pornography, erotica, sexually explicit media, multidimensionality


Pornography may be a construct with a single trait or one with many traits. Research in the past was inconsistent in this regard with most researchers assuming that pornography was unidimensional (with one single trait of pornography). However, the considerable amounts of residual variation found in these studies beyond that explained by the single trait hints at what might be a multidimensional construct (with multiple traits such as sensitization and differentiation). Consequently, in this study, we intended to address the question of whether pornography consisted of a single trait or if it was multidimensional. Using MTurk, 2173 participants from the United States and the Commonwealth of Nations (in which pornography is not strictly illegal) were recruited and asked to rate how pornographic they thought a list of different depictions were. The data were analyzed utilizing the cross-validation procedure in which two subsamples were created from the main sample and one was used to establish the model building and the other to validate the model. Various models, including first-order and higher-order exploratory and confirmatory factor models, were tested. Results indicated that a bi-factor (multidimensional) model generated the best model fit, and that it was most appropriate to consider pornography multidimensional. The final model contained two dimensions (“Sensitization” and “Differentiation”). While sensitization revealed the participants’ general tendency to rate all items to be more or less pornographic, differentiation revealed the participants’ tendency to differentiate highly pornographic items from less pornographic items. Based on the findings of this study, we suggest that future research on the usage and effects of pornography be conducted while taking into consideration the multidimensional nature of pornography.

Original Publication Citation

Busby, D. M., & Chiu, H-C., Willoughby, B. J., Olsen, J. A. (2017). Evaluating the dimensionality of pornography. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46, 1723-1731.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Archives of Sexual Behavior




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor