Skip to main content
Log in

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

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Archives of Sexual Behavior Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. The word “pornography” is often seen as pejorative. This study associates no derogatory connotation with the term, using it only as shorthand for mediated content depicting nudity and explicit sexual acts (Wright, Malamuth, & Donnerstein, 2012).

  2. Conservatives admit that they are attracted to and at times indulge in pornography (Arterburn & Stoeker, 2009; Ferree, 2001). An answer to the question of why conservatives view pornography when doing so defies their moral values is beyond the scope of this study. It is likely, however, that (1) conservatives access pornography for the same reasons as non-conservatives: sexual arousal, masturbation, curiosity, stress relief, etc. (Paul & Shim, 2008) and (2) rationalizing behavior dissonant with conservative moral values is easier for “unreal” pornography consumption than “real” sexual behavior with another person.

  3. An alternative interpretation of these data is that the percentage of all women who consume pornography has stayed relatively constant while the percentage of young women who consume pornography has been subject to more dramatic oscillations.

  4. Another possible future research direction is “aggregate analysis” (Kingston & Malamuth, 2011). In an aggregate analysis, researchers examine (1) “the availability of pornography in a given society” and (2) “fluctuations” in a given behavior thought to be related to pornography consumption (Kingston & Malamuth, 2011, p. 1045). Pornography researchers are divided as to the merit of aggregate studies. We side with Kingston and Malamuth and others (e.g., Gunter, 2002), who argue that the limitations of aggregate studies outweigh their benefits. One serious limitation is that such studies measure availability of pornography, as opposed to actual exposure to pornography. Another serious limitation is that behaviors are multiply determined; pornography exposure could encourage recreational sex, but this effect could be masked by other inhibiting factors. Nevertheless, it is acknowledged that some pornography researchers believe in aggregate studies.

References

  • 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 

  • Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. Media Psychology, 3, 265–299.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 347–374.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davis, J. A., & Smith, T. W. (2010). General social surveys, 1972–2008. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dominick, J. R., Messere, F., & Sherman, B. L. (2008). Broadcasting, cable, the internet, and beyond. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ellison, D. M. (2011). Religious negativism and fantasy guilt. The Family Journal, 19, 101–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferree, M. C. (2001). Females and sex addiction: Myths and diagnostic implications. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 8, 287–300.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fox, J. (2006). Sex differences in college students’ internet pornography use. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Arizona, Tucson.

  • Gallenberg, M. M. (2010, July 22). Testosterone therapy in women: Does it boost sex drive? Retrieved 14 Feb 2012 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/testosterone-therapy/AN01390.

  • 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 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • GSS Codebook. (2011). Appendix A. Retrieved 14 Feb 2012 from http://www.norc.uchicago.edu/GSS+Website/Documentation/.

  • Gunter, B. (2002). Media sex. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Hogben, M., & Byrne, D. (1998). Using social learning theory to explain individual differences in human sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 35, 58–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Laws, J. L., & Schwartz, P. (1977). Sexual scripts: The social construction of female sexuality. Hinsdale, IL: Dryden.

    Google Scholar 

  • Linz, D., & Malamuth, N. (1993). Pornography. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Lo, V., & Wei, R. (2005). Exposure to internet pornography and Taiwanese adolescents’ sexual attitude and behavior. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 49, 221–237.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Malamuth, N., & Huppin, M. (2005). Pornography and teenagers: The importance of individual differences. Adolescent Medicine, 16, 315–326.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Maltz, W., & Maltz, L. (2008). The porn trap. New York: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Paul, P. (2005). Pornified. New York: Holt.

    Google Scholar 

  • Paul, B. (2009). Predicting internet pornography use and arousal: The role of individual difference variables. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 344–357.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Paul, B., & Shim, J. W. (2008). Gender, sexual affect, and motivations for internet pornography use. International Journal of Sexual Health, 20, 187–199.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2006). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit online material and recreational attitudes towards sex. Journal of Communication, 56, 639–660.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sarracino, C., & Scott, K. M. (2008). The porning of America. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Stack, S., Wasserman, I., & Kern, R. (2004). Adult social bonds and use of internet pornography. Social Science Quarterly, 85, 75–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stulhofer, A., Busko, V., & Landripet, I. (2010). Pornography, sexual socialization, and satisfaction among young men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 168–178.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • The National Data Program for the Social Sciences. (2011). Retrieved 14 Feb 2012 from http://www.norc.uchicago.edu/GSS+Website/About+GSS/National+Data+Program+for+Social+Sciences/.

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., Kleiner, S., & Irizarry, Y. (2010). Pornography, normalization, and empowerment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1389–1401.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wright, P. J. (2011a). Mass media effects on youth sexual behavior: Assessing the claim for causality. Communication Yearbook, 35, 343–386.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wright, P. J. (2011b). College students’ pornography exposure. Unpublished raw data.

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wright, P. J. (2013). A three-wave longitudinal analysis of preexisting beliefs, exposure to pornography, and attitude change. Communication Reports, 26, 13–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Zillmann, D., & Bryant, J. (1982). Pornography, sexual callousness, and the trivialization of rape. Journal of Communication, 32, 10–21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Zillmann, D., & Bryant, J. (1988). Effects of prolonged consumption of pornography on family values. Journal of Family Issues, 9, 518–544.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul J. Wright.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wright, P.J., Bae, S. & Funk, M. United States Women and Pornography Through Four Decades: Exposure, Attitudes, Behaviors, Individual Differences. Arch Sex Behav 42, 1131–1144 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0116-y

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0116-y

Keywords

Navigation