Media & Culture

Why You Shouldn’t Get Your Sex News From Katie Couric

July 10, 2014 by Justin Lehmiller


Katie Couric recently ran a segment on her show entitled “How To Prevent Your Kids From Watching Porn.” The title of the segment makes the agenda clear: all pornography is damaging to kids and parents need to protect them from it. Couric brought in two experts to discuss this issue, but when one of them (Dr. David Ley, author of The Myth of Sex Addiction) dared to mention that the research examining the effects of porn on kids isn’t so black and white, Couric wasn’t having any of it. For instance, according to Ley:

“There are good research studies that show that adolescents’ use of pornography explains only 2% of the variance in their behavior in relationships, drug use, or behavior problems later on. That’s important. We are over-focusing on pornography because sex, masturbation, and pornography are ‘scary.’”

In other words, research shows that porn just isn’t a major factor driving long-term behavioral problems in kids and we’re ignoring things that matter a heck of a lot more. And what was Couric’s response to this thoughtful, research-based statement? She looked at Ley and asked, “Do you work for the American Pornography Association?” So because he said something that didn’t fit her agenda, she unprofessionally called his credentials into question.

Couric’s most cringe-worthy statement actually comes a little later in the program after Ley repeatedly goes back to what the science has found. A visibly flustered Couric cuts him off and says:

“Oh my lord. Honesty, Dr. Ley, if you say ‘research shows’ again, I’m going to…” (smacks her own head). “There’s some common sense here, right?”

So according to Couric, we should forget the science and instead rely on “common sense” when it comes to matters of sex. That’s funny, because that’s exactly the opposite of what I’ve been telling students in my college courses for the last decade. We can’t rely on “common sense” to understand sexuality or anything else about the world because there isn’t anything common about it! For instance, one person’s “common sense” might be that “opposites attract” when it comes to relationships. However, another person’s “common sense” might be that “birds of a feather flock together.” As you can see, common sense can lead people to hold completely opposite views of how the world works! The term “common sense” is one that people tend to throw around when they want to masquerade their personal opinions and experiences as uncontested facts.

The other thing that bothers me about this segment is Couric’s apparent assumption that all porn is basically the same and therefore has the same effects. But isn’t there a big difference between a kid seeing an image of a naked body versus, say, an aggressive gangbang? It is hard to have a productive discussion about the effects of porn when “porn” is defined in overly broad terms. Not only that, but it’s wrong to assume that these different forms of porn necessarily have the same effects on all viewers. People can respond to the same types of porn in very different ways.

There is one area where I do agree with Couric, which is that parents need to spend more time talking to their kids about sex. Also, porn shouldn’t be where kids today go for sex education, and parents should not be afraid to have discussions with their kids about the differences between porn sex and real sex.

Check out the full segment from Couric’s show here and share your thoughts below.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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