X-rated: Why we upload sexually explicit content

From the printing press to online media, as a species we’ve always found ways to exploit the technology available to express and gratify our sexual needs.

Whether objectifying ourselves through the occasional sexy photo or playing the role of voyeur on a porn site, our collective pursuit of this brand of pleasure has often led to outcry, not least when those in the public spotlight get caught doing something they shouldn’t (a certain American government official springs to mind).

Our own producers

Sex in the media (TV, music, art, internet, etc) is often blamed for what some perceive as the lowering of social standards and the erosion of a ‘moral’ society. But whatever your personal views, current technology is now enabling more people than ever before to take to the internet as producers of their own sexually explicit user-generated content (SEUGC).

With foot fall rising despite the risks (and potential negative social repercussions), it falls to us to ask what’s driving this behaviour.


What’s intriguing to me is not the fact that we engage in sexual behaviour online (the reasons for which seem fairly self-evident), but rather why only some of us take the risk of engaging in this kind of activity so publicly.

It would seem that I’m not the only one who’s intrigued. A group of psychologists at the University of Buffalo, NY, recently conducted a study to unpick exactly what drives some people and not others to upload SEUGC [1].

They asked 404 college students (roughly half male and half female) to complete an online questionnaire designed to measure if they’d be likely to create and share SEUGC via their phones and online. Here’s what they found.


Students were more likely to share SEUGC if they’d watched porn online, the hypothesis being that watching porn regularly makes its viewer less sensitive to the possibility of negative social consequences (it normalises the activity to some extent).

They also found that the act of watching porn also taught its viewers new sexual techniques (surprise, surprise), which in turn increased their ‘self-efficacy’ for performing these behaviours.

Sexual self-efficacy

In fact, of all the motivations they found, sexual self-efficacy (one’s ability to exert control over one’s sexual behaviour, and in this case, one’s ability to perform sexual techniques and to arouse their partner sexually) was one of the biggest motivators for sharing sexually explicit user-generated content.

In fact, contrary to what you might think, people who score high in sexual self-efficacy tend also to be more sexually responsible and are the group most likely to use contraceptives properly.

So it seems that those of us sharing and uploading sexually explicit user-generated content may actually be the most sexually self-efficacious among us. Which may mean a re-think for the way in which we perceive porn and its viewers.



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[1]  Sirianni, J. M., & Vishwanath, A. (2012). Sexually Explicit User-Generated Content: Understanding Motivations and Behaviors using Social Cognitive Theory. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 6(1), article 7.


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Best-selling author of "Webs of Influence" (Pearson). International speaker, consultant, columnist at Marketing Week.