How many men in the United States are watching porn?

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a ‘back of the napkin’ calculation

As I consider the issue of male porn consumption and the porn industry, a question occurs to me: How many men and boys in the United States watch porn? Let me just be clear that I am not a statistician or an expert in this field; this is just a thought exercise based on available data. Since no one else seems to be making a guess about this, I thought I’d give it a shot[1]. What We Know Here are some useful statistics about males and porn:

  • 9 out of 10 men aged 18-26 report using porn[2]
  • more than 70% of men ages 18 to 34 visit porn sites in a typical month.[3]
  • 93% of boys are exposed to internet porn before the age of 18[4]
  • The average age that boys first see porn is 12 years old[5]

What We Don’t Know

We don’t have good figures for men aged 35 and older. In order to make a guess about that group, we need to extrapolate from the existing data. We also don’t have information that tells us how much porn men and boys are watching in the existing studies. Did they just see it once? Are they regular consumers? I’ve heard many men and boys speak about their exposure to porn, and not once have I heard a anyone say “yeah, I saw it once and thought ‘No, that isn’t for me’ and never looked at it again.” The nature of porn is that it is addictive – it’s manufactured to be that way, that’s what makes it profitable. We are already being inundated with and manipulated by sex in our societies at large in the popular culture – in this way we have been groomed for pornography and porn takes it to the next level.  It is, of course, possible that a boy sees porn at 12 and then manages to avoid it for a few years before getting totally sucked in. This is all variation that we can’t account for.

What We Might Extrapolate

First, let’s look at the total number of men in the U.S.: 151 million, according to the 2012 census. If the average age that boys see porn is 12, let’s subtract the “0-9 year olds” category (20 million boys), leaving us with about 130 million males. Is it fair to guess that men who use computers are more likely to be looking at porn? Sure, there could be men out there still watching DVD’s and looking at magazines, but the vast majority of porn traffic is happening online where it’s free, anonymous, almost unlimited and easily accessible. We know that men aged 65 and up have a low rate of internet use, about 57%[6]. Let’s just subtract that whole demographic, just to be conservative. Clearly there must be men in that group who watch porn but I will not include them here. If we subtract the 18 million men over 65 from 130 million we get… 112 million men between the ages of 9 and 65. Our data suggests that somewhere between 70% and 93% of boys 12-34 are watching porn. Do we have cause to think men aged 35-65 are dramatically different? I don’t think so. If we take the average of 70% and 93% – let’s call it 80% – does it seem reasonable to guess that 80% of men aged 12 to 65 are watching porn? It does to me. 80% of 112 million is about 90 million men and boys. So this is my best guess: 90 million men and boys – 80% of the men and boys in the U.S. aged 12-65 – are watching (or at have at least been exposed to) hardcore internet pornography. And don’t forget, I’ve left out men over 65 AND made guesses that I believe are very conservative. I suspect that the number is actually higher than this.

What Does This Mean?

If these numbers are accurate (or even close), would this not qualify as a public health epidemic? 90 million men and boys in the U.S. alone being exposed to violent, misogynist, hardcore internet porn? Where women are routinely choked, slapped, degraded, humiliated and abused? With this as the main form of sex education that boys receive as they develop their sexual identities? What if my figure are way off – what if the real numbers are HALF what I’ve calculated? Is that not still a public health epidemic? Wouldn’t 40% (more than a third) of U.S. male’s aged 12-65 being hooked on porn be an issue for our society of catastrophic proportions? Gail Dines make an excellent point in this lecture – what will we do as a society when our doctors and lawyers and judges (and I’ll add politicians and military leaders), have all been addicted to this kind of ideological hatred from the youngest ages? I believe that the time has come for men to:

  1. Acknowledge publically that porn is harmful
  2. Stop watching porn and assist other men in doing the same
  3. Back women in their work to end sexism and male domination (and join them)
  4. Work on protecting boys and young men (and of course also girls and young women) from exposure to the predatory porn industry
  5. Take steps to eradicate porn from mainstream culture through education (on the harms of porn) and regulation:
    1. of porn on the internet, particularly in order to protect children from exposure
    2. of the porn and sex industries, which are inseparable

You’ve read my guesses – what are your thoughts?   [1] I’m focusing on heterosexual men and straight porn here; gay men make up a little less than 1% of all males in the U.S. (NHIS 2014 statistics) and I would very much like for a gay man to start blogging on the issue of gay men and porn, which is relevant and important. [2] Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults (from the Journal of Adolescent Research) [3] Covenant Eyes pornography Statistics, 2014 edition [4] Covenant Eyes pornography Statistics, 2014 edition [5] Covenant Eyes pornography Statistics, 2014 edition (note: other statistics suggest that the average age for boys is actually 11 years old, I’ve opted for the more conservative stat.) [6] Pew Research Center Internet User Demographics

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What Does It Mean To “Be A Man” in our Society?

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Do you ever wonder, “what it means to be a man”?  Well I have news for you, there is no need to wrestle with this complex question anymore because PORN HAS DEFINED IT FOR YOU.  That’s right, according to the vast majority of pornography out there (which is straight, hardcore porn), being a man consists of these simple steps:

  • Have a huge penis.  This is key!  If you don’t have a gigantic cock, you are hereby doomed to lesser manhood.
  • Want to have sex constantly.  Make sure this is the only thing on your mind.  What, you enjoy singing songs?  Talking to a friend?  Cooking a meal?  You’ve failed the real man test.
  • Possess superhuman sexual stamina.  Don’t worry about the fact that no woman actually enjoys being pounded like a piece of meat for hours on end.  She really doesn’t matter in this equation.  Remember: sex is only about YOU.
  • Dominate women (and men too while you’re at it.)  Wait, you don’t enjoy yelling demeaning things at a woman?  Being physically abusive?  What is WRONG with you?

Consider this excerpt from a popular sex advice podcast, where a man called in for advice about his sex life.  He wants to be more like the men he sees in porn.

“My girlfriend and I have a great sex life, we’ve been slowly but surely getting into a little bit more kinky stuff… she wants it a little more rough, she wants me to talk dirty to her…which I don’t have a problem with, actually it turns me on a whole lot. . . . I guess my question is, do you have any insight in, like, framing myself mentally on how to do this, on how to be that a little bit more?  Because I guess it’s not necessarily in my personality per se, to be like, you know “suck that dick, bitch”, but I mean also, that’s the kind of porn that I watch too, and that’s stuff that I’m really interested in so, you know I could definitely do that, I want to be able to do that, it’s something that I aspire to, so any insight on that would be great, thanks a lot, I appreciate it.”

For so many men and boys, porn is re-defining so-called manhood.  This guy admires the men he sees in porn.  He “aspires” to be a man who tells his girlfriend, “suck that dick, bitch.”  He doesn’t feel like he is currently that kind of guy – but he wants to be that kind of guy.

This is the way pornography gets in our heads and warps our perspective on women, on sex, on life.  In this case both the caller and his girlfriend have been pulled deep into porn culture.  Pornography ties violent sexism and male domination directly into the sexual pleasure of both men and women.  No little girl looks forward to growing up and having her boyfriend dominate and degrade her.  And no little boy wants to dominate and degrade women when he grows up.  But because we are told so repeatedly from a young age that this is sexy, that this is “okay as long as it’s consensual,” that this is healthy, many of us get sucked into rehearsing this kind of abusive scenario.

Men are desperate to feel like “real men” – a seemingly unreachable goal in our present societies.  No matter how hard you try, you never seem tough enough, or handsome enough, or rich enough, or confident enough…and porn beckons to us with the message “it’s easy to be a real man” (steps listed at the beginning of this article).  Degrading women doesn’t come naturally to the caller.  But his addiction to pornography is making it seem sexy and normal.  And I think a lot of guys are stuck in a similar spot: porn is telling them what it means to be a man and there is no other voice in the conversation, no clear alternative. Guys – will you join me in being that other voice?

“This is a message to all the men in my life.”

We hear a lot from the sex industry and pop culture about how fun and great porn is.  I’m going to try hard to regularly post voices of real people, who have nothing to sell, who speak from the heart about their own experience living in our pornified culture.

This message from Suzanne Williams is taken from the Elephant Journal, you can see the original posting here.

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This is a message to all the men in my life.

All the beautiful men who I know strive for equality and who would never oppress a woman knowingly. This is a message for you because there is something you need to know.

Pornography terrifies me.

And it’s a deep terror—like someone has stabbed me in the gut; like a giant planet is about to collide with the Earth.*

The strange thing is that I didn’t even realize that I felt this terror, until I started speaking to other women and realized that the terror they spoke about was in me, too. “But why am I terrified when it’s just a normal part of society?” I hear you ask.

That is what terrifies me.

Porn is so normal that my male friends can easily talk about it in front of me, (I know what the ‘wank angle’ is). Porn is so normal that you can find it in sweet shops. Porn is so normal that even the musicians that my six-year-old goddaughter likes are doing pornographic moves in bikinis.

Porn is so normal that for a long time I believed that if I wanted to please a man in bed, I needed to act like a porn star.

But where did this come from? How was I convinced that pornography should be an everyday, normal thing?

When I dredge up my internal ‘knowledge of the world’ I’m told that pornography is the result of the sexual liberation movement and is an indication that we are free to explore our sexual lives. But when did four guys wanking into a woman’s mouth become sexual liberation? What part of us is liberated by it? And is it a part of us that we really want to liberate?

What about the young girls and boys who grow up into this world where both of them are subjected to twisted ideas of what it means to have a sexual relationship with someone?

I can tell you what it does to little girls: it terrifies them. But then we numb and accept, because what else can you do at such a young age when you’re faced with a cultural norm that is designed to humiliate and degrade women. The Stockholm syndrome takes over our sexual lives, and we go and practice our porn face in the mirror.

The feeling I have now, as a grown woman, is one of rage. But to whom can I direct it? Pornography in most forms is a symptom of an oppressive, patriarchal culture that affects both women and men. Porn humiliates women and desensitizes men. It’s not solely men nor women’s fault that porn exists, but when we find ourselves watching degrading acts towards women and men being shown as insensitive abusers, then it’s our responsibility to stop watching.**

I don’t mean that we should censor all erotic acts in the media. However, we need to start listening to women when they say they are terrified of porn. Any objectification of women is violence against them and porn seems to be one of the most violent of all.

I’ve known a sensitive lover or two in my time, so I know that intelligent men can bypass the misogyny they are presented within pornography. But we still need to ask ourselves the question: do we want little girls to grow up in a world where they know that watching the degradation and humiliation of women is seen as a pleasant way to pass time?

*Watch the film Melancholia if you want to know what this feels like.

**(If you’re not sure, ask a woman to watch it with you.  If you don’t want a woman to watch it with you then you’ve probably got your answer.)