Pornography and Its Effects

Many individuals are curious about pornography. What exactly constitutes something as pornographic? What are the legalities surrounding pornographic images or items such as producing, purchasing, viewing, or the effects on relationships? While there is no legal definition of what is pornographic, items are usually listed as such because they are sexually explicit.

The legalities of sexually explicit materials cause raging debates. Does it harm people, relationships, society? Does it enhance, celebrate or normalize sexuality? What is considered pornographic? And what is obscene? Is something pornographic always obscene?

Sexologists believe that people who enjoy or accept specific sexually explicit material will usually label it as erotic. However, when someone finds an object that makes them feel uneasy or violates their own moral standards, the item or image is usually labeled as pornographic. Meaning, two individuals can be viewing the same object and one will find it erotic and the other will find it pornographic. Some people are working to destigmatize the term “pornographic” to mean that the item, image or behavior is sexually explicit. They do not constitute the item, image, or behavior with value.

To be clear: Both erotica and pornography are legal. Obscenity, on the other hand, is not legal.

Items, images or behaviors labeled as obscene (which is defined as violating community standards of acceptability and/or involving minors) is not legal and is NOT protected by the 1st Amendment. Therefore, owning, producing or viewing any such items can lead to being arrested or being sent to jail.

Pornography has always existed, be it drawings on the walls, creating objects out of stone, looking through adult magazines, reading stories or viewing images on screen. And most likely, conversations regarding pornography/erotica being “good or bad” have also always existed. Some people love pornography. Other people hate it. Everyone has their own definitions of what exactly pornography is and because of that, we enter into murky waters. Standards of obscenity change, because societies change. Items found in books, movies, and advertisements that are acceptable today could have easily been judged as obscene earlier because they violated then-current community standards.

The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health recognizes that individuals hold many different beliefs regarding pornography and erotica. We also believe that adults should have the choice to consume these items without the fear, guilt, or stigma associated with them.  With only a few notable exceptions, child pornography being the major one, we believe neither pornography nor erotica should be criminalized. Pornography or erotica may not be for everyone, but is important to advocate for sexual freedoms, and the use of erotica or pornography is one of those freedoms that should be defended.

In the past twenty years, more and more individuals have boldly stated that pornography increases violence, rape, pedophiliac behavior and the uncontrollable urge to act on sexual feelings (particularly in men). The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health stands firm on the data released by the United States government, labeled the “Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography,” (issued by President Johnson and Nixon) which found that there was no evidence that exposure to such material was harmful to individuals, and that current legal and policy initiatives were more likely to create problems than solve them.

It should be noted that while many people use and enjoy pornography, it is not a statement that is popular to pronounce publicly for fear of being labeled as a potential rapist, anti-feminist/woman, or “pervert”. While The CSPH does not suggest that every person should partake in viewing pornography, we do believe that people have the right to know the true facts of the effects of using pornography.

Effects of Pornography

The article below is a reproduced publication by The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, on “What Sexual Scientists Know About Pornography:”

Sexual scientists’ findings concerning the effects of exposure to nonviolent erotica are rather consistent. In general, men and women show small, short-term increases in the sexual behaviors they already are accustomed to engaging in, but generally, they do not add anything new to their sexual repertoire. Research also suggests that both men and women are sexually aroused by erotic material, although women also often report more negative emotional reactions to such material than men, and women appear to be considerably less likely to access sexually explicit materials (Fisher, 1983).

Findings concerning the effects of exposure to violent pornography on attitudes towards women have been more mixed. A number of researchers have found that experimental exposure to sexually violent materials resulted in increased acceptance of rape myths (beliefs that ascribe responsibility for sexual assault to women who are the victims of assault) and increases in men’s self-reported likelihood of raping a woman. Yet, some of these same authors have also found that experimental exposure to sexually violent films had no effects on rape myth acceptance and no effects on self-reported likelihood of rape (see Fisher & Grenier, 1994). Others have examined the attitudes towards women expressed by consumers of sexually explicit materials in X-rated movie theatres, bookstores, and Internet sites and have found no association between consumption of sexually explicit media and negative attitudes towards women (e.g., McKee, 2007).

Findings concerning effects of exposure to violent pornography on aggression against women have also been mixed. In the classic laboratory approach to studying effects of violent pornography, men—usually college undergraduates—are exposed to edited clips of violent pornography or to neutral images. Then they are instructed to send electrical shock to a female confederate of the experimenter who has angered them. In such research, all men send electrical shock to the female confederate, as required by the experimental procedures and instructions, regardless of whether they have seen violent pornography or neutral images. However, men who have seen violent pornography generally send higher levels of electrical shock to a female confederate than men who have seen neutral images. This approach has been criticized, however, because (a) university men may not be representative of potential male sexual aggressors; (b) the men in these studies have not chosen to see pornography; they’ve been presented with the opportunity to do so for class credit; (c) the violent pornography seen by men in experiments involves edited clips that may not represent the kind of violent pornography that is generally available; (d) the men are instructed to aggress against the female confederate and have no nonaggressive response open to them; and (e) finally, sending electrical shock in a laboratory setting is not at all the same as sexual violence. In fact, Fisher and Grenier (1994) found that if men were given the choice not to send electrical shock, very few sent any shock at all.

There are naturalistic studies in which efforts have been made to correlate exposure to sexually explicit stimuli with anti-woman aggression. In early studies, the incidence of sexual assault in Denmark and West Germany was compared before and after the legalization of pornography. Increases in sex crimes were not found (Kutchinsky, 1991). In a more recent study, sexual scientists observed a rather steady decline in rates of reported sexual assault in the U.S. from 1995—when Internet pornography availability began to increase quite dramatically— to 2005 (Whitty & Fisher, in press). Thus, after a full decade of the easiest availability of every type of erotic, degrading, and violent pornographic material no increase in rates of reported sexual assault was found (see Figure 1). A related body of literature has, with a few exceptions, generally found that convicted sex offenders report less exposure to sexually explicit materials compared to individuals who are not sex offenders (see, for example, Becker & Stein, 1991; see Marshall, 1988, for a conflicting finding).