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Over 60% of young men use online pornography

A study into the use of pornography among young Irish adults has found 64% of young men use online pornography.

For young women the figure is reported at just 13%. A similar gender gap in pornography use has been observed in other countries.

Some 4,500 young adults were surveyed as part of the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study when they reached 20 years of age.

The research was undertaken five years ago and has recently been examined in detail by the ESRI.

The study, which received funding from the HSE, examined the individual, family and school factors linked to using pornography.

Among the main findings, the study found men from advantaged backgrounds are more likely to access pornographic material. In contrast, there is little systematic variation by social background for women.

Young male adults from lone-parent families are less likely than those from two-parent families to use pornography, while the rates of use are higher for women from lone-parent families.

Pornography use is lower among those who are religious and have greater parental monitoring of behaviour during adolescence, the study also found.

The findings show that there is no strong relationship evident between the provision of Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) at school and pornography use. However, the authors said this finding is limited by the fact that the GUI study did not collect data on the quality or extent of RSE received by young people.

Young people who are more reliant on the internet, or, in the case of males, on their friends rather than their parents, for information about sex are significantly more likely to use pornography.

LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly women in this group, are more likely to use pornography. This may reflect information-seeking among this group or their lack of contact with other LGBTQ+ youth.

The study also looked at the links between pornography use and sexual behaviour and well-being.

In general, users and non-users of pornography do not differ in their use of contraception, but users of pornography are significantly less likely to use condoms regularly.

Men who access pornography are said to be less satisfied with their lives, have more depressive symptoms and a poorer self-image.

Among both women and men there are higher levels of aggression for users.

They are also likely to cope with stress by drinking alcohol or by drug-taking, or taking to their bed.

“Poorer well-being is found among pornography users, especially men. There is value therefore in addressing use, and potentially problematic internet use in general, through mental health promotion measures,” said Professor Emer Smith, one of the ESRI authors of the report.

The report highlights the need for young people to be supported in developing healthy attitudes and behaviours regarding relationships and sexuality.

Helen Deely, Assistant National Director for HSE Health and Well-being, said the findings of the research underscore the importance of talking to young people early and often about relationships, sex, consent, gender roles and expectations, and of creating an environment where they feel safe asking questions and talking about what they see online.

“In terms of safer sex practices, it is especially concerning that the study found significantly lower condom use among those who watch pornography.

“As we know, condoms offer the best protection against sexually transmitted infections, and they also protect against unplanned pregnancy,” she said.

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