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Abstract

Objectives: Amid public health concern that rising pornography use may have a negative impact on young people's health and wellbeing, we report prevalence of pornography viewing and explore factors associated with viewing frequency and age at first viewing. Methods: Cross-sectional online survey in a convenience sample of Victorians aged 15 to 29 years recruited via social media. Results: Ever viewing pornography was reported by 815 of 941 (87%) participants. The median age at first pornography viewing was 13 years for men and 16 years for women. More frequent pornography viewing was associated with male gender, younger age, higher education, non-heterosexual identity, ever having anal intercourse and recent mental health problems. Younger age at first pornography viewing was associated with male gender, younger current age, higher education, non-heterosexual identity, younger age at first sexual contact and recent mental health problems. Conclusions: Pornography use is common and associated with some health and behavioural outcomes. Longitudinal research is needed to determine the causal impact of pornography on these factors. Implications for public health: Viewing pornography is common and frequent among young people from a young age and this needs to be considered in sexuality education.
2017 Online Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 1
© 2017 The Authors
Pornography use may be a public
health concern. The rapid growth of
the internet, smartphones and social
media among young Australians means
that pornography use is common and the
average age at rst pornography exposure
has declined in recent years.1 Reports from
the early and mid-2000s showed that
rates of lifetime exposure to pornography
were 73–93% for adolescent boys and
11–62% for adolescent girls in Australia.1,2
Qualitative research indicates that many
young Australians believe pornography use is
ubiquitous among their peers,3 despite laws
prohibiting people under 18 years of age
viewing pornography.4
A key public health concern regarding trends
in pornography exposure is that pornography
may aect the sexual socialisation of young
people by inuencing their understanding
of which sexual behaviours and attitudes
are normative, acceptable and rewarding.5
Although pornography use may be
viewed positively and oers an avenue for
exploration of one’s sexuality,6,7 pornography
often depicts behaviours that many adults
do not perceive as mainstream, nor consider
enjoyable, and/or are high risk in terms
of sexual health. For example, in online
pornography only 2–3 % of heterosexual
encounters involve condom use.8,9
There is a growing body of literature
describing the potential impact of
pornography on sexual health, sexual
behaviour and mental health.10 Young
people have reported using pornography
as a form of sexual education, such as
incorporating pornography-inspired practices
into their real life sexual experiences.11,12
For example, qualitative research indicates
that some young women feel pressured
to engage in anal intercourse, which is
depicted in 15–32% of pornographic
scenes with heterosexual encounters,8,9 and
many attribute this pressure to their male
partners’ pornography use.13 Internationally,
longitudinal research has found that early
exposure to pornography, and more frequent
exposure, are both associated with initiation
of sexual behaviours at younger age among
adolescents.14,15 A recent systematic review
showed an association between pornography
consumption and sexual risk behaviours
among adult consumers;16 evidence linking
pornography and sexual behaviours among
adolescents is mixed.17
To inform health policy and sexuality
education, it is important to understand
how young people use pornography and
to determine whether pornography use
has adverse eects on health and well-
being. Pornography research involving
adolescents transitioning into adulthood
in the smartphone era is limited, and there
Young Australians use of pornography and
associations with sexual risk behaviours
Megan S.C. Lim,1,2,3 Paul A. Agius,1,2,4 Elise R. Carrotte,1 Alyce M. Vella,1 Margaret E. Hellard1,2
1. Burnet Institute, Victoria
2. School of Population Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Victoria
3. Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Victoria
4. Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University, Victoria
Correspondence to: Dr Megan Lim, Burnet Institute, 85 Commercial Rd, Melbourne, Victoria 3004; e-mail: megan.lim@burnet.edu.au
Submitted: August 2016; Revision requested: January 2017; Accepted: March 2017
The authors have stated they have no conict of interest.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modications or adaptations are made.
Aust NZ J Public Health. 2017; Online; doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12678
Abstract
Objectives: Amid public health concern that rising pornography use may have a negative
impact on young people’s health and wellbeing, we report prevalence of pornography viewing
and explore factors associated with viewing frequency and age at rst viewing.
Methods: Cross-sectional online survey in a convenience sample of Victorians aged 15 to 29
years recruited via social media.
Results: Ever viewing pornography was reported by 815 of 941 (87%) participants. The median
age at rst pornography viewing was 13 years for men and 16 years for women. More frequent
pornography viewing was associated with male gender, younger age, higher education,
non-heterosexual identity, ever having anal intercourse and recent mental health problems.
Younger age at rst pornography viewing was associated with male gender, younger current
age, higher education, non-heterosexual identity, younger age at rst sexual contact and
recent mental health problems.
Conclusions: Pornography use is common and associated with some health and behavioural
outcomes. Longitudinal research is needed to determine the causal impact of pornography on
these factors.
Implications for public health: Viewing pornography is common and frequent among young
people from a young age and this needs to be considered in sexuality education.
Key words: pornography, sexual health, young people, sexual media
2 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2017 Online
© 2017 The Authors
Lim et al.
have been no recent studies in the Australian
context. There is a paucity of recent data
available regarding age at exposure,
frequency of exposure and modes used by
young people to view pornography. This
study reports the prevalence of pornography
viewing in a convenience sample of young
Australians. It explores the factors associated
with pornography viewing frequency and
age at rst viewing and the extent to which
salient factors in pornography consumption
are moderated by gender. We hypothesise
that more frequent and younger age at rst
viewing pornography are associated with
sexual risk behaviour and that patterns and
correlates of pornography viewing may
dier by gender with young men being
more likely to watch pornography and watch
pornography more frequently.
Methods
Design and sampling
The study was a cross-sectional online survey
with a convenience sample of Victorians
aged 15–29 years, conducted in January
to March 2015. Eligibility was assessed
through self-reported month and year of
birth and postcode. Recruitment utilised
social media including paid advertisements
on Facebook, directed at Victorians aged
15–29, and advertisements shared through
the researchers’ professional and personal
networks. Advertisements did not mention
pornography, but described the survey
as being about sexual health. Participants
completed an online questionnaire that
covered the themes of demographics, sexual
health and behaviour, and other health
behaviours. The questionnaire was adapted
from the ‘Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n’Roll’ study
that has collected risk and health data from
young people since 2005.18 Participants
had the opportunity to win a gift voucher.
Approval was granted by the Alfred Hospital
Human Research Ethics Committee.
Measures
Demographics included gender (male,
female, transgender or other) and age, which
was computed from month and year of
birth. Participants reported the age at which
they rst experienced a range of sexual
behaviours, or indicated that they had never
engaged in that behaviour; these behaviours
included touching a partner’s genitals with
their hands, being touched on your genitals
by a partner’s hand, giving oral sex, receiving
oral sex, vaginal sex (penis in vagina), and
anal sex (penis in anus). Throughout this
paper, we use the term ‘sexual contact’ to refer
to any of these six behaviours, whereas ‘sexual
intercourse’ refers only to vaginal or anal sex.
Outcomes
Participants were asked four questions
relating to viewing pornography; (no specic
denition of pornography was provided in
the questionnaire):
• How old were you when you rst saw
pornography? (an option for never viewed
was provided)
• In the last 12 months, how often did you
view pornographic material? ‘never’, ‘less
than monthly ’, ‘monthly’, ‘weekly ’ or ‘daily/
almost daily’.
• How did you usually view this? ‘streamed/
downloaded on a mobile phone’,
‘streamed/downloaded on a computer’,
‘DVD’, ‘live webcam’, ‘magazines/books’ or
‘other’
• With whom did you usually view this? ‘with
a partner’, ‘with friends’, or ‘on my own’
For analysis, ‘weekly’ and daily/almost daily’
were combined as ‘weekly or more’.
Exposures
The following factors were included in
models, based on our hypotheses:
Early sexual experience – Those reporting rst
engaging in any of the sexual behaviours
(listed above) at 15 years or younger were
classied as having a young age at rst sexual
contact.
Anal sex – Ever experienced anal intercourse
was treated as a binary variable.
Sexual risk – Risk of sexually transmitted
infections (STI) was trichotomised to those
with no, low or high risk; participants
reporting sexual intercourse without using
condoms with any of: new partners, casual
partners or more than one partner in the past
12 months were classied as being at higher
risk; those who had had sexual intercourse
but always used condoms or only reported
one regular partner in the past year were
treated as low risk; participants not reporting
any experience of sexual intercourse were
considered not to be at risk. Those with no
experience of sexual intercourse were treated
as the reference in analyses.
Mental health – Participants were asked to
respond yes or no to “In the last six months
have you had any mental health problems?
This includes any issues that you haven’t
spoken to a health professional about.
Living situation – Participants indicated who
they lived with; this was dichotomised to
those who lived with their partner or did not
live with their partner.
Education – Participants indicated the highest
level of education they had completed. This
was dichotomised to any post-high school
education or not.
Sexual identity – Participants indicated their
sexual identity. This was dichotomised
to heterosexual or gay, lesbian, bisexual,
questioning, queer or other (GLBQQ+) sexual
identity.
Analysis
Contingency table analyses were used
to provide estimates of prevalence for
demographic, health and sexual health-
related risk behaviours and pornography
viewing patterns.
Frequency of current pornography viewing
Correlates of current frequency of viewing
pornography were determined using
proportional odds logistic regression;
both bivariate and multivariate (including
all independent variables). To explore
whether the eects for specic factors were
moderated by gender, less constrained
models with interaction terms were estimated
in modelling. Where the proportional
odds assumption was not met for specic
factor eects in proposed models (i.e. the
independent eects of a factor varied across
levels of pornography viewing), generalised
linear and latent mixed modelling (gllamm)19
was used to specify covariate specic
threshold logit regression models in order to
relax the proportional odds constraint. Brant
tests20 and likelihood ratio tests between
nested gllamm models (less constrained
models relaxing the proportional odds
assumption for selected factors) were used
to provide statistical inference on whether
data met the proportional odds regression
assumption.
Age at rst pornography viewing
Correlates of age at rst pornography viewing
were determined using Cox proportional
hazards regression,21 taking into account
the inherent censoring in the data due to
study participants who were yet to view
pornography at the time of the survey. In
addition to main eects, interaction terms
were also estimated in these survival models
2017 Online Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 3
© 2017 The Authors
Use of pornography and sexual risk behaviour
to explore the extent to which eects were
moderated by gender. Median age at rst
pornography viewing, sexual contact and
sexual intercourse were also determined
using this method.
A complete case approach was used in
analyses where participants with missing
data on any of the key exposure factors were
excluded from analyses. All analyses were
conducted using the Stata statistical package
version 13.1.
Results
Among the 1,001 people surveyed, nine
identied as transgender or ‘other’ gender
but were not included in analyses due to the
small numbers in these groups. A further 26
participants did not respond to questions
about pornography and 25 exhibited
missing data on key covariates and were
Table 1: Sample socio-demographic, health and
sexual risk behaviour characteristics: Count (n) and
per cent (%) (n= 941).
n (%)
Gender
Female
Male
683 (73)
258 (27)
Age group
15-19
20-24
25-29
374 (40)
348 (37)
219 (23)
Currently live with partner
Yes
No
146 (16)
795 (84)
Education
Post high school education
No post-high school education
635 (67)
306 (33)
Sexual identity
Heterosexual
GLBQQ+
728 (77)
213 (23)
Ever had any sexual contact
Yes
No
804 (85)
137 (15)
Ever had sexual intercourse
Yes
No
710 (75)
231 (25)
Higher risk sexual behaviour
(among sexually active)
Yes
No
230 (32)
480 (68)
Ever had anal intercourse
Yes
No
277 (29)
664 (71)
Any mental health problem, past 6 months
Yes
No
509 (54)
432 (46)
Table 2: Pornography viewing characteristics by sex: Counts (n) and per cent (%).
Female n (%)
n=683
Male n (%)
n=258
Total n (%)
n=941
Ever viewed pornography 558 (82) 257 (100) 815 (87)
Among those who ever viewed pornography n=558 n=257 n=815
Age rst viewed
13 years or younger
14 years or older
129 (23)
429 (77)
176 (69)
81 (32)
305 (37)
510 (63)
Frequency of viewing in the 12 months prior to survey
Daily
Weekly
Monthly
Less than monthly
Not at all
23 (4)
105 (19)
139 (25)
198 (35)
93 (17)
99 (39)
117 (46)
25 (10)
14 (5)
2 (1)
122 (15)
222 (27)
164 (20)
212 (26)
95 (12)
Among those who viewed pornography in the past year N=465 N=255 N=720
Most common mode of viewing pornography
Stream/download on phone
Stream/download on computer
DVD/webcam/magazine/book
Other/not stated/missing
191 (41)
228 (49)
17 (4)
29 (6)
84 (33)
161 (63)
2 (1)
8 (3)
275 (38)
389 (54)
19 (3)
37 (5)
Who did they usually view with
Alone
With friends
With partner
Other/not stated/missing
386 (83)
13 (3)
63 (14)
3 (1)
243 (95)
1 (0)
11 (4)
0 (0)
629 (87)
14 (2)
74 (10)
3 (0)
excluded from analysis. Those missing key
covariate data did not signicantly dier from
those included in analysis on frequency of
pornography viewing (p=0.555) or age at rst
pornography viewing (p=0.729).
Of the 941 participants included, 73% were
female and the median age was 20 years (IQR
17-24) for women and 21 years (IQR 19-25)
for men. Table 1 shows characteristics of
respondents. Among 804 participants who
reported ever having had any sexual contact
with a partner, the median age at rst sexual
contact was 16 years (IQR 16-17) for women
and 16 years (IQR 16-16) for men. Among 710
participants who reported ever having had
sexual intercourse, the median age at rst
sexual intercourse was 17 years (IQR 17-18) for
women and 18 years (IQR 17-18) for men.
Ever viewing pornography was reported by
815 (87%) participants. Male participants
reported higher frequency of pornography
viewing than female participants (Table
2). Most participants (n=629, 87%) usually
watched pornography alone and most usually
streamed or downloaded pornography onto
a computer or phone. The median age at rst
pornography viewing was 13 years for male
participants (95%CI=12-13) and 16 years for
female participants (95%CI=16-16; p<0.001).
We compared participants’ age at rst
viewing pornography with their age at rst
sexual contact. Forty-four (5%) participants
reported never having viewed pornography
or experienced any sexual contact, 536 (57%)
had viewed pornography before any sexual
contact, 80 (9%) experienced both at the
same age, and 281 (30%) were younger at
their rst sexual contact compared to rst
pornography viewing.
Brant tests showed that the assumption
of proportional odds for the specied
model was not reasonable given the
data (χ2(20)=50.3; p<0.001). Sexual risk
(χ2(2)=11.8; p=0.003) and mental health
(χ2(2)=5.7; p=0.05) factors exhibited non-
proportional eects. This was supported
statistically by likelihood ratio testing from
gllamm modelling, which showed that a
proportional odds regression model with
partial relaxation of eect proportionality
(i.e. for sexual risk and mental health factors)
showed signicantly better t than the fully
constrained model (LR χ2(6)=31.5; p<0.001).
Hence, for sexual risk and mental health an
unconstrained model was used.
Table 3 shows correlates of pornography
viewing frequency using gllamm modelling.
Female participants were markedly less
likely to watch pornography frequently
compared to male participants (AOR=0.02;
95%CI=0.01-0.12). Analyses showed that
compared to heterosexual participants, those
who were GLBQQ+ were three times more
4 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2017 Online
© 2017 The Authors
likely to watch pornography more frequently
(AOR=3.04; 95%CI=2.20-4.21); and those
with post-secondary education were 48%
more likely (AOR=1.48; 95%CI=1.01-2.17)
to view pornography more frequently than
those with secondary education only. Those
reporting an experience of anal sex were
likely to watch pornography more frequently
(AOR=1.50; 95%CI=1.09-2.06); however,
estimation of an interaction between anal
sex and gender (AOR=2.47; 95%CI=1.03-
5.90; Wald χ2(1)=4.14; p=0.042) showed this
association was conned to women only
(men: AOR=0.70, 95%CI=0.33-1.45; women:
AOR=1.72, 95%CI=1.12-2.63). There was
no signicant interaction found between
gender and sexual identity (Wald χ2(1)=2.29;
p=0.13) or gender and living situation (Wald
χ2(1)=0.17; p=0.68).
Compared to those who had never
experienced sexual intercourse, sexually
active participants considered to be engaging
in low risk (AOR=1.91; 95%CI=1.23-2.98)
or high risk (AOR=2.45; 95%CI=1.44-4.16)
sexual behaviour were more likely to report
watching pornography less than monthly, but
there were no dierences in odds of viewing
pornography more frequently across these
groups. Similarly, there was heterogeneity
in eect of mental health problems across
levels of pornography-viewing frequency.
Compared to those with no reported history
of mental health problems in the past six
months, those reporting mental health
problems during this period were 65% more
likely to report watching pornography less
than monthly (AOR=1.65; 95%CI=1.18-2.31)
and 52% more likely to watch weekly or more
often (AOR=1.52; 95%CI=1.06-2.18).
Table 4 shows correlates of age at rst
viewing pornography. In multivariable Cox
regression, younger age at rst pornography
viewing was reported by participants who
were male, currently younger, currently lived
with a partner, had not completed high
school, had a younger age at rst sexual
contact, and who reported a recent mental
health problem. Those reporting GLBQQ+
sexual identity were also more likely to
watch pornography from a younger age
(AOR=1.25; 95%CI=1.05-1.48); however,
estimation of an interaction between sexual
identity and gender (AOR=2.08; 95%CI=1.43-
3.02; Wald χ2(1)=14.6; p<0.01)) showed this
association was conned to women only
(men: AHR=0.72, 95%CI=0.50-1.04; women:
AOR=1.63, 95%CI=1.34-1.99).
Discussion
Viewing pornography was a common
practice among young people in our sample,
especially among young men. One hundred
per cent of young men and 82% of young
women had ever viewed pornography. The
median age at rst pornography viewing was
13 years for men and 16 years for women.
Eighty-four per cent of young men and 19%
of young women watched pornography
on a weekly or daily basis. The nationally
representative Second Australian Study
of Health and Relationships, conducted in
2012–2013, did not include frequency or age
of pornography viewing; however, it found
that a lower proportion of young people
had ever viewed pornography: 84% of men
aged 16–19; 89% of men aged 20–29; 28% of
women aged 16–19; and 57% of women aged
20–29.22 Other Australian studies suggest that
the number of people recently exposed to
pornography is increasing. In 2012–13, 63%
of men and 20% of women aged 16 years and
over had viewed pornographic material in the
past year.23 In comparison, in 2001–02, 17%
of men and 12% of women had visited a sex
website on the internet.24 The percentage of
Australians viewing pornography before age
16 increased from 37% in the 1950s to 79% in
the early 2000s.1
Women were less likely than men to watch
pornography, watched less frequently, and
rst watched at an older age. This nding is
consistent with US research that reported
men are more likely to be exposed to online
pornography at an earlier age than women.25
While men were much greater consumers of
pornography, it should be noted that among
the 82% of young women who reported
viewing pornography the majority (84%)
usually watched alone and 22% watched at
least weekly. This indicates that there are a
signicant number of young women who
watch pornography regularly. Past research
has shown that adolescent boys report more
positive attitudes towards pornography
than adolescent girls; however, girls have
increasingly positive attitudes as they grow
older.25
We found increased pornography viewing
among GLBTIQQ+ young people; this is
consistent with previous research.26,27 This
nding may reect a lack of information
in mainstream culture around non-
heteronormative sexual behaviour, resulting
in a need to access this information via
pornography.28 For example, in a qualitative
study of same-sex attracted adolescent boys,
Table 3: Factors associated with pornography viewing frequency: proportional odds regression analyses from generalised linear and latent mixed modelling showing
unadjusted (OR) and adjusted (AOR) odds ratios, 95% condence intervals (95% CI) and probability values (p-values) (n=941)†.
Factor
Proportional odds Unconstrained eects
< monthly monthly Weekly or >
OR (95% CI) p-value AOR (95% CI) p-value AOR (95% CI) p-value AOR (95% CI) p-value AOR (95% CI) p-value
Female 0.05 (0.04-0.07) <0.001 0.03 (0.02-.05) <0.001
Age in years 1.21 (1.01-1.07) 0.006 0.97 (0.92-1.02) 0.227
Living with partner 0.74 (0.55-1.00) 0.048 0.76 (0.51-1.12) 0.167
Post high school education 1.53 (1.20-1.95) 0.001 1.48 (1.01-2.17) 0.042
GLBQQ+ identity 2.10 (1.62-2.73) <0.001 3.04 (2.20-4.21) <0.001
First sexual contact <16 years 1.17 (0.93-1.48) 0.176 1.11 (0.84-1.49) 0.454
Ever had anal intercourse 1.78 (1.40-2.27) <0.001 1.50 (1.09-2.06) 0.013
Sexual risk behaviour
No risk - - - - ref -ref -ref -
Low risk - - - - 1.92(1.23-2.98) 0.004 1.12 (.73-1.71) 0.598 0.81 (0.51-1.29) 0.375
High risk - - - - 2.45 (1.44-4.16) 0.001 0.86 (0.53-1.42) 0.564 0.74 (0.43-1.28) 0.283
Mental health problem, past 6
months
- - - - 1.65 (1.18-2.31) 0.003 1.18 (0.86-1.62) 0.293 1.52 (1.06-2.18) 0.022
† Model cut-points - k1 = -3.49, k2 = -2.84, k3 = -1.80
Lim et al.
2017 Online Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 5
© 2017 The Authors
participants reported using pornography
to learn about sexual organs and function,
the mechanics of same-gender sex, to learn
about sexual performance and roles and to
understand how sex should feel in terms of
pleasure and pain.6
Among women, more frequent pornography
use was associated with ever having had
anal sex. Past research has found that
some women nd anal sex pleasurable;
however, women report nding anal sex
less pleasurable than men do overall.29 In
one qualitative study, women reported
being pressured or coerced into anal sex
by male partners who had seen anal sex
in pornography.13 It was interesting that
in our study, an association between anal
intercourse and pornography was found for
female participants but not male participants.
Possible explanations for this may be that
women who are more interested in learning
about dierent sexual practices or may be
curious about trying anal sex are more likely
to watch pornography; alternatively, women
who watch pornography might be more likely
to think that anal sex is expected of them by
their male partners.
A systematic review of studies involving adult
consumers found links between pornography
consumption and unsafe sexual practices and
higher numbers of sexual partners.16 Evidence
linking pornography and sexual behaviours
among adolescents is mixed.17 Some studies
of adolescents and young people have shown
associations between pornography and
more lifetime sexual partners.30,31 One study
found an association between pornography
and non-condom use for adolescent males,
but not for females, as well as no association
between pornography use and number of
sexual partners or younger age of sexual
debut.27 Other studies have found no
correlation between pornography use and
unprotected sex with casual partners.32 In
the current study, we found no correlation
between younger age at pornography
viewing and recent sexual risk behaviour. We
also found that compared to those who were
sexually inexperienced, those who engaged
in either low risk or high risk sexual behaviour
had greater odds of watching pornography
less than monthly compared to not viewing
at all. Watching pornography more frequently
(monthly, weekly or daily) was not associated
with dierences in sexual risk behaviour.
Other studies have not investigated the
correlation between sexual risk behaviour
and dierent frequencies of viewing
pornography, so further research is needed
to understand whether viewing pornography
less than monthly is an important threshold
level for correlation with sexual behaviour.
Discrepancies between studies may be due
to diering populations, research designs,
denitions, or inclusion of dierent measures
of sexual risk behaviours.17
Young age at rst sexual experience has
been shown to have negative associations
with ongoing sexual health.18,33 Younger age
at rst sexual experience was associated
with younger pornography viewing but
not current frequency of viewing. Several
cross-sectional studies support a relationship
between pornography use and initiation of
sexual behaviours at a younger age.22,34-36
International longitudinal research has found
that early exposure and frequent exposure
to pornography are both associated with
initiation of sexual behaviours at a younger
age.14,15 However, this relationship may not
be causal; it may be confounded by pubertal
status and sensation seeking.
A correlation between poor mental health
and frequent use of pornography has
been previously noted. In a Swedish study,
nearly 20% of daily pornography users had
depressive symptoms, signicantly more
than infrequent users (12.6%).11 Frequency
of pornography use has been associated
with negative aect,37 depression and
stress among young men,38 and depressive
symptoms in young women.39 Pornography
exposure in younger children has been
associated with short-term distress;40
however, to our knowledge this is the rst
study to demonstrate an association between
younger age of exposure and poor mental
health in later life.
Other correlates of more frequent and
younger initiation of pornography use
included higher education levels and not
living with a partner. People living with
their partner may view pornography less
frequently due to more frequent partnered
sex, or possibly from less opportunity to
privately view pornography.
Implications for public health
The ndings of this study have important
implications for designing sexuality
education. Results suggest that the majority
of young people have viewed pornography
and that almost all young men are frequently
accessing pornography. Therefore, it is vital
that pornography is addressed as part of
high school sexuality education programs.
Pornography is rst watched from a young
age, so age-appropriate educational
programs need to be implemented from
formative years of high school, if not
sooner. Such programs should not be
heteronormative, as our results show that
those identifying as GLBQQ+ watched
pornography more frequently and from a
younger age. It should also not presume
that young women will not watch or enjoy
pornography. Education programs should
address issues such as the prevalence and
practice of heterosexual anal sex in the
real world as opposed to in pornography.
While pornography education programs are
starting to emerge;41,42 there has yet to be any
research determining the eectiveness of this
approach.10
Australian law prohibits people under 18
from viewing pornography;4 however, our
ndings demonstrate that current laws
and regulations are not preventing access
from a young age. Interventions such as
age verication software, internet ltering
software and parental monitoring may play a
role in reducing casual or accidental exposure
to pornography, particularly among younger
Table 4: Correlates of age of rst pornography viewing: Cox proportional hazards regression analyses showing
unadjusted (HR) and adjusted (AHR) hazard ratios, 95% condence intervals (95% CI) and probability values
(p-values).
HR (95% CI) p-value AHR (95% CI) p-value
Female 0.26 (0.22-0.31) <0.001 0.20 (0.17-0.24) <0.001
Age in years 0.94 (0.93-0.96) <0.001 0.92 (0.90-0.95) <0.001
Living with partner 0.84 (0.70-1.01) 0.060 1.29 (1.04-1.59) 0.019
Post high school education 0.66 (0.57-0.77) <0.001 0.78 (0.64-0.95) 0.015
GLBQQ+ identity 1.34 (1.15-1.57) <0.001 1.25 (1.05-1.48) 0.010
First sexual contact <16 years 1.64 (1.42-1.88) <0.001 1.55 (1.33-1.82) <0.001
Ever had anal intercourse 1.21 (1.05-1.40) 0.009 1.17 (0.98-1.38) 0.077
Low risk sexual behaviour 0.95 (0.80-1.14) 0.595 1.08 (0.87-1.33) 0.494
High risk sexual behaviour 1.11 (0.91-1.35) 0.312 1.16 (0.91-1.48) 0.226
Mental health problem, past 6 months 1.12 (0.97-1.28) 0.113 1.20 (1.04-1.40) 0.014
Use of pornography and sexual risk behaviour
6 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2017 Online
© 2017 The Authors
children. However, these methods are not
likely to be eective in stopping a motivated
young person from accessing pornography.2,43
The correlation between poor mental health
and pornography is also cause for concern.
It is unclear whether pornography is a causal
factor in poor mental health or if it is an
indicator of underlying problems. In either
case, those involved in treating young people
with mental health conditions may want to
consider whether pornography is a problem
for some clients.
Limitations
Limitations in assessment of our outcome
variables include that questions did not
distinguish between deliberate and
accidental exposure to pornography and that
no explicit denition or contextualisation of
pornography was given. Further, no detail
was collected on motivations for viewing
or type of content viewed. Past research
has identied other potential correlates
of pornography that were not included in
our survey, including less satisfaction in
relationships and sexual encounters, sexual
aggression and having sexist attitudes toward
women.14 Other exposure measures did not
use validated scales, for example, mental
health problems were assessed using a single
item. The survey also did not include variables
relating to positive impacts of pornography
use. The survey relied on self-reported
information, which is subject to recall bias
and self-presentation bias. The cross-sectional
research design means that we cannot
attribute any causal relationship between
pornography and other factors. Finally, the
survey used a convenience sample that was
recruited online, which is not representative
of the general population.
Conclusions
This is the rst Australian study to examine
associations between frequency and age of
rst pornography use and sexual behaviour,
mental health, and other characteristics
among young people. Our study has
demonstrated that pornography viewing
is common and frequent among young
Australians from a young age. Pornography
use was associated with potentially harmful
outcomes, such as mental health problems,
sex at a younger age and anal intercourse.
To investigate the potential causal impact of
pornography on young people’s health and
behaviour, more specic longitudinal research
is needed. The ndings of this study highlight
the importance of including discussion of
pornography in sexuality education from a
young age.
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Lim et al.
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... Results presented here demonstrate that intentionally seeking exposure to sexual content online was retained as the third most important predictor, indicating a lower likelihood for the resilient versus the chronic PTSS trajectory. It has been shown that pornography use is associated with adolescent negative mental health and risky behavioral outcomes (Kohut & Štulhofer, 2018;Lim et al., 2017). Increased risky sexual behaviors, for example, but also sexually permissive attitudes and sexual solicitations (Brown et al., 2006;Collins et al., 2011;Helweg-Larsen et al., 2012;Lo & Wei, 2005) bear unique risks for online exploitations and subsequent offline revictimizations. ...
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