Is the pornographic singularity real?

By Razib Khan | May 11, 2013 2:55 pm

The above figure displays results from males in the General Social Survey who answer yes to the proposition that they’ve watched a pornographic film over the past year. This fact was cited in my post Porn, rape, and a ‘natural experiment’, to disabuse people of the notion that porn consumption has increased radically the past generation. I was aware of this finding, and so generally am careful to focus on the quantity of porn consumed, rather than the social penetration of porn consumption. No matter what the “survey says,” the IT sector is quite aware of the fact that pornographic material is a very high fraction of internet traffic (e.g., more people check Pornhub than BBC).

But I am not sure sure we should trust the GSS results any more at this point. I did some cursory poking around and last month there was a large sample size survey of Dutch youth to investigate the effects of porn consumption, Does Viewing Explain Doing? Assessing the Association Between Sexually Explicit Materials Use and Sexual Behaviors in a Large Sample of Dutch Adolescents and Young Adults:

The study found that 88% of men and 45% of women had consumed SEM [“sexually explicit material”] in the past 12 months. Using hierarchical multiple regression analyses to control for other factors, the association between SEM consumption and a variety of sexual behaviors was found to be significant, accounting for between 0.3% and 4% of the total explained variance in investigated sexual behaviors.

How the sample was collected is important for generalization, so I want to reproduce that part of the method in case you don’t have access:

Data were collected as part of the “Speak up now!” survey, a comprehensive online sexuality study among a large and diverse, self-referred sample of adolescents and young adults in The Netherlands…To be eligible for participation, individuals had to be between 15 and 25 years of age and have had any sexual experience as self-defined, with sex indicated to encompass a broad range of behaviors other than sexual intercourse, including having kissed someone or having engaged in any other type of sexual behavior. Participants were recruited between November 2008 and June 2009 through advertisements in various online and offline youth media and on electronic blackboards at schools. Ads were strategically published to promote the inclusion of lower educated, ethnic minority, and same-sex-attracted young people. The ads invited young people to express their views about sexuality and share their sexual experiences by completing a series of online questionnaires and routed them to the study website that also provided further participant information research details, and referral information for participants wanting to seek counseling.

I’ll put the study’s demographics below. The key for me is that 30% of young male Dutch nationals looked at porn less than once a month, or never. Feel free to find other citations and drop them in the comments. If you don’t have access I’ll check out the descriptive results.


Men % Women %
Gender 30.5 (1,402) 69.5 (3,198)
Age (years)
15–17 29.9 (419) 46.9 (1,501)
18–20 390 (547) 36.0 (1,152)
21–23 22.2 (311) 12.6 (404)
24–25 8.9 (125) 4.4 (141)
Lower education level 65.7 (921) 60.1 (1,922)
Higher educational level 33.6 (467) 38.9 (1,226)
Western ethnicity 77.2 (1,082) 80.7 (2,581)
Non-Western ethnicity 22.8 (320) 19.3 (617)
Religion not important in life 85.5 (1,199) 85.8 (2,743)
Religion important in life 14.5 (203) 14.2 (455)
Current relationship status
Not in a relationship 50.4 (706) 38.6 (1,233)
In a relationship 49.6 (696) 61.4 (1,965)
Used SEM in the past 12 months
No 11.8 (166) 55.2 (1,766)
Yes 88.2 (1,236) 44.8 (1,432)

Frequency of SEM use in the past 12 months    

Never 11.8 (166) 55.2 (1,766)
Less than once a month 19.1 (268) 27.3 (872)
Few times a month 30.4 (426) 12.7 (406)
Few times a week 25.6 (359) 3.3 (107)
Daily 13.1 (183) 1.5 (47)

Applies only to those who used SEM

Types of SEM used in the past 12 months

Soft 34.5 (426) 44.4 (636)
Hardcore 84.3 (1,042) 69.6 (997)
Violent/forced 8.1 (100) 8.1 (116)
SM/bondage/fetish 9.3 (115) 10.4 (149)
Other 6.6 (81) 5.9 (85)

Types of outlets in past 12 months

Online 89.1 (1,101) 69.6 (997)
Magazine/book 12.7 (157) 9.1 (131)
DVD/video 24.3 (300) 19.8 (283)
TV 31.1 (387) 42.4 (607)
Other 2.7 (33) 2.2 (31)


MORE ABOUT: Porn, Pornography

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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