The sex survey: how you answered the porn questions

Our recent survey included the following previously unpublished material on pornography use. Here, therapists and psychologists offers their views on the results

More than one in ten men who responded to The Irish Times sex survey said they used online pornography every day. Photograph: Thinkstock

More than one in ten men who responded to The Irish Times sex survey said they used online pornography every day. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

The Irish Times sex survey was conducted on irishtimes.com over the course of a week in June 2015. A total of 12,639 participants completed the survey, with 12,134 valid responses used in the follow-up analysis.

Here, therapists, counsellors and psychologists give their views on the results of the survey that related to pornography use.

See the full sex survey results here.

More than four out of five (83 per cent) people who responded to The Irish Times sex survey said they had used pornography. Pornography use was much higher among men than women, with 96 per cent of men saying they had used it compared with 69 per cent of women. Just one per cent of males in the 17-24 and 25-34 age groups said they had never used pornography. That rose to 9 per cent for the 50-64 age group and 18 per cent for men aged 65 or over, albeit based on a low number of participants (211).

“Pornography has become ubiquitous and I think we are at risk of becoming complacent about it. It really has the potential to be harmful for some people,” says psychotherapist Trish Murphy.

Seven in 10 women are also using pornography. Sex therapist Emily Power Smith notes that “there is a new feminist/ethical porn with storylines and sex that involves women having real orgasms”.


Of the respondents who have used pornography in their lifetime, 11 per cent of men said they used online pornography every day, compared with just one per cent of women. More than half of men who used pornography said they watched it online at least once a week, compared with 9 per cent of women.

Cyberpsychologist Nicola Fox Hamilton says “frequent [porn] use has been linked to depression, anxiety , stress and impaired social functioning”.Teresa Bergin, a sex therapist, says that “11 per cent of men viewing porn daily is quite a high figure. Daily porn use could potentially mean hours spent online and the habit becoming out of control. I regularly see men for whom porn dependency and addiction has led to difficulty developing intimacy in relationships and anxiety about real life sexual encounters. It becomes necessary to drastically reduce or ideally eliminate pornography use in order to ‘re-boot’ their arousal process.”


Online pornography is much more popular than its offline counterpart, with just 17 per cent of pornography users saying they look at magazines or DVDs. Use of offline pornography is higher among older people, with 28 per cent of male pornography users aged 50 to 64 and 33 per cent of the same cohort aged over 65 saying they used magazines and DVDs. Of the 197 female pornography users aged 50 to 64 who answered the question, 28 per cent said they used magazines or DVDs.


Nine out of 10 respondents who use pornography said they typically did so alone. Women are more likely to watch it with a partner, with two in 10 women pornography users saying they would typically watch it with someone else, compared with just 4 per cent of male users.

Nicola Fox Hamilton says “some research shows that when couples use pornography together they increase their frequency of having sex, are less bored with sex and are more open to experimentation. However . . . the more one partner uses pornography by themselves, the greater the dissatisfaction of the other.”

Dermod Moore, a psychosexual psychotherapist, notes that “only one in three say that they would approve of their partner using porn without them. These are complicated feelings that few of us are comfortable expressing, for fear of hurting each other, or admitting failure, or trusting that our partner will still love us if we share our fantasies.”


Just over four in 10 (41 per cent) respondents who have used pornography believe they have learned about sex from it. Male users aged 17-24 were the most likely to say pornography was instructional, with 54 per cent saying they had learned something from watching it.

“ Most young people report that they know porn is not reflective of reality and yet they turn to it for sexual information. Sex education needs to take note of this and address this mis-information,” says Trish Murphy.

Teresa Bergin believes that “there can be some instructional value in pornography, especially for people who have received little or no sex education or have not had much sexual experience. However – and this is crucial – pornography teaches nothing about sexual or emotional intimacy, or about how sexual relationships develop.

“There is a real risk now that younger men’s view of a sexual relationship will become sex-centric.”


One in three (34 per cent) pornography users who answered the question said they thought pornography had affected their expectations of sex. The numbers were highest for male users: 41 per cent said their expectations had been affected, compared with 23 per cent of women. Almost half of younger men said their expectations of sex had been affected by porn.

“One person’s experience of porn can hugely affect the expectations of sex and on occasions this can be problematic – even hurtful. As desire gets linked to porn, it can sometimes be very difficult to shift desire to a more normal human relationships and admitting this can be the first step to sorting it out,” says Trish Murphy.

Teresa Bergin adds: “Pornography most often affects the man’s own expectation of himself. It emphasises the perfect body and performance. I frequently see younger men who have bought into these unrealistic ideas about sex leading, for many, to confusion, anxiety and a sense of inadequacy.”


Although most respondents to the survey said they did not think using pornography impacted negatively on real-life sexual relationships, 28 per cent said they thought relationships were damaged by use of porn: 37 per cent said it made no difference, 22 per cent had no opinion and 13 per cent said relationships were improved. Women were more likely to think using pornography had a negative effect.

“When men are not happy they may turn to porn to soothe themselves and hide away from their relationship when they may need to be sorting out problems,” says Emily Power Smith. “The partners of these men can feel abandoned and rejected while the men can be riddled with guilt and feel very isolated.”

Dermod Moore is concerned that a third of women say pornography use damages relationships. “This should be taken very seriously, and calls for a far more honest debate about pornography, not only in public discourse, but in the privacy of those relationships.”


Most respondents said they wouldn’t react negatively if they found out their partner was using pornography without them; 11 per cent said they would disapprove, and 9 per cent said they would “feel demeaned”. One in three said they would approve. Women were more likely to react negatively, with 17 per cent of female respondents saying they would disapprove, compared with just 6 per cent of males.

Trish Murphy says that “if the relationship is in difficulty and porn use is replacing intimacy, then it will result in difficulty in the relationship. If the porn use is extensive it can have the same effect as an affair on the other partner – where they feel betrayed, unwanted and rejected.”

Teresa Bergin says she was “somewhat surprised” by the figures. “In my experience, women generally react quite negatively to their partner using pornography without their knowledge or participation. The anxiety, feeling of betrayal and incessant self-doubting that can stem from this is very distressing."


Erotic fiction is much more popular with women than men, with 44 per cent of female respondents saying they read it, compared to 25 per cent of men. Its popularity is fairly evenly spread among all age categories for women, but older men are much more likely than younger men to read it, with 39 per cent of 50- to 64-year-old males saying they did so, compared to just 20 per cent of 25- to 34-year-old males.

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