August 18, 2005

Adult Content Online

Imagine: The phone rings. You agree to answer a few questions from a polling firm about your internet use. About twenty questions into the survey, the person on the phone asks, “Do you ever visit an adult web site?” and then “Do you ever download or share adult content online?” You ponder your answer – perhaps calculating quickly what the “right” and socially acceptable answer should be – and move on to the next part of the survey, which is introduced by the questioner with the phrase, “On a slightly different topic…”

The Pew Internet Project has asked the adult web site question in five different surveys over the last five years, yielding between 13%-15% of internet users who say yes. When we talk to other researchers and internet experts about these findings, very few think that these figures accurately reflect the number of American adults who have accessed porn online.

Though we publish these findings in our “Internet Activities” chart, we have not done any elaborate analysis or reports on them. We did, however, explore the implications of porn use in our study on spyware. In the survey undergirding that report, we asked questions about sharing and downloading files, including adult content, because we had heard that unwanted software often sneaks onto a user’s computer via those games, screensavers, and video files they have downloaded. Four percent of internet users said they download or share adult content online.

Porn is widely credited with fueling technology adoption, such as the popularity of home VCRs. “Adult” search terms and content are so popular online that search engines and traffic measurement companies reportedly have to cordon it off in order to accurately measure all other content (kind of like how the best-seller book lists cordoned off the Harry Potter series). Mobile phone companies in Britain are allowing racy videos to be delivered to age-verified customers – providing a test case for that new feature of wireless technology.

But data about this subset of internet users is difficult to find. For example, in our survey of 1,336 internet users age 18+, there were only 169 people who answered yes to either question about adult content online. The margin of error is plus or minus 9 percentage points, but we thought we would share the data that we have on this quite savvy group of internet users.

For shorthand purposes, anyone who answered yes to either the adult web site or share adult content questions is termed an “adult-content internet user.”

Four-fifths of adult-content internet users in our sample are men and one-fifth are women. By comparison, half of all internet users are men, half are women.

Two-thirds of adult-content internet users in our sample are between 18 and 40 years old. By comparison, about half of all internet users are age 18-40.

Adult-content internet users in our sample are more likely than other internet users to have a high-speed internet connection at home (64% vs. 52%).

Adult-content internet users in our sample are more likely than other internet users to go online several times a day at home (39% vs. 24%) and/or at work (43% vs. 34%).

Adult-content internet users in our sample are more likely to know about tech terms than other users, except for the concept of “spam” which is almost universally understood (and despised).

Adult-content internet users in our sample are more likely than other users to download and share music and video files, download computer programs, download screensavers, download and play online games, and create and read blogs. They are no more or less likely than other users to shop online.

Adult-content internet users in our sample are more likely to report having had spyware or adware on their computer, along with those who download computer programs, play online games, and other activities.

And, finally, adult-content internet users in our sample are more likely than other users to say they have stopped visiting certain web sites in order to avoid unwanted software (63% vs. 46%).