Understanding Boys and Porn

Like it or not, today’s boys have relatively free access to an ever-expanding online sexual wonderland. And the vast majority of them take advantage of this fact. For proof of this, consider the tribulations of Canadian sex researcher Simon Lajeunesse. When Lajeunesse tried to conduct research on the effects of porn use on adolescent boys, he couldn’t, because he was unable to locate any potential test subjects who weren’t already looking at porn.[i]Without a “control group” of non-porn using boys, there was no way to make comparisons. Admittedly, Lajeunesse was searching for older adolescents who hadn’t used porn, and there are probably a few younger boys who’ve not yet typed “sex” or “nude” into a search engine, but it’s nonetheless clear that almost all boys get there sooner or later. And usually sooner. In fact, current estimates place the average age of first porn use at 11.[ii]

Note that we use the word “estimates” when talking about the age of first porn use. In truth, questions about when young males start using porn, how often they use it, and the ways in which it impacts them are incredibly difficult to answer. After all, who wants to intentionally subject underage boys to pornography to see if there are any adverse effects? Nobody, that’s who. To even attempt such a study would be highly unethical, not to mention illegal. Thus, the only way to know what’s going on with young people and pornography is to rely on after-the-fact self-reports. And since most adolescents aren’t exactly forthright about things like porn use, even that research must be deemed at least moderately unreliable. In short, there just isn’t a way to effectively conduct the research that is needed if we hope to fully understand what porn is doing to boys.

That said, it is abundantly clear that some boys are experiencing negative consequences related to porn use, in much the same way that other teens experience consequences related to alcohol and drug use. The popular website, YourBrainOnPorn.com (YBOP), an educational forum specifically created for young males who are struggling with pornography, presents a plethora of anecdotal evidence supporting this idea. On YBOP, boys routinely post comments like:

I started watching porn at 10 and fapping [masturbating] soon after, several times a day for the last four years until I decided to quit. I had many reasons for starting nofap [abstinence from masturbation]: girls, anxiety, depression, and I couldn’t figure out why I felt so dead inside.

Based on nothing more than the extensive anecdotal evidence on YBOP, it is relatively easy to conclude at least some boys experience negative consequences related to porn use – relationship issues, troubles in school, loss of interest in real-world romance, anxiety, depression, diminished self-esteem, and even erectile dysfunction. (Other excellent websites with information for young males struggling with porn use include rebootnation.org, addictedtointernetporn.com, and fightthenewdrug.org.) NOTE: These websites represent a limited and skewed population sample. In other words, boys who are not struggling with porn don’t go looking for websites that can help them understand their issue, while boys who are struggling do.

Unsurprisingly, the small amount of credible research that currently exists on adolescent porn use rather strongly supports the conclusions drawn from postings on YBOP and similar sites. In one study of 16-year-old Swedish boys, 96% admitted they were porn users, with 10% saying they looked at porn every day.[iii]The boys who used porn daily self-reported higher levels of risky sexual behaviors, relationship problems, truancy, smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use. Approximately one-third of the daily users said they sometimes watched more porn than they wanted – a common sign of porn addiction.

Recently, Dr. Robert Weiss and a few other leaders in the sex/porn addiction field are coming to understand that there are multiple subtypes of porn addiction, especially among adolescents. This issue will be explored in future postings to this site.

If you think an adolescent in your life may be suffering from sex or porn addiction, please contact us so we can direct you toward appropriate treatment.

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[i]Liew, J. (2009). All men watch porn, scientists find. The Telegraph. Retrieved Jan 16, 2015 from telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/6709646/All-men-watch-porn-scientists-find.html.

[ii]Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2007). Unwanted and wanted exposure to online pornography in a national sample of youth Internet users. Pediatrics, 119(2), 247-257.

[iii]Mattebo, M., Tyden, T., Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Nilsson, K.S., & Larsson M. (2013). Pornography consumption, sexual experiences, lifestyles, and self-rated health among male adolescents in Sweden. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 34(7):460-468.