Pornography and Sexual Experiences in High School Students

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A research study recently published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics studied several aspects of sexuality among high school students.  The Swedish researchers looked at the following in teens:  the use of pornography, sexual experiences, sexual abuse and perceptions of sexuality and pornography.

The majority of scientific studies that have been conducted on this subject have shown both negative and positive effects of internet pornography consumption.  Previous studies have also shown that there are gender differences in attitudes toward pornography.  Additionally, it has been shown that attitudes about sexuality and sexual behavior have changed over time.  The age of first sexual experience appears to be decreasing and experiences with casual sex, such as one night stands or “friends with benefits” relationships have increased.

This study aimed to investigate the following concerns among Swedish high school students:  use of pornography, sexual experiences, experiences of sexual abuse and perceptions of sexuality and pornography.  The participants in the study were, on average, 16.6 years old.

Experience and Perceptions of Pornography

The study found that more boys than girls had watched pornography, with 96% of the boys having seen pornography and 54% of the girls having watched pornography.  Boys started to actively search for pornography at an average age of 12.3 years and girls started to search at an average age of 13.8 years.  The study found that 90% of the boys in the study watched pornography whereas only 30% of the girls watched pornography.  About one third of boys and girls, regardless of gender, had attempted to engage in sexual activities they saw in pornography.  About 7% of boys said they watched pornography more than they wanted to.  Additionally, perceptions about pornography were more positive for boys than girls and perceptions were more positive for those who watched pornography than for those who don’t.

Sexual Orientation and Experience

The study participants mostly identified as heterosexual (90-96%). The study found that girls were more sexually experienced than boys.  Additionally, more girls than boys experienced sexual abuse.  24% of boys and 14% of girls had a positive attitude toward boys having sex with many different partners but only 7% of boys and 5% of girls had a positive attitude toward girls having sex with many partners.

In terms of particular behaviors, 48% of boys and 58% of girls had received oral sex.  43% of boys and 57% of girls had performed oral sex.  By the age of 16, 57% of boys and 66% of girls had engaged in intercourse.  11% of boys and 19% of girls had engaged in anal sex.  31% of boys and 30% of girls had a one night stand and 26% of boys and 26% of girls had a “friends with benefits” relationship.

Implications for Parents

Though this study was conducted with 16 year olds from Sweden, we can likely extrapolate the data to teens in other Western cultures.  As a parent, what does this data mean?  The results of this research are in line with other similar studies.  From a parenting perspective, we need to be aware of the changes in attitudes toward sex and sexuality in today’s adolescents and how it might be different from our own sexual development.

If you have a teenage child, they have likely seen pornography online at least one time.  The average age in this study, 12 or 13 years old, is actually older than some other similar studies.  Therefore, if you have a child who is 12 or 13 years old, they have likely seen online pornography.  Have you talked to them about it yet?

If you have a heterosexual teenager who is around 16 years old, they are very likely to be sexually active.  They also may be engaging in sexual acts that they see on pornography.  They are likely engaging in oral sex or anal sex in addition to traditional intercourse.  Have you talked to them about sex?  Have you talked to them about disease transmission?  Have you talked to them about unwanted pregnancy?

Additionally, one quarter to one third of teens in this study had an open attitude about sex, engaging in one night stands or sex with friends.  This attitude toward sex deviates from the traditional model of sex in a loving and committed relationship.

This author does not approve or disapprove of the attitudes of the teens in this study.  However, when we talk to teens about sexuality, we have to understand how our own perspective or beliefs might skew our conversations about sex.   If your teen has an accepting attitude toward casual sex and you talk to them only about sex in the context of a loving and committed relationship, are they going to listen or find the conversation pertinent to them?  Do we need to find a way to talk to them so they can or will listen and relate?

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