Anyone who reads or listens to the latest media reports about pornography will undoubtedly come away with the impression that porn is one of the greatest dangers facing young men today. Adult content is addictive, they say. It causes erectile dysfunction. It contributes to misogyny and sexual violence—indeed, in the words of Pornland author Gail Dines, adult videos and the like are not like making love, but more “like making hate to women.”
Scientific research on the actual effects of pornography tells a very different story, though. For instance, neuroscience research does not support the idea that pornography is addictive, and study after study have found that there is neither a strong nor consistent link between porn use and erectile functioning. Challenging one of the oldest and most pervasive aspects of the anti-porn media narrative is a brand new study published in the Journal of Sex Research that debunks the idea that porn promotes widespread misogyny and hatred of women.
In this study, researchers looked at a nationally representative sample of men and women who took part in the General Social Survey between the years 1975-2010. In total, they looked at data from more than 25,000 Americans.
In particular, the researchers were interested in whether those who reported watching adult films in the last year had different attitudes toward women compared to those who had not watched such films.
What the researchers found was that both male and female adult film watchers held more egalitarian (i.e., equal) views of gender compared to non-watchers. Specifically, porn watchers reported more positive attitudes toward women holding positions of power, toward women in the workplace and toward abortion.
Thus, contrary to the idea that porn leads men to hate women, these data reveal that guys who watched porn actually held more positive attitudes about women overall.
Consistent with these findings are the results from a recent review of the literature that explored the link between pornography and sexual violence. This study, published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior, did not find that adult content was linked to increased rates of rape and sexual assault—rather, the data supported the reverse association. In other words, greater porn use was linked to less sexual violence, not more.
It is important to note that all of these data are correlational in nature and do not show cause-and-effect associations; however, these findings are inconsistent with the popular view that porn has a broad, negative impact on how men view and treat women.
I should also caution that these findings do not rule out the idea that there may be negative effects for some men who watch certain types of porn. For instance, among men who are low in the personality trait of agreeableness (i.e., guys who don’t show much care or concern for others), pornography exposure appears to increase their sexist attitudes.
Likewise, other research has found that the link between pornography and increased acceptance of sexual violence among women is strongest among men who already have aggressive tendencies and who watch violent porn.
The idea that pornography is “like making hate to women” appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Some types of adult entertainment may reinforce misogynist beliefs in men who already hold them; on a broader level, however, watching porn is actually linked to greater support for gender equality and lower rates of sexual violence.