Elizabeth Jeglic Ph.D.

Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

Boys Will Be Boys?

The relationship between teenage pornography use and sexual violence.

Posted Apr 27, 2018

 Creative Commons. No attribution necessary
Source: CCO: Creative Commons. No attribution necessary

If you ask most men who grew up prior to the advent of the Internet where they first learned about sex, many will fondly remember the well-worn Playboy Magazine they hid under the mattress or the time they watched the movie Porky’s during a sleepover with a group of their friends. This image is so iconic that it is ingrained in popular American culture, depicted in mainstream Hollywood movies such as Home Alone and American Pie

But does this mean that pornography use is harmless? Not quite. While it is completely normal for preteens and teens to be interested in and perhaps aroused by pornography, it is important to understand that the Internet now gives them access to endless amounts of pornography at the click of a mouse or a swipe of a finger. According to the Pew Research Center, 78% of teens between the ages of 12-18 have their own cell phone, on which they can easily access on-line pornography. While some teenagers seek it out, about 28% of teens report stumbling upon on-line pornography accidentally through a pop-up.  Sexual curiosity is normal, however in general,  on-line pornography is not appropriate for pre-teens and teenagers as it often depicts degradation of women, violence against women, and the sexualization of underage youth among other disturbing themes.  A 2016 survey of adolescents aged 11-16 in the United Kingdom found that about 28% of the 11-12-year olds and 65% of those aged 15-16 had accessed on-line pornography which can have negative long-term consequences and this risk increases with the frequency of exposure. Several studies have found that teenagers who viewed on-line pornography regularly:

  • Were more likely to sexually objectify woman
  • Had more stereotyped gender attitudes
  • Displayed more sexually permissive behaviors
  • Were more likely to engage in sexual harassment

If there is one thing that we are learning from the #metoo and Time’s Up movements, it is that these are precisely the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that sustain a culture supportive of sexual violence toward women. While a recent review of the research has suggested that the studies linking pornography utilization by adolescents and sexual violence suffer from methodological limitations and need further study (see Owens and colleagues 2012), there is enough data to suggest that pornography, especially violent pornography depicting rape and sexual assault, should be off limits for teens.


For more information, see: Jeglic, E.J., & Calkins, C.A. (2018). Protecting you child from sexual abuse: What you need to know to keep your kids safe. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.  https://www.amazon.com/Protecting-Your-Child-Sexual-Abuse/dp/1510728686

Owens, E. W., Behun, R.J., Manning, J., & Reid, R.C. (2012). The impact of internet pornography on adolescents: A review of the research.  Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 19, 99-122.

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