“Internet Rule #34: There is porn of it.”
– Peter Morley-Souter, cartoonist
The Internet is rife with porn of every ilk imaginable, and people of every age, gender and sexual orientation are looking at it. Authors Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam discuss this as clearly and ably as anyone in their well-researched (and fascinating) book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships, writing the following:
In 1991, the year the World Wide Web went online, there were fewer than 90 different adult magazines published in America, and you’d have been hard-pressed to find a newsstand that carried more than a dozen. Just six years later, in 1997, there were about 900 pornography sites on the Web. Today, the filtering software CYBERsitter blocks 2.5 million adult Web sites. … With a single visit to an adult video site like PornHub, you can see more naked bodies in a single minute than the most promiscuous Victorian would have seen in an entire lifetime.
Ogas and Gaddam conducted their study of Internet porn use by analyzing data collected in 2009 and 2010 by Dogpile.com, a popular meta-engine combining search results from Yahoo, Bing, Google and several other well-known search engines. (You didn’t think that surreptitious request for “shemales in prom dresses” just melted into the ether after you sent it, did you?) Of the 400 million worldwide searches that Ogas and Gaddam looked at, approximately 55 million (13%) involved erotic content of some sort. The most popular sexual search categories were:
- Youth/Teen, 13.5%
- Gay, 4.7%
- MILF (mom I’d like to f**k), 4.3%
- Breasts, 4.0%
- Cheating Wives, 3.4%
- Vaginas, 2.8%
- Penises, 2.4%
Interestingly, Ogas and Gaddam found that our sexual tastes are not quite as diverse as many might expect. They report that 20 different desires account for 80% of all sexual searches, and 35 different desires account for 90% of all searches. Their research also reveals significant differences between men and women. The top five male sites (led by PornHub, with 16 million visitors each month) all feature highly objectified, almost entirely sexual, content, whereas the top five female sites (led by FanFiction.net, with 1.8 million visitors per month) all feature content with at least a hint of relationship and romance. Ogas and Gaddam rather succinctly conclude: “Men prefer images. Women prefer stories.” Their deductions in this regard mirror the findings of earlier research. One such study, conducted in 2000 (the infancy of Internet sexual activity), found that women tend to prefer relational activities, such as chat rooms, while men tend to prefer purely sexual activities, such as viewing and masturbating to pornography.
Interestingly, among sexually compulsive users of the Internet (i.e., sex addicts), research shows that women are more likely than men to progress from online sexual encounters to real-life partners. In one study this was true of 80% of the women and only 30% of the men. So it appears that women really do go online looking for some sort of real-world connection, whereas men typically go on to get off, so to speak.
Other research finds, unsurprisingly, that men use pornography far more often than women. In a 2006 study of 10,000 randomly sampled people, researchers found that 82% of those surveyed admitted to use of pornographic magazines, 84% had seen pornographic films and 34% had viewed porn online. (Keep in mind, this study was conducted in 2006, well before the current online porn boom.) The most significant variable for predicting who had used porn was gender. That difference was most pronounced on the Internet, with 63% of the men but only 13.6% of the women stating they’d viewed porn online. Gays, bisexuals and lesbians reported higher usage rates than heterosexuals, though the splits were nowhere near as drastic as the male/female dichotomy – 73% of bisexual and gay men versus 63% of straight men, and 40% of bisexual or lesbian women versus 12% of straight women.
Unsurprisingly, as porn accessibility and affordability have increased, kids have an easier time finding it and they are therefore being exposed to it at much younger ages – again with gender differences. One 2008 study (once again, this study was conducted before the current online porn boom) found that 92% of adolescent boys and 62% of adolescent girls had been exposed to digitized sexual imagery. Boys were more likely to be exposed at an earlier age, to see more images, to view pornography more often, and to see more extreme images (fetishes, sexual violence, child pornography, etc.), while girls reported more involuntary exposure. A more recent study, this one published in 2013, looking at porn use among 16-year-old boys, found that 96% had watched online pornography, with 10% using porn every day. And these numbers are almost certainly on the rise. Consider that when Canadian researcher Simon Lajeunesse recently tried to conduct a study looking at the effects of porn use on adolescent males, he couldn’t – because he was unable to locate any potential test subjects who weren’t already using it Without a control group, there was no way to make comparisons!
So we see that whether people are viewing pornography is not really in question. They are. The real issue is what pornography does to those who view it.