Twisted meanings don’t help us understand the reality

This news story I read today is a great example of how the media misuses research findings to increase fear/produce sensationalism. It’s about the association between youth exposure to online pornography and risky sexual behaviors.

The article references some research that finds that young people who see online pornography are also more likely to have higher numbers of sexual partners, to have participated in a wider array of sexual practices, and to drink and take drugs in association with sex. While this may indeed be true, by no means does it mean that viewing online pornography CAUSES a young person to do these other sexual things. It could just as easily be true that a young person with those sexual experiences is more likely to be drawn to online pornography.

While the article does mention that the direction of the association is unclear, it’s tone implies pornography is the cause for the rest of the behaviors. The quote presented from the research editorial is all-telling:

”There are … genuine questions about the potential for exposure to pornography at a young age to bring forward the onset of sexual activity,”

The word “potential” is key here, and I hope that readers understand that we simply do not know what the effects of pornography viewing are in the general population. In the meantime, let’s present things in a balanced way to decrease the chances of jumping to conclusions.

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