The prevailing opinion and conventional wisdom has been to guard adolescents from sexually explicit material, because the content may influence a teensâ€™ sexual behavior.
New research suggests the effects of viewing sexually explicit material through media such as the Internet, videos, and magazines have been very modest.
This conclusion and a discussion of the new study are published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Researchers discovered that the practice of viewing sexually explicit material is just one of many factors that may influence the sexual behaviors of young people.
In the new study, Gert Martin Hald, PhD, of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and his colleagues conducted an online survey of 4,600 young people aged 15 to 25 years who lived in The Netherlands.
The survey revealed that 88 percent of males and 45 percent of females had watched sexually explicit material (through the Internet, magazines, videos, television, and/or other media) in the past 12 months.
There was a direct association between watching sexually explicit media and a variety of sexual behaviors — in particular adventurous sex and sex that involves the exchange of money — even when a number of other factors were taken into account.
However, the association was modest, accounting for between 0.3 and 4 percent of differences in sexual behaviors.
Researchers say this indicates that watching sexually explicit media is just one of a number of factors that may shape the sexual behaviors of young individuals — but it may not be as directly linked as previously thought.
“Our data suggest that other factors such as personal dispositions — specifically sexual sensation seeking — rather than consumption of sexually explicit material may play a more important role in a range of sexual behaviors of adolescents and young adults, and that the effects of sexually explicit media on sexual behaviors in reality need to be considered in conjunction with such factors,” Dr. Hald said.
The study’s findings may be particularly informative for policy makers and educators concerning the effects of sexually explicit media consumption on young people’s sexual behaviors.