Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 42, Issue 7, pp 1131–1144 | Cite as

United States Women and Pornography Through Four Decades: Exposure, Attitudes, Behaviors, Individual Differences

  • Paul J. Wright
  • Soyoung Bae
  • Michelle Funk
Original Paper


Responding to a call for research on pornography and women’s sexuality made by Weinberg, Williams, Kleiner, and Irizarry (2010), this study assessed pornography consumption, predictors, and correlates using nationally representative data gathered from U.S. women between 1973 and 2010 (N = 18,225). Women who were younger, less religious, and non-White were more likely to consume pornography. Women who consumed pornography had more positive attitudes toward extramarital sex, adult premarital sex, and teenage sex. Women who consumed pornography also had more sexual partners in the prior year, prior 5 years, and were more likely to have engaged in extramarital sex and paid sex. Consistent with Wright’s (2011a) acquisition, activation, application model of mass media sexual socialization and the theorizing of Linz and Malamuth (1993), liberal–conservative ideology moderated the association between pornography exposure and sexual behavior. Specifically, the positive association between pornography exposure and women’s recent sexual behavior was strongest for the most liberal women and weakest for the most conservative women. Cultural commentators and some academics argue that technological advances have resulted in a steady increase in the percentage of individuals who consume pornography. Little support was found for this assertion among U.S. women.


Pornography Sexually explicit media Women Sexual socialization Permissive sex 


  1. Arterburn, S., & Stoeker, F. (2009). Every man’s battle: Winning the war on sexual temptation one victory at a time. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. Media Psychology, 3, 265–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 347–374.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bleakley, A., Hennessy, M., Fishbein, M., & Jordan, A. (2008). It works both ways: The relationship between exposure to sexual content in the media and adolescent sexual behavior. Media Psychology, 11, 443–461.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Braun-Courville, D. K., & Rojas, M. (2009). Exposure to sexually explicit web sites and adolescent sexual attitude and behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45, 156–162.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C., & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: A content analysis update. Violence Against Women, 16, 1065–1085.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, J. D., & L’Engle, K. L. (2009). X-Rated: Sexual attitude and behaviors associated with U.S. early adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit media. Communication Research, 36, 129–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carroll, J. S., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Nelson, L. J., Olson, C. D., McNamara Barry, C., & Madsen, S. D. (2008). Generation XXX: Pornography acceptance and use among emerging adults. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23, 6–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cochran, J. K., & Beeghley, L. (1991). The influence of religion on attitudes toward nonmarital sexuality. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 30, 45–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  11. Davis, J. A., & Smith, T. W. (2010). General social surveys, 1972–2008. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.Google Scholar
  12. Dominick, J. R., Messere, F., & Sherman, B. L. (2008). Broadcasting, cable, the internet, and beyond. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  13. Ellison, D. M. (2011). Religious negativism and fantasy guilt. The Family Journal, 19, 101–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ferree, M. C. (2001). Females and sex addiction: Myths and diagnostic implications. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 8, 287–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fox, J. (2006). Sex differences in college students’ internet pornography use. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Arizona, Tucson.Google Scholar
  16. Gallenberg, M. M. (2010, July 22). Testosterone therapy in women: Does it boost sex drive? Retrieved 14 Feb 2012 from
  17. Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1994). Growing up with television: The cultivation perspective. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 17–41). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  18. Goodson, P., McCormick, D., & Evans, A. (2001). Searching for sexually explicit materials on the Internet: An exploratory study of college students’ behavior and attitude. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 101–118.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. GSS Codebook. (2011). Appendix A. Retrieved 14 Feb 2012 from
  20. Gunter, B. (2002). Media sex. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  21. Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Hanson, U., & Tyden, T. (2005). Associations between pornography consumption and sexual practices among adolescents in Sweden. International Journal of STD and AIDS, 16, 102–107.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Hennessy, M., Bleakley, A., Fishbein, M., & Jordan, A. (2009). Estimating the longitudinal association between adolescent sexual behavior and exposure to sexual media content. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 586–596.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Hogben, M., & Byrne, D. (1998). Using social learning theory to explain individual differences in human sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 35, 58–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Humes, K. R., Jones, N. A., & Ramirez, R. R. (2011). Overview of race and Hispanic origin: 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce.Google Scholar
  25. Kingston, D. A., & Malamuth, N. M. (2011). Problems with aggregate data and the importance of individual differences in the study of pornography and sexual aggression. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1045–1048.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lam, C. B., & Chan, D. (2007). The use of cyberpornography by young men in Hong Kong: Some psychosocial correlates. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 588–598.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Laws, J. L., & Schwartz, P. (1977). Sexual scripts: The social construction of female sexuality. Hinsdale, IL: Dryden.Google Scholar
  28. Linz, D., & Malamuth, N. (1993). Pornography. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Little, T. D., Card, N. A., Preacher, K. J., & McConnell, E. (2009). Modeling longitudinal data from research on adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (3rd ed., pp. 15–54). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  30. Lo, V., & Wei, R. (2005). Exposure to internet pornography and Taiwanese adolescents’ sexual attitude and behavior. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 49, 221–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing sexually-explicit materials alone or together: Associations with relationship quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 441–448.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Malamuth, N., & Huppin, M. (2005). Pornography and teenagers: The importance of individual differences. Adolescent Medicine, 16, 315–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Malamuth, N., & Impett, E. A. (2001). Research on sex in the media. What do we know about effects on children and adolescents? In D. G. Singer & J. L. Singer (Eds.), Handbook of children and the media (pp. 269–287). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  34. Maltz, W., & Maltz, L. (2008). The porn trap. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  35. Morgan, E. M. (2011). Associations between young adults’ use of sexually explicit materials and their sexual preferences, behaviors, and satisfaction. Journal of Sex Research, 48, 520–530.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Omori, K., Zhang, Y. B., Allen, M., Ota, H., & Imamura, M. (2011). Japanese college students’ media exposure to sexually explicit materials, perceptions of women, and sexually permissive attitude. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 40, 93–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Padgett, V. R., Brislin-Slutz, J. A., & Neal, J. A. (1989). Pornography, erotica, and attitude toward women: The effects of repeated exposure. Journal of Sex Research, 26, 479–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Paul, P. (2005). Pornified. New York: Holt.Google Scholar
  39. Paul, B. (2009). Predicting internet pornography use and arousal: The role of individual difference variables. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 344–357.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Paul, B., & Shim, J. W. (2008). Gender, sexual affect, and motivations for internet pornography use. International Journal of Sexual Health, 20, 187–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2006). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit online material and recreational attitudes towards sex. Journal of Communication, 56, 639–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2009). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit internet material and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study. Human Communication Research, 35, 171–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2010). Processes underlying the effects of adolescents’ use of sexually explicit internet material: The role of perceived realism. Communication Research, 37, 375–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2011). The use of sexually explicit internet material and its antecedents: A longitudinal comparison of adolescents and adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1015–1025.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Sarracino, C., & Scott, K. M. (2008). The porning of America. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  46. Shaughnessy, K., Byers, E. S., & Walsh, L. (2011). Online sexual activity experience of heterosexual students: Gender similarities and differences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 419–427.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Stack, S., Wasserman, I., & Kern, R. (2004). Adult social bonds and use of internet pornography. Social Science Quarterly, 85, 75–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stulhofer, A., Busko, V., & Landripet, I. (2010). Pornography, sexual socialization, and satisfaction among young men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 168–178.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. The National Data Program for the Social Sciences. (2011). Retrieved 14 Feb 2012 from
  50. Velezmoro, R., Negy, C., & Livia, J. (2011). Online sexual activity: Cross-national comparison between United States and Peruvian college students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1015–1025.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Weaver, J. B. (1991). Responding to erotica: Perceptual processes and dispositional implications. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Responding to the screen: Reception and reaction processes (pp. 329–354). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  52. Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., Kleiner, S., & Irizarry, Y. (2010). Pornography, normalization, and empowerment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1389–1401.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Wingood, G. M., DiClemente, R. J., Harrington, K., Davies, S., Hook, E. W., & Oh, M. K. (2001). Exposure to X-rated movies and adolescents’ sexual and contraceptive-related attitude and behaviors. Pediatrics, 107, 1116–1119.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Wright, P. J. (2010). A hierarchical linear modeling assessment of dual addiction status and change in sexual compulsivity over time. Psychological Reports, 107, 236–244.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Wright, P. J. (2011a). Mass media effects on youth sexual behavior: Assessing the claim for causality. Communication Yearbook, 35, 343–386.Google Scholar
  56. Wright, P. J. (2011b). College students’ pornography exposure. Unpublished raw data.Google Scholar
  57. Wright, P. J. (2012). A longitudinal analysis of U.S. adults’ pornography exposure: Sexual socialization, selective exposure, and the moderating role of unhappiness. Journal of Media Psychology, 24, 67–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wright, P. J. (2013). A three-wave longitudinal analysis of preexisting beliefs, exposure to pornography, and attitude change. Communication Reports, 26, 13–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wright, P. J., Malamuth, N. M., & Donnerstein, E. (2012). Research on sex in the media: What do we know about effects on children and adolescents? In D. G. Singer & J. L. Singer (Eds.), Handbook of children and the media (pp. 273–302). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  60. Ybarra, M. L., Mitchell, K. J., Hamburger, M., Diener-West, M., & Leaf, P. J. (2011). X-rated material and perpetration of sexually aggressive behavior among children and adolescents: Is there a link? Aggressive Behavior, 37, 1–18.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Zillmann, D., & Bryant, J. (1982). Pornography, sexual callousness, and the trivialization of rape. Journal of Communication, 32, 10–21.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Zillmann, D., & Bryant, J. (1988). Effects of prolonged consumption of pornography on family values. Journal of Family Issues, 9, 518–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of TelecommunicationsIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations