Do all men look at pornography?

When I talk with people, I often encounter a general suspicion that all men look at pornography. There certainly is a lot of pornographic content openly displayed in our culture and men are often depicted in the media as enthusiastic consumers of such material. But, is this true in real life? Let’s look at the research.

Economists Kirk Doran and Joseph Price analyzed General Social Survey data from 2000 to 2004 and found that on average 27 percent of American men reported having watched an X-rated movie in the past year and 17 percent reported having visited a pornographic website in the past month.1

A 2003 American Demographics survey found that 14 percent of American men confess that they regularly look at pornography or visit strip clubs and another 30 percent of men say they do so on occasion.2

The most recently released Nielsen Net Ratings3 data indicate that more than a quarter of Internet users in the United States visited a pornography site in January 2010, but the data did not break down the percentage of male and female users.4

Rather than providing evidence of overwhelming use, the data suggest that from one-quarter to one-third of men are consuming pornography with any notable frequency. The exception to these numbers appears to be among “emerging adult men” that are between the ages of 18-26. One study from 2008 for that 86% of emerging adult men reported having used pornography at some level in the past year, with approximately one fifth of men that age  reporting daily or every-other-day use and nearly half (48.4%) reporting pornography use weekly or more.5

Around the world

Research also tells us that the number of men using online pornography in other countries is similar to that in the United States. Using Nielsen Net Ratings data, The Independent on Sunday reported in 2006 that almost 40 percent of British men had used pornographic websites in the past year, and about 25 percent of men ages 25 to 49 had visited such a site in the past month.5 In 2007, Nielsen Net Ratings/Netview claimed that 35 percent of Australians who used the Internet in the first three months of that year had visited pornography or sexually oriented matchmaking sites. The research also indicated that one in five online pornography users was under age 18.6  

While the numbers of men using pornography are alarming (globally in the tens of millions), the data indicate that a smaller percentage of men are using pornography or accessing it with any regularity than is commonly believed. This does not in any way minimize the harm of pornography to those who access it, but it ought to give us pause before we assume that “all men do it.”

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1 Kirk Doran, Joseph Price, “Movies and marriage: do some films harm marital happiness?” http://www.nd.edu/~kdoran/doran%20price%202009.pdf , (accessed June 2, 2010).
2 John Fetto, “Baser Instincts,” American Demographics, June 1, 2003 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4021/is_5_25/ai_102102608/(accessed June 2, 2010).
3 While Nielsen Net Ratings is considered a leader in audience measurement, it never releases its data sets to the public for proprietary reasons, which does not allow independent verification of their claims.
4 “Thank sex for making the internet hot,” National Public Radio, March 7, 2010 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124419606 (accessed June 2, 2010).
5 Jason S. Carroll, Laura M. Padilla-Walker, Larry J. Nelson, Chad D. Olson, Carolyn McNamara Barry, Stephanie D. Madsen, “Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults, Journal of Adolescent Research, Volume 23 Number 1 January 2008 6-30
6 Anthony Barnes, Sophie Goodchild, “Porn UK,” http://www.independent.co.uk, May, 28, 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/porn-uk-480084.html  (accessed June 2, 2010).
7 Adele Horin, “Record numbers visiting porn sites,” Brisbane Times, May 26, 2007,   http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/news/national/record-numbers-visiting-porn-sites/2007/05/25/1179601708273.html (accessed June 2, 2010).

Copyright © 2013, Daniel Weiss. All rights reserved. Used with permission.