How Pornography Impacts Violence Against Women and Child Sex Abuse

Kiel Brown

Kiel Brown

Social Determinants & Health Equity Associate | BIO

Pornography and Violence

According to a 2010 study that analyzed 304 scenes from best-selling pornography videos, almost 90% of scenes contained physical aggression, while nearly 50% contained verbal aggression, primarily in the form of name-calling. Targets of these displays of aggression were overwhelmingly women and either showed pleasure or neutrality in response to the aggression. Some studies that have shown nearly 90% of pornography depicts violence while other studies have placed the prevalence at only 2%  One of the most disturbing facts about the prevalence of violence in porn is that nobody can agree on what they consider to be violent content.  What can be proven rather definitively is the association between pornography use in general and violence against women.

A meta-analysis published in Aggressive Behavior confirmed this link, and went on further to state that there was a significant correlation between sexually violent pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women. This correlation supports findings suggesting that increased pornography use has an influence on non-conscious responses to stimuli, meaning that we are both consciously and unconsciously being conditioned by pornography in a negative way. Consuming any content on a consistent basis has a way of altering our perceptions about that content, and pornography is no different. If one were to watch violent pornography frequently, it would desensitize them to both pornography and violence, specifically towards women. As Norman Doidge of Columbia University puts it, “pornography, by offering an endless harem of sexual objects, hyperactivates the appetitive system. Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a “use it or lose it” brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated”. Porn changes perceptions, neural pathways, and lives as well, especially when introduced at younger and younger ages via the internet. The Witherspoon Institute presented documents titled The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations. These documents posited that no gender or age group remains unaffected by porn. Most of the harm associated with pornography spawns from the intense behavior-teaching and permission-giving experience within the highly effective teaching context of sexual arousal, where violent sexual actions are demonstrated, repeated, encouraged, and/or proscribed via information-rich images. If most porn was teaching respect, consent, and healthy sexual expectations, this conscious and unconscious conditioning might be a boon. As it stands, porn serves to build and reinforce dangerous perceptions.

Who Does Pornography and Sexual Violence Affect?

 Women bear the brunt of porn’s ill effects. Many production studios run series sexualizing women at work, at school, and even at the doctor, often with female participants shown as either enjoying or being victimized by violent sexual acts. With entire sections and genres dedicated to these types of porn, is it any surprise we see these manifestations of violence against women in real life?

Another result of frequent porn consumption is that women now face new expectations of sexual behavior which can lead to higher divorce rates, infidelity, and feelings of sexual incompetence spurred by pornography. Adolescent boys who consume pornography are more prone to violence, aggression, and sexual coercion, and are more susceptible to sexual coercion by peers and adults. The age at which males are first exposed to porn shapes their sexual behavior and tendency to seek power over women. Conversely, adolescent girls are more likely to tolerate emotional, physical, and sexual abuse as a result. What does it say about pornography if its contents lead to our children being taught violence, coercion, and tolerating toxic behavior?

An example of all these negative effects is the story of four London teenagers attacking a lesbian couple because they refused to kiss. Could their entitlement stem from the fact that “Lesbian” has been the most popular porn genre since 2015? Hate crimes have been trending upwards in America and globally and hate crimes specifically against the LGBTQ community have been trending upwards as well.

A study published in Communication Research Reports was conducted to investigate the relationship between porn consumption and attitudes towards transgender people. This study found that sexual shame on attitudes towards transgender people was associated with greater prejudice, essentially stating that those who felt more shameful about viewing transgender porn performers were more likely to discriminate against the transgender community. This discrimination often comes in the form of harassment, threats, “exposing” or outing transgender people, violence, or revenge porn. Revenge porn (or nonconsensual image sharing) is defined as disseminating nude or nearly nude photos of a person without their consent, often after a breakup or argument. A study conducted by CIPHR and Data & Society Research Institute showed that the LGB community is disproportionately affected by revenge porn. They found that 15% of LGB internet users had been threatened with revenge porn, as compared to a rate of 2% amongst heterosexual users. Even within this data, it is seen that the transgender community was not accounted for, reflecting a widespread lack of empathy towards their plight.  A 2009 report found that 50% of people who died in sexual orientation motivated hate crimes were transgender women, with genital mutilation a frequent occurrence. While hate crimes and sexually violent crimes are differently motivated, the biggest contributor to hate crimes are racial crimes, showing that being both LGBTQ and a person of color compounds the violence faced.

Sex Abuse

 Put simply, the porn industry has a sexual abuse problem it needs to address promptly. There was a 35% increase from 2017 to 2018 in confirmed reports of child sexual abuse images (and that’s just what has been confirmed). Child porn is one of the fastest-growing online businesses. There is an undeniable link between the objectification that occurs in pornography and the objectification that almost always precedes acts of sexual abuse. The United States produces 55% of child pornography globally, and knowing what we know about neural pathways and the constant desire to seek stimulation, it’s logical to believe that porn focusing on “barely legal” women soon takes a turn for the sinister after the consumer has been desensitized, leading to escalating desires for child pornography.

Sadly, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) found that 43% of child pornography is produced by a guardian, neighbor, or family friend, meaning that the biggest threat to your child’s safety are those closest to you. A study published in Journal of Family Violence analyzed data regarding men convicted of child pornography-related offenses, and found that none of them received unsolicited child pornography. Michael Bourke, the co-author, stated that he’d never seen a case that convinces him that the Internet can cause sexual arousal in children, suggesting that the Internet simply allows perpetrators of dark vices to congregate with like minds. In a sex offender treatment program at Butner Federal Prison, 85% of child pornography possessors admit to having child sexual abuse victims, dispelling the myth that pornography is exclusively a means of “acting out one’s fantasy”. For many, the fantasy becomes less appealing and eventually leads to them seeking real life victims. More research needs to be done on the direct connection between sex abuse and porn, human trafficking and porn, and violence and porn. Common sense would tell us that constant exposure to simulated sexual violence will lead to an internalization of these attitudes, but common sense cannot dictate policy. If we are to protect our most vulnerable populations from sex abuse and sexual violence, we need to aggressively pursue research regarding frequent consumption of internet pornography, especially when it has become available to so many, so much earlier in life. Education on how that increase is distorting the collective minds of today’s society must become available and understood in order for necessary change to take place.

 

Kiel Brown

Social Determinants & Health Equity Associate

Kiel joined the Focus For Health team in June 2019 as a Social Determinants & Health Equity Associate. Kiel is FFH’s newest content creator whose primary interests are sustainability, chronic illness, health inequities, and racial disparities. Kiel holds a B.S. in Public Health with a concentration in Community Health Education, belongs to The Society for the Analysis of African-American Public Health Issues (SAAPHI), and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES). Before arriving at FFH, Kiel previously served as a Sustainability Intern for the city of Newark, and as an intern for Hackensack Meridian Health’s Sustainability Department. He currently resides in Westfield, NJ. When not working, Kiel loves to play video games, weightlift, cook, and network with like minds.

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