This article was last updated on June 18, 2022
Research concerning the effects of pornography is inconclusive. Some studies support the contention that the viewing of pornographic material may increase rates of sexual crimes, while others have shown no effects, or a decrease in the rates of such crimes. Moreover, all these studies focus on various correlations, but correlation does not imply causation.
Wikipedia: Correlation does not imply causation
"Correlation does not imply causation" is a phrase used in science and statistics to emphasize that correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other.
The opposite belief, correlation proves causation, is a logical fallacy by which two events that occur together are claimed to have a cause-and-effect relationship.
In a widely-studied example, numerous epidemiological studies showed that women who were taking combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT) also had a lower-than-average incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), leading doctors to propose that HRT was protective against CHD. But randomized controlled trials showed that HRT caused a small but statistically significant increase in risk of CHD. Re-analysis of the data from the epidemiological studies showed that women undertaking HRT were more likely to be from higher socio-economic groups (ABC1), with better than average diet and exercise regimes. The use of HRT and decreased incidence of coronary heart disease were coincident effects of a common cause (i.e., the benefits associated with a higher socioeconomic status), rather than cause and effect as had been supposed.
Wikipedia: Anti-pornography movement in the United States
Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography
In 1970, the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography concluded that "there was insufficient evidence that exposure to explicit sexual materials played a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior." In general, with regard to adults, the Commission recommended that legislation "should not seek to interfere with the right of adults who wish to do so to read, obtain, or view explicit sexual materials." Regarding the view that these materials should be restricted for adults in order to protect young people from exposure to them, the Commission found that it is "inappropriate to adjust the level of adult communication to that considered suitable for children." The Supreme Court supported this view.
The Meese Report
The final report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography (usually referred to as (the) Meese Report, for U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese) is the result of a comprehensive investigation into pornography ordered by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. It was published in July 1986 and contains 1,960 pages.
Statement of Dr. Judith Becker and Ellen Levine (members of the commission)
The very word pornography, with its negative connotation, imposes impediments to an open-minded and objective investigation. Every member of the group brought suitcases full of prior bias, including previous personal exposure, religious, ethical, social, and even professional beliefs. To some a discussion of pornography raises concerns of sincerely and deeply felt moral imperatives; to others it is a feminist issue of violence against women; and to still others, it is a lightning rod attracting debates about First Amendment guarantees with the threat of censorship seen as the overriding danger.
…it is essential to state that the social science research has not been designed to evaluate the relationship between exposure to pornography and the commission of sexual crimes; therefore efforts to tease the current data into proof of a causal link between these acts simply cannot be accepted.
Although research findings are far from conclusive, the preponderance of existing data indicates that non-violent and non-degrading sexually explicit materials does not have a negative effect on adults.
Murray Straus has written to explain his own research … "I do not believe that this research demonstrates that pornography causes rape. . . .In general the scientific evidence clearly indicates that if one is concerned with the effects of media on rape, the problem lies in the prevalence of violence in the media, not on sex in the media."
The commission of sexual crimes, the degradation of women, and the abuse and mistreatment of children are terrible and pressing problems that concern us urgently. As we face up to the extensive public consumption even of certain types of extreme pornographic materials, a need for massive public reeducation about potential problems associated with them seems strongly indicated. We cannot tolerate messages of sexual humiliation directed to any group. But to make all pornography the scapegoat is not constructive. In the absence of significant social sanctions against pornography, the possibility of halting its use seems as slim as was the chance of halting the sales of liquor during Prohibition. In conclusion we repeat that we face a complex social and legal problem that requires extensive study before realistic remedies can be recommended.
Study shows porn doesn’t cause abnormal behaviour
A study at the University of Montreal recruited 20 men to examine their sexual history, their use of pornography and how this affected their perceptions of women and relations.
CNET: New research suggests porn is overly demonized – Dec 1/2009
Université de Montréal: Un chercheur se penche sur la pornographie dans Internet – Nov 30/2009
An original article on the study published by the university in French.
The results of the study were
- 90% of the porn was obtained on the Internet. No one paid for porn; it was all free. The researcher concluded that nobody put a great deal of importance to this activity because they were unwilling to pay for it.
- The consumption of porn was done alone. Doing it as a couple was rare.
- It did not affect their perception of women or alter their relationships with woman.
- All men expressed a desire for normal relations and normal sex.
- All men supported gender equality.
- All men when encountering something in the porn they did not like such as violence or group sex would fast forward to skip those parts.
- Watching pornography did not affect what the men watched. In other words, their sexual preferences were already formed; they sought in porn what they already liked.
This study was funded by the Interdisciplinary Research Center on Family Violence and Violence Against Women.
Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University
Why People Use Porn by Erick Janssen, Ph.D., Associate Scientist at the Kinsey Institute
We do know, however, that porn, even the more aggressive sort, does not invariably turn people into villains. It can be a substitute or proxy for "real" sex. But it also is a world of fantasy sex, a place where people can safely dream about things they would not want to have happen or do in real life (just as we may like movies that present us with worlds we would not want to live in). Research has shown that many men report having sexual fantasies that incorporate some element of coercion. And so do women. But in one’s fantasy world, one is in control.
Dr. Marty Klein
Dr. Marty Klein is an American sex therapist, educator and public policy analyst. His goals are to educate the public and policymakers about sexuality, help people feel sexually adequate and powerful, and to support the healthy sexual expression and exploration of both women and men.
People who feel victimized by porn: Let’s give them sympathy, not a Congressional hearing
by Marty Klein, Ph.D. – August 8, 2005
The plural of "anecdote" is not "data."
But people who believe that America is loaded with victims of porn have no data. All they have is anecdotes.
Pornography, like Brussels sprouts and plaid slacks, is something to be chosen (or not) and consumed (or not). It is also something to have opinions about. This is, after all, a free country. But public policy based on opinion rather than fact is bad public policy. And a vocal minority is demanding that their strong opinions about porn be enshrined in law.
The so-called victims of porn trot out each new rapist or unfaithful husband as "proof" of the damage pornography causes. They point to rapists with porn in their pockets, and husbands making love to their computers instead of their wives. As a psychologist, I can verify that there are tens of thousands of such rapists and husbands.
A compelling argument against pornography? Not at all. Everyone agrees that tens of millions of Americans consume porn. That’s more people than watch CSI, or go to pro basketball games, or own an iPod. When you drive down your street tonight, every fourth or fifth house you pass has someone in it who enjoyed porn last month. The overwhelming majority of them don’t rape strangers or emotionally abandon their wives.
To properly evaluate the role of porn in criminal or abusive behavior, we would have to look at the porn behavior of non-criminals and non-abusers. Groups that drive anti-porn hysteria have never done that. They don’t want to know about the porn habits of law-abiding, loving, productive citizens.
The argument that "this sex criminal was found with a cache of pornography–his victims are victims of porn" is simply false. Every sex criminal in America started with milk. Virtually all drive cars. Neither milk nor cars make people sex criminals, and neither does porn. There has never been a validated scientific study showing that adults who use porn are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior than adults who don’t use porn.
So, is there a problem?
In my blog Cindy Gallop: Make Love Not Porn I show Ms. Gallop’s speech at TED 2009 and her introduction of her web site Make Love Not Porn. Having run into men whose sole sexual education seemed to have been hard core pornography, she decided to create a web site to educate people about the fantasy and the real.
Obviously if anybody’s sole source of sexual information is a pornographic movie which is admittedly a fantasy than yes, there is a problem. But is the problem the pornography itself? Why is there no sex education at home? Why is there no sex education at school? Did anybody tell Johnny that when Sylvester Stallone kills 43 men in the Rambo movie that it’s not real? Did anybody tell Johnny that sex in a movie is not necessarily real?
In my blog Pornography: Statistics Laundering, I discuss how the misinterpretation of the facts or the distortion of the statistics can prevent us from properly assessing the nature of a problem and developing effective and proportionate solutions.
The New York Magazine
The Porn Myth by Naomi Wolf – Oct 20/2003
Ms. Wolf argues that porn desensitises men to reality. Porn raises their expectations to a point that reality is no longer sufficient. Unfortunately, her proof consists of anecdotes of her talks with individual people. I think the following comment to her article better sums up the reality.
Personally, I think this has more to do with the kind of person you are rather than whether or not you watch porn. If you are the type of person who expects life to spring from the pages of a novel or a movie screen, than real life and the people in it are never going to be enough for you. If on the other hand you relish your human existence, then porn can be exactly what it is, interesting musings on the performance of sex.
I watch porn with my boyfriend all of the time, and when we do it enhances, rather than harms our sex life.
"I do not believe that this research demonstrates that pornography causes rape. . . .In general the scientific evidence clearly indicates that if one is concerned with the effects of media on rape, the problem lies in the prevalence of violence in the media, not on sex in the media."
Murray A. Straus, Professor of Sociology and Co-Director
Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire
– creator of the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) a widely-used method of identifying intimate partners maltreatment, with a version for the identifying of child maltreatment.
Rape is not about sex per se, it is about domination; it is about power. Did Johnny get that from watching porn? The majority of porn is non violent. Did Johnny get it elsewhere? From his parents? From TV?
The average child will watch 8,000 murders on TV before finishing elementary school. By age eighteen, the average American has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders.
– Norman Herr, Professor of Science Education, California State University
Long before the Internet, we had dangerous people in society. So, did the bad behaviour come from the use of pornography, or did the bad behaviour come from a violent past?
However, if pornography is the sole sex education, I would see a problem in the same way I would see any violent film as being an instructional video on social interactions. The formative years of any of us are the most malleable and are we collectively ensuring that those years are providing all children with the best education possible? While porn may have some instructional attributes, should anybody be first learning about sex from a pornographic film? If they are then the parents have failed, the education system has failed and our society has failed.
Click HERE to read more from William Belle
The Kinsey Survey for PBS: Frontline: American Porn – 2002
This investigative television show by PBS included a survey done by Kinsey consisting of 10,453 respondents: 8,454 men and 1,792 women
my blog: Pornography: a series