Here at PornHelp, we run across statistics relating to porn use pretty frequently, and they’re often troubling. But the problem with statistics is that they often get tossed around casually without context, and so, they tend to provoke a certain cynicism. Look hard enough, the saying goes, and you can find a statistic to prove just about anything.
Which is why we thought it might be a good idea to put one popular statistic in context for you. It’s this one, which we’ve seen before, but that this article in The Telegraph called to our attention again recently: the number of porn videos viewed on a single popular “tube” site, PornHub, last year was over 92 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a “B”.
When PornHub released that statistic, many were quick to point out that it represented 12.5 porn videos viewed annually for every person on Earth. That’s eye-popping, but it doesn’t mean much. Why? Because the internet porn use is more concentrated.
To begin with, not all of the world’s approximately 7.3 billion people use the internet. According to statistics from the International Telecommunications Union cited here, there were approximately 3.4 billion internet users globally in 2016. Also, internet porn use is not evenly distributed by gender. According to the public research firm Barna Group, in the U.S., “twice as many male teens and young adults use porn [at least monthly] than female teens and young adults (67% compared to 33%), and four times as many male adults 25+ use porn than female adults (47% compared to 12%)”.
Now, it’s probably the case that the age and gender of internet users, not to mention internet porn users, vary across geography. But since we don’t have the space or resources to get at those subtleties, let’s just assume that half of all internet users in the world are men and half are women. Let’s also assume that, say, 50% of those men and 15% of those women consume pornography at least monthly (which would be conservatively in line with U.S. internet porn use rates). Using those assumptions, we start to get at the real scale of internet porn’s global footprint: in 2016, approximately 850,000,000 men and 255,000,000 women potentially consuming the 92 billion porn videos on PornHub. In other words, the average internet porn user would have viewed about 84 videos per year on just that one porn web site.
Of course, these are imprecise numbers. The average would drop if global internet porn use was found to be higher than the 50%/15% gender split we assume. Not all of those users visited PornHub necessarily. And, and most importantly, we know from research that volume is an imprecise metric by which to measure whether porn use is problematic for any given user.
Which brings us to the statistics for problematic pornography use. These tend to vary. At one extreme, this article reports a study that claims over 25% of male porn users self-report their porn use as problematic, and another study that finds over 25% of male porn users who use porn at least twice per year register as “hypersexual” under a standard testing metric. At the other end of the spectrum, this interview with a prominent porn addiction skeptic asserts that only 0.5% of porn users report problems resulting from their inability to control porn use. None of these numbers is perfect. They probably aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons, and self-reporting is notoriously subjective.
Difficult as the number of problematic porn users is to pin down, however, even the lowest estimate of porn users who report problems stemming from difficulty controlling their porn use yields materially large numbers. Sure, 0.5% looks like a small figure. But then multiply it by 1.1 billion porn users worldwide and you get 5,500,000 people around the world whose lives are being damaged by a difficulty controlling porn use. That’s a lot of people. Like, more people than live in Los Angeles.
Now consider what happens if we assume, instead, that 1.5% of porn users experience negative consequences from out of control porn use. There’s reason to think that’s a reasonable estimate, in that it mirrors the rough average rate of gambling addiction - a behavioral addiction that frequently involves a similar screen-user interface as problematic internet porn use - among gamblers. Now we’re looking at 16,500,000 problem porn users worldwide, or roughly the combined population of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
We are admittedly veering into semi-educated guesses here. But our basic point, which we think the broad numbers support, is this: the number of porn users in the world is huge and growing, as is the number of people who have a problematic relationship with their porn use. Simply put, there is no way to look at pornography use in the internet age and not see it as a real, immediate, harmful problem for at least millions of people.
Longer-form writing from the PornHelp team on current topics relating to problem porn use and recovery.