Effects of pornography on adolescents

Adolescents are viewing pornography both intentionally and accidentally at increasing rates (Mitchell, Wolak, & Finkelhor, 2007). The FBI warns that there is a greater risk today for cyberbullying, sexual victimization, and harassment online than ever before. In Canada, 95% of adolescents are online (Lawsky, 2008). Not only are they online but they are often unmonitored, seeing as how the average American teen owns 3.5 mobile devices (Lenhart, Purcell et al., 2010).

Sexual curiosity is a normal facet of adolescence but some neuroscientists argue that the brains of adolescents are more sensitive to highly stimulating reward responses. This could be due to the fact that the limbic systems mature much earlier than prefrontal cortices throughout adolescent years, creating a bias for emotionally salient stimuli over inhibitory control (Casey et al., 2008) In other words, it is more difficult for adolescent brain to make safer, wiser judgments when presented with potentially dangerous but sexually rewarding possibilities.

Outside of mere moral judgments about pornography, some research has indicated that compulsive pornography viewing can have significant effects in an adolescents life. The following are 12 examples from current literature that illustrate the possible negative effects of extended exposure to sexually explicit material in adolescence.


1) Pornography offers numerous sexual attitudes that differ from what was taught in the home creating a dissonance which leads to further sexual confusion and uncertainty (Peter & Valkenberg, 2008) i.e. they will be more likely to think explicit material is close to reality.

2) More likely to be distracted by sexual thoughts which can effect academic performance.

3) More likely to have a favourable attitude toward promiscuous or random sex. Braun-Courville & Rojas (2009) found that the more frequently an adolescent is exposed to sexually explicit material, the greater their sexually permissive attitudes.

4) More likely to be oppressive towards women. Brown & L’Engle (2009) found that the greater exposure to explicit material correlated with seeing male as dominant and female as submissive.

5) Both boys and girls who watch pornography are more likely to see women as objects. Peter & Valkenberg (2007) found that exposure, regardless of gender, correlates with seeing women as objects.

6) More likely to experience oral sex and intercourse at a younger age. Kraus & Russell (2008) found that those who viewed pornography reported younger first sexual experiences.

7) More likely to be aggressive sexually. For Males who have a predisposed risk of being aggressive, pornography increases level of aggression dramatically. (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2005)

8) More likely to harass another person sexually. Brown & l’Engle (2009) boys more likely to commit sexual harassment

9) More likely to be violent. Boys exposed to violent pornography are 6 times more likely to be sexually violent that those exposed to “regular” pornography or no pornography at all(Ybarra, Mitchell, Hamburger, Diener-West, & Leaf , 2011).

10) More likely to have body image and sexual insecurities.

Men expressed insecurities about their ability to perform sexually; the women expressed insecurities about body image (Lofgren-Martenson & Mansson, 2010). Consequently, higher confidence leads to lowered viewing of pornography among young adults. Participants also reported that they were more likely to “handle it” if they had a meaningful relationship with whom they could be honest.

11) More likely to be clinically depressed and have weaker bond with caregivers (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2005).

12) More likely to consider sexting as a safer way to express sexuality and affection (Lenhart, 2009) All this while forgetting that sexual images of themselves or their peers could be considered child pornography of which possession and/or production could lead to punitive charges not to mention the very likely risk of the images being shared with others.

A summary of –

Owens, E., Behun, R., Manning, J., & Reid, R. (2012) The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research. Sexual Addiction and Prevention:The Journal of Treatment and Prevention.  19:1-2.

written by: Zac Rhodenizer M.Ed., B.A./B.Ed.


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