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The Use of Online Pornography as Compensation for Loneliness and Lack of Social Ties Among Israeli Adolescents

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The Internet provides people with the ability to act anonymously, which may lead them to feel secure and to release them from many of their inhibitions. In many cases, this leads them to participate in cybersex activities and online pornography. This study examined the psychological factors behind young people’s sexual behavior online. Participants comprised 713 Israeli adolescents (383 boys and 330 girls) aged 14 to 18 years. Our results indicated that the impact of loneliness on online sexual activity and frequency of pornography use was dependent on participants’ attachment orientations. Engagement in online sexual activities and use of pornography were high among anxiously attached individuals regardless of the extent of their loneliness. Loneliness was found to increase the use of online sexual activities and pornography, only among secure and anxiously avoidant individuals. Online sexual activity and pornography were also found to be related to offline sexual activity. The results are described and discussed.
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Article
The Use of Online
Pornography as
Compensation for
Loneliness and Lack
of Social Ties Among
Israeli Adolescents
Yaniv Efrati
Beit-Berl College, Kfar Saba, Israel; The Research Center
for Internet Psychology, Sammy Ofer School of
Communication, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel
Yair Amichai-Hamburger
The Research Center for Internet Psychology, Sammy
Ofer School of Communication, Interdisciplinary Center,
Herzliya, Israel
Abstract
The Internet provides people with the ability to act anonymously, which may lead
them to feel secure and to release them from many of their inhibitions. In many
cases, this leads them to participate in cybersex activities and online pornography.
This study examined the psychological factors behind young people’s sexual behavior
online. Participants comprised 713 Israeli adolescents (383 boys and 330 girls) aged
14 to 18 years. Our results indicated that the impact of loneliness on online sexual
activity and frequency of pornography use was dependent on participants’ attach-
ment orientations. Engagement in online sexual activities and use of pornography
were high among anxiously attached individuals regardless of the extent of their
loneliness. Loneliness was found to increase the use of online sexual activities and
pornography, only among secure and anxiously avoidant individuals. Online sexual
Corresponding Author:
Yaniv Efrati, Beit-Berl College, Kfar Saba, Israel.
Email: ypefrati@gmail.com
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DOI: 10.1177/0033294118797580
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activity and pornography were also found to be related to offline sexual activity. The
results are described and discussed.
Keywords
Sexual behavior, attachment, mental health, well-being, anxiety
Introduction
Internet use is a becoming increasingly dominated by children and adoles-
cents, who make up the majority of users (Mesch, 2009). Recent estimates
place the number of adolescent Internet users at nine of ten Internet users
(Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). When it comes to the use of social
networks, young people are clearly in the lead (Amichai-Hamburger & Hayat,
2017) and are frequently trailblazers when it comes to using many of the
innovative sites (Cole, 2012). Anonymity, control over physical exposure,
and strong feelings of control over the Internet experience are likely to
encourage people to explore the Internet (Amichai-Hamburger, 2013;
Amichai-Hamburger & Hayat, 2017). The Internet has been shown to be an
environment where people attempt to compensate for their social challenges
and to recreate themselves (Amichai-Hamburger, Wainapel & Fox, 2002;
Amichai-Hamburger, 2008; Amichai-Hamburger, 2017). These factors are
also likely to encourage people to explore certain sites online though they
would be highly unlikely to enter their equivalents offline. One of the prime
examples of such behavior is the visiting of online porn and cybersex websites
(Delmonico & Griffin, 2010). This study seeks to determine the more specific
psychological factors that affect online pornography use (PU) and online
sexual behavior.
The period of adolescence is a transitional stage of development between
childhood and adulthood. During this biologically and developmentally vulner-
able period, many adolescents engage in sexual behavior (Kourtis, Bulterys,
Nesheim, & Lee, 2001). A large U.S. national study has shown that the vast
majority of younger adolescents (aged 11–15 years) has not had sexual inter-
course but the likelihood increases every year across adolescence (Herbenick
et al., 2010). By the time they are 18 to 19 years old, a majority (63%) will
have experienced sexual intercourse. Approximately 50% will initially experi-
ence intercourse between the ages of 16 and 18 years, and for 15% this will
happen before the age of 16 years. The remainder will engage in first intercourse
at the age of 19 years or older (e.g., Spriggs & Halpern, 2008). The average age
of the first heterosexual intercourse encounter is 16.9 years for boys and 17.4
years for girls (Cavazos-Rehg et al., 2009).
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Sexual online behavior ranges from talking with someone online about sex,
all the way to having cybersex (
Sev
c
ıkova
´, Vazsonyi,
Sir ˚
u
cek, & Kone
cn
y, 2013).
As opposed to merely watching pornographic materials, cybersex is an online
interaction for the purpose of achieving sexual stimulations (Daneback, Cooper,
&M˚ansson, 2005). Pornography refers to sexually overt material that is
primarily intended to arouse the viewer’s sexually. It has also been defined as
sexually explicit material “that depicts sexual activities in unconcealed ways,
often with close-ups of (aroused) genitals and of oral, anal, or vaginal pene-
tration” (Peter & Valkenburg, 2009). In the past, pornography was available
but took an effort to access. Now, however, it may be obtained freely and
effortlessly. In fact, many people today consider watching porn as a normative
behavior (Price, Patterson, Regnerus, & Walley, 2016).
The Internet is replete with websites offering different kinds of pornography.
A study conducted in the United States, found that as many as 93% of boys and
62% of girls were exposed to online pornography during adolescence, and that
boys were more likely to be exposed at an earlier age (Sabina, Wolak, &
Finkelhor, 2008). During their college years, estimates suggest that approxi-
mately 60% of men and 35% of women have viewed some form of pornography
in the past year (Price et al., 2016).
Despite its prevalence among young people, there is a paucity of research as
to the motivations of adolescents to consume pornography. In this study, we
propose that the use of online pornography among adolescents is, in part, an act
of compensation. Online sex might serve as an alternative to an offline sexual
relationship (
Sev
c
ıkova
´, Blinka & Daneback, 2018) and in some cases it might
complement an existing unsatisfying offline sexual relationship. We suggest
that the attachment orientation and the degree of loneliness may explain the
particular use of pornography and sexually related behavior online.
Attachment theory
Attachment orientations among adults are shaped during infancy via intimate
interactions with caregivers, especially in times of threat and challenge
(see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007a for a detailed account). When caregivers
lend support and care and the needs for comfort and security are consistently
satisfied, the infant develops a secure bond toward the attachment figure (i.e.,
attachment security), which is characterized by a positive view of the self as
lovable and of others as dependable. Secure people are more social and tend to
develop healthy ties with family members, friends, and romantic partners.
At times, however, parental support is insufficient and as a result, insecure
attachment orientations develop. These are classified along two dimensions,
referred to as attachment anxiety and avoidance (Brennan, Clark, & Shaver,
1998; Collins & Allard, 2004). If infants’ needs are not sufficiently met by
caregivers and the availability of support and care is uncertain, fear of
Efrati and Amichai-Hamburger 3
abandonment is developed alongside an anxiety of being rejected. Individuals
with this type of orientation are called anxiously attached and are characterized
by a heightened desire for love and affection that is hindered by a high fear of
rejection (Smith, Murphy, & Coats, 1999). These people have an unfulfilled
hunger for affection regardless of the amount of affection they actually receive
(Birnbaum, Reis, Mikulincer, Gillath, & Orpaz, 2006). If the experience of neglect
is repeated consistently enough, infants will view others as untrustworthy and
undependable. Such people are called avoidantly attached because they do not
trust the goodwill of others and prefer to emotionally distance themselves from
intimate relationships (Smith et al., 1999). Attachment theory has long been con-
sidered as a means to help toward an understanding of user behavior online
(Amichai-Hamburger, 2002), since it has been found to relate to many compo-
nents present online, such as perceived intimacy in different online environments
(Cundy, 2015); For example, communication technologies could aid adolescents
in the phase of separation and individuation – the process by which they distance
themselves from their parents and redefine their sense of self; Skype calls and text
messages can maintain sense of closeness and intimacy and reduce anxieties long
after young persons have left their parents’ home. Attachment theory is also
related to more specific online behavior, including sexting. For instance,
Weisskirch and Delevi (2011) found that higher attachment anxiety relates to
sending more texts that solicit sexual activity, and to overall positive attitudes
toward sexting. Recently, Efrati (2018) linked attachment anxiety with higher
compulsive sexual behavior and with greater consumption of online pornography.
Our first hypothesis is that insecure attachment (anxiety and avoidance) will be
linked to more frequent use of online pornography and sexually related behavior
(H1) as compensation for inadequate and unsatisfactory social ties in which needs
for warmth, care, and affection are not met. People displaying high levels of
attachment anxiety are be expected to watch and participate in larger amounts
of pornography and other online sexual activities than people with low levels of
attachment anxiety (Maas, Vasilenko, & Willoughby, 2018). This is due to the
former group’s unfulfilled hunger to be desired and feel warmth. In other words,
we expect a positive relationship between attachment anxiety and consumption of
pornography (H1a). People high in avoidance may consume pornography as a
compensation for the lack of emotionally satisfying social ties. Therefore, we
expect the link between avoidance and PU to be dependent on the perceived
social state of the avoidant person—the lonelier the person, the greater the
need for PU (H1b). In other words, pornography might serve as a source of
socially related escapism. Research on adults has, in fact, shown that—at least
for men—PU was positively associated with avoidant and anxious attachment
orientations and negatively associated with relationship quality and sexual satis-
faction (Szymanski & Stewart-Richardson, 2014; Mark, Vowels & Murray, 2018;
Maas et al., 2018). Use of online pornography and sexually related behavior
might also be a compensation for loneliness, which is linked in part to adolescents’
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attachment orientations (e.g., DiTommaso, Brannen-McNulty, Ross, &
Burgess, 2003).
Loneliness
Loneliness is defined as a feeling of being disconnected or alienated from positive
relationships with persons, places, or things (Woodward, 1967). During adoles-
cence, young adults begin to seek independence from their parents and to achieve
greater intimacy with peers. To do so, they must undergo the important develop-
mental task of balancing and managing these different relationships (Brown,
2004). Failure to carry out this process successfully may lead to loneliness
(Amichai-Hamburger & Ben-Artzi, 2003). Loneliness is not caused by excessive
Internet use; lonely people use the Internet in an effort to solve their isolated state
(Primack et al., 2017). Research has found that a sense of loneliness among adults
is linked to Internet pornography usage (Yoder, Virden, & Amin, 2005; Butler,
Pereyra, Draper, Leonhardt, & Skinner, 2018) and cybersex (Dryer, & Lijtmaer,
2007). Our second hypothesis was that loneliness would be linked with more fre-
quent use of online pornography and sexually related behavior among adolescents
as a compensation for their isolated state (H2). We proposed, however, that this
link would be dependent on the person’s attachment style (i.e., that loneliness and
attachment styles interact). As we noted, people high in attachment anxiety should
consume pornography regardless of their social state (lonely or not) because their
desire for intimacy is seldom satisfied. Loneliness would, therefore, be linked with
higher consumption of pornography for people low in anxiety rather than for
people high in anxiety (H2a). In addition, we predicted that for people high in
avoidance, loneliness would be linked with higher consumption of pornography
(H2b). For people low in avoidance, loneliness may not be a dominant factor.
To examine these hypotheses, we conducted an online survey among more
than 700 adolescents, who were asked to report on their online PU, sexually
related online activity, attachment orientations, and loneliness. To explore the
link between online and offline sexual behavior among adolescents, they were
also asked to report on their offline sexual behavior. Their gender, age, degree of
religiosity (secular and religious), and perceived socioeconomic status (below
average, average, and above average) were also requested since we thought
those factors might affect the pattern of associations between the main measures
in this study.
Method
Participants
The study population comprised 713 adolescents (383 boys and 330 girls), age 14
to 18 years (M¼16.71, SD ¼1.17), all enrolled in the ninth (n¼40, 5.6%), tenth
Efrati and Amichai-Hamburger 5
(n¼183, 25.7%), eleventh (n¼211, 29.6%), and twelfth (n¼269, 37.7%)
grades. Most (93.4%) were native Israelis. Socioeconomically, 5.4% reported
being lower than average, 60% average, and 34.1% above average. All adoles-
cents had access to the Internet (the specific means of access was not assessed).
Procedure
The study was presented as a research project on sexuality among 14- to 18-year-
old adolescents. The participants constituted a convenience sample. They were
recruited from a variety of sources (postings on bulletin boards and in online
forums). Questionnaires were uploaded to Qualtrics—an online platform for
questionnaires—and distributed by a number of research assistants. Parents of
adolescents who agreed to participate in the study were contacted via email and/
or phone and were asked to review the questionnaires and sign an informed
parental consent form, which was sent back to the research assistants by email.
Upon agreement, a link for the online survey was sent to the adolescent who was
assured as to the anonymity of the survey. Participants were then asked to com-
plete the survey in private, in a quiet room in their home (i.e., without the presence
of others). Following an informed consent form, questionnaires were presented in
random order (frequency of PU, sexually related online activities (SROA), an
experience of close relationships scale, assessed attachment orientations, offline
sexual behaviors, and loneliness). Finally, an online debriefing was given and
participants were thanked for their participation. The procedure was approved
by the Interdisciplinary Center’s institutional review board.
Measures
Frequency of PU. Frequency of PU was measured as the declared average number
of minutes per week spent at PU during the past month. Participants were asked
about watching online pornography (1: never,2:once or twice a month, 3: once or
twice a week, and 4: once or twice a day); those who reported PU were asked to
list the number of minutes they spend each week doing so.
Offline sexual behaviors. Offline sexual behaviors (adapted from
Sev
c
ıkova
´et al.,
2013) were measured by four dichotomous items (0: no and 1: yes) asking
adolescents whether they had ever (a) intimately kissed, (b) petted or caressed
someone’s intimate body parts, (c) had oral sex, or (d) had intercourse. Due to
space constraints in the questionnaire, necking was omitted. After computing
scores from all the items, adolescents who had engaged in any of these behaviors
were coded 1, while those who had not were coded 0 (e.g., see
Sev
c
ıkova
´
et al., 2013).
Sexually related online activities. Respondents were asked whether they had ever
engaged in any of the following nine behaviors (yes or no): talked about sex with
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somebody known to them, talked about sex with somebody unknown to them,
discussed their own sexual experiences with somebody known to them, discussed
their own sexual experience with somebody unknown to them, discussed some-
body’s sexual experiences with somebody known to them, discussed somebody’s
sexual experience with somebody unknown to them, received erotic photos from
somebody, sent their own erotic photos to somebody, and had “sex on the
Internet.” For each participant, the number of SROA (
Sev
c
ıkova
´et al., 2013)
was counted (i.e., number of “yes” answers), such that the scores ranged from 0
(i.e., no SROA) to 9 (nine sexually related activities). The Kolmogorov–Smirnov
test for assessing normality indicated that the measure was significantly skewed. In
other words, the SROA score is a count-type measure with non-normal distribu-
tion. A higher score indicated more online experiences for sexual purposes. To
account for skewness, we used a specifically tailored analysis (see Results section).
Loneliness. Participants completed the Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale—
Version 3 (D. Russell, Peplau, & Cutrona, 1980; D. W. Russell, 1996). This
20-item self-rated instrument measures one’s feelings of loneliness and social
isolation. Participants are asked to indicate how often they feel the ways
described in a series of statements (e.g., “There is no one I can turn to,” “I
feel isolated from others”). The measure has high internal consistency (.89). For
each participant, we computed a loneliness score by summing his or her answers.
Higher scores indicate greater subjective feelings of loneliness.
Assessment of Attachment orientations using the Experiences in Close Relationships scale.
The Experiences in Close Relationships (ECR; Brennan et al., 1998; Mikulincer
& Florian, 2000) scale is a 36-item measure assessing the two major dimensions
of adult attachment styles: attachment anxiety (e.g., “I worry a lot about my
relationships”) and attachment avoidance (e.g., “I don’t feel comfortable open-
ing up to other people”). Participants rated the degree to which each item was
descriptive of their feelings in close relationships on a 7-point scale (1: not at all
and 7: very much). In the current sample, Cronbach’s alphas were high for the 18
anxiety items (.91) and the 18 avoidance items (.83). Therefore, we computed
two scores (anxiety and avoidance) by averaging items on each subscale.
Results
Descriptive statistics
Pearson correlations between main study measures—frequency of PU, SROA,
loneliness, and attachment anxiety and avoidance—are presented in Table 1. Eta
correlations are presented between offline sexual experience (1: had experience
and 0: no experience). All analyses were performed with SPSS v.24.
Efrati and Amichai-Hamburger 7
Overall, 50.5% reported having had offline sexual experience, whereas 51.3%
reported having online sexual experience. The analyses also indicated that par-
ticipants who had offline sexual experience showed higher prevalence of PU
and participated in more SROA. These respondents also scored higher on
attachment anxiety than did participants without offline sexual experience.
The analyses also revealed that the higher the prevalence of PU, the higher
the prevalence of SROA, and the higher the loneliness and insecure attachment
orientations (anxiety and/or avoidance). Finally, higher levels of loneliness were
linked with higher scores on insecure attachment, which were significantly and
positively related to each other. It is important to note that the associations
found between sexual behavior (offline and online) and attachment styles and/or
loneliness were weak. Regarding gender and religiosity, the sample comprised
52.1% boys and 53.9% religious individuals.
Predicting PU and SROA by loneliness, insecure attachment, and offline
sexual experience and their interactions
In order to examine participants’ frequency of PU and SROA through the lens
of loneliness, insecure attachment, and offline sexual experience and their inter-
actions, regression analyses were performed. Linear regression analysis was
employed to predict frequency of PU, whereas negative binominal regression
analysis was used to predict SROA. The latter analysis was conducted to
account for the fact that the SROA measure is a count-type measure and its
distribution is positively skewed. Predictors were loneliness, insecure attachment
(anxiety and avoidance), and offline sexual experience (0.5 ¼no experience and
0.5 ¼had experience) and their interactions. Participants’ gender (0 ¼girls and
1¼boys), age, and religiosity (0 ¼secular and 1 ¼religious) served as covariates.
Table 1. Pearson correlation coefficients between main study measures followed by means
and standard deviations.
12345
1 Offline sexual experience
2 Frequency of pornography use .30***
3 Sexually related online activities .47*** .41*** –
4 Loneliness .04 .16*** .15*** –
5 Attachment anxiety .15** .09* .14*** .49***
6 Attachment avoidance .01 .13** .08* .62*** .24***
Mean 50.5% 1.91 1.64 33.86 3.34 3.37
Standard deviation 1.05 2.25 10.21 1.24 0.96
Note: Percentages of offline sexual experience relate to the prevalence of participants who had offline
sexual experience.
*p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
8Psychological Reports 0(0)
To avoid multicollinearity and to facilitate an accurate interpretation of the
results, the measures of loneliness and insecure attachment were centered
around the sample mean. (Tolerance scores indeed indicated that there was
no evidence for multicollinearity.) Regression coefficients for each of the steps
are presented in Table 2. (Negative binominal regression does not provide stan-
dardized scores and so these scores are not reported in the table.) All analyses
were performed with SPSS v.24.
The analyses indicated that secular adolescents and boys reported a higher
prevalence of PU and more SROA than did religious adolescents and girls,
respectively. Offline sexual experience significantly predicted the frequency of
PU and SROA above and beyond the contribution of religiosity, age, and
gender: Adolescents with offline sexual experience reported a higher prevalence
of PU and more SROA than adolescents without offline sexual experience (i.e.,
online sexual experience is not a compensation for adolescents without off-
line experience).
The analyses also revealed that the effect of loneliness on the frequency of PU
and SROA was dependent on attachment anxiety (i.e., significant interactions).
To probe the meaning of these interactions, we employed simple slopes tests
using Hayes’s (2013) PROCESS (see Figures 1 and 2). We found that among
Table 2. Regression coefficients for predicting frequency of pornography use and sexually
related online activities.
Frequency of pornography
Sexually related
online activities
BSEbBSE
Religiosity 0.35 0.08 .15*** 0.39** 0.12
Gender 1.00 0.07 .48*** 0.26* 0.11
Age 0.02 0.03 .02 0.04 0.05
Attachment anxiety 0.09 0.04 .08* 0.15* 0.06
Attachment avoidance 0.05 0.04 .04 0.08 0.07
Loneliness 0.03 0.05 .03 0.06 0.08
Offline sexual experience 0.31 0.08 .15*** 1.37*** 0.12
Anxiety Loneliness 0.08 0.03 .08* 0.12* 0.05
Avoidance Loneliness 0.07 0.03 .08* 0.04 0.05
Offline experience Loneliness 0.10 0.09 .05 0.18 0.16
Anxiety Offline experience 0.11 0.08 .05 0.33* 0.12
Avoidance Offline experience 0.02 0.08 .01 0.17 0.14
Anxiety Offline experience
Loneliness
0.04 0.07 .02 0.11 0.11
Avoidance Offline experience
Loneliness
0.04 0.06 -.02 -0.05 0.09
*p<.05; ** p<.01; *** p<.001.
Efrati and Amichai-Hamburger 9
people high on attachment anxiety (one standard deviation above the sample
mean), loneliness was not related to the frequency of PU (b¼.04, p¼.44) or
the number of SROA (b¼.03, p¼.79). The level of these activities was high
regardless of loneliness. Among people low on attachment anxiety (one standard
deviation below the sample mean), however, the higher the loneliness the
0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1
1.2
1.4
1.6
1.8
2
Low loneliness Hi
g
h loneliness
Frequency of pornography use
Low
anxiety
High
anxiety
Figure 1. The effects of loneliness on frequency of pornography use as a function of
attachment anxiety.
0
0.05
0.1
0.15
0.2
0.25
0.3
0.35
0.4
Low loneliness Hi
g
h loneliness
Sexually related online activities
Low
anxiety
High
anxiety
Figure 2. The effects of loneliness on sexually related online activities as a function of
attachment anxiety.
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greater the frequency of PU (b¼.10, p¼.05) and the number of SROA
(b¼.14, p¼.04).
The effect of loneliness on the frequency of PU was also dependent on partic-
ipants’ attachment avoidance (see Figure 3). When a simple slopes test was per-
formed, an opposite pattern emerged among avoidant people. Specifically, among
people low on attachment avoidance (one standard deviation below the sample
mean), loneliness was not related to the frequency of PU (b¼.04, p¼.53) and
this frequency was low regardless of loneliness. Among people high on attach-
ment avoidance (one standard deviation above the sample mean), however, the
higher the loneliness, the more prevalent the PU (b¼.10, p¼.04).
In addition, the analyses indicated that the effect of offline sexual experience
on sexually related online experience was dependent on participants’ attachment
anxiety (see Figure 4). A simple slopes test indicated that people with offline
experience (coded 1) had significantly more sexually related online experiences
than people without offline experience (coded 0) but that this difference was
stronger for people low on attachment anxiety (b¼2.09, p<.001) than people
high on attachment anxiety (b¼1.49, p<.001).
Discussion
The results indicate that participants with offline sexual experience show a
higher prevalence of PU and participated in more SROA. This factor was sig-
nificant above and beyond the contribution of religiosity, age, or gender. This
implies that the Internet allows “the rich to get richer,” namely, the young
people who are dominant in sexual expression offline use the Internet as another
1.4
1.45
1.5
1.55
1.6
1.65
1.7
1.75
1.8
Low loneliness Hi
g
h loneliness
Frequency of pornography use
Low
avoidance
High
avoidance
Figure 3. The effects of loneliness on frequency of pornography use as a function of
attachment avoidance.
Efrati and Amichai-Hamburger 11
way to express their sexuality (Amichai-Hamburger, Kaplan & Dorpatcheon,
2008; Kraut et al., 2002;
Sev
c
ıkova
´et al., 2018).
As we predicted, among people who scored higher on attachment anxiety, the
frequency of PU and the number of SROA were high, regardless of the levels of
loneliness. Anxiously attached people energetically attempt to achieve closeness,
support, affection, and love, but they also lack the confidence that these resour-
ces will be provided and are afraid of being rejected by others. Thus, online
sexual activity and online pornography may serve as a compensation for anx-
ious adolescents regardless of their actual sensation of loneliness. For adoles-
cents low on anxiety, who have the mental capacity to seek closeness and
affection, loneliness proved to be a predictor for online pornography and
SROA. In sum, loneliness is a reliable predictor of PU among adolescents but
it is not a necessity; high attachment anxiety and the accompanying high fear of
rejection might be enough to motivate adolescents to seek warmth and satisfac-
tion in pornography and other online sexual behavior.
The opposite pattern emerged among avoidant people. Specifically, among
adolescents low on attachment avoidance, and therefore high on attachment
security, the frequency of PU was low regardless of loneliness. This result is
in keeping with theory and research showing that secure adolescents have sat-
isfactory social ties and a tendency to seek comfort and love from others
(Potard, Courtois, Re
´veille
`re, Bre
´chon & Courtois, 2017). Therefore, they do
not seem to use online pornography and other sexually related activity as com-
pensation. Among adolescents high on attachment avoidance, however, the
higher the level of loneliness, the more prevalent is the PU. In this case, the
results indicate that being just high on attachment avoidance is not enough to
affect consumption of pornography without loneliness. These results may stem
0
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
No offline ex
p
erience Had offline ex
p
erience
Sexually related online activities
Low
anxiety
High
anxiety
Figure 4. The effects of offline experience on sexually related online activities as a function of
attachment anxiety.
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from the fact that adolescents scoring high on avoidant attachment tend to deny
and avoid closeness and interdependence in relationships (Ein-Dor, Perry-Paldi,
Merrin, Efrati, & Hirschberger, 2018; Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2003; Mikulincer,
& Shaver, 2007b). Only if and when the sense of loneliness breaks through their
defenses, does the consumption of pornography and sexual behavior online
becomes apparent.
One additional interesting result was that the analyses indicated that secular
male youths reported a higher prevalence of PU and more SROA than did
religious people. This result is in keeping with previous research (Baltazar,
Helm, McBride, Hopkins, & Stevens, 2010; MacInnis & Hodson, 2016) and
with research regarding the relationship between religiosity and offline sexual
behavior. For example, teens with higher levels of religiosity tend to delay sexual
involvement for a longer time than those with lower levels of religiosity (Hardy
& Raffaelli, 2003).
In this study, 51.3% of the sample reported being sexually active online.
The prevalence of intentional and/or unintentional exposure to pornography
and other online sexual activities found in the literature varies significantly.
For example, whereas some report rates of 7% (Dong, Cao, Cheng, Cui, &
Li, 2013; Shek & Ma, 2012), others report rates of up to 71% (Chen, Leung,
Chen, & Yang, 2013). Prevalence rates for lifetime exposure to pornography
ranged from 25% among Taiwanese adolescents (Cheng, Ma, & Missari, 2014)
to 98% among German adolescent boys and 81% among German adolescent
girls (Weber, Quiring, & Daschmann, 2012). These differences in rates stem
from both methodological differences and cultural differences. The prevalence
of SROA in the current sample is in keeping with rates in the United States
(52.5% of online exposure to pornography; e.g., Ybarra & Mitchell, 2005).
Although our main premises were supported, the study has several limita-
tions. It is correlational, precluding causal conclusions. In other words, it is
unclear whether loneliness and insecure attachment are the cause of online
PU. Longitudinal studies might be needed to further explore the bidirectional
associations over time between loneliness, insecure attachment, and online PU.
In addition, although religiosity served as a factor in our analyses, most of our
sample was composed of religious adolescents. Future studies might benefit
from replicating our results among samples that feature secular adolescents
more prominently. Finally, we did not assess the means by which adolescents
accessed the Internet (i.e., home computer, school computer, smart phone, etc.)
and these means might have an effect on the consumption of pornography and
other SROA (e.g., adolescents who own a smartphone might have easier access
to pornography than those who do not). Future studies ought to take these
means into account.
It seems that the ease of availability of sexually explicit materials and the
ever-growing opportunities for cybersex is making the topic of young people’s
use of pornography and their sexual behavior online, an important area for
Efrati and Amichai-Hamburger 13
research because pornography relates to risky sexual behavior and psychopa-
thology. For example, Wright and Randall (2012) have shown that after con-
trolling for demographic and individual difference covariates, Internet
pornography consumption was positively associated with having sex with mul-
tiple partners, engaging in paid sex, and having had extramarital sex. Mitchell
and Sabine (2009) have also linked PU with various psychopathologies such as
depression, anger/irritability, and dysfunctional sexual behavior. The need for
research takes on additional importance, given that online sexual activity is
expected to intensify through integration of virtual reality.
This study shows that online sexual activities serve as a possible compensa-
tion for a sense of loneliness among individuals who chronically crave affection
and love—those high on attachment anxiety. Our findings echo the words of
Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey, who noted: “We live in a society bloated with
data yet starved for wisdom. We’re connected 24/7, yet anxiety, fear, depression
and loneliness is at an all-time high. We must course-correct.”
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
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Author Biographies
Yaniv Efrati,
Yair Amichai-Hamburger received his PhD from Oxford University. He is the
director of the Research Center for Internet Psychology, based at the Sammy
Ofer School of Communications at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya,
Israel. He has worked for many years as an industrial consultant, advising
many leading organizations. He has written widely on the impact of the
Internet on well-being. His first book, The Social Net: Human Behavior in
Cyberspace, was published by Oxford University Press in 2005 and his second
book, Technology and Psychological Well-being, by Cambridge University. His
third book, The Social Net: Understanding Our Online Behavior, was published
by Oxford University Press in 2013. His newest book Internet Psychology: The
Basics came out 2017 by Routledge.
18 Psychological Reports 0(0)
... However, previous studies have found that higher loneliness is associated with a higher use of the internet in an effort to solve the state of isolation (Kim et al., 2009;Primack et al., 2017). In the same sense, past research has demonstrated that a sense of loneliness is linked to engaging in online sexual activities and using pornography (e.g., Butler et al., 2018;Dryer & Lijtmaer, 2007;Efrati & Amichai-Hamburger, 2019). Thus, taking into account these findings, people who feel alone may be more likely to engage in sexting behaviours. ...
... adults). This finding is in line with previous research results showing that loneliness is associated with increased internet use and increased involvement in online sexual activities (e.g., Efrati & Amichai-Hamburger, 2019;Primack et al., 2017). More specifically, during emerging adulthood, social interactions and the search for companionship seem to be relevant aspects for achieving adequate psychosocial development to find a predisposition to elude loneliness (Döring, 2014). ...
... No obstante, estudios previos han hallado que una mayor sensación de soledad está asociada a un mayor uso de Internet, en un esfuerzo por resolver el estado de aislamiento (Kim et al., 2009;Primack et al., 2017). En el mismo sentido, las investigaciones pasadas han demostrado que una mayor sensación de soledad está asociada a mantener actividades sexuales online y utilizar pornografía (e.g., Butler et al., 2018;Dryer & Lijtmaer, 2007;Efrati & Amichai-Hamburger, 2019). Por tanto, teniendo en cuenta estos hallazgos, las personas que se sienten solas podrían ser más propensas a incurrir en comportamientos de sexting. ...
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SARS-CoV-2 has resulted in the mandatory isolation of the entire population, reducing the opportunities for casual sexual encounters or between partners who do not live together. However, it is plausible to assume that other forms of sexual contact like sexting are occurring. This research aimed to analyse the behaviours and motivations to engage in sexting and to examine some predictors of mental health and loneliness that could be associated with sexting during confinement. The sample consisted of 510 participants: 280 emerging adults and 230 adults. The results showed higher prevalence of sexting behaviours among emerging adults (vs. adults) and among males (vs. females). Moreover, emerging adults reported more motivations to engage in sexting. Finally, the analysis revealed that loneliness would predict engagement in sexting by emerging adults. These findings could have implications for the implementation of sexual education programmes aimed at achieving adequate social interactions associated with sexting.
... Some authors have argued that pornography may act as compensation for social loneliness and the lack of satisfying sexual partners. People with no sexual partners may turn to the Internet as a means to satisfy their sexual needs (Efrati and Amichai-Hamburger, 2019;Paul and Shim, 2008). Other studies on the motivation to use pornography among adolescents have outlined cognitive and emotional factors, such as curiosity and the need to increase knowledge, the need to satisfy sexual desires and reach sexual arousal, entertainment, and peer influence (Alexandraki et al., 2018;Chen, Leung, Chen, and Yang, 2013;Peter and Valkenburg, 2016). ...
... Contrary to our hypothesis, we found no evidence that people who lack recent sexual intercourse compensate for it with more exposure to SEM (Q4). These results contradict previous claims that the use of pornography may have a compensatory effect for those who have no romantic or sexual relationships (Efrati and Amichai-Hamburger, 2019;Paul and Shim, 2008). Even if such an effect is present, either it is overrun by the other motivations that drive adolescents to use SEM today or the sexual drive in adolescence is so strong that even the presence of recent sexual activity is not powerful enough to satisfy it. ...
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... Items such as "I felt lonely" were scored on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 0 = never to 4 = always (α = 0.65). The measure has been used before in other Israeli studies and presents good reliability (e.g., Ginter et al., 1996;Efrati and Amichai-Hamburger, 2019). ...
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... In previous studies, problematic pornography users were found to not only excessively engage in sexual behaviors, but also experience loneliness and psychological distress (Bőthe et al., 2018(Bőthe et al., , 2020Efrati & Amichai-Hamburger, 2019;Tian et al., 2018;Yoder et al., 2005). In addition, PPU severity related with a tendency for behavioral addictions (Harper & Hodgins, 2016;Kor et al., 2014). ...
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... • It has been observed that about 20% of adolescents access pornography involuntarily, the average age of access being around 10 years old (4,5). • Recent international research shows the relationship between loneliness and pornography use in this population (6)(7)(8)(9). • The main objective of this study is to explore whether there is a relationship between pornography use and loneliness in a sample of Spanish-speaking adolescents. ...
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Gender violence is a major public health issue. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of sexist attitudes that could be associated with said violence, and to identify some sociodemographic variables that predict sexism. A cross-sectional observational study was conducted with 723 adolescents between the ages of 14 to 19. Their explicit sexist attitudes were measured with the EVAMVE and EARG scales, and their implicit attitudes were measured with a series of assessment items regarding the behavior of the protagonists of a video and a story in which a young couple interacts. Explicit and implicit sexist attitudes were detected in adolescents of both sexes. Qualitatively, the assessment of the behavior of the female protagonist is striking. Regarding the sexism predictors, it was found that male adolescents, those born outside of Spain, those who were studying in a public school, those whose parents did not have university studies, and those who consumed the most pornography presented attitudes that were significantly more sexist. These results suggest that it is necessary to strengthen education in equality and prevention of gender violence in adolescents, and to develop affective-sexual education programs.
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The increasing curiosity and various hormones (partic­u­lar­­ly sexual hormones) are problems for adolescents, which fre­quent­ly cause them to become unstable. Another factor that con­tri­butes to the complexity of adolescent problems is technological advances. Apart from being a useful means of information tech­nology that is generally beneficial to human life, the internet may also become a threat to adolescents by facilitating access to explicit sexual content, namely online pornography. Besides the above factors, this research exam­ined other factors associated with adoles­cents’ inclination to con­sume online porno­graphy. The purpose of this study is to discover whether there is a correlation between past experiences of vio­lence and parental attachment to the desire to use online por­no­gra­phy. The research method is quantitative and the research subjects were adolescents (N=167, male=70.1%, female=29.9%, M=15–19 years). The findings revealed two things: first, there was no correlation between the past experiences of violence and the desire to use online porno­graphy (r=0.102; p>0.05); and second, parental attachment had a negative cor­relation with the desire to use online pornography (r=–0.157; p<0.05). The contribution of this research is to reaffirm the significance of quality adolescent-parent attachment in fostering a whole­some emotional sense of security and developing a healthy sexu­al identity.
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