Literature Review


The Internet is becoming ever more accessible to people of all socioeconomic statuses, ages, and across populations. It is a great source of entertainment and information on a wide variety of topics. It is no wonder that 9-15 million people, and growing, use it per day (Cooper, McLoughlin, & Campbell, 2000). The Internet has impacted lives by providing a convenient way to access current events, pay monthly bills, and shop. In addition, the Internet has affected sexuality (Cooper, McLoughlin, & Campbell, 2000).

            Over the years, access to the Internet has become more widespread, it has become more affordable, allowed greater anonymity than in personal interactions, and it is more convenient by allowing the user access in a comfortable environment, like his home. The Internet provides sex-related activities and materials, such as sex education, sexually related goods, material to be used for entertainment and sexual arousal, to find a romantic or sexual partner, and receive sex therapy (Griffiths, 2000). According to Cooper, Delmonico, and Burg (2000), an estimated 20% of all Internet users are involved in some form of sexual activity online. Fifteen percent of the Internet users viewed one of the top five “adult” websites in the time frame of one month (Cooper, Scherer, Boies, & Gordon, 1999). Pornography websites range vastly in types of depicted sexual behaviors. Some websites feature a man and woman engaging in vaginal sex, while others feature a man urinating or defecating on a woman. Websites like the latter are intended for those with an interest in that type of paraphilia.

            The DSM-IV defines paraphilia as “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors generally involving 1) nonhuman objects, 2) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, or 3) children or other nonconsenting persons, that occur over a period of at least 6 months.” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Three of the most common types of paraphilias are pedophilia, voyeurism, and exhibitionism (Psychology Today, ). Pedophilia is “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children,” while voyeurism involves the “act of observing an unsuspecting person who is naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity,” and exhibitionism involves “the exposure of one’s genitals to an unsuspecting stranger (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). There are many more paraphilias. John Money, PhD has found almost 50 paraphilias (Coleman, 1997).

            The different schools of thought hold opposing theories on the etiology of paraphilias. The psychoanalytic theory views development of paraphilias as a regression to a sexual habit that began early in one’s life. Behaviorists think conditioning causes development of paraphilias. The subject of the paraphilia is repeatedly associated with sexual arousal. The behavioral learning models propose one may learn to imitate inappropriate sexual behaviors, if they were a victim or observer of them and reinforced for the inappropriate sexual behavior later. Physiological models suggest there is a relationship between hormones, behavior, and the central nervous system. The compensation models propose that individuals were unable to have “normal social sexual contacts,” and therefore, adopt unacceptable sexual behaviors (Psychology Today).

            Some theorists suggest that changes in the intensity and prevalence of certain classes of sexually explicit materials have helped increase rates of sexually deviant behavior (Mawhinney, 1998). There are two hypotheses regarding the relationship between pornography and development of paraphilias. One hypothesis is that the character in early teens is still developing. Exposure to pornography at an early age is part of that individual’s character. The individual already had a propensity toward sexual deviance. The other hypothesis states that young adolescents are shaped by their experiences. Early exposure to pornography could influence later sexual deviance (Davis & Braucht, 1973). Davis and Braucht studied men in jail for sex crimes and different types of male college students with different demographics such as, religions, political views, and races. The researchers found that the jail sample had the highest exposure to pornography and the greatest sexual deviance. There was a modest positive correlation between exposure to pornography and sexual deviance (r = +0.33, p < .001). Sexual deviance is best predicted when individuals were exposed to pornography before 14 years of age. Character is not fully developed before the age of 14. If an individual younger than 14 develops a paraphilia then or in later years, it was most likely due to the individual’s early exposure to pornography.

            An experiment was performed to find the effects of prolonged viewing of pornography. The findings were that pornography fosters a preference for pornography featuring less common forms of sexuality, including forms that entail some degree of pseudoviolence or violence, altering perceptions of sexuality, fostering presumptions of popularity for less common sexual practices, promoting insensitivity toward victims of sexual violence, trivializing rape and sexual child abuse as a criminal offense, encouraging men to believe they have to propensity to force particular sex acts on reluctant female partners and of being capable of committing rape (Zillman & Bryant, 1989).

            Those studies found a positive relationship between exposure to pornography and sexual deviance. However other studies contradict those findings. Michael Goldstein found that sexual deviates, those with one or more paraphilias, did not have as much exposure to pornography during adolescence as the control subjects, the non-sexually deviate pornography users (Goldstein, 1973). This was especially the case for exposure to pornography featuring “normal sex acts.” The researcher found that rapist and pedophile samples (both pedophile with male and pedophile with female objects or victims) reported less exposure to pornography in adulthood. The results show a higher rate of masturbation to sexual stimuli in the sex offender and sex deviate groups than the non-sexual deviate group. The non-sexual deviate group was more likely to engage in sexual activity with another person. This could mean that those in the non-sexual deviate group practiced behavior that was more in line with “normal” adult behavior. When asked if they had ever attempted to reenact a sexual performance from a source of sexually explicit material they had seen, all participants in the study reported a decrease in imitation of sex acts from adolescence to adulthood. About 20% of the pornography users and pedophiles with female object reported they had attempted an act shown in an erotic stimulus. Goldstein concluded that if sexual development continues to involve sexual deviance, deviant sexual behavior in later life is correlated with under-exposure to or obsessive interest in erotica.

            Another study also has similar findings. Condron and Nutter (1988) studied four groups of subjects: members of a men’s service club who attended a lecture on human sexuality, men who were being treated at a sexual dysfunction clinic for problems other than paraphilias or sex offenses, men with paraphilias, and men who were nonincarcerated sex offenders. The researchers found there was no significant difference between the groups regarding the frequency of reading pornographic magazines. There was no significant difference between the groups for first age of exposure to pornography. The mean age of first exposure for sex offenders was 14.90, paraphiles was 13.40, sexual dysfunction group was 13.33, and the service group was 12.80. There was also no significant difference between the groups when it came to using pornography in their first masturbation experience. Thirty-one percent of sex offenders, 9% of paraphiles, 27% of the sexual dysfunction group, and 12% of the service group used pornography in their first masturbation experience. The researchers found a significant difference between the groups regarding those who experienced masturbation before pornography. Sixty-three percent of sexual offenders, 91% of paraphiles, 47% of the sexual dysfunction group, and 41% of the service group experienced masturbation before pornography. One last point of interest is the sex offender and paraphile groups were asked if pornography influenced their unusual sexual behavior. Though the results were insignificant, 27% of the sex offenders said that pornography influenced their unusual sexual behavior, while 8% of the paraphiles reported it. The results of this study suggest that “paraphilic arousal patterns were in place” before the participants were exposed to pornography. 

            Several researchers (Davis & Braucht; Goldstein; Condron & Nutter) have studied whether or not there is a relationship between exposure to pornography and sexual deviance, but have contradicting findings. Some suggests pornography does lead to sexual deviance, while others suggest pornography has little or nothing to do with sexual deviance. The question still lingers. However, few studies, like the one Zillman and Bryant reported, ask whether or not prolonged exposure to pornography has any effect on sexual deviance. Also, there is the correlational factor that comes up in the pornography and sexual deviance debate. Perhaps, as some studies have found, individuals with paraphilias already have a tendency to have an interest in unusual sexual behaviors. 

            I want to see if prolonged exposure to unusual sexual behaviors, those exhibiting paraphilic behaviors, has any relationship with sexual deviance. Maybe pornography featuring these behaviors will have some effect on an individual, who views them frequently over an extended period of time. My hypothesis is that there is a direct relationship between viewing Internet pornography featuring deviant sexual behavior and the development of a paraphilia, identified by viewing pornography with paraphilic subjects, engaging in sexually deviant behavior, and having sexual fantasies about performing or others performing sexually deviant behaviors.



American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author, 1994.

Coleman, Eli. (1997). What Sexual Scientists Know About Human Sexuality: Compulsive Sexual Behavior. Sexual Health Today, 1.

Condron, Mary Kearns, & Nutter, David E. (1988). A Preliminary Examination of the Pornography Experience of Sex Offenders, Paraphiliacs, Sexual Dysfunction        

            Patients, and Controls Based On Meese Commission Recommendations. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 14, 285-298.   

Cooper, Alvin, Scherer, Coralie R., Boies, Sylvain C., Gordon, Barry L. (1999). Sexuality on the Internet: From Sexual Exploration to Pathological Expression. 

            Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 30, 154-164.

Cooper, Al, McLoughlin, Irene P., Campbell, Kevin M. (2000). Sexuality in Cyberspace: Update for the 21st Century. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 3, 521-535.

Davis, Keith E., & Braucht, Nicholas G. (1973). Exposure to Pornography, Character, and Sexual Deviance: A Retrospective Study. Journal of Social Issues, 3, 183-196.

Goldstein, Michael J. (1973). Exposure to Erotic Stimuli and Sexual Deviance. Journal of Social Issues, 29, 197-219.

Griffiths, Mark. (2000). Excessive Internet Use: Implications for Sexual Behavior. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 3, 537-552.

Mawhinney, V. Thomas. (1998). Behavioral Sexual Maladaption Contagion in America: An Applied Theoretical Analysis. Behavior and Social Issues, 8, 159-193.

Psychology Today. Paraphilias. Retrieved October 27, 2002, from