Survey indicates widespread use of university networks to view pornography

In October 2011, the Irish Rover ran a story on university policies regarding access to and regulation of pornography over Notre Dame’s wireless network. In response to Rover inquiries seeking clarification of university policy on pornography use, university spokesperson Dennis Brown stated for that story, “When brought to our attention, we reserve the right to investigate any claim of inappropriate use of technology resources by a student or employee, and when we find a violation we can and will assess an appropriate sanction… The university relies on the integrity of our students, faculty and staff to abide by this and other policies.”

One academic year later, Notre Dame senior Christopher Damian sought to inquire into how well students abide by these policies. In an informal study, Damian surveyed more than 400 Notre Dame students, soliciting responses through the Facebook group of each class and random student emails selected from Notre Dame’s online directory.

In the survey, 63 percent of men and 11 percent of women responded “yes” to the question, “Have you ever viewed pornography over the Internet while on campus at Notre Dame?” In the second question, “Do you have friends who have viewed pornography over the Internet while at on campus Notre Dame?” 86 percent of men and 37 percent of women responded “yes.”

Although the survey provides only a very cursory look at pornography use at Notre Dame, Damian believes that his results are significant.

“On the one hand, I only gave students a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option to both of the questions,” Damian said. “Some students wanted to have more answer choices. On the other hand, I was only seeking to find out how many students had accessed pornography over Notre Dame’s wireless network. Further studies would have to determine frequency and context of use.”

Dr. Anne Pilkington, associate professional specialist in the mathematics department at Notre Dame,  noted that “more women than men replied,” which “might indicate a response bias.” Damian agreed, stating, “The numbers for men who have viewed pornography are probably significantly higher. About twice as many women responded to the survey as men. Still, if the results of this survey are accurate, then more than 2500 undergraduate men and 400 undergraduate women have viewed pornography over Notre Dame’s wireless network. With a margin of error of about ±8.14 percent for men and ±5.76 percent for women, these numbers could increase to more than 2840 and 760.”

When Damian contacted Brown regarding his survey’s results as they relate to Brown’s 2011 statement on Notre Dame’s pornography policies, Brown responded, “We stand by our previous statement and have nothing to add.”

Dr. Christian Smith, professor of sociology and the director for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame, said that pornography has become very common for emerging adults.

“It is just a part of very many emerging adults’ lives, whether in the background or foreground,” he said. “Porn has become the new ‘sex education’ for very many teenagers, not only concerning facts about ‘the birds and the bees’ but defining what is normal in relations between the sexes and sex ‘techniques.’”

Reverend Jim King, CSC, director of Campus Ministry, also noted the pervasiveness of pornography.

“Pornography has grown as a problem as it has become increasingly prevalent and easier to access. It’s the nature of the temptation. The easier something is to get away with or rationalize, the harder it is to resist,” Fr. King said. He also noted that confession can help people “admit things, deal with them and have a ‘prodigal son moment,’” but that some people may need more help.

“If it becomes addictive—and hopefully before it reaches that point—people need to be honest with themselves and become proactive the same way they would with an eating or alcohol issue… If it becomes habitual, a person should seek counsel and help,” Fr. King concluded.

Damian suggested that limitations by the university can help.

“If the university is going to monitor illegal downloading, I don’t understand why it can’t monitor access to pornography,” he said. “It’s one thing for the University to trust students to abide by minor policies or policies that don’t need to be enforced for various reasons, but thousands of students on this campus have freely accessed pornography without any real incentive to avoid it. I wouldn’t suggest adding harsh penalties for students who do, but I would like to see the university be more proactive in helping students to live out their sexuality in healthy and holistic ways.”

Tim Kirchoff, a junior, did note one positive aspect of the survey. “The most surprising thing about the survey, as far as I’m concerned, is the proportion of people who are apparently fully aware that porn can be accessed through ND’s internet, and choose not to access it. Perhaps this is not as extraordinary as it seems, and perhaps results at other schools would be similar, but it is clear that a good proportion of both Notre Dame men and women deliberately choose not to use pornography. I’d call that, at least, a good thing.”

Erin Stoyell-Mulholland is a sophomore theology major who has an elaborate plan to take down Bob Burkett. If you would like to contribute to the shenanigans, email her at