On average, how
often do you view pornography when you are having sex with a
partner? (b) Have you ever asked a sex partner to try something
that you saw in pornography, such as a new sexual activity or
position? and (c) I role-played with a sexual partner a scene that I
saw in pornography. The ﬁrst item was answered on an 8-point
Likert scale (1 =never, 2=less than once a year,3=afew
times a year,4=once a month,5=a few times a month,6=
1–2daysaweek,7=3–5daysaweek,8=daily or almost daily).
The second item was answered on a dichotomous scale (1 =yes,
0=no). The third item was answered on a 5-point Likert scale,
from 1 (never)to5(always). Cronbach alpha for the three-item
scale was .41; however, examination of alpha-if-deletedstatistics
and item-total correlations (ranging from .23 to .33) indicated all
items contributed to the scale’s reliability (de Vaus, 2002)andall
items loaded signiﬁcantly onto a single factor (standardized
loadings were .42, .38, and .70, respectively).
Enjoyment of Sexual Intimacy
Three questions assessed enjoyment of sexual intimacy: (a) I
enjoy cuddling with my sexual partner; (b) I like kissing during
sex; and (c) I like to take time caressing my sexual partner’s
body. Each item was answered on a 6-point Likert scale, from 1
(strongly disagree)to6(strongly agree). Cronbach alpha for the
three-item scale was .87. All items loaded signiﬁcantly onto a
single factor (standardized loadings were .76, .87, and .86,
This project was part of a collaborative, multi-site study of
culture and sexual behavior conducted by a consortium of inter-
national, cross-disciplinary scholars from the ﬁelds of com-
munication, psychology, and sociology. All participating uni-
versity Institutional Review Boards approved the project. Par-
ticipants were recruited from Spring 2011 to Spring 2012
throughdepartmental andcollege-wide emailannouncements,
posted campus ﬂyers, or Introductory Psychology courses.
Interestedparticipantswere directed to an onlinesurvey posted
on SurveyMonkey, a web-based survey service; each recruit-
ment site had a unique link. Participants ﬁrst provided consent,
then conﬁrmed their eligibility prior to completing the survey.
Participation took approximately 30min. Following survey
completion, participants received a full debrieﬁng and were
given an opportunity to enter into a rafﬂe to win one of three
cash prizes (one $100 and two $60 prizes were awarded via
random selection of all interested participants).
Descriptive statistics were utilized to provide base rate data on
frequency of pornography use. Means and SDs for all dependent
variables were computed (Table 2). Bivariate correlations were
examined to assess demographic variables for inclusion in anal-
yses as covariates. Skewness and kurtosis statistics and histo-
grams were examined for assumptions of normality. Bivariate
scatter plots were used to examine assumptions of linearity.
Hypotheses were tested with a structural equation model using
maximum likelihood estimation that employed one exogenous
factor (pornography use, indicated by frequency of use for
masturbation and frequency of use, but not for masturb ation), six
exogenous covariates (age, age at ﬁrst pornography exposure,
White ethnicity, religiosity, committed relationship status, and
parental educational attainment), and four endogenous factors
(pornography use during sex, preference for and reliance on
pornography, enjoyment of sexual intimacy, and sexual inse-
curities). Parental education was a latent factor comprised of
Arch Sex Behav
female guardian and male guardian educational attainment
ordinal variables. All exogenous variables were allowed to co-
vary. Model ﬁt was assessed with examination of the v
the ratio of v
to degrees of freedom, ﬁt indices, and residuals.
is often signiﬁcant with large sample sizes and
complex models (Ullman, 2001), good model ﬁt was deter-
to degrees of freedom ratio was\2,
the comparative ﬁt index (CFI) was [.90, and the root mean
square error of approximation (RMSEA) was\.05 (Browne &
Cudeck, 1993). Analyses were completed with SPSS version 17
and AMOS version 18.
Current Pornography Use
Nearly all participants had had some previous exposure to por-
nography; 48.7 % of the men had expos ure prior to the age of 13.
Only 1.3 % reported having never encountered pornography
before. Participants were asked about their current use of por-
nography. Of the 468 who responded to the question (data were
missing for 19 participants or 3.9 % of the sample), 10.9 %
reported they did not currently use pornog raphy. By far the most
common method participants used to access pornographic
materials was the internet (97.4 % of pornography users),
and the majority (99.5 %) accessed pornography for free.
Of the 413 participants who reported current pornography
use,99.5%useditatleastoccasionally for masturbation. The
modal frequency of pornography use for masturbation was
1–2 days per week (31.2 % of pornography users), followed by
3-5 days per week (20.0 %), and a few times per month (19.1 %).
Daily pornography use for masturbation was reported by 13.5 %
of pornography users. Of the 413 participants who endorsed
current pornography use, 11.9 % never masturbated without
pornography. In total, 70.7 % of these participants reported
masturbation without pornography as occurring a few times per
month or less often. Among pornography users, frequency of
masturbation with pornography was not signiﬁcantly associated
with frequency of masturbation without pornography, r=.012,
We explored how demographic variables related to fre-
quency of pornography use both with and without masturbation.
Age was not associated with frequency of pornography use for
masturbation, r=.085, p=.067, N=465, nor was it associated
with frequency of pornography use without masturbation, r=
.026, p=.584, N=463. Religiosity was not signiﬁcantly asso-
ciated with pornography use without masturbation, r=-.072,
p=.125, N=461. However, it was signiﬁcantly negatively
associated with frequency of pornography use for masturba-
tion, r=-.247, p\.001, N=463. There was also a signiﬁ-
cant difference in frequency of pornography use for mastur-
bation by committed relationship status, t(461) =1.99, p=.047.
Speciﬁcally, men who reported being in a committed relation-
ship (M=5.03, SD =2.22, N=154) reported signiﬁcantly less
frequent use of pornography than men not in committed rela-
tionships (M=5.43, SD =1.99, N=309). However, the
same was not true for pornography use without masturbation
=2.18, SD =1.66, N=154;M
SD =1.82, N=307), t(459) =.86, p=.389.
Overall Model Fit
Prior to assessing individual hypotheses, we assessed the ﬁt of
the overall model (Fig. 1). Although the v
value was signiﬁcant
(144) =281.73, p\.001], other ﬁt indices suggested the
model provided an adequate ﬁt to the data [v
/df ratio =1.96,
CFI =.91, RMSEA =.04, 90 % CI for RMSEA =.04–.05].
H1: Pornography Use and Sexual Insecurities
Our ﬁrst hypothesis asked if there was an association between
pornography use and concerns about one’s sexual performance,
including worry about penis size, being good at sex, and sus-
taining an adequate erection. Means and SDs for the three sexual
insecurity questions are presented in Table 2. Contrary to our
Table 2 Descriptive statistics for study variables
M(SD) or N(%)
Frequency of pornography use with masturbation 5.24 (2.08)
Frequency of pornography use without
Concerned about how good I am at sex 3.89 (1.55)
Concerned penis is not big enough 2.97 (1.52)
Concerned I cannot sustain my erection long enough 2.96 (1.64)
Easier to orgasm to pornography than by having sex 2.19 (1.20)
Purposely imagine pornographic scenes when
Masturbating to pornography is more exciting than
Integration of pornography and sex
Frequency of viewing pornography with a partner
Asked a partner to try something from pornography
N=177 (36.3 %)
Role-played a pornographic scene with a sexual
Enjoyment of sexual intimacy
Enjoy cuddling with sexual partner 5.07 (1.05)
Like kissing during sex 5.14 (.98)
Like caressing sexual partner 5.09 (.95)
Responses coded 1 (never)to8(daily or almost daily).
coded 1 (strongly disagree)to6(strongly agree).
Responses coded 1
Responses coded 0 (no)or1(yes)
Arch Sex Behav
ﬁrst hypothesis, there was not a signiﬁcant association between
pornography use and sexual insecurities in our structural model
(standardized path coefﬁcient =.13, p=.16). None of the
covariates were signiﬁcantly associated with sexual insecurities.
A non-signiﬁcant trend emerged, such that older participants
tended to report lower sexual insecurities than younger partici-
pants (standardized path coefﬁcient =.11, p=.07).
H2: Pornography Use and Reliance on Pornography
to Obtain/Maintain Sexual Excitement
We were interested in seeing whether pornography use was
associated with a preference for and a reliance on pornography
to obtain and/or maintain sexual excitement during sex with a
partner. Means and SDs for the three pornography reliance
questions are presented in Table 2. Consistent with our second
hypothesis, there was a signiﬁcant positive association between
the two variables in our structural model (standardized path
coefﬁcient =1.21, p=.01). None of the covariates were signif-
icantly associated with pornography reliance; however, higher
religiosity was non-signiﬁcantly associated with higher reliance
on pornography during sexual activity (standardized path coef-
ﬁcient =.40, p=.09).
H3: Pornography Use and Integrating Pornography w ith Sex
Among participants with a current sexual partner (N=297),
most (78.1 %) did not view pornography during sexual activity
(Table 2). We hypothesized higher use of pornography would be
associated with greater likelihood of having viewed pornogra-
phy during sexual activity with a partner, requesting from the
partner a sexual activity the participant saw in pornography, and
role-playing a pornography scene with a partner. Consistent with
our third hypothesis, we saw a signiﬁcant positive association
Fig. 1 Structural model relating
pornography use and demographic
variables to relational variables
Arch Sex Behav
between pornography use and the pornography use during sex
factor (standardized path coefﬁcient =1.10, p=.02). Of the
covariates, younger age was associated with greater integration
of pornography into sexual activity (standardized path coefﬁ-
cient =-.33, p=.04).
H4: Pornography Use and Enjoyment of Sexually
Participants answered questions assessing the degree to which
they enjoyed intimate behaviors with their sexual partners, such
as cuddling, kissing, and caressing. Overall, the respondents
highly enjoyed those intimate behaviors; means and SDs for
these three questions are presented in Table 2. Consistent with
our fourth hypothesis, there was a signiﬁcant negative associa-
tion between these two latent variables in our structural model
(standardized path coefﬁcient =-.37, p\.001). We also found
older age (standardized path coefﬁcient =.15, p=.03) to be
associated with increased self-reported enjoyment of sexually
intimate behaviors. A non-signiﬁcant trend emerged for religi-
osity, such that more religious participants tended to have lower
self-reported enjoyment of sexually intimate behaviors than less
religious participants (standardized path coefﬁcient =-.13,
Associations Between Pornography Use and Covariates
While we initially explored bivariate associations between
pornography use and demographic variables, as described
above, we further investigated how demographic variables used
as covariates in the structural model related to the pornography
use latent variable. Current pornography use was signiﬁcantly
associated with age at ﬁrst exposure to pornography. In partic-
ular, the younger the age at which men were ﬁrst exposed to
pornography, the higher their current use of pornography
(standardized covariance =-.24, p=.02). Religiosity was also
signiﬁcantly negatively associated with current pornography
use (standardized covariance =-.49, p\.001). Non-signiﬁ-
cant trends emerged for two additional covariates: participant
age and being in a committed relationship. Older participants
(standardized covariance =.18, p=.06) and those not in a
current committed romantic relationship (standardized covari-
ance =-.18, p=.06) tended to report higher frequency of
pornography use than younger and non-committed participants.
Finally, we conducted a series of analyses that explored
whether any of the demographic covariates moderated the rela-
tions between pornography use and the endogenous variables.
The items comprising each factor were ave raged for a total score,
and these served as the criterion variables in a series of multiple
regressions with pornography use, the demographic covariate,
and their interaction as the predictors. None of the demographic
covariates were signiﬁcant moderators with the exception of one:
men lower in religiosity that used higher amounts of pornography
were signiﬁcantly more likely to prefer pornography over sex
with a real life partner than men higher in religiosity.
This study joins previous research documenting the ubiquity of
viewing pornography among heterosexual male college stu-
dents (Boies, 2002;Carroletal.,2008). Our research indicates
that a majority of men (58.7 %) use pornography weekly, mostly
via the internet.
Furthermore, although Carrol et al. (2008) found daily
viewing of pornography to be very rare (5.2 %), we found that
13.2 % of respondents viewed pornography daily or almost daily.
We also found an earlier onset of ﬁrst exposure to pornography
compared to prior studies. Previous research (Sabina et al., 2008)
found that 14.4 % of boys had exposure prior to the age of 13; we
found that 48.7 % of men in our sample had similar early expo-
sure. Such an increase in both the rate of consumption and early
exposure may be due to the idiosyncrasies of the participants, but
it may also be the result of increasingly easy access to ubiquitous
Internet pornography (Johnson, 2010) and the social acceptance
of a‘‘porniﬁed’’ culture (Paul, 2005).
The growing presence of pornography in men’s sexual so cial-
ization raises questions about the potential impact of pornogra-
phy on dyadic sexual encounters; how might pornography use
shape heterosexual men’s sexual behaviors, attitudes, and expec-
tations during sexual encounters with women? Our rese arch indi-
cates that men who view high rates of pornography are more
likely to rely on pornography to become and remain sexually
excited and, when engaged in dyadic sexual behaviors, are more
likelytointegratepornographyinsexual activities. In addition,
men with high rates of pornography use expressed diminished
enjoyment in the enactment of sexually intimate behaviors com-
pared to men with lower rates of pornography use. On the other
hand, pornography use was not signiﬁcantly associated with
These ﬁndings buildon the work of Tsitsikaet al. (2009)and
Peter and Valkenburg (2008a,b,2010a,b) illustrating the
relationships between pornography use and male consumers’
attitudesand beliefs aboutreal-world sexualrelationships.We,
too, ﬁnd that pornography is not mere fantasy or an individu-
alized experience for men. Instead, our ﬁndings are consistent
with a theory suggesting that pornography can become a pre-
ferred sexual script for men, thus inﬂuencing their real-world
expectations. Like others (Maltz & Maltz, 2010;Paul,2005),
our research indicates that such pornographic preferences are
not benign for either the male consumer or his sexual part-
ner(s). Instead, the consumption of pornography is associated
with decreased self-reported enjoyment of sexually intimate
behaviors with a real life partner. This association is con-
cerning but not particularly surprising, giventhe phallocentric
ﬁxation, male-dominated content, and infrequent expressions
Arch Sex Behav
of intimacy (Bridges et al., 2010;Dines,2010; Sun,Wosnitzer,
Bridges, Scharrer, & Liberman, 2010) that typify mainstream
With regard to demographics, our research indicated that
sexual behaviors and attitudes are inﬂuenced by age. The older
men in our study (those closer to 29 years of age) viewed por-
nography more often but were less likely to watch pornography
with a partner and engage in pornographic sex acts with a partner
than younger participants (men closer to 18 years of age). Fur-
thermore, they reported higher enjoyment of sexually intimate
behaviors such as kissing and caressing, and trended toward
having lower sexual insecurities, when compared to younger
male participants. Kimmel (2008) found that younger men tend
to use pornography for sexual learning and socialization while
older men use it for more sexually instrumental purposes. The
explosion of online pornography took place within the last
decade, after many of the older men in our study developed their
early sexual identities (i.e., when they were already 18 or
19 years old). It could be that men who developed their sexual
arousal patterns outside the modern mainstream pornographic
script possess a more diverse and/or experience-based heuristic
model of sexual behavior, while the younger men in our study
relied more on readily-available internet pornography to form
their sexual scripts. If this is the case, perhaps when the homo-
geneous nature of online pornography—focused primarily on
one form of sexual behavior that is aggressive and phallocen-
tric—is countered by more experience inside real life sexual
interactions, the pornographic script holds less power. However,
it is important to note that even controlling for age, men who
consume pornography more frequently are more likely to report
sexual concerns and increasingly rely on the pornog raphic script
for pleasure. This suggests that the pornographic script remains a
force in men’s heuristic processing, no matter their age or
We also found that being in a committed relationship did not
mitigate a man’s reliance on the pornographic script for obtain-
ing/maintaining sexual excitement, the likelihood of his engage-
ment of the script with a partner, his experience of sexual inse-
curity, or his enjoyment of sexually intimate behaviors. Seem-
ingly, the presence of a partner with whom the viewer has an
emotional attachment may moderatesomeaspectsofthepor-
nographic script. As with age, this implies that pornography’s
associations with sexual behaviors and preferences may be mit-
igated by real-world sexual experiences. On the other hand,
more committed men in our study demonstrated a non-signiﬁ-
cant trend toward lower use of pornography in general, and this
lower use may be what accounts for the lack of associations.
More research is needed on the ways in which pornography
functions inside committed dyadic relationships.
Our research suggests that the larger context of the user’s life
may be important in understanding the ways in which pornog-
raphy can be incorporated into a man’s heuristic model of sex-
uality. One interesting and contradictory ﬁnding we obtained
was that of the non-signiﬁcant but trending associ ations between
religiosity and pornography. In bivariate correlations, we found
men who reported higher religiosity were less likely to use
pornography for masturbation (but not to use pornography with-
out masturbation); however, our multivariate analyses indicate
that men who expressed a stronger commitment to their reli-
gious faith showed an increased preference for pornography
over real sex and an increased reliance on pornography to
maintain sexual excitement. Taken together, these results sug-
gest that higher religiosity is associated with lower use of por-
nography for masturbation, but pornograph y’s associations with
sexual behaviors are heightened in more religious young men.
Other research suggests that religiosity among female adoles-
cents is associated with a slight delay of sexual intercourse
(Rostosky, Regnerus, & Comer Wright, 2003; Rostosky, Wil-
cox, Comer Wright, & Randall, 2004). It is conceivable that
pornography functions as a mechanism of delay for religious
teen boys (choosing pornography as a way of delaying sexual
intercourse). However, other researchers suggest that‘‘whenone
has indulged in morally questionable activities, one should
naturally be motivated to engage in activities that will restore
moral integrity’’ (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006, p. 1452), such that
boys may turn to religion to alleviate the shame and guilt asso-
ciated with watching pornography. Clearly, more research is
needed to better understand the associations between pornog-
raphy and religiosity.
Research has found federally mandated abstinence-only
sexual education programs to be ineffective in helping adoles-
cents make informed and healthy sexual choices (Kohler et al.,
2008). Furthermore, Epstein and Ward (2008) found that boys
receive less sexual education than girls, leaving them to rely
more heavily on peers and the media for information. Our study
indicates that for men, particularly men who come of age with
online pornography at their ﬁngertips, pornography may serve
as a powerful source of information about sex and sexuality.
Through high rates of exposure, the pornographic script may
inform college men’s expectations about their own sexual per-
formance as well as what they want and expect from a sexual
partner. It is associated with increased sexual concerns, partic-
ularly among the youngest men in our study, and they come to
rely on it and prefer it to intimate sexual relations with a partner.
Current sex education models—in the schools and in the
home—do not seem well-equipped to assist boys in navigating
or critically engaging the messages of pornography.
Limitations and Future Directions
While our study joins others in an innovative look at the cog-
nitive processing of pornography among men, it does have
limitations. First, we only measured the viewing‘‘frequency’’of
pornography, not the‘‘quantity.’’That is, althoughwe know how
many times a week a person viewed pornography, we do not
know the duration of the viewing. For example, does a person
Arch Sex Behav
who only views pornography on Saturday but for 5 h straight,
differ from a person watching 5 days a week for an hour at each
viewing? More precise measurement of involvement in por-
nography may be helpful in future studies.
A second related limitation is the lack of information about
the content of the pornography our participants used. Some
researchers have theorized that there are important differences
between mainstream pornography, which often includes imper-
sonal sex and themes of degradation and aggression, and por-
nography marketed to couples, which includes higher degrees of
sexual intimacy (e.g., Beggan & Allison, 2003). It is very possible
these different types of pornographic materials convey different
sexual scripts and therefore relate differently to real-world
behaviors in their consumers.
Third, the population in our study was not very diverse with
respect to ethnicity, race, geographic location, or education. All
subjects included in this study were male college students, the
majority were non-Hispanic White, and most resided in the
southern region of the United States. Furthermore, most came
from families where caregivers were well-educated. Replicating
and extending these ﬁndings to more diverse samples of men,
and to women, would be important.
Fourth, because our study was cross-sectional in nature,
attempts to link pornography use and sexual attitudes and behav-
iors in a causal way is unwarranted. Furthermore, our questions
asked about average pornography use and typical sexual atti-
tudes and behaviors, but did not specify a time frame for either.
Therefore, we are unable to temporally order pornography
consumption and sexual script-related variables. It may be that
people who hold certain pre-existing sexual scripts seek out
pornographic media that conform to and reinforce those scripts.
Work such as that by Wright (2012), using longitudinal data,
suggests pornography use often precedes sexual attitudes and
behaviors such as engagement in casual sex (sex with non-
committed partners) but that the converse was not true; never-
theless, future studies may want to assess people longitudinally
and include time speciﬁers in questionnaires.
Lastly, our work does not speak to the direction of the rela-
tionship between pornography and male sexual attitudes, behav-
iors, and choices. Does pornography reﬂect sexual behavior
preferences, shape these preferences, or both? Do the men in our
study engage in pornographic sex acts in their relationships with
a partner because they have been conditioned to desire them
through their patterns of media consumption, or do they seek out
pornographic media that are consistent with the sex acts that they
prefer? Thus, the relationship between media scripts and sexual
preferences may be recursive rather than linear. A longitudinal
study following young men’s sexual development would help
answer these questions.
In conclusion, regardless of the intent of producers or consum-
ers of pornography, our data point to clear connections between
pornography consumption, sexual scripts, and real-world sexual
experiences. Pornography is sometimes dismissed, celebrated, or
problematized as fantasy (e.g., Kipnis, 1996;Lehman,2006;
Williams, 2004), and many consumers may access pornography
explicitly as a form of entertainment (McKee, 2012), but por-
nography is also much more. What happens on the screen may
implicate life off of it.
Acknowledgments The authors would like to acknowledge Michael
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