Understanding Associations between Personal Definitions of Pornography, Using Pornography, and Depression

  • Brian J. WilloughbyEmail author
  • Dean M. Busby
  • Bonnie Young-Petersen


Pornography has received increased scholarly and policy attention, as the rate of online pornography consumption has increased and the availability of sexually explicit material grows. However, few studies have taken into consideration how personal definitions of what sexual material is perceived as pornographic may influence the correlates and outcomes associated with such consumption. Using a sample of 1639 individuals sampled online from the MTurk website, we explored how definitions of sexual material as pornographic are related to actual use and how differences between the perceptions of sexual material as pornography and use of such material were associated with depressive symptoms. Results suggested that the perception of sexual material as pornographic was significantly related to usage patterns and that this pattern varied based on how explicit the material was. Results also suggested that individual differences between perception and use were significantly related to depression. Specifically, viewing sexual material one does not deem as pornographic was related to higher levels of depressive symptoms. However, global acceptance of pornography and the general perception of sexual content as pornographic or not did not moderate associations between pornography use and depressive symptoms. Implications for future research and for the further understanding of the effects of pornography use are discussed.


Pornography Sexually explicit material Depression Perception 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments. Data collection methods were approved by the institutional review board at the first author’s university. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

No authors of the study had any conflicts of interests or funding to disclose.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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