Pornography use and sexting amongst children and young people: a systematic overview of reviews

Gary Raine, Claire Khouja, Rachel Scott, Kath Wright, Amanda J Sowden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Young people's use of pornography and participation in sexting are commonly viewed as harmful behaviours. This paper reports findings from a 'review of reviews', which aimed to systematically identify and synthesise the evidence on pornography and sexting amongst young people. Here, we focus specifically on the evidence relating to young people's use of pornography; involvement in sexting; and their beliefs, attitudes, behaviours and wellbeing to better understand potential harms and benefits, and identify where future research is required.

METHODS: We searched five health and social science databases; searches for grey literature were also performed. Review quality was assessed and findings synthesised narratively.

RESULTS: Eleven reviews of quantitative and/or qualitative studies were included. A relationship was identified between pornography use and more permissive sexual attitudes. An association between pornography use and stronger gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs was also reported, but not consistently. Similarly, inconsistent evidence of an association between pornography use and sexting and sexual behaviour was identified. Pornography use has been associated with various forms of sexual violence, aggression and harassment, but the relationship appears complex. Girls, in particular, may experience coercion and pressure to engage in sexting and suffer more negative consequences than boys if sexts become public. Positive aspects to sexting were reported, particularly in relation to young people's personal relationships.

CONCLUSIONS: We identified evidence from reviews of varying quality that linked pornography use and sexting amongst young people to specific beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. However, evidence was often inconsistent and mostly derived from observational studies using a cross-sectional design, which precludes establishing any causal relationship. Other methodological limitations and evidence gaps were identified. More rigorous quantitative studies and greater use of qualitative methods are required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number283 (2020)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalSystematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020, The Author(s).


  • Adolescent
  • Attitude
  • Child
  • Coercion
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Erotica
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Review Literature as Topic
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Text Messaging

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