Updated 11/2002
"Violence against women and children flourished for thousands 
of years before the printing press and motion picture." 
---Feminists For Free Expression
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      Religious extremist censors, such as Omaha for Decency, know that their real reason for trying to censor sexual materials, using the law and public policy to force their religious beliefs on everybody, won't convince enough people to support their cause. So, in an attempt to get more people to support their censorship agenda, these thought police make absurd claims that the viewing of porn videos and magazines leads to sex crimes, ruined marriages and relationships, and increased discrimination against women. These book burning censorship groups typically make outrageous claims that: a) statistics show that areas with the highest circulation of sexual materials have the highest rates of sex crimes, b) studies and interviews of sex offenders reveal they are often driven to their crimes by viewing pornography, c) laboratory experiments have proven that subjects show increased aggression and less sympathy towards rape victims after viewing porn, d) subjects in laboratory studies rate their spouses as less attractive after looking at porn, and e) women in porn are forced or coerced into performing sexual acts in front of the camera. But studies and experts disagree with the above claims. Here is a look at what some of these studies and experts have found.            
       First, it should be noted that this isn't the only case in which religious groups have claimed that something which is simply against their religion is in another way harmful (when it really isn't harmful), in an attempt to get more people to comply with their religious beliefs. In his 1968 Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI not only stated that contraceptives are against Catholic Church teachings, but also claimed that the availability of contraceptives leads to increased marital infidelity. He also stated that contraceptives cause men to view women as sexual objects. In 1998, Denver Catholic Archbishop Charles J. Chaput wrote that contraceptives have played a major role in family breakdown and increases in spousal and child abuse! Father William Saunders, writing for The Arlington Catholic Herald, stated that contraceptives lead to an overall decreased morality, which leads to increases in rape and sexual harassment! As stated above, some of these absurd claims are the same arguments used by anti-porn extremists.    
       Pastor E.L. Bynum of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, claims that all forms of dancing (not stripping, but all forms of dancing including '70s disco, polka, and square dancing) are not only sinful, but also encourage crime and adultery!      
        In the 1700 and 1800s, religious writers, believing masturbation to be a sin, played a major role in spreading myths about masturbation by writing that it caused such things as: slow and painful urination, fainting fits, epilepsy, early death, impotence, sterility, birth defects in offspring, depression, diseases of the liver, lungs and kidneys, arthritis, headaches, memory loss, loss of sight, and even insanity! One of those absurd claims is actually defended in a 1998 book, Messenger of the Lord, published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, the publishing division of The Seventh Day Adventist Church. This book claims that modern research suggests that, in some individuals, masturbation may cause insanity! Just as these claims are absurd, so are the claims that porn is harmful. Here is a look at what some studies and experts have found regarding the claims that porn is harmful.           
        Censorship groups like to cite studies that seem to show a correlation between the circulation of sexual materials and sex offense rates. That is, they argue that statistics show that areas with the highest circulation rates of pornographic materials also have the highest rates of sex crimes. These censors claim that these statistics prove that porn increases sex offense rates. But statistics that do seem to indicate a relationship between the circulation of pornography and sex offenses are not consistent. There are statistics that show no relationship between porn circulation and sex crimes.          
       A study by Joseph Scott checked to see if there was a relationship between US states' rape rates and the number of XXX sex bookstores and theaters in each state. No relationship at all was found. In West Germany from 1964-1984, although nonsexual violent crime rates rose, rape rates did not rise after laws against porn were repealed in 1973. Between 1964-1974 Singapore, which restricts sexual materials, had a larger increase in rape rates than Sweden, which repealed laws censoring sexual  materials during that time. Japan has a low rape rate, yet porn depicting violence is widely available there. In Britain, sex offense rates actually rose after many sex shops were closed. After Denmark repealed laws censoring porn in the late 1960s, its child sexual abuse rates actually decreased. [1]          
          But censors still insist that there is a correlation between the availability of porn and sex offense rates. They cite statistics that show that areas with the highest subscription rates of porn magazines have the highest rates of sex crimes. But it is a mistake to jump to the conclusion that the higher rates of porn magazine subscriptions cause the higher rates of sex offenses. Both of these could be increased as the result of a third factor. Studies by Cynthia Gentry found that areas with high rates of porn magazine subscriptions and high rates of sex crimes also have a high population of men aged 18-34, which is likely the factor that causes both rates to increase. Additionally, research by Joseph Scott found that areas with higher sex offense rates have more sales not just of porn magazines, but of all magazines geared toward males, such as Field and Stream.        
          Since most of the above mentioned statistics and studies pre-date the ability of the average person to use the Internet to access porn, this would not have been a factor.[2]        
          Censors also like to cite studies which seem to indicate that neighborhoods in the immediate area of any type of sexually oriented adult businesses have higher crime rates as a result of those businesses. But researchers who have reviewed these studies point out that these studies have serious flaws.[3]         
           In order to accurately predict if the adult businesses are the cause of the increased crime, the crime rates of the area with the adult businesses must be compared over time with the crime rates of a very similar "control area" in the locality without any adult businesses. The adult business and non-adult business areas being compared need to be very similar in statistics such as the median income and unemployment rate of the residents, median home value, population, and the presence of any non-sexual businesses that serve alcohol, to eliminate other factors unrelated to adult businesses which could account for the differences in crime rates between the two areas. Researchers found that many of the studies most commonly cited by censors that claim to find a relationship between crime and sexually oriented businesses failed to compare the adult business area(s) with properly matched non-adult business control area(s).[3]         
          There are other flaws in some of these studies as well. A study commonly cited by censors is a 1977 Los Angeles study that claimed to find that areas around adult businesses experienced larger increases in crime. But this study admitted that there was increased police surveillance of the adult business areas. The police found more crime in the adult business areas simply because they were looking harder for it in those areas![3]        
           Studies of sex offenders also do not prove that porn causes sex crimes. A study by Abel, Mittellman, and Becker found no relation between porn and the frequency of sex crimes committed by child molesters. Dr. Henry Giarretto, founder of the Child Sexual Abuse Treatment Program in Santa Clara, California states that his own clinical experience does not indicate that viewing porn leads to child sexual abuse. Dr. Giarretto also notes that, ironically, many who sexually abuse children are highly religious individuals who believe porn to be immoral. A study by Kant and Goldstein found that sex offenders had less exposure to porn than non-offenders.        
           Therapists sometimes even recommend that couples use porn to spice up their sexual relationship. Dr. Ruth Westheimer, probably the most well known sex therapist in the US, states:          

    " ...I don't think as a whole, that pornography hurts women in any significant way....          
     In general, I am in favor of people renting erotic films. For the single person...considering the dangers posed by going to a prostitute or having a string of one night stands, almost makes the availability of these films a public service. And for couples, viewing such films can provide some added spice and maybe even the knowledge of some new positions or techniques....          
       ....people shouldn't take these movies all that seriously either. After all, many blockbuster films feature violence and bodies flying all over the place, and, to my mind, that is much worse than showing people having sex." 
Dr. Mary Watson, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist, states that pornographic materials can help spark sexual fantasies, which can be a way of "providing variety while remaining faithful to your primary partner." She also states that, "We need to have these types of materials available."        
          Some research suggests that it may be sexual repressiveness that has a link to negative behavior. Studies by Kant and Goldstein found that sex offenders are usually from sexually repressive family backgrounds where sex was not discussed, and where conservative values advocating sexual prohibitions were taught rather than a good sex education. Studies by Goldstein, as well as Marshall, found that when sex offenders were caught looking at porn as teens, all of them were  punished severely for it. However, when individuals in a sample from the general population were caught looking at porn as teens, only a small percentage of them were punished for it.        
          Censors also like to cite cases in which a few sex offenders have claimed that viewing porn drove them to commit their crimes (yeah, right). These claims are as absurd as when rapists try to blame their crime on the victim for dressing provocatively. If everything some criminal claimed to have received their inspiration from was banned, there wouldn't be anything left to read, watch, or listen to. Charles Manson got some of his inspiration from his bizarre misinterpretation of The Beatles' White Album.  A Jamaican man in London tried to blame his rape of a white woman on Alex Hailey's Roots, claiming that it made him want to treat her like black women had been treated by white men.  Heinrich Pommerenke, a mass murderer and rapist in Germany, blamed his crimes on the movie The Ten Commandments. Pommerenke claimed that the scene of the women dancing around the Golden Calf made him realize that women caused the world's problems, and it was his duty to kill them. Indeed, if everything that was ever blamed for some crime was banned, this would have to include the Bible.  Andrea Cowan, who gouged out a teen's eye from the socket while performing an "exorcism", claimed she was just following the Bible passage of Matt. 18:9. Matt 18:9 states  "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee." Robert Arthur Lettman, an evangelist from Ft. Lauderdale, killed his 2 year old daughter while whipping her with a belt, claiming to be "training" her in accordance with the Bible. Historically, the Bible has also been cited as justification in such atrocities as inquisitions and witch burnings.        
          Censors also like to cite laboratory experiments in which subjects reported less satisfaction with their spouse's attractiveness after viewing porn. These censors claim that these studies 'prove' that porn hurts marriages and relationships. But experts and other studies disagree with these claims. In The Question of Pornography: Research Findings and Policy Implications, Edward Donnerstein Ph.D. - a researcher on the effects of the media - and psychologists Daniel Linz and Steven Penrod discuss various laboratory studies on the effects of pornography on viewers. These researchers have conducted some of the same types of laboratory experiments that they discuss. Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod discuss those experiments in which subjects did rate their spouses as less attractive after watching pornographic materials. They state that, "We suggest that these effects might be expected any time we are asked to compare our own average looks or those of our mates with exceptionally attractive people. Such a comparison creates a �contrast effect.�......It appears that the attractiveness of women [and men] in the media, whether in sexual or nonsexual contexts, not sexual explicitness, is the critical factor.� (The Question of Pornography, Chap. 4, p.83). So it is merely the viewing of people that the subject perceives as very attractive, not sexual explicitness, that accounts for those findings. Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod cite an experiment by Kenrick and Gutierres in which male subjects saw an episode of the TV series Charlie's Angels or viewed an advertisement with an attractive woman. When asked to rate the attractiveness of a picture of a woman as a potential date, the subjects who viewed the Charlie's Angels episode or the advertisement rated the picture of the potential date as less attractive than subjects who did not view the ad or episode. Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod also cite an experiment by Cash, Cash, and Butters, in which female subjects viewed advertisements with attractive women. These subjects rated themselves as being less attractive after viewing the ads. So, again, it is not the sexual explicitness of pornography that accounts for the lower attractiveness ratings of spouses in some experiments. The same effect occurs when subjects view any material with people they perceive as very attractive, even if the material is not sexually explicit or nude.          
         Lower ratings of sexual partners do not always occur in these studies, however. In a study by Dermer and Pyszcynski, males read sexually explicit descriptions from adult magazines. This study found that these male subjects enhanced their ratings of their sexual partners after reading the passages. Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod note that, "...there is a substantial literature on the effects of nonviolent pornography in the treatment of sexual dysfunctions as well as the improvement of sexual relationships......Although the effects occur within controlled clinical settings, they nevertheless indicate that under some conditions (e.g., sexual counseling) there can be positive attitudinal effects from the viewing of certain sexually explicit materials." (The Question of Pornography, Chapter 4,  p. 83-84)  Even a US Government study on the effects of porn found that ten percent of 2,486 adults surveyed said that watching porn improved their sexual relations.        
        Censors also like to cite laboratory experiments where subjects measured increased aggression levels after being exposed to pornography. These censors argue that this 'proves' that the availability of porn leads to increases in sexual aggression and violence against women. But other experiments of this type have shown that subjects measure either no increase or even a decrease in aggression levels after viewing porn.          
     These kinds of experiments are usually carried out like this. The subjects, typically undergrad college students, arrive for the experiment not knowing that it involves watching sexual materials. They are usually told that the experiment involves studying the effects of stress on learning. The subject is instructed to perform a task to be evaluated by another subject. The other subject really works for the experimenter, and is called a confederate. Before the subject is shown sexual materials, the experimenter deliberately angers the subject by having the confederate deliver electric shocks and/or negative comments to the subject for errors made on the task. The subject is then told that the confederate needs to take a break to study for the next task. During this free time, the subject is asked if they'd help in another unrelated study by viewing pictures or movies. The movies and pictures could be non-sexual, neutral material or nudity with or without explicit sex. After viewing the material, the subject is instructed to evaluate the confederate's performance on a task by administering electric shocks to the confederate when errors are made. Shocks are not really being administered this time around, but the subject believes they are actually shocking the confederate. The intensity level or frequency of the shocks the subject chooses to administer to the confederate are considered to measure the level of aggression in the subject. The experimenter then compares the results between the subjects who viewed the neutral material and subjects who viewed the sexual material to see if there is a difference. (The Question of Pornography, Chap. 3, p. 39-40)          
         Below is an example of a study of this kind in which subjects measured either no increase or a decrease in aggression after viewing pornography, as discussed in The Question of Pornography.          
        "...Donnerstein, Donnerstein, and Evans conducted a study in which men were exposed to one of three types of photographs. One-third were shown pictures of nonsexual materials such as advertisements for book clubs, cigarettes, and soft drinks. Another third were shown pictures of mild erotica from various issues of Playboy magazine. The pictures were primarily nude women posed alone. Finally, a third of the subjects were shown pictures of highly explicit sexual scenes from a magazine bought in an adult bookstore. Subjects were shown these pictures after they were angered or treated in a neutral manner by another male. When subjects were not angered, being shown any type of sexual material did not influence their level of aggression. This finding was consistent with other studies that have shown that being predisposed to aggress (angered) is crucial in order for exposure to sexual materials to have an effect on aggression.          
         In the case of men who were angered before they were exposed to these pictures, exposure to the mild erotica (Playboy pictures) actually reduced aggression. Note that contrary to predictions, even exposure to highly arousing erotica did not increase aggression beyond the level of angered males exposed to neutral stimuli."
     Other experiments have also found that subjects measured either no increase or a decrease in aggression after viewing porn. These include experiments conducted by Baron and Bell (2 experiments);    Zillmann and Bryant;    White;     Malamuth and Ceniti;      Frodi;     Baron (2 experiments);    and     Zillmann and Sapolsky.          
      In another experiment conducted by Fisher, after being angered by a confederate and watching porn, the subjects were given a choice. The subjects were told that they could either stay and continue with the last part of the experiment and take advantage of the opportunity to shock the confederate who had just angered them, or they could just leave. Virtually all of the subjects chose to just leave.          
       What about those experiments cited by censors in which subjects did measure increased aggression levels after looking at pornography? Jumping to the conclusion that those experiments 'prove' that the viewing of porn can lead to sexual violence is a mistake. As Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod have noted above, in most cases subjects had to be deliberately angered prior to watching porn before the porn had any effect at all on their level of aggression. This means that in the experiments where subjects did measure increased aggression levels, viewing porn did not cause this aggression, it merely enhanced the aggression of already angered subjects. And it is not just porn that can cause this effect in laboratory experiments. Donnerstein notes that studies have shown that exercising can also increase a subject's aggression levels in laboratory experiments! Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod also note that watching a range of other nonsexual materials, such as humorous materials, can also increase an already angered subject's aggression in laboratory experiments. In commenting on the results of an experiment in which subjects did measure increased aggression levels after watching porn, Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod state: "It is important to remember that although the sexual film increased aggression, the explanation for this increase is not that there is something special about the sexual content (nudity or sexual acts) other than the fact that sexual content is arousing....Any arousing stimuli (e.g. a very humorous or otherwise exciting depiction) will have the same effect of increasing aggression." (The Question of Pornography, p. 42, 71-72)        
         Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod also note that even when films do have an effect on viewers' aggression, most of the time this effect is temporary and relatively weak, and it is unlikely that viewers would actually become violent as a result. (The Question of Pornography, Chapter 1, p. 22)        
          Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod, who have conducted some of the experiments they discuss, even admit that the experiments indicating porn increases aggression were sometimes biased. They state: "Even at the time of the 1970 pornography commission, researchers undertook investigations of the effects of pornography with the assumption that exposure to pornography could trigger aggression against women. The research conducted for the commission and in later years accepted this premise. In some sense, it was as if the supposition that pornography increases mens' aggression against women were determined first and the research was designed to prove it. As we will see, this assumption turned out to be harder to prove than many experimenters anticipated." (The Question of Pornography, Chap. 3, p. 51)          
        Censors also like to cite laboratory studies in which subjects, after watching porn, indicated on self-report questionnaires less sympathy towards rape victims and/or an increased likelihood of themselves committing a rape than subjects who did not view porn. These censors argue that those studies 'prove' that the availability of porn leads to increased rates of sex crimes. If viewing pornographic materials really did cause these effects, you'd expect to see at least somewhat consistent results from these types of experiments. But consistency is not found in these studies. There are experiments in which the subjects did not  indicate less sympathy towards rape victims after being exposed to porn. These include studies by  Linz;     Malamuth and Ceniti;     Krafka;     Malamuth, Reisin, and Spinner;   Kutchinsky;     Mosher;     and    Padgett, Brislin-Slutz, and Neal.          
       What about those studies cited by censors in which subjects did indicate on questionnaires  less sympathy towards rape victims after viewing porn? There are even inconsistencies within these studies. In a study by Malamuth, Haber, and Feshbach, after reading pornographic materials, subjects were asked to assign a prison sentence to a rapist in a story they read. It was the subjects whose questionnaire scores supposedly indicated they had less sympathy towards rape victims who recommended the harshest prison sentence for the rapist! So much for the accuracy of those studies in predicting behavior.        
        Some censors claim that the availability of porn encourages discrimination against women. Evidence does not support these claims. Studies by L. Baron found that states with the highest circulation rates of porn tend to also have the highest gender equality. In Denmark, women's equality improved in the years following the repeal of laws censoring pornography. But in oppressive countries where porn is completely banned, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, discrimination against women is very common.[4]        
        Censors also like to claim that the women in porn are forced or coerced into performing sexual acts in front of the camera. There isn't evidence that violence, coercion, or force occur in porn any more often than in other workplaces. Porn star Candida Royalle states that, although she was never forced to do anything against her will in porn, she was in non-porn jobs. Her boss sexually assaulted her when she was a receptionist at a health club, and her boss at Ticketron (now Ticketmaster) always made her kiss him goodnight in order to keep her job.[5]          
         To investigate claims of force or coercion in porn, author Wendy McElroy went behind the scenes of the porn industry to observe and interview the women (and men) who make up the industry. She found no indication of women being forced or coerced into performing in front of the camera. Below are a few brief excerpts from her book, XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography, describing what she found in her behind the scenes look at the porn industry. It should be noted that Wendy McElroy is not affiliated with the porn industry. She is a freelance writer and the former president of Feminists for Free Expression/Canada.          
        "Were women coerced into performing pornographic acts? I saw no evidence that women are forced into performing pornographic acts. I saw overwhelming evidence of informed consent. Although I heard rumors of women who had been pressured into performing sexual acts, no one I spoke to had experienced it themselves.....          
        I could claim that I plunged into my research with no preconceptions, but this would be a lie. My assumptions about the women had been formed by decades of television, movies, and trashy novels. I expected porn actresses to be hardened, uneducated, abused...I know I expected this by how surprised I was not to find it....          
        ...the women I encountered were not victims. They were rebellious, a bit raunchy, shrewd at business, and they didn't take shit from anyone....          
        Part of the schism that separates women in porn from the women on the outside is simply culture shock. Pornography is a dramatically different world and it is easy to misinterpret it. For example, in the corporate world, commenting on a woman's body or calling her "honey" might lead to a lawsuit. In porn, it is standard practice. In fact, an actress might become insecure or insulted if her flaunted assets were ignored.....          
         Do these differences make pornography a bastion of sexism? Maybe. But compared to what? To corporate boardrooms or government corridors, where men mouth the proper attitudes while maintaining the sexist status quo? Perhaps pornography is just more open about its attitudes....          
        A lot of the scorn heaped on women in the industry undoubtedly springs from feelings of inadequacy and jealousy....I can only imagine the deep resentment felt by women who have real problems with sex....          
        Let's examine the second accusation...the idea that pornography is degrading to women. Degrading is a subjective term. Personally, I find detergent commercials in which women become orgasmic over soapsuds to be tremendously degrading to women....Every woman has the right - the need! - to define degradation for herself.          
         ...To get upset by an image that focuses on the human body is merely to demonstrate a bad attitude toward what is physical. If I concentrated on a woman's sense of humor to the exclusion of her other characteristics, would this be degrading? Why is it degrading to focus on her sexuality?.... "          
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