Understanding Associations between Personal Definitions of Pornography, Using Pornography, and Depression


Pornography . Sexually explicit material . Depression . Perception


Pornography has received increased scholarly and policy attention, as the rate of online pornography consumption has increased and the availability of sexually explicit material grows. However, few studies have taken into consideration how personal definitions of what sexual material is perceived as pornographic may influence the correlates and outcomes associated with such consumption. Using a sample of 1639 individuals sampled online from the MTurk website, we explored how definitions of sexual material as pornographic are related to actual use and how differences between the perceptions of sexual material as pornography and use of such material were associated with depressive symptoms. Results suggested that the perception of sexual material as pornographic was significantly related to usage patterns and that this pattern varied based on how explicit the material was. Results also suggested that individual differences between perception and use were significantly related to depression. Specifically, viewing sexual material one does not deem as pornographic was related to higher levels of depressive symptoms. However, global acceptance of pornography and the general perception of sexual content as pornographic or not did not moderate associations between pornography use and depressive symptoms. Implications for future research and for the further understanding of the effects of pornography use are discussed.

Original Publication Citation

Willoughby, B. J., Busby, D. M., & Petersen-Young, B.* (2019). Understanding associations between the definitions of pornography, using pornography, and depression. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 16, 342-356.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL



Sexuality Research and Social Policy




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor