Porn: Good for us?

Scientific examination of the subject has found that as the use of porn increases, the rate of sex crimes goes down.

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Pornography. Most people have seen it, and have a strong opinion about it. Many of those opinions are negative—some people argue that ready access to pornography disrupts social order, encouraging people to commit rape, sexual assault, and other sex-related crimes. And even if pornography doesn’t trigger a crime, they say, it contributes to the degradation of women. It harms the women who are depicted by pornography, and harms those who do not participate but are encouraged to perform the acts depicted in it by men who are acculturated by it. Many even adamantly believe that pornography should become illegal.

Alternatively, others argue that pornography is an expression of fantasies that can actually inhibit sexual activity, and act as a positive displacement for sexual aggression. Pornography offers a readily available means of satisfying sexual arousal (masturbation), they say, which serves as a substitute for dangerous, harmful, and illegal activities.

Some feminists even claim that pornography can empower women by loosening them from the shackles of social prudery and restrictions.

But what do the data say? Over the years, many scientists have investigated the link between pornography (considered legal under the First Amendment in the United States unless judged “obscene”) and sex crimes and attitudes towards women. And in every region investigated, researchers have found that as pornography has increased in availability, sex crimes have either decreased or not increased.

It’s not hard to find a study population, given how widespread pornography has become. The United States alone produces 10,000 pornographic movies each year. The Free Speech Coalition, a porn industry–lobbying group, estimates that adult video/DVD sales and rentals amount to at least $4 billion per year. The Internet is a rich source, with 40 million adults regularly visiting porn Web sites, and more than one-quarter of regular users downloading porn at work. And it’s not just men who are interested: Nelsen/Net reports that 9.4 million women in the United States accessed online pornography Web sites in the month of September 2003. According to the conservative media watchdog group Family Safe Media, the porn industry makes more money than the top technology companies combined, including Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon.

No correlation has been found between exposure to porn and negative attitudes towards women.

To examine the effect this widespread use of porn may be having on society, researchers have often exposed people to porn and measured some variable such as changes in attitude or predicted hypothetical behaviors, interviewed sex offenders about their experience with pornography, and interviewed victims of sex abuse to evaluate if pornography was involved in the assault. Surprisingly few studies have linked the availability of porn in any society with antisocial behaviors or sex crimes. Among those studies none have found a causal relationship and very few have even found one positive correlation.

Despite the widespread and increasing availability of sexually explicit materials, according to national FBI Department of Justice statistics, the incidence of rape declined markedly from 1975 to 1995. This was particularly seen in the age categories 20–24 and 25–34, the people most likely to use the Internet. The best known of these national studies are those of Berl Kutchinsky, who studied Denmark, Sweden, West Germany, and the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. He showed that for the years from approximately 1964 to 1984, as the amount of pornography increasingly became available, the rate of rapes in these countries either decreased or remained relatively level. Later research has shown parallel findings in every other country examined, including Japan, Croatia, China, Poland, Finland, and the Czech Republic. In the United States there has been a consistent decline in rape over the last 2 decades, and in those countries that allowed for the possession of child pornography, child sex abuse has declined. Significantly, no community in the United States has ever voted to ban adult access to sexually explicit material. The only feature of a community standard that holds is an intolerance for materials in which minors are involved as participants or consumers.

In terms of the use of pornography by sex offenders, the police sometimes suggest that a high percentage of sex offenders are found to have used pornography. This is meaningless, since most men have at some time used pornography. Looking closer, Michael Goldstein and Harold Kant found that rapists were more likely than nonrapists in the prison population to have been punished for looking at pornography while a youngster, while other research has shown that incarcerated nonrapists had seen more pornography, and seen it at an earlier age, than rapists. What does correlate highly with sex offense is a strict, repressive religious upbringing. Richard Green too has reported that both rapists and child molesters use less pornography than a control group of “normal” males.

Now let’s look at attitudes towards women. Studies of men who had seen X-rated movies found that they were significantly more tolerant and accepting of women than those men who didn’t see those movies, and studies by other investigators—female as well as male—essentially found similarly that there was no detectable relationship between the amount of exposure to pornography and any measure of misogynist attitudes. No researcher or critic has found the opposite, that exposure to pornography—by any definition—has had a cause-and-effect relationship towards ill feelings or actions against women. No correlation has even been found between exposure to porn and calloused attitudes toward women.

There is no doubt that some people have claimed to suffer adverse effects from exposure to pornography—just look at testimony from women’s shelters, divorce courts and other venues. But there is no evidence it was the cause of the claimed abuse or harm.

Ultimately, there is no freedom that can’t be and isn’t misused. This can range from the freedom to bear arms to the freedom to bear children (just look at “Octomom”). But it doesn’t mean that the freedom of the majority should be restricted to prevent the abuses of the few. When people transgress into illegal behavior, there are laws to punish them, and those act as a deterrent. In the United States, where one out of every 138 residents is incarcerated, just imagine if pornography were illegal—there’d be more people in prison than out.

Adapted from “Pornography, Public Acceptance and Sex Related Crime: A Review,” Int J Law Psychiatry, 32:304–14, 2009. http://www.hawaii.edu/PCSS/biblio/articles/2005to2009/2009-pornography-acceptance-crime.html

Milton Diamond is a professor in the department of anatomy, biochemistry and physiology at the University of Hawaii and director of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society.

F. M. Christensen, Pornography: The Other Side. New York: Praeger, 1990.
M. Diamond, “The Effects of Pornography: An International Perspective,” in Pornography 101: Eroticism, Sexuality and the First Amendment, J. Elias et al., eds., Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 1999, pp. 223–60.
M.J. Goldstein, H.S. Kant, Pornography and Sexual Deviance. A Report of the Legal and Behavioral Institute, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.
R. Green, “Variant Forms of Human Sexual Behaviour,” in Reproduction in Mammals. Book 8, Human Sexuality, C. Auston & R. Short eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980, pp. 68–97.
B. Kutchinsky, “Pornography and Rape: Theory and Practice? Evidence from Crime Data in Four Countries Where Pornography is Easily Available.” Int J Law Psychiatry, 14:47-64, 1991.
M. Popovic, “Establishing New Breeds of (Sex) Offenders: Science or Political Control?” Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 22:255–71, 2007.
N. Strossen, “The Perils of Pornophobia,” The Humanist, 55:7–9, 1995.
E. Tovar, et al. “Effects of Pornography on Sexual Offending,” Porn 101: Eroticism, Sexuality and the First Amendment, J. Elias et al., eds., Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 261–78, 1999.


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Inaccurate subtitle
by Christopher Baker

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 14:10:21]
A scientific study should usually test whether the null hypothesis is correct. I'm not sure that the data show "more porn = less sex crimes". It's more accurate to say "more porn NOT associated with more sex crimes". They failed to reject the null hypothesis that more porn leads to more sex crimes. In many cases, there was no change even though porn consumption increased.

Decreases in sex crimes could be attributed to many factors that have changed in the last three decades. Perhaps global warming?



Porn is too large a category
by anonymous poster

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 13:57:32]
I find it perfectly believable that exposure to the typical soft-core porn DVD does not increase acts of sexual violence. If anything, the sheer numbing boredom of the typical porn video probably lulls most viewers into a lethargic state. The more troubling action happens at the violent end of the spectrum where sex and violence are mixed. Hollywood is careful to separate explicit sex from violence for legal reasons, but most modern horror films are thinly disguised exercises in sexual violence and death. I suspect you would find more troubling correlations between viewership and antisocial behavior in this part of the "entertainment" industry than in what is commonly called porn.



Bias
by Cheryl Soehl

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 13:37:17]
So Mr. Robertson, you describe yourself as a "feminist social worker" but I believe you actually are a sexual therapist who may use porn in your line of work. If you think my ideology shapes my perspective, you are correct. My ideology is that violence against anyone is destructive and, if violence is stimulated by pornography (as it sometimes certainly is) then we should examine the harmful effects of pornography. I think the issue deserves more scientific exploration, starting with interviews and surveys of rape victims and partners of men who use violent porn to discern their perspective on its contributions to their victimization. Depending primarily on the self disclosure of perpetrators is problematic. Dr. David Lisak has done extensive research on the "undetected rapist" and has found the use of pornography in the subculture where they operate is a contributing factor to their attitudes toward women and consequently their behavior in perpetrating rape.

Granted, "erotica" may not be to blame in violent sexual victimization, but I challenge you to locate at your local porn outlet a large selection of explicit sexual material that does not involve the humiliation, domination and degradation of women. Porn has become more and more explicitly violent and it is this type of pornography that may contribute to victimization and rape.



i don't believe any of this twaddle
by anonymous poster

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 13:26:00]
Read this to understand the issue,

LINK

The claim that incidence of rape has gone down in the US seems to depend on where you collect the data. Most rapes go unreported. This article is sensationalist and trivialises the fact that rape happens a lot. Why is this rubbish in a magazine called 'The Scientist'? Its not at all scientific and it is foolhardy promoting such ridiculous views.



over-interpretation of non-correlations
by anonymous poster

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 13:16:04]
This is not particularly good. Diamond even refutes his own badly reasoned argument. He is trying to suggest that increased availability of pornography reduces sexual crime then admits that levels are the SAME in many places, although less in other (but how much less? is it significant?). Hardly a relationship worth pursuing. There are any number of things we could correlate better with increased availability of pornography over this period. All we can conclude is that pornography hasn't increased the incidence of sexual crime. That does not mean its a good thing. Research like this is unscientific and barely even qualifies as descriptive because it presented in such a biased manner. Thumbs down on all counts.



science vs. common sense
by anonymous poster

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 12:25:20]
Most parents can tell you from experience that kids will test the boundaries that parents set on them. If the kids break through one boundary with little or no push back from their parents, they will push further the next time. Most adults behave in much the same manner, with legal and social boundaries constraining them, but with many who will push to see if those boundaries are really enforced.

One of the appeals of porn, for many if not most people, is its illicit nature. The more accepting of it we are, the more lurid and deviant the porn must become in order to satisfy the need to be "naughty." Is this what we really want? A downward spiral into perversion and deviance?



correlations
by anonymous poster

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 12:11:56]
I'm quite sure that those who have a vested interest in the promotion of porn, whether due to personal preferences or professional funding, will be able to design "scientific" studies and cherry pick data to support their viewpoints. The Kinsey study, long accepted as truth, but now shown to be skewed due to outrageously biased sampling, has shown us the danger of that.

Here's a new idea for a study - How about looking for a connection between what a study "proves" and the vested interests of the author and/or his financial sponsors? I'm willing to bet money that the two are almost 100% correlated.



Not the complete story
by Mohamady El-Gaby   [Not You? Log-out]

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 11:50:44]
This article is extremely misleading for a number of reasons:

1- The article only adresses one problem (in my opinion a minor one) which is associated with pornography and conveniently ignores a plethora of other problems (a tiny paragraph at the end wont do im afraid); such as the decline in succesful long-term relationships, the increase of divorse rates, and most importantly the massive increase in acts of marital infidelity.
I wouldnt have a problem with this if the article was just addressing sexual crime rates, but as the title and the concluding paragraph suggest, this article seems to be giving a general thumbs up to pornography.

2- The increase in pornography is only the tip of the ice-berg. It is a symptom of a much larger phenomenon which is the increasing obsession with sex and sexuality in the west (although it isnt, ofcourse, an exclusively western problem). This in effect has increased people's receptivity to sexual acts, especially females. Promiscuity has sky rocketed in the past few decades, and a correlation with the increased exposure to sexual material, be it explicit or otherwise (and the less explicit is often the most effective since it is the most widespread and easily available) is quite obvious.
Its simple maths, more females willing to allow men, often strangers they met at bars..etc, to sleep with them without commiting to a long-term relationship, means sexually frustrated men have a much larger chance of being sexualy satisfied without having to commit forceful acts.

3- There is a circular nature to the argument presented by the article. Many acts were considered crimes before that, as a result of the aforementioned sexualisation of our societies, are now tolerated and even celebrated by many. Prostitution, promiscuity, adultery were all considered crimes in europe/america at some point in the past, but as more and more necessary social barriers have been demolished, these are now accepted as not being criminal. That ofcourse, doesnot say anything about their immorality.

All in all, the article doesnot live up to its claim of adressing its title: 'Porn: Good for us?'. What it does prove is that a respected authority such as 'science' can be readily used, or rather abused, by a society as a tool to conveniently justify all sorts of malpractices found within it.



A commendable attitude, but cause and effect?
by anonymous poster

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 11:21:14]
This is a commendable editorial, but it is always difficult to move from correlation to causation. The social changes in the U.S. and elsewhere go far beyond pornography. The right-wing principle that there is something wrong with exposing skin (especially for women) leads naturally to the belief that women who cover fewer square inches are asking to be raped - and some who feel this way might then conceive the notion to follow up on such an invitation. Thus the reduction of rape could occur solely as a consequence of ideological shift toward sexual freedom, altogether independent of pornography per se.

Someone should ask this question in a context where debate is still provocative, and changes have been less dependent on overall political change - namely, regarding pedophiles. Over the past decade the Supreme Court and others have ruled that artistic works resembling child pornography cannot be banned, and some psychologists have claimed that satiation can prevent pedophiles from attacking children. There should be sufficient evidence available now to determine whether this actually works.



Other social ills
by Gary Huber

[Comment posted 2010-03-09 10:55:18]
I wonder how the availability of pornography correlates with rates of divorce. Any studies out there?



Ideology has negative effects on cognition
by Ray Robertson

[Comment posted 2010-03-05 20:27:35]
Comments by Cheryl Soehl give a clear indication of the type of effects that cognitive scientists have found with regard to the effect of ideology on the brain's ability to process information.

She writes, "If you are looking for sexual benefits in the use of pornography you are likely to find different outcomes than if you are looking for violent outcomes."

However, the research which Professor Diamond cites in this article clearly indicate a decline in rates of VIOLENCE, i.e., sexual assault and sexual violence, in jurisdictions where access to "pornography," (or more accurately, sexually explicit materials) has been liberalized.

As a feminist social worker, I understand rape to be an act of violence, not a "sexual outcome."

Secondly, in a previous comment, Ms. Soehl posts a link with the note "Research by these scientists conflicts with Diamond's findings."

In fact, of the three social scientists quoted in the linked article, none express views that actually conflict with Diamond's. This is hardly surprising, as Milton Diamond and Ayako Uchiyama, co-author of Diamond's study, are 2 of the three cited. The third, sociologist Jane Rinehart, seems to agree with Diamond's conclusions.

The only disagreement comes, as Desmond Ravenstone notes in his comment, from 2 sexual assault counsellors, at least one of whom is a college juniour and volunteer counsellor for a religious organization.

This leads one to wonder whether she has actually read any of the articles in question.



Refuting evidence takes evidence
by Desmond Ravenstone

[Comment posted 2010-03-03 14:44:51]
Cheryl Soehl's links to supposed refutations fall short both times.

One is a bulletin article where a university sexual assault counselor simply asserts that studies show a correlation between porn and violence - but the studies themselves are not named, so they cannot be examined.

The other is a bibliography by a feminist author indicating a link between porn and rape; along with the Meese Commission report are testimonies and papers presented to the Commission.

As for Professor Diamond's own study, the report can be found LINK">here.



Check definitions first
by anonymous poster

[Comment posted 2010-03-03 11:34:04]
In the previous post, reference is made to "conflicting" evidence. However, in the cited studies, not all sexually explicit material is considered as pornography. Rather, "...Sexually explicit material becomes pornography when it disgraces or humiliates."
On the other hand, the Davidson text implicitly seems to consider all sexually explicit material as "porn", as in "no community has ever voted to ban adult access to sexually explicit material".
The "conflicting" evidence may not be that conflicting after all.




More conflicting views
by Cheryl Soehl

[Comment posted 2010-03-03 11:12:29]
While Diamond seems to be published primarily in journals dealing with sexuality, conflicting views are published in those dealing with violence. An extensive bibliography with a different perspective can be found here:

LINK

If you are looking for sexual benefits in the use of pornography you are likely to find different outcomes than if you are looking for violent outcomes.



Conflicting views
by Cheryl Soehl

[Comment posted 2010-03-03 11:03:50]
Research by these scientists conflicts with Diamond's findings:

LINK