No more birds and bees? Young adults say they learn more from porn than ‘the talk’

BOSTON, Mass. — Sex can be a touchy subject for many families. So much so that a new study finds many teens and young adults say they’re getting most of their information from watching porn than from their parents. Researchers say while younger teens still get most their information about sex from “the talk,” young adults are turning to the internet for their sexual questions.

According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, young adults between 18 and 24 say their go-to source when it comes to sex education is pornography. One in four people in this age group say porn is most helpful when learning how to have sex. Fewer young adults said their sexual partner is the best source of information. Even less picked their parents, friends, media, or a healthcare professional.

The study finds young women are much more likely to choose their partner as their most helpful resource when it comes to sexual questions than men are. The results reveal heterosexual men are the most likely people to choose porn as their primary source for sex knowledge.

“The evidence suggests that young adults, and in particular heterosexual men, undervalue talking to their partners about what is pleasurable — too many of them may believe that it’s possible to be ‘good at sex’ independent of any feedback from a particular sex partner, which is a belief they may be getting from pornography,” says study lead author Emily Rothman from Boston University’s School of Public Health in a university release.

Younger kids still rely on ‘the talk’

Rothman and researchers from the Indiana University School of Public Health–Bloomington examined the 2015 survey, which featured answers from 357 young adults 18 to 24 years-old and 324 adolescents between 14 and 17. All of these respondents said they had received helpful information on how to have sex. Researchers note nearly as many youngsters in the national survey report having never received any advise on sex.

Among young teens, parents still rank as the top source of information on sex. Researchers find kids between 14 and 17 also rely on friends when they have questions. Just eight percent of adolescents say porn helps them learn how to have sex.

Study authors add that the answers are much different when teens never have “the talk” with one of their parents. Among adolescents who never discuss sex with their parents, 23.4 percent get most of their information from the media. Another 12.8 percent of teens say a sex partner is their main source of sexual knowledge and help. Similarly to young adults, the study finds teen boys are more likely to rely on porn for info on sex.

“The good news is that, when parents have conversations with their teenage children about sex, we think that their children are listening and are less likely to see porn as a good source of information,” Rothman says.

“The bad news is that young adults are misunderstanding what porn is there for. Most free, online pornography is there for entertainment and to make money for the creators. It isn’t there to teach you what you are supposed to do when you are having sex.”

Education over entertainment

Study authors say they are worried about how many young, sexually-active adults are relying on pornography for their bedroom tips. They add that researchers need to figure out how to teach this to young people so couples can have more fulfilling, safer, and consensual sexual relationships.

“Comprehensive sex education that teaches what I think of as ‘sexual social skills,’ or interpersonal communication about sex, is needed and important,” Rothman concludes.

The study appears in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.