What do young people 'see' in pornography?

Angus Morgan

22 February, 2018

New Burnet Institute research has revealed the behaviours young heterosexual Australians are seeing in online pornography, with men’s pleasure, male dominance and a ‘concerning’ level of violence among the most prominent.

Published in The Journal of Sex Research, the study measured how frequently a group of heterosexual Australians aged 15-29 who had watched pornography over the previous 12 months saw a range of behaviours in the content.

Lead author Angela Davis said the study differs from most research in this field, which aims to quantify the types of pornographic content available, or objectively measure exposure to indicate what young people can view, rather than what they are seeing.

“We know that people define behaviours like violence differently so it is difficult to objectively define these concepts in order to measure them,” Ms Davis said.

“We sought to overcome this by not focusing on objectively measuring exposure, but on young people’s own perceptions of how frequently they saw undefined behaviours.

“When we surveyed them we didn’t ask them to describe what they saw, but to choose from a list of 17 behaviours.”

The list includes a range of commonly described sexual behaviours such as sexual pleasure, dominance, and condom use, as well as behaviours the community have raised as concerns that young people are seeing and replicating, such as nonconsensual violence or aggression towards a woman.

According to the data, the behaviour seen often by most participants was ‘men’s pleasure’, with 85 percent of those surveyed seeing it frequently. Other behaviours seen frequently included:

The research also revealed interesting trends, including:

  • More participants frequently seeing violence than affection
  • Females much more likely than males to report seeing violence towards women
  • Older participants frequently seeing men’s pleasure and heterosexual anal sex
  • Younger participants more likely to frequently see women’s pleasure and violence
  • More participants frequently seeing men’s pleasure and dominance than women’s
  • A much higher proportion seeing slurs and violence directed at women than men

The study authors concluded, ‘the young people reported frequently seeing sexualised depictions of gender inequality, and a concerning proportion also reported frequently seeing violence towards women in the pornography they watched’.

The authors noted concerns from public health practitioners that viewing behaviours like non-condom use and violence in online pornography during critical stages of adolescent development could normalise these behaviours as acceptable and rewarding.

“For parents and educators working with young people, this research draws attention to potential differences in the way that young men and young women perceive the behaviours that they see in pornography,” Ms Davis said.

“It highlights the need for conversations with young people about the types of images that they’re seeing, but also the need to create opportunities to counter these representations with discussions of sexuality, intimacy and relationships to challenge stereotypes and promote positive sexuality.”

The study was based on Burnet’s Sex, Drugs and Rock‘n’Roll online survey of participants recruited via social media in 2016.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Doctor Angela Davis

Research Fellow




[email protected]

Subscribe to News

Subscribe to receive our latest news: