Pornography Use and Perceived Gender Norms Among Young Adolescents in Urban Poor Environments: A Cross-site Study

J Adolesc Health. 2021 Jul;69(1S):S31-S38. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2021.03.008.


Purpose: The purpose of the study is to assess the prevalence of pornography use and its association with a range of perceived gender norms among adolescents aged 10-14 years across five urban poor settings globally.

Methods: The study includes 9,250 adolescents aged 10-14 years from Belgium, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, and Indonesia, as part of the Global Early Adolescent Study. We examined the percentage of pornography use by sex and site and conducted multivariate logistic regressions to examine the relation between gender norm perceptions and pornography use, adjusting for individual, family, peer, and media exposures.

Results: Ever-use of pornography ranged from 14.5% in Ecuador to 33.0% in Belgium and was more common among boys than girls. Overall, boys who perceived greater permissiveness about romantic relations, adolescents who engaged in such relations, and adolescents who assumed that their friends were sexually active had greater pornography exposure. Pornography use did not systematically correlate with unequal gender norms. Such correlations only exist among boys in two Asian sites, where a supportive school environment, more caregiver awareness, and/or neighborhood cohesion were related to less pornography use.

Conclusions: Pornography use is a gendered experience that begins in early adolescence. Although factors of pornography use vary across the social context, the exposure to pornography has become a normative part of adolescent sexuality development. Young people, especially those from where sexuality remains taboo, need the ability to critically process information and avoid potential risks associated with pornographic gendered and sexual stereotypes, calling for comprehensive sexuality education programs to help them build the knowledge and confidence they need.

Keywords: Adolescents; Gender; Gender norms; Pornography; Sexual health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Belgium
  • China
  • Erotica*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior