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Examining a zone of cultural exception: internet pornography and the sexual socialisation of young adults

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posted on 2023-12-22, 00:28 authored by Shireen Bernstein

Pornography has become a pervasive part of modern sexual discourse. No longer confined to alleyway adult stores and brown paper bags, Internet pornography (IP) is now accessible from any connected device. Importantly, it is also increasingly evident that much heterosexual IP depicts aggressive, often degrading and sometimes violent acts by men against women. Few theories have been proposed as to why this content nevertheless continues to be so widely viewed, and accepted. Similarly, research is still limited in terms of the environmental and person factors that are associated with the decision to view IP and on the factors that may lead IP viewing to become problematic for some whilst others note few, if any adverse consequences. To address these issues, five studies are presented.

Study one is a theoretical review, presenting a conceptual and analytical approach, namely that IP operates within a “zone of cultural exception”, a space in which all acts, including aggressive and violent acts against women, are permissible. With this theoretical scaffold in mind, a Theoretical Model of IP Use is used to guide the examination of a number of correlates of the decision to view IP and its potential consequences. Study two involves an examination of affective responses to IP, expectancies and global attitudes to IP. Study three examines the factors that may lead some individuals to be more vulnerable to the development of problematic IP viewing. Study four examines the impact of IP on the acquisition or reinforcement of aggressive, sexual and gendered scripts, attitudes and behaviours. Study five examine the IP content young adults view, to what extent they feel they may be enacting IP-related narratives and the cognitive biases that may augment the acquisition and enactment of IP narratives. Together, these studies provide insights about the correlates of the decision to view IP and the association of IP viewing with problematic sexual beliefs and behaviours, including sexually aggressive and gendered attitudes.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 General introduction -- Chapter 2 Beyond the screen: violence and aggression towards women within an excepted online space -- Chapter 3 Emotions, expectancies and the desire to view: attitudes to internet pornography amongst young adults -- Chapter 4 Mind the gap: internet pornography exposure, influence and problematic viewing amongst emerging adults -- Chapter 5 Pressure, preoccupation and porn: the relationship between internet pornography, gendered attitudes and sexual coercion in young adults -- Chapter 6 “Rule 34: If it exists, there is porn of it…”. Insights into the content choices, viewing reasons and attitudinal impact of internet pornography among young adults -- Chapter 7 General discussion


Thesis by publication

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Wayne Warburton

Additional Supervisor 1

Kay Bussey

Additional Supervisor 2

Naomi Sweller


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