The dynamics of adolescents’ pornography use and psychological well-being: a six-wave latent growth and latent class modeling approach

Abstract

Despite increasing concerns that pornography decreases adolescents’ well-being, existing empirical support for this position is largely limited to cross-sectional studies. To explore possible links between adolescent pornography use and psychological well-being more systematically, this study focused on parallel dynamics in pornography use, self-esteem and symptoms of depression and anxiety. A sample of 775 female and 514 male Croatian high school students (Mage at baseline 15.9 years, SD 0.52) from 14 larger secondary schools, who were surveyed 6 times at approximately 5-month intervals, was used for the analyses. The longitudinal data were analyzed using latent growth curve and latent class growth modeling. We observed no significant correspondence between growth in pornography use and changes in the two indicators of psychological well-being over time in either female or male participants. However, a significant negative association was found between female adolescents’ pornography use and psychological well-being at baseline. Controlling for group-specific trajectories of pornography use (i.e., latent classes) confirmed the robustness of findings in the both female and male samples. This study’s findings do not corroborate the notion that pornography use in middle to late adolescence contributes to adverse psychological well-being, but do not rule out such a link during an earlier developmental phase—particularly in female adolescents. The findings have ramifications for educational and adolescent health specialists, but also for concerned parents.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Only primary schooling (8 years) is compulsory in Croatia. A great majority of children who finish a primary school continue their education. Secondary schools are divided into vocational schools (3- or 4-year programs) and gymnasiums (only 4-year programs). In contrast to students from vocational schools, the majority of gymnasium students enter a college or university program. Expectedly, there is are substantial differences in family socioeconomic status and parents’ education between students from vocational schools (lower) and gymnasiums (higher).

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Funding

The study has been funded by the Croatian Science foundation (Grant #9221 awarded to the first author). Additional funding was provided by Atlantic Grupa, d.d.

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AŠ conceptualized and designed the study, collected data, carried out the analysis with AT and, together with TK, drafted the initial manuscript. All the authors revised and approved the final manuscript as submitted and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

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Correspondence to Taylor Kohut.

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Štulhofer, A., Tafro, A. & Kohut, T. The dynamics of adolescents’ pornography use and psychological well-being: a six-wave latent growth and latent class modeling approach. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 28, 1567–1579 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-019-01318-4

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Keywords

  • Adolescents
  • Pornography use
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Self-esteem
  • Psychological