Porn Progressions: Analazing Pornography Consumption Over Time

Through decades of challenges from feminist and conservative critics, pornography has persisted as an essential – and controversial – fixture of American life.

But the current cultural atmosphere brings new complexity and intensity to the long-standing debate about erotica's evils. Some proponents of the #MeToo movement have recently adopted an anti-porn position, suggesting the medium inherently objectifies women. Others insist ethical porn is possible, so long as it empowers the participants and their audience. These concerns are magnified by the ease with which America's youth can access explicit material online. How is porn shaping our children's expectations of intimacy?

In this project, we set out to explore the most taboo regions of the pornography debate directly. We surveyed more than 1,200 men and women about the ages at which they first viewed porn, which types of adult content they found most extreme, and how their preferences have shifted over time. We then asked them to describe their sex lives in the present to gauge whether porn may aid or obstruct satisfaction later in life. To understand porn's influence through hard data rather than hysteria, keep reading.

Introduction and Intensity

Average Age People Began Watching Porn, By Gender

Much of the public's concern about porn consumption revolves around its effects on the impressionable minds of young viewers. Some recent studies, for example, suggest early exposure among young boys may instill negative attitudes about women. Our findings indicate that male minors typically encountered porn sooner than their female counterparts, with nearly 4 in 10 men stating they first viewed porn between the ages of 11 and 15. Among women, the introduction of pornography was more evenly distributed across the teen years, with about 15 percent viewing porn for the first time between the ages of 11 and 15 and 14 percent between 16 and 20.

Of course, not all pornography elicits equal degrees of suspicion: Some forms of erotica barely include nudity, whereas others depict violent or degrading sex acts. And while researchers suggest there might be a negative correlation between porn and happy relationships, our survey revealed that might not entirely be the case under the right circumstances. Our respondents assessed which kinds of porn they found most extreme, as well as the genres they viewed as relatively harmless.

Tastes Over Time

Top 5 Porn Genres, By Age and Gender

In matters of porn and preference, it can be difficult to draw the line between the erotic and extreme. What's attractive to one person might be too intense for another. BDSM, for example, which didn't rank among the top five for either men or women, could be considered extreme to some people, but a loving type of connection for others with the right communication.

For men of all ages, amateur porn was the most popular genre. Women shared this preference between the ages of 18 and 34, suggesting that authenticity can be the key to erotica's appeal to either gender. Yet among women older than 35, a different top preference emerged: threesome content. Older women were hardly alone in this regard, however. Threesome porn was among the top five categories for every age and gender demographic we studied. In these instances of overlapping interests, some couples might even consider watching porn together if they're comfortable with the idea. Making an evening out of their viewing experience could even create deeper intimacy between partners.

Other findings seemed to indicate alignment between audience and subject in some cases. MILF porn, for example, was the second-most popular category among men aged 55 to 64, suggesting a possible interest in female performers closer to their own age range. Interestingly, lesbian porn ranked higher among female respondents than men, at least between the ages of 18 and 44. This finding offers an interesting counterpoint to the suggestion that most lesbian porn is made with a straight male audience in mind.

Erotica vs. Intimacy

Porn Consumption's Effect on Relationships

Porn appeals to those already in relationships, not just those lacking real romance. In fact, our data suggest that 60 percent of people in relationships watched porn with their partners, presumably as a precursor to their own intimacy. That doesn't mean porn is an uncomplicated aphrodisiac: A fair percentage of respondents cited porn as an issue in their relationship, and women were three times more likely to experience relationship challenges related to their partner's viewing habits. Studies suggest that men are more inclined to have their expectations and desires warped in a damaging way by consuming pornography.

Perhaps that's because porn seems to penetrate male fantasies differently. A quarter of men said they'd rather have sex with the individuals in the porn they viewed than their real-life partners. That experience could then negatively affect arousal: Men who watched porn more often were less likely to feel aroused by their partners. Interestingly, women experienced precisely the opposite phenomenon. The more frequently female participants watched porn, the more likely they were to feel passion for their partners.

Orgasm Aid or Obstacle?

Percentage Having Difficulty Having an Orgasm From Porn Vs, Sex

As far as providing an expedient path to orgasm, is porn a better method than sex itself? Among women, at least, the answer might be yes: Female respondents were far more likely to report difficulty achieving orgasm from sex than from porn. Perhaps that's because women often need more than intercourse to reach orgasm. A recent study suggested merely 18 percent of women can experience orgasm via vaginal penetration alone. For men, the opposite was true, with more guys reporting difficulty climaxing from consuming porn.

In terms of relationship satisfaction, we find that a greater percentage of satisfied individuals reported difficulty reaching orgasm by watching porn than by having sex with their partners. Those who felt dissatisfied were more likely to struggle with reaching orgasm through sex. This could indicate the importance of fulfilling sex, but also suggest larger challenges at work. Sex therapists suggest communication is key to improving intimacy – a skill that can certainly aid in other aspects of the relationship as well.

Romance and Reality

Whether you find porn unconscionable or innocuous, our findings produce at least one undeniable conclusion: Individuals' private sexual inclinations are extremely diverse. Though our data suggest common ground in many cases, perhaps porn is so popular because it fulfills so many particular fantasies, strange as they may seem to others. In real sexual encounters, however, intimacy depends on the needs of both partners. Whatever we prefer when consuming porn, consent and clear lines of communication are prerequisites to great sex with someone you love.

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Methodology

  • We collected 1,268 viewers of pornography. 67.8% of our participants were men, and 32.3% were women. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 75 with a mean of 31.8 and a standard deviation of 9.6.
  • Demographics with a sample size smaller than 20 were excluded from segmentation; this included the age range of 55 to 64 for women.
  • We weighted the data to the 2016 U.S. census for age and gender.

Limitations

  • The data we are presenting in this study relies on self-reporting, and all of the potential biases associated with the voluntary participation of our survey respondents. There can be multiple issues with self-reported data. These concerns include, but are not limited to: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.
  • No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is purely exploratory, and future research should approach this topic in a more rigorous way for further understanding.

Sources

Fair Use Statement

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