Fact Check: Is Online Porn Causing Men to Masturbate More Often?

Men are masturbating 50 to 500% more than they would normally without Internet porn. So if a guy normally masturbated once a day, he might now be doing it two or three times a day. If he masturbated three times a week, he might now be getting graphic with his graphics 15 times a week. – Ian Kerner

Computer keyboard with a triple x set of keys in the middle

I recently read an article claiming that men are masturbating up to 500% more often now that porn has become so widely available on the Internet. Most people (including myself) would agree that men are probably masturbating more in the digital era because it seems intuitive that greater access to porn would “stimulate” more self-pleasure, right? However, is this actually the case, and are we really talking about a potential 500% increase?

First, let’s address the question of whether men who consume more online porn masturbate more frequently. At least among college students, the answer appears to be a resounding yes. A recent survey of 760 college undergraduates found that nearly 3 out of 4 men had viewed sexually explicit material online and an almost identical number reported having masturbated while on the Internet (in comparison, less than 1 in 4 women reported the same behaviors) [1]. Furthermore, the researchers found that the men who viewed the most online porn also reported masturbating most often. However, keep in mind that this research is correlational. Thus, we do not know whether increased Internet porn use is causing masturbation. It might just be that the guys who use the most online porn have the highest sex drives, and as such, they masturbate more often for that reason (i.e., maybe porn use isn't driving masturbation—maybe it’s something about the person instead).

Second, how much has male masturbation increased since the invention of online porn? This question is trickier to answer, because there aren’t a lot of studies out there assessing masturbation frequency, and the studies that do exist are hard to compare because they recruited very different samples and asked their questions very differently. The best we can do is to look at the results of two nationally representative surveys conducted before and after the Internet porn explosion. Specifically, let's compare a national U.S. sex survey published in the early 1990s (the National Health and Social Life Survey) [2] to a similar survey published in 2010 (the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior) [3]. If we do this, we see a small, but noticeable increase over time in the percentage of men in every age group who reported having masturbated in the past year, which provides some support for the notion that there is more masturbation in the age of Internet porn. However, does this mean that online porn has caused more guys to take up masturbation? Not necessarily. It could just be that men simply feel more comfortable admitting that they pleasure themselves today than they did twenty years ago.

Taking all of this into account, research indicates that (1) men who consume more online porn pleasure themselves more frequently and (2) more men report masturbating today than did before online porn was so widely available. However, it is not clear whether online porn is the cause of all of this masturbation, nor is there evidence of a 500% increase (the data we need to truly address that question just don't exist). In short, while it seems intuitive that online porn is fueling an increase in men’s self-pleasuring habits, we can't say definitively whether this is the case.

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[1] Boies, S. C. (2002). University students’ uses of and reactions to online sexual information and entertainment: Links to online and offline sexual behaviour. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 11, 77-89.

[2] Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J., Michael, R., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[3] National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, Centre for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7 (Suppl. 5).

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