A Profile of Pornography Users in Australia: Findings From the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships (2016)

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COMMENTS: Many claim this study supports the argument that Internet porn doesn't really cause serious problems. For example, only 4% of the men felt they were addicted to porn. There are reasons to take the headlines with a grain of salt. First a few caveats about this study:

  1. This was a cross-sectional representative study spanning age groups 16-69, males and females. It's well established that young men are the primary users of internet porn. So, 25% of the men and 60% of the women had not viewed porn at least once in the last 12 months. Thus the statistics gathered minimize the problem by veiling the at-risk users.
  2. The single question, which asked participants if they had used porn in the last 12 months, doesn't meaningfully quantify porn use. For example, a person who bumped into a porn site pop-up is considered no different from someone who masturbates 3 times a day to hardcore porn.
  3. However, when the survey enquired of those who "had ever viewed porn" which ones had viewed porn in the past year, the highest percentage was the teen group. 93.4% of them had viewed in the last year, with 20-29 year olds just behind them at 88.6.
  4. Data was gathered between October 2012 and November 2013. Things have changed a lot in the last 4 years, thanks to smartphone penetration - especially in yournger users.
  5. Questions were asked in computer-assisted telephone interviews. It's human nature to be more forthcoming in completely anonymous interviews, especially when interviews are about sensitive subjects such as porn use and porn addiction.
  6. The questions are based purely upon self-perception. Keep in mind that addicts rarely see themselves as addicted. In fact, most internet porn users are unlikely to connect their symptoms to porn use unless they quit for an extended period.
  7. The study did not employ standardized questionnaires (given anonymously), which would more accurately have assessed both porn addiction and porn's effects on the users.

Check out the study's conclusion:

Looking at pornographic material appears to be reasonably common in Australia, with adverse effects reported by a small minority.

However, for males & females aged 16-30, it's not a small minority. According to Table 5 in the study, 17% of this age group reported that using pornography had a bad effect on them. (In contrast, among people 60-69, only 7.2% thought porn had a bad effect.)

How different would the headlines from this study have been if the authors had emphasized their finding that nearly 1 in 5 young people believed that porn use had a "bad effect on them"? Why did they attempt to downplay this finding by ignoring it and focusing on cross-sectional results - rather than the group most at risk for internet problems?

Once again, few regular porn users realize how porn has affected them until well after they cease using. Often ex-users need several months to fully recognize the negative effects. Thus, a study like this one has major limitations.


J Sex Res. 2016 Jul 15:1-14.

Rissel C1, Richters J2, de Visser RO3, McKee A4, Yeung A2, Caruana T2.

Abstract

There are societal concerns that looking at pornography has adverse consequences among those exposed. However, looking at sexually explicit material could have educative and relationship benefits. This article identifies factors associated with looking at pornography ever or within the past 12 months for men and women in Australia, and the extent to which reporting an "addiction" to pornography is associated with reported bad effects. Data from the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR2) were used: computer-assisted telephone interviews (CASIs) completed by a representative sample of 9,963 men and 10,131 women aged 16 to 69 years from all Australian states and territories, with an overall participation rate of 66%. Most men (84%) and half of the women (54%) had ever looked at pornographic material. Three-quarters of these men (76%) and more than one-third of these women (41%) had looked at pornographic material in the past year. Very few respondents reported that they were addicted to pornography (men 4%, women 1%), and of those who said they were addicted about half also reported that using pornography had had a bad effect on them. Looking at pornographic material appears to be reasonably common in Australia, with adverse effects reported by a small minority.