Tuesday, June 18 2024

If the reader of this article were to be asked what is the percentage of
adolescents (between 12 and 18 years old) who regularly watch pornographic
content, what percentage would occur to him?

Since 2007 I have been conducting empirical studies about the lifestyles of
adolescents and young people: I have interviewed more than 25,000 from all
the continents. And I continue to do so. After so many years of empirical
work in the area, with the intention of transmitting to the world the voice
of so many young people that have told me their stories, I decided to
dedicate more time to teaching in universities. Since among the topics I
teach I must confront the question of the effects of communication media, I
usually ask my students the question that I have just stated.

Both undergraduate and graduate students estimate that 80% of adolescents,
in the whole world (much is said about how the internet has globalized
customs), regularly view pornographic content. Well, that figure speaks of
their perception.

Probably if it were only an occasional comment of my students I would not
have bothered to write an article. Aware as I am now about the spreading,
including among academics, of a “social alarm” about pornography and other
topics (for example, harassment in schools), I think it proper offering two
scientific pieces of information (Peter and Valkenburg, 2016; Stanley et
al., 2016) and a reflection to play down the alarm, without nevertheless
resting importance to the social problem.

In the first place, only in 2016 was there published a comparative
international study about the consumption of pornography (Peter and
Valkenburg, 2016). This study demonstrates that the prevalence of the
phenomenon (the percentage of adolescents who use pornography) varies
greatly from country to country and that only 59% of the investigations used casual samples.
Nothing tells whether they allow one to have a global vision and generalize
the conclusions of the authors. In fact there are studies in which only 87
subjects responded. The greater part of the scientific literature is
produced in Western countries, like the United States, where there are a
some companies that do business with this type of negative content for the
development of youth.

Attempting to respond to the initial question, what do the statistics show?
There are only two countries with more than 80% consumption among
adolescents: the United States and Sweden. Italy? According to a study from
2006, the percentage was 36%.

A study (Stanley et al., 2016) in five European countries confirmed this:
adolescents who regularly consume pornography vary between 19% and 30%,
with a greater consumption among males (for example in Italy, 44% of males
vs. 5% of females).

The consumption of pornography is growing and is a grave problem for the
positive development of young people (Eberstadt, Layden, & Witherspoon
Institute, 2010). But it is not a problem that affects the majority of

Generating a “social alarm” based on unproved data would not only increase
(at times with the objective of selling “programs of prevention”)
collective ignorance. It would also make one think that the greater part of
humanity makes a mistake regularly at the moment of connecting to the

One of the consequences could be that an exception could be come to be seen
as normal. In a society that has a reduced tolerance for error, this could
cause people to think that this type of consumption is not so grave, since
the majority is doing it.

My reflection: so much insistence about alarming data of consumption could
make us think that the majority of young people are addicted to vice, and
could diminish our energies for confronting more important problems. In a
word, we would miss the forest for the trees. We could be spending our
limited energy on programs (many of them for money and generally not
evaluated) that only minimize the effects of serious problems, which being
more profound are less visible and more difficult to resolve.

In 2016 I published together with colleagues in Colombia and Spain a study
on the subject (Rivera, Santos & García, 2016). In the article we
showed that the phenomenon had increased (it reaches 39% of Columbian
adolescents), and that a consequence of it is the proliferation of
dangerous consumption. Nevertheless, after presenting a study of the
factors that scientific literature indicates as being associated with this
dangerous behavior, we highlighted, based on empirical evidence of a
representative sample of more than 9,000 adolescents: (…

that the relational lifestyles allow us to explain in part the
consumption of pornography: the positive intra-family styles are
associated with a reduction in the consumption and the opposite happens
with negative intra-family styles. On the other hand, it has been found
that the relationship between values and the consumption of pornography
is mediated as much by positive intra-family styles as by negative ones


The consumption of pornography and other behaviors are a consequence (not
exclusive but significant) of scarcities or relational anorexia: the human
interactions in the family and in primary groups do not succeed in creating
and transmitting relational goods that offer them clear orientations for
their decisions. The adolescents of the twenty-first century find
themselves alone in making decisions of media content consumption.

To use a metaphor, it is as if instead of feeding their children a healthy
diet, the parents gave them one based on fats and sugars. The problem of
obesity would be resolved, in part, replacing these foods and alerting the
public of their irresponsible decisions. But the best thing would be to
motivate and help (concretely) the families to find moments to share
well-prepared meals, with artistry and care,that satisfy not only the need
for food but spiritual needs as well. Someone who knows by experience what
a good steak tastes like does not become enthused over a hamburger and a
bag of potato chips. Someone who knows what a good man and a good woman
are, because they have seen and felt it in their parents and teachers, does
not become enthused before the brutality of pornographic violence.


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