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The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults

Abstract

We analyzed cross-sectional data collected from a U.S. nationally representative survey of individuals ages 14–24 years old on what sources of information from the past year they considered to be the most helpful about how to have sex (n = 600 adolescents ages 14–17 years old, and n = 666 young adults ages 18–24 years old). Among the 324 adolescents who indicated that they had been helped by at least one source of information, helpful information was most likely to have come from parents (31.0%) and friends (21.6%). Only 8.4% of adolescents said pornography was helpful. However, for those in the 18–24-year-old age group, pornography was the most commonly endorsed helpful source (24.5%), as compared to other possible options such as sexual partners, friends, media, and health care professionals. Multivariable regression analyses revealed that indicating that pornography was the most helpful source of information about how to have sex, compared to the other sources, was inversely associated with being female (OR = 0.32, p = .001), inversely associated with identifying as bisexual compared to heterosexual (OR = 0.15, p = .038), positively associated with being Black compared to being white non-Hispanic (OR = 4.26, p = .021), inversely associated with reporting a household income of either $25 K to $49,999 (OR = 0.31, p = .010) or $50 K to $74,999 (OR = 0.36, p = .019) compared to more than $75 K, and positively associated with having masturbated (OR = 13.20, p = .005). Subsequent research should investigate the role of pornography in both adolescent and adult sexual development, including why one-quarter of U.S. young adults say that pornography is a helpful source of information about how to have sex and what they think that they are learning from it.

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Data Availability

The data that support the findings of this study are not openly available via a repository.

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Funding

The 2015 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior was funded by Church & Dwight Co., Inc. and internal funding from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. Church & Dwight Co., Inc., is the maker of Trojan brand sexual health products.

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Correspondence to Emily F. Rothman.

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The Indiana University Institutional Review Board approved all NSSHB study protocols and instruments.

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Rothman, E.F., Beckmeyer, J.J., Herbenick, D. et al. The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults. Arch Sex Behav 50, 629–646 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01877-7

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Keywords

  • Adolescent
  • Sexuality
  • Pornography
  • Sex education
  • Sexually explicit media