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Study: Age of First Exposure to Pornography Predicts Sexist Attitudes

The age of a boys’ first exposure to pornography is significantly associated with certain sexist attitudes later in life — but not necessarily in the way people might think, a new study has found. (The age of girls’ first exposure to pornography was not part of the study.)

“The goal of our study was to examine how age of first exposure to pornography, and the nature of said first exposure, predicts conformity to two masculine norms: playboy (or, sexually promiscuous behavior) and, seeking power over women,” said Alyssa Bischmann, a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, who presented the research at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

Bischmann and her colleagues surveyed 330 men, age 17 to 54 years old about their first exposure to pornography — specifically, what age they were when it happened and whether it was intentional, accidental or forced. Participants then were asked to respond to a series of 46 questions designed to measure the two masculine norms.

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Among the group, the majority of whom were heterosexual, the average age of first exposure was 13.37 years of age, with the youngest exposure as early as 5 and the latest older than 26. (Other studies have put the average age of first exposure to porn closer to 6 years old.)

While researchers had expected both playboy and power norms to be higher with a lower first age of exposure to pornography, “we found that the younger a man was when he first viewed pornography, the more likely he was to want power over women,” Bischmann said. “The older a man was when he first viewed pornography, the more likely he would want to engage in playboy behavior.”

More men indicated their first exposure was accidental (43.5 percent) than intentional (33.4 percent) or forced (17.2 percent). Six percent did not indicate the nature of the exposure. But the nature of exposure to porn did not correspond with sexist effects on men.

The study is not without limitations. The study set out to determine whether there’s a relationship between age of first exposure to pornography and masculine norms toward sex, but it was not designed to attribute cause. The fact that certain ages of first exposure to pornography correlate with certain sexist attitudes is intriguing and important, “but it may not tell the full story,” Bischmann said. Other variables like the content of the pornography, whether the first experience was positive or negative, sexual performance anxiety, religiosity, sexual experiences and other variables could help in shaping these distinct attitudes, she explained. She called this study a “stepping stone” toward exploring how these other aspects might relate to the effects of pornography viewing and masculine norms.

Ultimately, the findings provide further evidence that pornography viewing has an impact on heterosexual men, especially on their views about sex roles, said co-author Christina Richardson, also of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

All the more reason to talk about sexual values with kids before sexist attitudes set in.

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