A new study finds female college students more accepting of pornography than their fathers, suggesting the rise of Internet porn may be creating a generational shift that encompasses both genders.
Researchers at Brigham Young University conducted the study with college students and their parents from six schools across the country. Nearly half of the female students, 49 percent, said viewing pornography is an acceptable way to express one’s sexuality. Only 37 percent of the dads agreed. The study, titled “Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults,” will be published in the January issue of Journal of Adolescent Research.
“Even in the absence of personal use, it seems young women’s attitudes are being influenced by the proliferation of pornography,” said the study’s lead researcher Jason Carroll, an associate professor at BYU who studies the transition to adulthood. “These women are part of a rising generation that is deeming pornography as more acceptable and more mainstream.”
The study found actual use of pornography far more prevalent among male students, with 48 percent of men reporting viewing pornography at least weekly compared to only 3 percent of women. The study also found that one in five young adult men view pornography every day or nearly every day.
Although two-thirds of male students said pornography use is acceptable, 86 percent reported viewing pornographic material in the past 12 months. In other words, some young men disapprove of a behavior they engage in, something that drew the attention of Jeffrey Arnett, editor of the Journal of Adolescent Research and author of the 2004 book "Emerging Adulthood," who was not a part of the study.
"This is a ground-breaking study,” Arnett said. “It is widely known that pornography is the most popular content on the Internet, but few studies have looked atthe behavior and attitudes underlying Internet pornography use.”
The 813 students participating in the study ranged in age from 18 to 26. Previous research has shown young adults frequentlyexperiment with binge drinking, marijuana use, uncommitted sex and other risk behaviors. However, involvement in those behaviors is known to peak at age 22 and decline beyond that age.
Data from this study shows that young adults’ pornography use does not follow this peak-then-decline pattern. Instead, pornography use remained at a consistent level across participants from 18 to 26 years of age. The study also found that pornography acceptance and use is associated with increased levels of risky sexual behaviors and binge drinking among college students.
Carroll also sees another side to the story for the half of women who feel that viewing pornography is not an acceptable behavior. Given that nearly nine in ten young men viewed pornography in the past year, Carroll foresees a possible challenge for this generation in terms of relationship development.
“Both the young men and women in our study expressed interest in marriage and family ideals, but such differing positions between men and women on pornography may create an area of tension when it comes to couple formation,” Carroll said.
BYU family life professors Laura Padilla-Walker and Larry Nelson are co-authors on the study.
Statement: Viewing pornographic materials (such as magazines, movies, and/or Internet sites) is an acceptable way to express one’s sexuality.
- Young men: 66.5%
- Young women: 48.7%
- Fathers: 36.6%
- Mothers: 20.4%
- Young men: 33.4%
- Young women: 51.3%
- Fathers: 63.4%
- Mothers: 79.6%
During the past 12 months, on how many days did you view pornographic material (such as magazines, movies, and/or Internet sites?
Every day or almost every day
- Young men: 21.3%
- Young women: 1.0%
1 or 2 days a week
- Young men: 27.1%
- Young women: 2.2%
2 or 3 days a month
- Young men: 21.0%
- Young women: 7.1%
Once a month or less
- Young men: 16.8%
- Young women: 20.7%
- Young men: 13.9%
- Young women: 69.0%
The 813 participating students came from six schools around the country
- 500 females
- 313 males
- Age 18 – 26
Parents of the students who also participated in the study
- 280 fathers
- 343 mothers