In the first-ever Australian study of its kind, Burnet researchers have surveyed the correlation between adolescents’ pornography viewing habits and sexual behaviour.
The study to be presented by Burnet’s Co-Head of Sexual Health Research, Dr Megan Lim, at the Australasian Sexual Health Conference in Sydney, found that young people who consume pornography from a young age are more likely to engage in sexual behaviour early on.
“Sexual behaviour is incredibly complex, but we are seeing a strong correlation between pornography viewing habits and sexual behaviour,” Dr Lim said.
“We need to explore this correlation further to better understand the impact of pornography on young people’s sexual health and behaviour.”
More than 70 percent of the 469 survey’s participants, aged between 15-29 years, indicated that they viewed pornography, with 14 years being the median age of first viewing pornography.
The sexual health and behaviour questionnaire conducted at a music festival in Melbourne indicated that in the past year, 61 percent of males and 12 percent of females of those surveyed had viewed pornography at least weekly and most (80 per cent) watched it alone.
The study also found those who first watched pornography when they were younger than 14 years old had a significantly younger age of sexual debut (median 16 years compared to 17 years), and that weekly pornographic viewing was significantly associated with inconsistent condom use with casual partners, engaging in anal intercourse and sexting.
An associated Burnet study about young people’s opinions and perceptions of sexting will also be presented at the conference by Dr Lim.
Sexting – sending sexually explicit material via mobile phone – is common among young people in Australia but has been associated with serious psychosocial harms.
The study involving 509 participants found that there is an alarming disconnect between teenagers’ perceptions of sexting and the actions they take.
While 77 per cent of the participants agreed that ‘It should be illegal to pass on a sext without permission,’ a third said that they ‘might show a sext’ they received to friends. Almost half the participants reported ever sexting.
Dr Lim said this finding is particularly important in light of new Victorian legislation illegalising non-consensual sharing of sexts.
“One of the risks with sexting is that due to new laws coming into place in Victoria, teenagers are engaging in illegal behaviour without even realising. More education on confidentiality and risks of exposure is needed,” she said.
Viewing pornography was found to be a very common practice among young people surveyed.
“This study provides some evidence to support an association between pornography and sexual risk behaviour, however, the cross-sectional design means that causation cannot be determined. Longitudinal research is needed to better understand the impact of pornography on young people’s sexual health and behaviour,” Dr Lim said.
The studies revealed that both pornography and sexting are becoming commonplace among Australia teenagers, and potentially influencing their sexual behaviour. The studies conclude that more effective and targeted educational measures must be put in place to inform young people about the risks of sexting, including the legal issues, as well as the danger of risky sexual behaviour.