Social and Behavioral Science Research on the Impact of Pornography
9 out of 10 children aged between the ages of 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet, in most cases unintentionally. (1)
The average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old. The largest consumers of Internet pornography are in the 12-17 year-old age group. 80% of 15-17 year olds have had multiple hard-core exposures. (2)
More than 70% of men aged from 18 to 34 years old visit a pornographic site in a typical month. (3)
Psychologist Jennings Bryant conducted a survey involving 600 telephone interviews with males and females who were evenly divided into three age groups: students in junior high school, students in high school, and adults aged 19 to 39 years. Respondents were asked if "exposure to X-rated material had made them want to try anything they saw". Two-thirds of the males reported "wanting to try some of the behavior depicted". Bryant reported that the desire to imitate what is seen in pornography "progressively increases as age of respondents decreases". Among the junior high school students, 72% of the males reported that "they wanted to try some sexual experiment or sexual behavior that they had seen in their initial exposure to X-rated material". (4) Findings of this survey are very disturbing, given the fact that most pornography users were first exposed to the material at an early age.
Regular users of pornography are more likely to think of women in stereotype, (5) as "socially non-discriminating, as hysterically euphoric in response to just about any sexual or pseudosexual stimulation, and as eager to accommodate seemingly any and every sexual request." (6)
In 2002, a professor at a Texas University conducted a study of online pornography consumers (heterosexual men who used pornography via Internet newsgroups). On average, respondents looked at 5 hours and 22 minutes of pornography per week. Respondents were divided into three groups: High consumption (more than 6 hours per week), average (2 to 6 hours per week), and low (2 hours or less). The study found that the more pornography men use, the more likely they are to describe women in sexualized and stereotypically feminine terms. They were also more likely to approve of women in "traditionally female" occupations and to value women who are more submissive and subordinate to men. (7)
The Zillman and Bryant laboratory studies (1986-1988):
The question of the research was "What is the effect of prolonged pornography consumption on subjects’ perceptions of their intimate relationships, marriage and family, personal happiness, and sexual satisfaction?". The experiment was undertaken in this way: A pool of male and female subjects, including college students and nonstudents, was divided into two groups. The "Exposure group" watched one hour of nonviolent pornography per week for six weeks. The "Control group" watched an equivalent amount of regular movies. Then all subjects completed a Value-of-Marriage Survey and the Indiana Inventory of Personal Happiness.
The results were:
-- Subjects in the "Exposure group" showed higher levels of agreement with the following beliefs than the ones in the "Control group":
- Promiscuity in men and women is natural and preferable to exclusivity;
- One’s sex partners are generally unfaithful;
- Extramarital affairs are acceptable;
- Restraining one’s sexual impulses leads to health risks;
- Male-dominated relationships are preferable to equal relationships.
-- Researchers were surprised to find a big drop in the desirability for serious relationships (such as marriage, etc.) among the Exposure group subjects, compared to the Control group (60% versus 39%).
-- Exposure to pornography also significantly decreased the subjects’ desire to have children, especially female children.
-- Pornography exposure decreased subjects’ satisfaction with:
- The appearance of their partners;
- Their partners’ sexual performance;
- Their partners’ willingness to engage in new sex acts;
- Their sex lives in general.
The conclusions were that prolonged exposure to pornography impacts the individual’s sexual and personal happiness, increasing distrust and dissatisfaction with one’s partner, increasing acceptance of infidelity and male-dominated relationships, and decreasing the desire to marry or raise a family. (8)
The Zillmann and Bryant laboratory studies (1982-1984):
The question of the research was "what are the consequences of continued exposure to pornography on beliefs about sexuality in general and on attitudes towards women?". The experiment was undertaken in this way:
-- Part One: 80 male and 80 female participants are divided into four subgroups. The "Massive Exposure Group" saw 36 short, non-violent (but degrading and dehumanizing) pornographic films (about 5 hours of film) over six weeks; the "Intermediate Exposure Group" saw 18 short, non-violent pornographic films and 18 regular films over six weeks; and the "No Exposure Group" saw 36 regular films.
-- Part Two: All participants read about a rape case and were asked to recommend the length of the prison sentence for the rapist. They were also asked to indicate their support for the women’s rights movement on a 0 to 100 scale. Finally, they were asked to estimate the popularity of various sexual acts among the general population.
The results were:
-- In recommending a prison term for a rapist: Subjects in the "Massive Exposure Group" chose, on average, prison terms that were half as long as terms recommended by the people in the No Exposure Group. (A five-year sentence versus a ten-year sentence);
-- When asked to rate their support for women’s rights: Men and women in the "Massive Exposure Group" indicated a lot less support than participants in the "No Exposure Group" (38% versus 76%).
-- Men and women in the "Massive Exposure Group" rated anal sex, group sex, and bestiality at least twice as common as did the "No Exposure Group".
-- Those in the "Massive Exposure Group" believed that more than twice as many adults had anal intercourse than those in the "No Exposure Group". The "Massive Exposure Group" estimated that 30% of Americans had group sex, while the "No Exposure Group" estimated only 11% did.
-- The "Massive Exposure Group" also estimated that 15% of Americans practised S&M, and that 12% of Americans were having sex with animals -- gross estimations of actual sexual practices, according to all available data at the time.
The conclusions were that massive exposure to pornography made rape appear a more trivial offense, which seemed also to parallel a drop in support for women’s rights. Also, intensive pornography viewing led to beliefs that unusual sexual acts are far more common than they really are. (9)
Regular users of pornography are more likely to have sexually callous attitudes and believe rape myths. (10) According to several sources, rape myths are widely held, inaccurate beliefs about rape such as (to quote a few): "When a woman says "no," she means "yes", "Women incite men to rape","Women secretly fantasize about being raped", "Rape doesn't happen very often", "False reporting of rape is common", "Women secretly enjoy being raped", "Women who are drunk are willing to engage in any kind of sexual activity", "Real rapes are only committed by strangers", or "Women who are sexually assaulted "ask for it" by the way they dress or act", etc... (11)
In one study, students who were exposed to pornography were more likely to (1) to perceive a rape victim as suffering less trauma; (2) to believe that she actually enjoyed it; and (3) to believe that women in general enjoy rape and forced sexual acts, than students in the "control" group (the ones who were not exposed to pornography). (12)
Other examples of the rape myths that pornography users are more likely to believe are as follows: "A woman who goes to the home or the apartment of a man on their first date implies that she is willing to have sex"; "Any healthy woman can successfully resist a rapist if she really wants to"; "Many women have an unconscious wish to be raped, and many then unconsciously set up a situation in which they are likely to be attacked"; and "If a girl engages in necking or petting and she lets things get out of hand, it is her own fault if her partner forces sex on her". (13)
Regular users of pornography have increasingly hostile and aggressive sexual fantasies. (14)
Studies have shown that viewing portrayals of sexual violence as having positive consequences increases male subjects' acceptance of violence against women. Regular users of pornography are more likely to believe that "Being roughed up is sexually stimulating to many women"; "Sometimes the only way a man can get a cold woman turned on is to use force"; and "Many times a woman will pretend she doesn't want to have intercourse because she doesn't want to seem loose, but she's really hoping the man will force her". (15)
Regular users of pornography are less likely to convict for a rape, and less likely to give a harsh sentence to a rapist if in fact convicted. (16) Conversely, individuals who do not use pornography are more likely to convict an accused rapist. (17)
While spending three evenings watching sexually violent movies, male viewers became progressively less bothered by the raping and slashing. Compared to others who were not exposed to the films, they also, three days later, expressed less sympathy for domestic violence victims and they related the victims' injuries as less severe. (18)
Findings of social science research have shown that prolonged exposure to pornography resulted in:
-- a diminution, and eventually loss, of repulsion evoked by common pornography;
-- an increasing need for pornography featuring less common forms of sexuality, including forms that entail some degree of violence;
-- an alteration of one's perceptions of “common” sexual behavior;
-- a decrease of trust among sexual intimates;
-- an increase of tolerance for violations of sexual exclusivity (Moral condemnation of sexual improprieties diminishes sharply); -- a diminution of the desire for progeny (The strongest effect of this kind concerns the desire of females for female offspring);
-- a discontent with the physical appearance and sexual performance of intimate partners;
-- a loss of compassion toward women as rape victims and toward women in general;
-- a loss of concern about the effects of pornography on others;
-- a need for more violent and bizarre forms of sex;
-- a desensitization to violent, hardcore pornography;
-- an increasing acceptance of rape myths;
-- an increased insensitivity toward victims of sexual violence;
-- a trivialization of rape as a criminal offense;
-- a trivialization of child sexual abuse as a criminal offense;
-- a promotion of men's belief of having the propensity for forcing particular sexual acts on reluctant sexual partners;
-- a predisposition of the willingness to rape;
-- an increasing sexual callousness;
-- an increasing acceptance of violence against women. (19)
Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant's laboratory research studies, completed in the 1980's, were so successful at proving the irreversible negative effects of viewing pornography that ethics boards will not allow further lab studies on the topic to be undertaken. (20)
In a study of 432 males and females aged between 14 and 18 years, 79% (mostly male) of those interviewed believed it was acceptable "for a guy to hold a girl down and force her to have sexual intercourse" in at least one of those nine circumstances: (1)"He spends a lot of money on her"; (2) "He's so turned on he can't stop"; (3) "She is stoned or drunk"; (4) "She has had sexual intercourse with other guys"; (5) "She lets him touch her above the waist"; (6)"She says she's going to have sex with him and then changes her mind"; (7) "They have dated a long time"; (8) "She's led him on"; and (9) "She gets him sexually excited".Of the remaining 21% who replied that no circumstances would justify such behavior, two thirds were female. (21)
Research indicates that 25% to 30% of male college students in the United States and Canada admit that there is some likelihood they would rape a woman if they could get away with it. (22) Researcher Neil Malamuth reported that in several studies an average of about 35% of male students indicated some likelihood of raping a woman. (23)
In a study of males' self-reported likelihood to rape that was conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles, the word "rape" was not used; instead, an account of rape was read to the male subjects, of whom 53% said there was some likelihood that they would behave in the same fashion as the man described in the story, if they could be sure of getting away with it. (24) Without this assurance, only 17% said they might emulate the rapist's behavior.
In another study, 356 male students were asked: "If you could be assured that no one would know and that you could in no way be punished for engaging in the following acts, how likely, if at all, would you be to commit such acts?". Among the sexual acts listed were the two of interest to these researchers: "forcing a female to do something she really didn't want to do" and "rape". 60% of the sample indicated that under the right circumstances, there was some likelihood that they would rape, use force, or do both. (25)
In a 1992 study of 247 junior high school students whose average age was 14 years, 87% of the boys and 61% of the girls said they had viewed video-pornography. The average age at first exposure was just under 12 years. 43% of the boys and 16% of the girls stated that if was at least "maybe okay" for a boy to hold a girl down and force her to have intercourse "if she gets him sexually excited". (26)
In a 1988 study of 114 undergraduate men, 91.3% admitted they "liked to dominate a woman"; 86.1% said they "enjoyed the conquest part of sex"; 83.5 percent agreed that "some women look like they're just asking to be raped"; 63.5% said they "get excited when a woman struggles over sex"; and 61.7% decided that "it would be exciting to use force to subdue a woman". (27)
In a meta-analysis (a statistical integration of all existing scientific data), researchers have found that using pornographic materials leads to several behavioral, psychological and social problems. Their study concluded that:
-- One of the most common psychological problems is a deviant attitude towards intimate relationships such as perceptions of sexual dominance, submissiveness, sex role stereotyping or viewing persons as sexual objects.
-- Behavioral problems include fetishes and excessive or ritualistic masturbation. Sexual aggressiveness, sexually hostile and violent behaviors are social problems as well as individual problems that are linked to pornography.
-- "Our findings are very alarming", said Dr. Claudio Violato one of the co-authors of the study. Dr. Violato, Director of Research at the National Foundation for Family Research and Education (NFFRE) and a professor at the University of Calgary, said "This is a very serious social problem since pornography is so widespread nowadays and easily accessible on the internet, television, videos and print materials".
-- Studies have shown that almost all men and most women have been exposed to pornography. An increasing number of children are also being exposed to explicitly sexual materials through mass media.
-- The rise in sexual crimes, sexual dysfunction and family breakdown may be linked to the increased availability and use of pornography.
-- The rape myth (belief that women cause and enjoy rape, and that rapists are normal) is very widespread in habitual male users of pornography according to the study.
-- "There has been some debate among researchers about the degree of negative consequences of habitual use of pornography, but we feel confident in our findings that pornography is harmful", Violato noted. "Our study involved more than 12,000 participants and very rigorous analyses. I can think of no beneficial effects of pornography whatsoever."
-- Exposure to pornography puts viewers at increased risk for committing sexual offences, experiencing difficulties in intimate relationships, and accepting rape myths. (28)
Rather than asking whether pornography causes rape, we should ask how pornography helps make rape inviting. Also, some social science research, such as lab experiment research has some limits. For example, in the Zillmann & Bryant studies, the group exposed to what the researchers called the "massive" category of pornography viewed a total of 4 hours and 48 minutes of material. None of long-term effects have been studied in a laboratory setting. And, of course, no laboratory experiment can replicate the common male practice of masturbating to pornography, which no doubt influences the way in which men interpret and are affected by pornography. Orgasm is a powerful physical and emotional experience that is central to the pornographic experience, yet there is no ethical way that lab studies can take this into account. It is very likely that the laboratory research actually underestimates pornography's role in promoting misogynistic attitudes and behavior. A third method of investigation -- listening to or reading the stories of women (who have been involved with aggressive men who used pornography), pornography users who admit the harms, sex offenders, rape victims, rape crisis center workers, etc. -- can help us achieve a deeper understanding of the effects and the harms of pornography. (29)
Utah Psychologist Victor Cline argues that pornography has a compulsive or addictive nature. As a clinical psychologist, he had treated, over many years, approximately 300 sex addicts, sex offenders, or other individuals (96% male) with sexual illnesses. He identified a common pattern of progression with many pornography users and sex offenders. Four stages of using pornography following initial exposure are:
-- 1. Addiction: The desire and need to keep coming back for pornographic images.
-- 2. Escalation: The need for more explicit, rougher, and more "kinky" images to get the same "highs" and "sexual turn-ons."
-- 3. Desensitization: Material which was once viewed as shocking, repulsive or taboo becomes seen as acceptable or commonplace.
-- 4. Acting out: The tendency to perform the behaviors viewed in the pornography, including exhibitionism, infidelity, sado-masochistic sex, group sex, rape, having sex with children, or inflicting pain on a partner during sex. (30)
86% of rapists admitted regular use of pornography, with 57% admitting actual imitation of pornographic scenes in commission of their crimes. (31)
87% of molesters of girls and 77% of molesters of boys admitted regular use of hardcore adult pornography. The material was used by these sex offenders for three reasons: (1) to stimulate themselves; (2) to destroy the consciences and lower the inhibitions and resistance to sexual activity in their intended child victims; and (3) as teaching tools for the child to imitate or model in their real life sexual encounter with the adult. (32)
Research conducted involving 36 serial murderers revealed that 81% (29/36) reported pornography as one of their highest sexual interests, making pornography one of the most common profile characteristics of serial murderers. (33)
178 of the 200 prostitutes interviewed in one study reported being sexually abused as children; 193 reported being raped while in prostitution. Without being asked about pornography, 24% of the rape survivors spontaneously added that their attacker had specifically mentioned allusions to pornographic material during the crime. 22% of the child sexual abuse survivors said something similar -- that the molester mentioned the use of pornographic material prior to the offence. (34)
In a 1992 study conducted in Canada, researcher Charlene Senn found that "the more pornography women were exposed to, the more likely they were to have been forced or coerced into sexual activity they did not want". In addition, a male was present in most of the cases in which women were exposed to pornography. This suggests that most women who consume pornography do so because a man wants them to. (35)
Based on the laboratory research, social science studies, and testimonies of both men who use pornography and are sexually aggressive, and women involved in relationships with such men, researcher Diana Russell has argued that pornography is a causal factor in the way that it can:
(1) predispose some males to desire rape or intensify this desire;
(2) undermine some males' internal inhibitions against acting out rape desires;
(3) undermine some males' social inhibitions against acting out rape desires; and
(4) undermine some potential victims' abilities to avoid or resist rape. (36)
Based on the public testimony of women (37), his interviews with pornography users and sex offenders, and various other researchers' work, researcher Robert Jensen concluded that pornography can:
(1) be an important factor in shaping a male-dominant view of sexuality;
(2) contribute to a user's difficulty in separating sexual fantasy and reality;
(3) be used to initiate victims and break down their resistance to unwanted sexual activity; and
(4) provide a training manual for abusers. (38)
"And on a five point scale, you find that after exposure to sexually violent images... up to 57% of those males indicate some likelyhood they would commit rape if not caught... In fact, in the general population, as it turns out, anywhere between 25 and 30% of normal, healthy males indicate some willingness they would commit a rape... The relationship between particularly sexually violent images in the media and subsequent aggression and changes in or toward callous attitudes toward women is much stronger statistically than the relationship between smoking and lung cancer." -- Researcher Edward Donnerstein, at the Minneapolis Public Hearings in 1983.(39)
(1) London School of Economics, January 2002. (2) internet-filter-review.com (3) ComScore, Media Metrix. (4) Jennings Bryant, Unpublished transcripts of testimony to the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography Hearings, Houston, TX; 1985, quoted in Diana Russell, Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm; 1993.
(5) Allan, K., & Coltrane, S., "Gender displaying television commercials: A comparative study of television commercials in the 1950s and 1980s", Sex roles; 1996. (6) Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant, "Effects of massive exposure to pornography", in Neil Malamuth and Edward Donnerstein Eds., Pornography and Sexual Aggression; 1984. (7) Ryan J. Burns, "Male Internet Pornography Consumers' Perception of Women and Endorsemrent of Traditional Female gender Roles", Austin, texas: Department of Communication Studies, University of Texas; 2002. (8) Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant, "Effects of prolonged consumption of pornography", Journal of Family Issues; 1988; "Pornography's Impact on Sexual Satisfaction", Journal of Applied Social Psychology; 1988. (9) Dolf Zillman & Jennings Bryant, "Effects of massive exposure to pornography", in Neil Malamuth and Edward Donnerstein Eds., Pornography and Sexual Aggression; 1984. (10) Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., and Giery, M.A., "Exposure to pornography and acceptance of rape myths", Journal of Communication; 1995; Saunders, R.M., & Naus, P.J., "The impact of social content and audience factors on responses to sexually explicit videos", Journal of Sex Education and Therapy; 1993. (11) Rape Myths are important to be known. Several sources on rape myths: www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/3925/myths.html www.wavaw.ca/informed_myths.php www.hopeforhealing.org/myths.html
(12) James Check and Neil Malamuth, "An empirical assessment of some feminist hypotheses about rape". International Journal of Women's Studies; 1985. (13) John Briere, Neil Malamuth, and James Check, "Sexuality and rape-supportive beliefs", International Journal of Women's Studies; 1985. (14) Malamuth & McIlwraith, "Fantasies and exposure to sexually explicit magazines", Communication Research; 1988. (15) John Briere, Neil Malamuth, and James Check, "Sexuality and rape-supportive beliefs", International Journal of Women's Studies; 1985. (16) Garcia, L.T., "Exposures to pornography and attitude about women and rape: A correlative study", AG 22 (1853) 382-383; 1986.
(17) Dolf Zillman & Jennings Bryant, "Effects of massive exposure to pornography", in Neil Malamuth and Edward Donnerstein Eds., Pornography and Sexual Aggression; 1984. (18) Charles Mullin and Daniel Linz, "Desensitization and resensitization to sexualized violence: Effects of exposure to sexually violent films on judgments of domestic violence victims", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 1995.
(19) Sources: Dolf Zillman & Jennings Bryant, "Effects of massive exposure to pornography", in Neil Malamuth and Edward Donnerstein Eds., Pornography and Sexual Aggression; 1984; James Check and Neil Malamuth, "An empirical assessment of some feminist hypotheses about rape". International Journal of Women's Studies; 1985; Neil Malamuth and James Check, "Aggressive Pornography and Beliefs in Rape Myths: Individual Differences", Journal of Research in Personality; 1985; Dolf Zillman, "Effects of Prolonged consumption of pornography", in Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant eds, Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations; 1989; and Diana Russell, Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm; 1993. (20) Pamela paul, Pornified; 2005.
(21) Jacqueline Goodchilds and Gail Zellman, "Sexual Signalling and Sexual Aggression in Adolescent Relationships", in Neil Malamuth and Edward Donnerstein Eds., Pornography and Sexual Aggression; 1984. (22) Quoted in Diana Russell, Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm; 1993.
(23) Neil Malamuth, "Aggression against women: Cultural and individual causes", in Neil Malamuth and Edward Donnerstein Eds., Pornography and Sexual Aggression; 1984. (24) Neil Malamuth, Scott Haber, and Seymour Feshbach, "Testing hypotheses regarding rape: Exposure to sexual violence, sex differences, and the "normality" of rapists", Journal of Research in Personality; 1980. (25) John Briere and Neil Malamuth, "Self-reported likelihood of sexually aggressive behavior: Attitudinal versus sexual explanations", Journal of Research in Personality; 1983. (26) Kristin Maxwell and James Check, "Adolescents' rape myth attitudes and acceptance of forced sexual intercourse", Paper presented at the Canadian Psychological Association Meetings, Quebec; 1992. (27) Greenlinger V. and Byrne D., "Coercive sexual fantasies of college males as predictors of self-reported likelyhood to rape and overt sexual aggression", Journal of Sex research, 1988.
(28) Claudio Violato, Elizabeth Oddone-Paolucci and Mark Genuis, Meta-analysis on pornography, National Foundation for Family Research and Education, published in scientific journal Mind, Medicine and Adolescence; 2002.
(29) Robert Jensen, "Using pornography", in Gail Dines, Robert Jensen and Ann Russo, Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality; 1998.
(30) Victor B. Cline, Pornography's Effects on Adult and Child, at mentalhealthlibrary.info/library/porn/pornlds/pornldsauthor/links/victorcline/porneffect.htm (31) William Marshall, "The Use of Explicit Sexual stimuli among Rapists, Child Molesters, and Non-Offender Males", Journal of Sex Research; 1988. (32) Ibid. (33) Federal Bureau of Investigation; quoted in Robert Ressler, Ann Burgess, and John Douglas, Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives; 1988. (34) Mimi Silbert and Ayala Pines, "Pornography and Sexual Abuse of Women", Sex Roles; 1984; published in Diana Russell Ed., Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography; 1993. (35) Charlene Senn, "Women's contact with male consumers: One link between pornography and women's experiences of male violence", Paper presented at the Canadian Psychological Association Meetings, Quebec; 1992; Charlene Senn, "The Research on Women and Pornography: The Many Faces of Harm", in Diana Russell Ed., Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography; 1993. (36) Diana Russell, Dangerous relationships: Pornography, Misogyny, and Rape; 1998. (37) Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin Eds., In Harm's way: The Pornography Cicil Rights Hearings; 1997. (38) Robert Jensen, "Using pornography", in Gail Dines, Robert Jensen and Ann Russo, Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality; 1998. (39) Testimony of Edward Donnerstein, The Minneapolis Hearings, December 12-13, 1983; in In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings; 1997.
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