🌈Pornography As Sexual Literacy

Dr. Jarryd Willis PhD
15 min readDec 4, 2022

LGB are more likely to utilize pornography as a source of sexual literacy info

Preliminary Findings

Consistent with extant research (see the rest of this Medium piece), pornography was significantly more likely to be reported as a source of sexual literacy information by lesbians/gays (30%) than by bisexuals (7.6%) or heterosexuals (10.2%), χ2(2, N = 657) = 12.55, p = .002.

Importantly, there was no difference across sexuality for the acquisition of sexual literacy info online in general; only for pornography.

PrePrint
Sexual Literacy in Relation to Sexual Satisfaction & Relationship Satisfaction

Pornography — Peterson et al., 2022

Pornography is perceived to address multiple unmet needs

Pornography was an important source of information for LGBTQ þ youth, in particular, who did not see themselves reflected in dominant culture (Attwood et al., 2021; Carboni & Bhana, 2019; Dawson et al., 2020; Fox & Bale, 2018; McCormack & Wignall, 2017): “Particularly if you’re LGBT, you don’t see representation of how you would have sex in school, from books, media … so I think LGBT people at a younger age use it to see how they should function” (Young man, age 19, United States; Dawson et al., 2020, p. 9).

Young people also cited pornography use as a way to identify their own sexual interests (Attwood et al., 2018; Davis et al., 2020; Dawson et al., 2020), to see themselves as sexual beings (Arrington-Sanders et al., 2015; Attwood et al., 2018; 2021; Carboni & Bhana, 2019; Smith, 2013; Tseng et al., 2017), and as a space for exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity (Arrington-Sanders et al., 2015; Attwood et al., 2018, 2021; Davis et al., 2020; Dawson et al., 2020; McCormack & Wignall, 2017).

Young people sought out pornography to meet their needs and answer questions related to their sexual development. Young people reported initially viewing pornography to fulfill a curiosity about sex or about pornography itself (Attwood et al., 2018, 2021; Carboni & Bhana, 2019; Doornwaard et al., 2017; Gesser-Edelsburg & Abed Elhadi Arabia, 2018; McCormack & Wignall, 2017; Mulholland, 2015; Smith, 2013; Tseng et al., 2017). As they grow older, young people may use pornography as an instructional resource for exploring sexual roles and expectations, studying the mechanics and techniques of particular sexual acts, or identifying new or different sexual acts to introduce in sexual relationships (ArringtonSanders et al., 2015; Attwood et al., 2018; 2021; Doornwaard et al., 2017; Fox & Bale, 2018; Gesser-Edelsburg & Abed Elhadi Arabia, 2018; Haggstrom-Nordin et al., 2006; Lofgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Mattebo et al., 2012; McCormack & Wignall, 2017; Nakai, 2015; Rothman et al., 2015; Scarcelli, 2015; Smith, 2013; Tseng et al., 2017). Pornography was also a place to see a diverse range of bodies, particularly in “amateur” pornography, believed to support their self-esteem (Davis et al., 2020; Smith, 2013).

Sexuality education provides insufficient information/guidance about sex and sexuality

Young people reported that sexuality education by caregivers and schools did not provide enough information to answer their questions about sex (Albertson et al., 2018; Arrington-Sanders et al., 2015; Carboni & Bhana, 2019; Dawson et al., 2020; Fox & Bale, 2018; Gesser-Edelsburg & Abed Elhadi Arabia, 2018; Lofgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Rothman et al., 2015; Tseng et al., 2017). Sexuality education was limited (Fox & Bale, 2018; Gesser-Edelsburg & Abed Elhadi Arabia, 2018; Lofgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Rothman et al., 2015), often to STI and pregnancy risk (Fox & Bale, 2018; Tseng et al., 2017), and focused on heterosexual sex (Arrington-Sanders et al., 2015; Carboni & Bhana, 2019; Dawson et al., 2020), or was skipped over entirely (Gesser-Edelsburg & Abed Elhadi Arabia, 2018; Tseng et al., 2017).

Pornography increased in value because it provided information that could not be found in sexuality education they received: Without porn, I wouldn’t know the positions. I wouldn’t know half the things I know now. I never knew even in health class, biology class, everything I’d gone through that the female body has an ability to squirt. (Young woman, age 18, United States; Rothman et al., 2015, p. 5)

Thus, young people saw pornography as an inevitable or necessary source of information (Arrington-Sanders et al., 2015; Carboni & Bhana, 2019; Lofgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Rothman et al., 2015; Tseng et al., 2017): “We didn’t learn that much in school about sexuality education, so one has to look in porn magayyyyyzines” (Young man, age 18, Sweden; Lofgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010, p. 6).

Pornography — Jody Sill, 2020

SRE in England and Wales has been noninclusive of LGBT+ issues, revealing how some LGBT+ people access pornography to learn about issues relating to sex.

Pornography as an educational resource

The excluding effects of a heteronormative SRE experience may prompt some LGBT+ pupils to turn to alternative sources of information. Pornography as an educational resource has been written about in previous literature (see Allen 2006; Rosengard et al. 2012; Albury 2014; McCormack and Wignall 2016; Wright, Sun, and Steffen 2018; Dawson, Gabhainn, and Pádraig 2020; Litsou et al. 2020) highlighting how it is possible to learn about topics of a sexual nature in settings beyond the classroom.

With reference to LGBT+ peoples’ use of pornography, Arrington-Sanders et al. (2015) argue that gay men find pornography a useful tool for self-exploration and Harvey (2020) has noted how other sexual minorities may find utility in pornography. Dawson, Gabhainn, and Pádraig (2019) reported there was no correlation between dissatisfaction with SRE and pornography use among the gay and bisexual participants in their study in Ireland. However, a range of different findings emerge from research in the USA that highlight how inadequate SRE experiences lead LGBT+ people to seek information via pornography and the Internet (see Kubicek et al. 2009; Pingel et al. 2013; Mustanski et al. 2015; Currin et al. 2017; Hoefer and Hoefer 2017; Bradford et al. 2018; Bőthe et al. 2019; Haley et al. 2019). Formby and Donovan (2020) highlighted how these findings mirror their own from research in the UK.

Another participant, Hazel, discussed how there is an unhelpful assumption in pornography that ‘orgasm is the end goal of sex and it will always happen unless you’re doing something incredibly wrong’. Despite pornography providing an educational foundation from which to explore aspects of sexuality, participants stated how misinformation can often be present in pornographic representations, and this can only be tested and rectified by engaging in real life sexual experiences with other people. This could lead participants to test their acquired knowledge through trial and error.

Sex & Relationships Education (SRE) = ‘learning about the emotional, social and physical aspects of growing up, relationships, sex, human sexuality and sexual health’. However, for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other gender and sexual minorities (LGBT+), a heteronormative experience of SRE may not be as useful as it might be to those who are heterosexual and/or cisgender (Sex Education Forum, 2014).

Heteronormativity within an educational context has been described by Donelson and Rogers (2004, 128) as the ‘organisational structures in schools that support heterosexuality as normal and anything else as deviant’. Cisnormativity, another concept engaged with in this paper, has been described by Bauer et al. (2009, 356) as the expectation ‘that those assigned male at birth always grow up to be men and those assigned female at birth always grow up to be women’.

The body of research surrounding LGBT+ SRE consistently suggests that LGBT+ people face a lack of recognition in government policy and within the classroom. Research also highlights how heteronormative value systems are maintained at both policy and pedagogical level, and so historical government policy is an important contextual factor to consider.

Harvey, P. 2020. “Gender, Sexuality and Race in the Digital Age.” In Let’s Talk about Porn: The Perceived Effect of Online Mainstream Pornography on LGBTQ Youth, edited by N. Farris, D. R. Compton, and A. Herrera, 31–52. New York: Springer

Pornography (Gay Men) — Katerina Litsou et al., 2020

According to this dataset, pornography use can offer useful information about the mechanics of sex, and this is particularly pertinent for young gay men. Many articles reveal that young people are often aware of the shortcomings of pornography as a source of information and guidance, and that improvements to sex and relationships education are necessary.

Kate Dawson et al., 2019

Bisexual and homosexual participants reported being less satisfied with their schoolbased sex education than heterosexual participants

Findings show that homosexual and bisexual participants reported less satisfaction with their sex education, a majority had used pornography for sexual information, but being dissatisfied with school-based sex education did not predict pornography use for sexual information. Neither did using pornography for sexual information predict greater satisfaction with current sexual knowledge, but it was associated with greater aspirations to know more about sexuality and sexual health. Individuals may use pornography for information regardless of their sex education in school.

In total, 90% of females, 98.6% of males, 94% of non-binary participants and 80% of transgender participants reported that they had seen pornography; however, the total number of non-binary participants and transgender participants in our sample was small. A large proportion of the sample reported first engagement under 13 years of age, with 65.5% of males and 30% of females reporting this. Age of first pornography use for masturbation purposes varied, with 45% of the sample first using pornography for these reasons between 14 and 17 years of age; 52% and 9% of females first used pornography to masturbate under 13 years of age. A majority of males reported more frequent engagement (77%), in comparison to 15% of females. These findings are similar to those of Lim et al. (2017).

young men masturbate more often than young women (Pinkerton et al. 2003). Although a large proportion of our sample reported using pornography for masturbation (85%), males were more likely to use it for masturbation than females, while females were more likely to report using pornography out of curiosity; approximately 54% reported having used pornography as a source of sexual information and 79% reported using it out of curiosity. Smaller frequencies were reported for interpersonal use; only 23% had used pornography with their partner for arousal purposes and 21% with their partner for new sexual ideas. Approximately 70% of participants reported that their sex education in school was inadequate. The current guidelines for relationships and sexuality education in Ireland are out of date (RSE Policy Guidelines 1997) and do not mention important topics like sexual consent, LGBT+ issues or pornography. However, satisfaction with school-based sex education was not associated with using pornography as a source of information. Bisexual and homosexual participants were significantly more likely to report that they were dissatisfied with the sex education they received in school. These results highlight the need for significant improvement in sex education programmes in Ireland but also for greater inclusion of topics pertaining to LGBT+ sexual health. However, sexual orientation did not act as a moderating variable between having a poor experience of sex education and using pornography for information Comprehensive sex education programmes are only available in some schools across Ireland (Bewiser.ie 2018), and findings continuously show many young people in Ireland are not satisfied with the information they receive from school-based sex education about healthy sexual relationships (Youthwork Ireland 2018). These findings have been echoed in other countries (Schools Health Education Unit 2011). Our findings showed that 54% have used pornography for information about sex, an activity that has previously been attributed to the absence of quality sexuality education. Our findings show that participants’ perception of satisfaction with their sexual health education in school was not associated with using pornography for sexual information.

Beth Epps et al., 2021

Formby and Donovan’s research found that LGBTQ young people access pornography to make up for the poor provision of RSE. LGBTQ young people were most likely watch pornography online by themselves as this enables young people to peruse information privately without fear of discovery. Online resources were overwhelmingly positive in helping young people to create their sexual identity (Formby & Donovan, 2020). Grant and Nash (2018) discovered the lengths lesbian and bisexual young people go to in creating supportive social media networks to provide education to new members of their community. However, Hobaica and Kwon (2017) observed that participants in their study did note the limitations of online information, in particular pornography, as there was little evidence of contraception in pornographic films, especially between female partners. Moreover, information relayed by peers or sexual partners can be open to manipulation within abusive relationships, reinforcing the argument that both schools and parents have a responsibility to equip young people with the tools they need via face-to-face teaching, through the creation of inclusive environments and by sign posting to safe online resources (Formby & Donovan, 2020).

Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in schools are predominantly heterocentric. Consequently, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning young people have reported feeling excluded. This exclusion results in feelings of being “different” and “other,” which in turn leads to further disengagement in the sex education classroom, contributing to poor sexual health literacy, greater risk of abusive relationships, and higher rates of sexually transmitted infections. A rapid review was undertaken to identify the impact of non-inclusive sex education. The review makes recommendations for policy and practice, which includes the provision of training courses to school teaching staff with an emphasis on inclusive RSE, appropriate online resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people, as well as offering 1:1 emotional health support for LGBTQ young people as they begin to question their sexual orientation

Participants in four studies quoted the internet as a useful resource when attempting to navigate early homosexual relationships, with social media, charitable websites, and pornography being the main sources for education around the mechanics of same-sex relationships (Formby & Donovan, 2020; Gowen & Winges-Yanez, 2014; Grant & Nash, 2018; Hobaica & Kwon, 2017).

Sidenotes

Contraception

“The main function of hormonal contraception is to change the hormonal state of the menstrual cycle in order to mimic, and thus prevent, pregnancy (Alvergne and Lummaa, 2010)” (Carlota Batres et al., 2018).

Many women (incl. most lesbian users) use CP for other health reasons (Cooper and Adigun, 2017; De Leo et al., 2016; Stewart & Black, 2015):

— decreasing menstrual pain, blood flow, #PMS

— dealing with dysmenorrhea, acne, ovarian cysts

— help with #PMDD (Golobof & Kiley, 2016)

— The contraceptive pill lowers the risk of endometrial (by 50%), ovarian (by 27%), & colon cancers (by 18%) (Cooper & Adigun, 2017); particularly with long-term use (5+ years; Powell, 2017).

Naturally cycling (NC) women’s voices became more attractive near ovulation] “but no such effect was found for women using the contraceptive pill [CP]” (Pipitone & Gallup, 2008).

NC lap dancers made more money per shift than those who were using the CP (Miller et al., 2007).

Waitresses receive higher tips when they are wearing cosmetics compared to when they are not (Jacob et al., 2009).

Carlota Batres et al., 2018

“NC women spend more time applying cosmetics for an outing than do women who use the CP” (Carlota Batres et al., 2018).

Batres, C., Porcheron, A., Kaminski, G., Courrèges, S., Morizot, F., & Russell, R. (2018). Evidence that the hormonal contraceptive pill is associated with cosmetic habits. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1459. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01459

Copyright © 2018 Batres, Porcheron, Kaminski, Courrèges, Morizot and Russell. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.

“Sexual transmission of HIV from man to woman results in a more diverse ‘swarm’ of variants than does transmission from woman to man” (Ray & Quinn, 2000).

Future Piece

Lipsky et al., 2021 — Oral Health Literacy

Men have lower oral health literacy (Akintobi et al., 2018).

Women also exhibit more positive attitudes about dental visits, greater oral health literacy and demonstrate better oral health behaviors than men (Furuta et al., 2011). An individual’s health literacy influences decisions regarding health and behaviors (Macek et al., 2010). Studies support that higher oral health literacy links to more frequent brushing and better oral hygiene which may in part explain why women both brush their teeth and floss more regularly than men (Lee et al., 2012; Ueno et al., 2013). Research by the American Dental Association identified that about 8% more women brush their teeth twice a day than men and that men are about 40% less likely to brush their teeth after every meal (Dentistry, 2007). Women are also 26% more likely than men to floss on a daily basis (Fleming et al., 2018; Periodontology, 2011).

Habits, especially tobacco use, also play a significant role in oral health. Tobacco products increase the risk of oral cancer, cavities, and tooth loss. Generally, men use all tobacco products at higher rates than women (Abuse, 2020). In 2015, 16.7% of adult men compared to 13.6% of adult women smoked cigarettes and men are about 20 times more likely to use smokeless tobacco products (Abuse, 2020; Lipari & Van Horn, 2017). Smoking or chewing tobacco significantly increase the risk for both gum disease and oral cancer (Winn, 2001). Gender differences with e-cigarettes parallel those reported with traditional cigarettes (Piñeiro et al., 2016) and roughly twice as many boys than girls use e-cigarettes (Yang et al., 2020). While few studies have examined the effects of e-cigarettes and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) on the periodontium, the available evidence indicates that e-cigarettes contribute to the pathogenesis of periodontitis (Sultan et al., 2018).

Oral Cancer

Studies demonstrate sex differences in oral cancer incidence with a male to female ratio of 2:1 (Neville & Day, 2002). This difference is largely attributable to more tobacco use, heavier use of alcohol and longer sun exposure related to men disproportionately engaging in outdoor occupations (Warnakulasuriya, 2010).

Oral cancer or oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma includes cancers of the oral cavity and can develop on the tongue, gums, floor of the mouth, inner lining of the cheeks, and lips. Risk factors for oral cancer include tobacco, alcohol, sun exposure, and the human papillomavirus (HPV) along with gender, poor oral hygiene, poor diet, and a weakened immune system. Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the United States with about 53,000 new cases annually, comprising roughly 3% of all new cancer cases (Research, 2018). There are 2,75,000 new cases of oral cancer seen each year worldwide and up to 50% of patients living with oral cancer die within five years (van Zyl & Marnewick, 2012). Despite efforts to reduce the morbidity and mortality of oral cancer, the five-year survival rate still remains low and has not been improved (Jitender et al., 2016).

Smoking increases the risk of oral cancer by five to nine times while smokeless tobacco increases risk by four-fold (Neville et al., 2015). The male/female discrepancy in tobacco use is likely due to a combination of physiological and behavioral factors. For example, studies suggest that smoking activates men’s reward pathways more than women’s, suggesting that men smoke for its rewarding effects while women find it less rewarding and more often smoke to regulate their mood (Cosgrove et al., 2014). However, due to increased smoking habits of women in recent years, the oral cancer gender gap is declining (Kruse et al., 2011).

Blurbs

Carpenter & Niesen, 2021 “About 80% of bisexual women and 37% of lesbian women will experience pregnancy in their lifetime (Valanis et al., 2000).

Bisexual parents are more likely to have genetic offspring than LG parents (MacAdam et al., 2011), about 50% of bisexual parents are married (Goldberg & Gartrell, 2014; Power et al., 2012), & over 60% of bisexual parents are in an opposite-sex relationship.

“People in #polyamorous #relationships are much more likely to identify as #bisexual than heterosexual, particularly women (Balzarini et al., 2018)” (Tara Pond, 2020).

“Men’s well-being decreases when women’s proportional contributions to the total family income increase” (Rogers & DeBoer, 2001), whereas women “experience higher marital happiness when their income increases in absolute & relative terms” (Jurczyk et al., 2019).

“Men create gender consistent with masculine norms that prescribe breadwinning and exemption from housework” (Deutsch, 2007, p. 110). Women tend to contribute more to domestic tasks than their male partners, even when women are the breadwinners (OECD, 2016).

“Chesley’s (2011) research on stay-at-home fathers & breadwinning mothers [finds] that this earning & care arrangement reduces gender differences in parenting as well as inequities that stem from a traditionally gendered division of work/family” (Jurczyk et al., 2019).

“The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives” (Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 1992).

“As (Grosz, 1994) argues, we shouldn’t be paralyzed into inaction as we wait breathlessly for a “pure,” uncontaminated theory” (Kim Golombisky, 1998, on #TitleIX ).

--

--

Dr. Jarryd Willis PhD

I'm passionate about making a tangible difference in the lives of others, & that's something I have the opportunity to do a professor & researcher.