Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

NZ study: Inside the minds of porn users

A Kiwi researcher is set to peer inside the minds of porn users, in what's to be one of the most in-depth New Zealand studies yet on the oft-controversial subject. Photo / 123RF
A Kiwi researcher is set to peer inside the minds of porn users, in what's to be one of the most in-depth New Zealand studies yet on the oft-controversial subject. Photo / 123RF

A Kiwi researcher is set to peer inside the minds of porn users, in what's to be one of the most in-depth New Zealand studies yet on the oft-controversial subject.

While there's increasing concern over the widespread use of porn by young men in particular, along with the effect it can have, research in the field remains hotly contested and inconclusive.

Now, University of Auckland psychology doctoral researcher Kris Taylor aims to capture the views of hundreds of male porn users through surveys and interviews, covering ground that's long been lacking from previous work.

"Access to pornography has only increased in recent years with so much available on the internet, so given this high level of consumption, we need to know more about how men are consuming pornography and how they feel about it."

University of Auckland doctoral researcher Kris Taylor. Photo / Supplied
University of Auckland doctoral researcher Kris Taylor. Photo / Supplied

Over recent years, a major focus has been on whether porn can be addictive.

A 2015 study of internet porn users suggested a person's own feeling of being "addicted" to online porn drove mental health distress, while another recent study showed how porn could trigger brain activity in people with underlying compulsive sexual behaviours.

Yet researchers say there's still no hard evidence to show porn addiction actually exists - and "pornography addiction" was not included in the recently-revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders because of a lack of scientific data.

Research also tended to point to either positive or negative effects, including whether it re-inforced sexist attitudes toward women, lowered intimacy or contributed to divorce rates.

"Depending on what view you have on pornography, you can marshal research that either aligns with your position of it being bad or of it being good."

Instead, his study would attempt to go "between" the two camps.

"That's why we want to talk to as wide a range of men as possible, from those who unabashedly enjoy pornography, to those who've had ethical or moral questions around pornography use, and anyone in between."

Key questions the research aimed to tackle to answer included what reservations men have over representations of both men and women in pornographic material and how men might feel about some of the content of contemporary pornographic material.

While there had been some studies on porn use in New Zealand, including a qualitative project at Victoria University, Taylor said there was relatively little data and information to work with.

"One of the notorious problems with doing porn research is that the data is incredibly hard to come by, in terms of finding out how many people are using it and what type of porn they are watching, because the people who own the data are the porn companies themselves."

What was known was that the large majority of porn users were men.

Taylor is seeking men who have consumed pornography for the research and all respondents will remain anonymous.

Those willing to take part would initially complete an online survey and some will be asked to do a follow-up interview.

"The identity of all participants, whether they simply complete the online survey or whether they're willing to take part in an interview, will be kept strictly confidential and interviewees will only be expected to respond to questions they feel comfortable with."

People interested in participating in the study can visit take the online survey here email Taylor at kris.taylor@auckland.ac.nz

Pornography research in New Zealand

• An Otago University study last year indicated the more porn a man watches, the less sexually intimate he is with his female partner. The study of 136 heterosexual women, which questioned them on their own use of porn and that of their partners, found 39 per cent used pornography in the preceding 12 months and 65 per cent said their partner had used porn in that time. For the 48 women who reported their partner had not used porn at all in the preceding 12 months, the mean sexual intimacy score was 65 - out of a maximum possible score of 96. But for the 24 whose partners used porn at least weekly, the mean level of sexual intimacy was lower, at 55.

• A 2015 University of Auckland qualitative study of 21 men indicated that many of these men did not engage critically with possible sexist representations within pornography, although a minority of participants did express some reflection of possible ethical dilemmas.

• In other recent research, University of Auckland student Ashlee-Ann Sneller found that, among youth using porn, one of the biggest risks was an unrealistic expectation created when it is used as a form of sex-education. Sneller also found that most young people said they were not intentionally looking for pornography, but instead had clicked on pop-ups on their computers or phones; watched it on Facebook or clicked on a link which then sparked their curiosity.

• In January, major porn company PornHub released figures showing that New Zealand ranked fifth on a top ten list of countries that watch the most porn, suggesting the Kiwis, on average, view 173 pages each. The value of the figures has been questioned.

- NZ Herald

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