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Teen media consumption shapes sexual development

As the internet and its availability grow, products and services become ever more convenient but more than groceries and video games are merely a click away. According to similarweb.com, a website that analyzes and stores information on American internet usage, two of the ten most searched websites in 2019 were pornographic in nature with pornhub.com placing seventh and xvideos.com 10th. In 2019, pornhub.com received more searches than instagram.com and tumblr.com combined. While each website requires visitors to identify themselves as least 18 years-old, studies show the ages of searchers are dipping lower and lower.

The average age of first exposure to online pornography is 11 years-old, lower than any previous year, according to the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, an organization that publishes information about youth internet use. Of first encounters with online pornography, 43.5 percent of exposure occurred unintentionally from an explicit advertisement or commercial, according to a 2017 study conducted by the psychology department at the University of Nebraska — Wesleyan.

In this study, researchers surveyed 330 undergraduate men, ages 17 to 54, about their first exposure to pornography, sexual preferences and relationships with women. The study revealed a significant link between the age of first exposure to pornography and the perception of women.

“We found that the younger a man was when he first viewed pornography, the more likely he was to want power over women.”

Alyssa Bischman, head researcher

“We found that the younger a man was when he first viewed pornography, the more likely he was to want power over women,” Alyssa Bischman, the head researcher of the study, wrote in a 2017 report. 

Not only has the availability of pornography increased, but also the growing extremity and diversity of the content has also negatively impacted viewers, especially men. According to the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), men constitute 73 percent of regular pornography viewers. While explicit content was once limited in scope and accessibility, now, nearly everything is available at one’s fingertips.

More abusive and violent pornography shapes attitudes about gender and sexuality, can negatively affect relationships and contribute to psychological harm, according to a study titled “Self-Perceived Effects of Pornography Consumption Among Heterosexual Men,” conducted by the psychology department at James Cook University in 2017. The study found men reported lower rates of sexual satisfaction with partners after regularly viewing abusive content. The researchers explain this by describing the brain as being “rewired” to only respond to violent sexual stimuli. The reinforcement of this need creates a sexual dysfunction when a viewer can only receive the niche stimuli their brain responds to through pornography. This dependency is similar to reliance upon any addictive substance and a hooked individual can suffer withdrawal when deprived of pornography. This can exist in the form of sexual dissatisfaction, irritability or depression according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Nearly 98 percent of men and 73 percent of women view pornography multiple times a year.”

National Center for Biological Information

Nearly 98 percent of men and 73 percent of women view pornography multiple times a year but not all develop addictions, according to the National Center for Biological Information (NCBI). The NCBI asserts an individual must compulsively view explicit content to a degree which impacts their lives or relationships. A series of studies conducted by Marie-Ève Daspe, a psychologist, and her colleagues in 2017 found 17 percent of regular online pornography viewers are compulsive.

Her study furthers, the compulsively involved with pornography dependence makes one feel out of control or hopeless, degrading one’s self-esteem and mental health. In fact, according to her study, people who watch porn five or more times per week report significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety.

Despite its harms, pornography remains important to the U.S. economy. The mid-range estimate for the 2018 revenue of the pornography industry was $15 billion. This statistic exceeds the annual revenue of Netflix, the National Football League and even Hollywood film productions. According to Dr. Eleanor Wilkinson, a professor at the University of Southhampton, to eliminate online pornography would have

Whether for better or for worse, pornography has permeated American society and its view of sexual relationships, the economy and teenage sexual development.”

significant impacts on the global economy and employment, as over 35 percent of all internet downloads are pornographic.

While pornography still carries a taboo researchers conducted more studies examining internet pornography use in the past five years than ever before, according to the Journal of Sex Research. Discussion of sexuality and comprehensive sexual education are tools the IFS suggests could be helpful in reducing misconceptions created through pornography viewership concerning women’s sexual preferences and safe practices. Whether for better or for worse, pornography has permeated American society and its view of sexual relationships, the economy and teenage sexual development.

What do you think is the largest influence on teenager’s understanding of sex and sexuality?

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