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Porn Users Have A More Adventurous Sex Life, But Don’t Have Riskier Sex

Porn Users Have A More Adventurous Sex Life, But Don’t Have Riskier Sex: © John Lee/Masterfile/Corbis

© John Lee/Masterfile/Corbis

Pornography is widely believed to set a bad sexual example. Among other things, it has been criticized for promoting promiscuity and sex without condoms. Some have even gone so far as to claim it’s “one of the largest contributors to our current culture of unsafe sex.”

This might sound like common sense to a lot of people—after all, we imitate a lot of things that people on our computer, phone and TV screens are doing, so it’s not a stretch to think that we would emulate their sexual exploits, too. However, while this might sound intuitive, many “common sense” beliefs about sex, and about adult entertainment in particular, turn out to be wrong when scientists put them to the test.

For example, consider the common claim that it promotes hatred of women and sexual violence. What does the research say? Precisely the opposite: greater use is associated with more support for gender equality and fewer sex crimes.

So what about the link between porn use and risky sex? This appears to be another case where common sense doesn’t seem to make much, um, sense.

A new study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy reveals that while the amount of porn people watch is indeed related to their sexual behavior, it is not related to behaviors of the risk-taking kind. Instead, this research finds that if porn use is related to anything, it’s simply trying out new things in bed.

In this study, researchers recruited 2,438 college students aged 18-26 from two European countries (Germany and Poland) for an online sex survey. Information was collected on participants’ frequency of porn use in the last six months, the extent of their previous sexual experiences (e.g., vaginal sex, anal sex, certain forms of BDSM, use of sex toys, etc.), as well as their engagement in certain behaviors the researchers defined as “risky” (e.g., inconsistent condom use, sex with multiple partners).

Participants were first grouped into one of three categories based upon their frequency of recent porn use: nonusers (those who hadn’t used porn in the last six months), low users (those who used porn a few times per month or less) and high users (those who used porn weekly or daily).

Perhaps not surprisingly, most men from both countries fell into the high user category, whereas most women fell into the nonuser or low user categories.

Among men, higher users of porn were the most sexually adventurous. Specifically, they were more likely to report having tried things like anal sex, tying up a partner or being tied up during sex, having sex in public places and using sex toys.

The results for women told a fairly similar story, such that female porn users tended to report more diverse sexual histories than nonusers.

Interestingly, among women, it was the low porn users who tended to be most sexually adventurous, whereas among men, the high users claimed this title. Why weren’t high porn-using women more adventurous? It’s hard to say, but very few women (less than 4 percent) fell into the high user category, which means caution is warranted in drawing conclusions about them.

When it came to sexual risk-taking, porn use was unrelated to consistency of condom use. This was true for both men and women. Also, for the most part, porn use was unrelated to lifetime number of sexual partners. Only among German women was greater porn use linked to having had more partners; for Polish women and for men from both countries, porn use was unrelated to partner count.

In the words of the study’s authors, these results “suggest that there is a link between pornography use and sexual behavior. However, pornographic materials seem to be a source of inspiration rather than a pattern for ‘sexual risk behavior.’”

One interpretation of these findings is that porn may help people to expand their sexual horizons, but they won’t necessarily put themselves at risk in doing so.

It’s also possible that porn isn’t affecting people’s sexual behaviors at all. Perhaps more sexually adventurous people just watch more porn. Another limitation of this research is that we don’t know what type of porn people were watching and if that even matters; however, we know from other research that different types of porn can have different effects on different people.

Clearly, more research is needed, but I suspect that it may ultimately reveal a more nuanced story (e.g., perhaps porn is linked to risky sex, but only among people who have risk-taking personalities and who watch condomless porn); for now, however, these results argue against the idea that porn is inherently dangerous and is responsible for “a culture of unsafe sex.”

Porn is an easy target to blame for sexual problems of all kinds, but the evidence we have seems to argue that it’s not necessarily the right target.


Justin Lehmiller, PhD, is a sex educator and researcher at Ball State University and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.


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