New Study Reveals the Prevalence of Pornography Among American Teens

Photo from Tianyi Ma on Unsplash

New Study Reveals the Prevalence of Pornography Among American Teens

By Movieguide® Contributor

As technology becomes increasingly integrated into children’s lives, pornographic material is easier to find, even unintentionally, and the rate of pornography use among teens continues to grow.

A 2022 study found that 73% of teens ages 10 to 17 consumed online pornography—a number that has nearly doubled since 2014.

Movieguide® has frequently reported on the insidious nature of online pornography. As Dr. Baehr writes in The Media-Wise Family,

“As the internet grew from being merely a service for sending text data by modem into the primary video delivery method for the mass media of entertainment, its use for spreading pornography has become ubiquitous. The quantity, and high definition quality of, pornography has exploded.” 

This 2022 study explored the pornography habits of teenagers in America. While it found that most teens (73%) have consumed pornography, only 44% had ever done so “on purpose,” while 58% had encountered pornography accidentally.

How do so many teens accidentally come across pornographic material? Of the 58% who reported accidentally encountering pornography, 51% said they encountered it “via clicking a link, search engine result, an online ad, or on social media in some way.” Another avenue is through a friend or classmate showing it to them, an event that 23% reported occurring.

Additionally, 30% of teens said they had been exposed to pornographic material during the school day.

The type of school attended factored into how frequently students encountered pornographic material. The rates of exposure were relatively low for those homeschooled (27%) or attending public school (26%), while the rates were much higher for charter or magnet schools (41%) and were at their highest at private or religious schools (50%).

Many teens do not view their porn consumption positively. Forty-one percent of those who had ever consumed pornography agreed with the statement, “I believe watching online porn is bad.” Fifty percent said they feel guilty or ashamed after watching porn.

While these negative feelings toward porn exist, they do not dissuade most teenagers from consuming that content. Sixty-seven percent of teens who had consumed pornography said they “feel OK about the amount of online porn [they view],” while only 25% said they “feel like [they] should watch less online porn than [they] do.”

However, 41% of those who responded that they “feel OK about the amount of online porn [they view]” also responded that they feel guilty or ashamed after watching pornography.

Why, then, is pornography so alluring to teens?

First, teens turn to pornography for pleasure. Due to the undeveloped nature of their brains, the dopamine rush and resulting pleasure they receive are much higher than that of adults, causing addictions that are incredibly difficult to break. Nearly a quarter of the teens in this study said they think about watching porn throughout the day.  Movieguide® has reported extensively on the way pornography impacts the teen brain. 

Related: How Porn Exposure in Media Drastically Affects Teen Brains

Second, teens have questions, many of which are awkward and easier to find answers to online rather than turning to a trusted adult. 

Despite this, many teens understand that pornography is not real. More teens said they did not agree that “online porn gives helpful information about sex” (45%) than did agree (35%). Most consumers indicated that they know the portrayals of sex in pornography are inaccurate.

Most teens indicated they have had conversations with trusted adults surrounding the topic of sex (75%), relationships (82%) and birth control (53%), but less than half (43%) had had conversations about pornography itself.

While many teens want to have these conversations with a trusted adult, they either don’t know how to initiate the conversation (39%) or don’t know who to turn to (34%).

Engaging in conversation with one’s children about the dangers and detrimental effects of pornography can answer questions teens may have before they look for them on their own and stumble across pornographic material accidentally. 

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