Why Do People Watch Porn at Work?

Lots of people watch porn at work. How many is a lot?

The numbers vary, in part because sex is an incredibly charged topic that intersects with some of the deepest moral divides in our society and because there is still so little rigorous research about sex. And of course, there’s the little issue of actually admitting to watching porn at work. Surveys about porn viewing habits tend to produce wildly variable results, depending on the biases of who’s doing the survey. Let me give you an example of the spread:

One 2014 survey reported that 63% of men and 36% of women say they’ve watched porn at work. That means the majority of your male colleagues and a large minority of your female colleagues have watched a least a little recorded sex while they were supposed to be working on spreadsheets. However, this survey was conducted for a Ministry, one that’s deeply invested in men being dogs in need of training.

A 2016 survey produced much less shocking results, though they’re still, uh confusing. This study, which was published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that 16.1% of men watched porn at work on their smartphone or tablet and 5.4% watched it on a work computer.  While these results are much less alarming than the 2014 study, which had me nervous to touch pretty much any surface the office, the numbers are still alarmingly high. Over 5% of my colleagues are foolish enough to use a work computer to watch porn? Around 20 – 30% of my male colleagues are regularly watching porn instead of cat videos or even… getting work done?

What are you people thinking?

Jimmy Kimmel asked a few people about it.

Why the Heck Do People Watch Porn At Work?

People watch porn for sexual stimulation and gratification, obviously, and sexual thoughts aren’t exactly locked up in a vault for work inappropriate thoughts. But having sexual thoughts during the course of your work day and watching porn in the bathroom or even at your desk are worlds apart in terms of appropriateness. It’s not just the risk you incur by doing it – and make no mistake, lots of people have been fired for watching porn at work – it’s how uncomfortable you stand to make your colleagues should they discover you. So why do it?

I spoke to a number of friends and colleagues in preparing to write this blog post. Many of them had funny but disturbing stories of catching colleagues and even clients watching porn at work. One friend, who was working in tech support at the time, soldiered his way through a whole support call while the client continued chatting with a sex worker on the other line. Another friend, who was doing contract IT work, was warned off of one client’s desktop because he had folders and folders of porn on it. He even told her she shouldn’t touch any of the surfaces around his desk. In both of these incidents, my friends were trapped in incredibly awkward situations – they were being sexually harassed by clients who thought that violating their boundaries was either funny or unimportant. Did these men not understand that they were creating a hostile work environment for people with less power than them, or did they get a thrill out of it?

There are even wilder stories, of course, ones that seem to reveal an element of voyeuristic compulsion. One Baltimore man was fired for spending 39 work hours repeatedly watching a single porn DVD, at one point spending 6 hours straight watching the video, with the screen maximized. Another friend told me about a man who was caught repeatedly breaking into work at night to watch porn on work computers. These are both cases where the employee repeatedly abused work resources to watch porn, something they could easily do on their own time, and something about doing it at work seems to have been a crucial element. Watching porn at work was part of the thrill and that thrill escalated into a regular compulsion. Needless to say, both employees were terminated immediately.

Then there are the people who watch porn at work occasionally and casually. It’s not a compulsion and they don’t want to be caught or to force other people into viewing it with them. They just got bored at work and decided to watch some porn. That’s the stance of a majority of the men interviewed in that Jimmy Kimmel segment above and that of several Reddit threads I combed through in search of answers. Why do it? Boredom. Ok, you’re bored. Fine. But why porn?

Watching porn at work presents a security risk to your employer because not all of those hundreds of popups are just ads. It also puts you at risk of being disciplined or punished – not only is it a waste of work time and resources, it demonstrates a critical lack of professionalism and care for your colleagues. That’s the wildest part of it, I think, that few people who watch porn at work consider that their colleagues might not be interested in knowing about what kind of porn they watch, or even necessarily considering them in a sexual context. Audio/visual porn in particular is not easy to ignore. It’s apparent from a second of sound or a single look at your colleague’s phone exactly what is going on, and it’s immediately awkward.

I guess my question is: are you bored enough to risk your job? Bored enough to be willing to make your colleagues uncomfortable? Bored enough to expose your company’s data to risk? If you’re that bored, friend, I think you’re in the wrong line of work.

This article by Meghan Purdy was originally published