New ESRI report finds that 64 per cent of 20-year-old men use online pornography

Those using online pornography are significantly less likely to use condoms regularly.

New research, ‘Use of Pornography by Young Adults in Ireland’, published today (15 March 2024) by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), finds that online pornography use in Ireland is highly gendered, with 64 per cent of young men and 13 per cent of young women reporting use.

A similar gender gap in pornography use has been observed in other countries. The research, funded under a research programme with the HSE Health and Wellbeing, Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme (SHCPP), draws on data from the ’98 Cohort of the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study to look at pornography use among over 4,500 young adults at 20 years of age. The research examines the individual, family and school factors linked to using pornography and examines wellbeing and sexual behaviour among those who use it.

 Key findings:

  • Different factors are linked to pornography use for men and women.
  • Men from more advantaged backgrounds are more likely to use pornography. In contrast, there is little systematic variation by social background for women.
  • Men from lone-parent families are less likely than those from two-parent families to use pornography, while rates of use are higher for women from lone-parent families.
  • Pornography use is lower among those with a religious affiliation and where there is greater parental monitoring of behaviour in adolescence.
  • There is no strong relationship evident between the provision of Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) at school and pornography use. However, this finding is limited by the fact that the GUI study did not collect data on the quality or extent of RSE received by young people.
  • Young people who are more reliant on the Internet or (in the case of men in particular) their friends rather than their parents for information about sex are significantly more likely to use pornography. LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly women in this group, are more likely to use pornography. This may reflect information-seeking among this group or their lack of contact with other LGBTQ+ youth.

The study also looked at the relationship between pornography use and two sets of outcomes: sexual behaviour and wellbeing.

  • In general, users and non-users of pornography do not differ in their use of contraception, but users of pornography are significantly less likely to use condoms regularly.
  • Men who use pornography have poorer wellbeing than non-users, being less satisfied with their lives, reporting more depressive symptoms and having a poorer self-image. This pattern is evident even taking account of levels of wellbeing at 17 years of age.
  • Among both women and men, those who use pornography have higher levels of aggression and are more likely to cope with stress by using negative strategies, such as drinking alcohol or drug-taking, or taking to their bed.

Emer Smyth, one of the authors of the report, commented: “Poorer wellbeing is found among pornography users, especially men. There is value therefore in addressing use, and potentially problematic internet use in general, through mental-health promotion measures.”

HSE SHCPP funded this research as part of their work in implementing the National Sexual Health Strategy. Helen Deely, Assistant National Director for HSE Health and Wellbeing, said: “The findings of the research underscore the importance of talking to young people early and often about relationships, sex, consent, gender roles and expectations, and of creating an environment where they feel safe asking questions and talking about what they see online. In terms of safer sex practices, it is especially concerning that the study found significantly lower condom use among those who watch pornography. As we know, condoms offer the best protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and they also protect against unplanned pregnancy.

The report’s findings highlight the need for young people to be supported to develop healthy attitudes and behaviours with regard to relationships and sexuality. In recognition of the importance of parents in this regard, the HSE has developed resources to support parent/child conversations about relationships and sexuality available, free of charge, on the parents’ section of

The HSE also actively partners with our statutory and NGO colleagues in the youth work and community setting to provide relevant information, training and resources for professionals working with parents and young people.”