A new survey commissioned for the BBC Three series Porn Laid Bare – which asked more than 1,000 people online in Great Britain, aged 18-25, about their relationship to pornography – revealed 55% of men said porn had been their main source of sex education.
However, only 34% of women said the bulk of their sex education came from adult material, with 50% of female respondents expressing fears that porn dehumanised women.
Some 77% of men acknowledged they'd viewed x-rated content in the last month, compared with 47% of women.
The data comes shortly after the government announced a broader sex education curriculum, arriving in schools from September 2020. It will include lessons such as how to recognise ways the internet can encourage unhealthy perspectives on sex – although campaigners are still calling for more subjects, like the female orgasm, to be covered.
There was broad agreement among the young Brits surveyed that the sex in porn is not reflective of real life, with almost three-quarters of both men and women saying the depictions of sex in porn didn’t match up to reality.
While 60% of women believe pornographic content is actively creating "impossible" beauty standards, only 49% of men said the same.
Although 47% of all respondents were comfortable with the amount of porn they watched, 15% of men thought they watched too much, compared with 5% of women. Some 31% of men felt they’d been addicted to porn, but only 14% of women said the same.
It’s an anxiety 25-year-old Malik is familiar with.
“From about [age] 17-20, I was worried it was an addiction, yes,” he tells BBC Three. “At one stage I would have to [watch porn] and masturbate every morning to avoid erections during the day. I had to actively try and decrease that by not watching porn.
“It did affect my sex life at first; my expectations were unrealistic. I think porn can be a force for good sometimes, if you need to relieve sexual frustration. But mostly it’s pretty damaging and misinformed.”
Experiences like Malik’s have been cited in support of a hotly debated new block on porn in the UK. Originally due to launch in 2018, it has now been delayed, and will come into force "shortly" according to reports. The ban will require porn websites to run verification checks to ensure visitors to the site are over 18. Suggested methods to confirm proof of age so far include requiring web users to upload scans of official identification documents – like a passport – or purchasing ‘porn passes’ from local newsagents.
On the upcoming porn ban, 50% of those asked were in favour of it, 33% were opposed, and 17% didn't know how they felt towards it.
“I very rarely watch porn,” comments Lucy, 24. “It’s always left me feeling a bit icky. While it’s true not all porn is performative and subject to a male gaze, I just don’t have the energy to sift through the sea of mainstream rubbish you find online, to dig out something that feels vaguely authentic to actual sex.”
But many young people have also had positive experiences of porn; 52% of survey respondents said the porn they watched had helped them to explore their sexuality.
“I like porn you can recreate with women,” says 25-year-old Rueben. “You get a lot of different porn; some of it is really original stuff that is about passion and you can learn things from it, like tantric sex.
“I’ll watch porn about three or four times a week. If I have a girlfriend, [I’ll watch with her]. It’s important to me to share this sort of sex with a partner.”
Zain, 26, agrees. “Porn’s been a force for good for me,” he explains. “I’m a visual guy; it definitely helps with the fantasies when you can see and hear certain things. But it’s never impacted my sex life in the real world.”
BBC Three's Porn Laid Bare is available on iPlayer from Thursday 14 March