Is internet porn bad for teen health?

Offline risky sexual behaviour associated with watching porn among teens

A study by Australian researchers at the University of New South Wales and the University of Melbourne indicates an association between internet pornography and the sexual health of teenagers, with a review of literature in the area finding a strong correlation between teenage consumers of online porn and risky sexual behaviour.

The study was based on a review of research in the area and on experiences in a number of countries, but primarily the US.

“Young people who reported having visited sexually explicit websites were more likely to have higher numbers of sexual partners, engage in a wider diversity of sexual practices, and use alcohol or drugs in association with sexual encounters,” according to the study. These factors have been associated with higher rates of STIs.

"It was mostly cross-sectional surveys with questionnaires at a single time point, although there were also some longitudinal studies in which young people were interviewed at multiple time points," said Dr Rebecca Guy of the Kirby Institute’s Sexual Health Program at the University of NSW.

"We found that there were consistent associations in surveys of young adolescents between reporting exposure to online sexual content, and reporting having engaged in earlier, more diverse, or riskier sexual activity," said Dr Rebecca Guy. However, "the design of the studies did not allow a clear conclusion to be drawn as to whether the relationship was a causal one."

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"Because the link has not been clearly identified as a causal one, it is too early to speculate on its mechanism. We do know, however, that one of the strongest predictors of whether a young adolescent will become sexually active is a declared intent (in surveys) to do so. Hence, any factor that promotes this intent, or provides a greater opportunity to engage in sex, is likely to lead to earlier sex."

"Sex education, and more generally an open climate of discussion about sex in both the home and school have been proven to improve the likelihood that young people will engage in safer sexual practice, without increasing the likelihood of having sex," said Guy.

She said an approach that treats "sexual curiosity and development as a normal part of adolescence" and creates a supportive and non-judgemental environment to discuss sex is the best approach for parents and schools.

"Many people have strong views on sexuality that may derive from culture, religion, upbringing or other factors, particularly in relation to young people.

"Regardless of what views people hold about sexuality, it is important to encourage a sympathetic understanding of young people's normal development, in all its diversity, as a means of ensuring that any potential harms of sexual activity are minimised."

"The issue of young people being exposed to sexual content will, if anything, expand, and researchers will need to continue to find better ways to understand what the harms are, if any, and what needs to be done to address them," Guy said.

The review of literature has been published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @techworld_au

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