NUI Galway study finds pornography use is associated with sexual aggression

A research study conducted by NUI Galway and Zagreb University in Croatia on 600 Croatian male high school students aged 15-17 over a 20-month period, has found that pornography use is associated with sexual aggression over time but only when people report a pre-disposition to aggression. In isolation, pornography use does not predict sexual aggression.

The aim of the study, which was published in the journal Aggressive Behaviour, was to provide robust and precise (individual level?based ) longitudinal insights about the often hypothesized link between pornography use and sexual aggression.

The researchers focused on the following two questions:

Is pornography use during middle to late adolescence related to male adolescents’ sexual aggressiveness?

Do personality traits account for the relationship between pornography use and sexual aggression?

The study found that frequent pornography use during the first round of data collection was associated with sexual aggressiveness, but over time pornography use did not predict sexual aggression. In other words those who reported sexually aggressive tendencies were also more likely to watch a lot of pornography.

Those who watched none or very little pornography were least likely to report that they had acted in a sexually aggressive way. This was consistent across six time points (every three months ) throughout the 20-month study.

Bullying and peer pressure consistently predicted sexual aggression. This supports other research (Espelage, Basile, Leemis, Hipp, & Davis, 2018 study conducted in the US ), which shows that people who report non-sexual aggression such as bullying or delinquency in early adolescence are more likely to report sexual aggressiveness in later adolescence.

Adolescence is a key stage in sexual development, where beliefs about appropriate sexual behaviour is formed. It is well documented that many harmful behaviours manifest during adolescence, with approximately half of sexual offenders reporting their first assault during this time.

The rising prevalence of pornography use mostly, but not exclusively, among male adolescents has prompted concerns among researchers and policy makers about the impact of pornography, which can portray sexual aggression, on youth sexual socialisation - particularly regarding the replication of aggressive or violent behaviour. However, much of the research that explores the link between pornography use and sexual aggression is based on cross-sectional data (data collected at one point in time from different people ) and the direction of these associations is largely unknown. The researchers believe there is a need to explore this relationship over time using longitudinal data with the same cohort of people, as conducted in this study.

Lead researcher of the study, Dr Kate Dawson, School of Psychology, NUI Galway, said: “Taking into account the need to prevent sexual coercion among young people, and the significant association between pornography use and self-reported sexual aggressiveness at the age of 16–17 years, we suggest that school-based sexual violence prevention programmes should commence for that age group. Intervention efforts should also address the potential contributing role of violent pornography in the reinforcement of sexually aggressive behaviour. Similarly, our findings may inform recently proposed pornography literacy programmes, which provide tools for critical interpretation of sexually explicit imagery, but also to educate that a lack of consent is never acceptable.”

The study was carried out by Dr Kate Dawson from the School of Psychology and Active Consent Programme at NUI Galway and Dr Azra Tafro and Professor Aleksandar Stulhofer from Zagreb University, Croatia.

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