Effects of pornography

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Research concerning the effects of pornography is concerned with multiple outcomes.[1] Such research includes potential influences on rape, domestic violence, sexual dysfunction, difficulties with sexual relationships, and child sexual abuse. Viewers of novel and extreme pornographic images may become tolerant to such images, which may impact sexual response.[1] Currently, there is no evidence that visual images and films are addictive.[2] Some studies support the contention that the viewing of pornographic material may increase rates of sexual crimes, whereas others are either inconclusive, suggest no effect, or conclude the liberalization of pornography in society may be associated with decreased rape and sexual violence rates.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9]

Sexual function[edit]

An academic review notes that a large, lucrative industry promises treatments for "pornography addiction", which is alleged to have an attendant risk of erectile dysfunction, despite little evidence in the research literature for the existence of such an addiction.[10][unreliable medical source?] On the other hand, there are reports of clinical experience that men who watch large amounts of porn come to need more stimulation and aggressive porn in order to become aroused.[11]

In addition, an MRI study by Cambridge University reported that 11 out of 19 compulsive porn users had erectile dysfunction with partners.[12][unreliable medical source?][non-primary source needed] Another MRI Study found that higher porn use correlated with less gray matter area in the reward centers (dorsal striatum), and less brain activation when exposed to sexual images.[13][unreliable medical source?][non-primary source needed]


Main article: Pornography addiction

Pornography addiction is a purported[14] behavioral addiction characterized by compulsive, repeated use of pornographic material until it causes serious negative consequences to one's physical, mental, social, and/or financial well-being.[15][16] There is no diagnosis of pornography addiction in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5).[14] The DSM-5 considers such diagnosis and rejects it because "there is insufficient peer-reviewed evidence to establish the diagnostic criteria and course descriptions needed to identify these behaviors as mental disorders."[14]

A 2014 review found that high-frequency use of visual sexual stimuli "fails to meet standards of addiction", e.g. because it can reduce unhealthy behaviors.[10] Scientists do, however, state that excessive pornography viewing can be unhealthy if it becomes problematic for an individual due to personal or social reasons, including excessive time spent viewing pornography instead of interacting with others. Individuals may report depression, social isolation, career loss, decreased productivity, or financial consequences as a result of their excessive Internet pornography viewing impeding on their social life.[17]


Figure 5 in Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography.[18]
Figure 10 in Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography.[18]

In Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography, a review of pornography research conducted for the Surgeon General in 1986, Zillmann noted that inconsistencies in the literature on pornography exist, but overall concluded that extensive viewing of pornographic material may produce some negative sociological effects, including a decreased respect for long-term, monogamous relationships, and an attenuated desire for procreation.[18] He describes the theoretical basis for these conclusions stating:

The values expressed in pornography clash so obviously with the family concept, and they potentially undermine the traditional values that favor marriage, family, and children ... Pornographic scripts dwell on sexual engagements of parties who have just met, who are in no way attached or committed to each other, and who will part shortly, never to meet again ... Sexual gratification in pornography is not a function of emotional attachment, of kindness, of caring, and especially not of continuance of the relationship, as such continuance would translate into responsibilities, curtailments, and costs ...[19]

In a 2012 review, it was concluded that further studies are needed on this topic.[20]

Sexual violence[edit]

Figure 12 in Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography.[18]

Controlled studies[edit]

A controlled study describes the relationship between given behaviors or environmental conditions and health effects in a laboratory setting in which conditions other than those under study are effectively held constant across groups of participants receiving various levels of the experimental condition(s). Since it is considered that the only functional difference between groups is the level of experimental condition(s) received, researchers can strongly infer cause-and-effect relationships from statistically significant associations between experimental condition(s) and health consequences. Thus, if executed properly, controlled studies have high levels of internal validity. However, such studies often suffer from questionable external validity due to the considerable differences between real-world environments and the experimental context, and the consequent belief that results cannot be generalized beyond that context.[21]

Some researchers claim that pornography causes unequivocal harm to society by increasing rates of sexual assault,[18][22] a line of research which has been critiqued in The effects of Pornography: An International Perspective.[23] In a paper written in 1965,[24] called Sexual Deviation as Conditioned Behavior: A Hypothesis, R.J. McGuire found that the viewing of pornography can serve as a source of a paraphilic "vivid sexual fantasy" which, when contemplated during masturbation, may condition men into perversion.[25] In a prison interview conducted by Gail Dines, rape of a prepubescent child followed "habitual" consumption of child porn "within six months," although the men were previously "horrified at the idea".[26]

Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography reported a review of controlled studies which found that extensive viewing of the type of pornographic material commonly sold at adult bookstores was positively correlated with leniency in the sentencing of a person convicted of rape in a mock trial setting (figure 5), decreased satisfaction of participants with their sex lives and partners (figure 10), and an increased self-reported willingness to commit rape or other forced sexual acts (figure 12).[18] The effects of Pornography: An International Perspective countered this, arguing that the effects of exposure may be different when an individual controls their own exposure than when they are subjected to exposure experimentally:

The laboratory-school experiments or brief exposure experiments (less than a week to a semester or so) are hardly comparable to situations in the real world and may not be relevant at all. ... In real life, individuals can elect to experience some pornography for minutes or hours, at a single session, or over years. In real life, individuals are free to satisfy different sexual urges in ways unavailable to students in classroom or subjects in laboratory situations.[23]

The link between pornography and sexual aggression has been the subject of multiple metaanalyses.[27] Metaanalyses conducted in the 1990s suggested to researchers that there might not be an association of any kind between pornography and rape supportive attitudes in non-experimental studies.[28] However, a metaanalysis by Hald, Malamuth and Yuen (2010) suggests that there is a link between consumption of violent pornography and rape-supportive attitudes in certain populations of men, particularly when moderating variables are taken into consideration.[27]

In a recent review of this literature Ferguson and Hartley (2009) argue that "it is time to discard the hypothesis that pornography contributes to increased sexual assault behavior".[29] They state that the authors of some studies tended to highlight positive findings while deemphasizing null findings, demonstrating confirmation bias in the published literature. Ferguson and Hartley concluded that controlled studies, on balance, were not able to support links between pornography and sexual violence.

Epidemiological studies[edit]

An epidemiological study describes the association between given behaviors or environmental conditions, and physical or psychological health by means of observation of real-world phenomena through statistical data. Epidemiological studies generally have high levels of external validity, insofar as they accurately describe events as they occur outside of a laboratory setting, but low levels of internal validity, since they do not strongly establish cause-and-effect relationships between the behaviors or conditions under study, and the health consequences observed.[21]

Danish criminologist Berl Kutchinsky's Studies on Pornography and sex crimes in Denmark (1970), a scientific report ordered by the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, found that the legalizing of pornography in Denmark had not resulted in an increase of sex crimes.[30] Since then, many other experiments have been conducted, either supporting or opposing the findings of Berl Kutchinsky, who would continue his study into the social effects of pornography until his death in 1995. His life's work was summed up in the publication Law, Pornography, and Crime: The Danish Experience (1999). Milton Diamond from the University of Hawaii found that the number of reported cases of child sex abuse dropped markedly immediately after the ban on sexually explicit materials was lifted in 1989.[31]

Some researchers claim there is a correlation between pornography and a decrease of sex crimes,[3][4][6][7][8][9] including Diamond (author of review from 2009).[5] The effects of Pornography: An International Perspective was an epidemiological study which found that the massive growth of the pornography industry in the United States between 1975 and 1995 was accompanied by a substantial decrease in the number of sexual assaults per capita, and reported similar results for Japan.[23] Findings of this nature have been critiqued by Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media,[32] on the grounds that the results are better explained by factors other than the increased prevalence of pornography:

In 1986, a review of epidemiological studies by Neil M. Malamuth found that the quantity of pornographic material viewed by men was positively correlated with degree to which they endorsed sexual assault.[33] Malamuth's work describes Check (1984), who found among a diverse sample of Canadian men that more exposure to pornography led to higher acceptance of rape myths, violence against women, and general sexual callousness. In another study, Briere, Corne, Runtz and Neil M. Malamuth, (1984) reported similar correlations in a sample involving college males. On the other hand, the failure to find a statistically significant correlation in another previous study led Malamuth to examine other interesting correlations, which took into account the information about sexuality the samples obtained in their childhood, and pornography emerged as the second most important source of information.[33] Malamuth's work has been criticized by other authors, however, such as Ferguson and Hartley (2009) who argue Malamuth has exaggerated positive findings and has not always properly discussed null findings.[29]

Effects among specific groups[edit]

Heterosexual adult relationships[edit]

A 2012 academic study surveyed 308 young adult college women in romantic heterosexual relationships, examining the degree of correlation between their psychological and relational well-being and their partners' use of pornography.[34][non-primary source needed] A negative correlation was found, which worsened for longer relationships in regard to the women's sexual satisfaction.

A following study examined the ways in which chronic porn use affects antecedents such as gender roles and levels of attachment among straight men in their romantic relationships.[35][non-primary source needed] The study went on to link this to lower sexual satisfaction as well as a deterioration in the quality of the relationship.[35] The point of pornographic content is to stimulate sexual desire which as a result presents potential problems among couples.[35] The porn industry alone brings in more revenue than the combined industries: Netflix, Google, eBay, Yahoo, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.[35] By porn affecting one’s gender roles, this enables problems that affect the viewers psychologically, their views of their own sexuality, how others view their sexuality, and can cause self-inflicted or outward violence.[35] An antecedent found to be affected by porn use by men was emotional attachment as well as attachment style in relationships, which can lead to physical and emotional issues among couples.[35] The men in this study tended to avoid intimacy with their partner, which then led to even more porn use.[35] This was also linked to heightened anxiety in the relationship.[35][non-primary source needed] Men with lower anxiety tend to have a more stable level of attachment, whereas those that are unstable are either overly or not at all attached.[35] Men that display less attachment and more avoidance also showed higher instances of casual sex and more frequent viewings of porn.[35][non-primary source needed] This also meant that these men tended to avoid romantic or serious relationships and the relationships they did engage in did not last long.[35][non-primary source needed] The consequences of higher porn use by men in relationships showed a lower quality in their relationships and reduced satisfaction sexually, including displeasure with a partner’s appearance, the act of sex, and intimacy.[35][non-primary source needed] This then led to emotional feelings of shame and sometimes resentment.[35][non-primary source needed]

Two psychotherapists operating EastWind Health Associates in Halifax reported their clinical experience that chronic viewing of pornography by adult men can lead to emotional estrangement from their partners, even though the men may desire emotional intimacy.[11] Because of the increasing numbers of men presenting such problems, one therapist remarked “I think we’re at a tipping point with this phenomenon”.

School-age juveniles[edit]

In the UK Association of Teachers and Lecturers feels schoolchildren need to be educated about pornography and warned what is reasonable and what is not acceptable.[36] Some experts say teaching about sex and relationships in school will reduce the appetite for pornography among schoolchildren. Authors of a 2014 report which examined 276 studies concluded that "causal relationships" between pornography and unprotected sex or sex at a young age "could not be established." Another smaller review from 2012 was also inconclusive.[1][37]


Silbert, M. and Pines, A., in "Pornography and Sexual Abuse of Women," published their study involving prostitutes in the international journal Sex Roles, "The comments followed the same pattern: the assailant referred to pornographic materials he had seen or read and then insisted that the victims not only enjoyed rape but also extreme violence."[38]

The study Use of Pornography in the Criminal and Developmental Histories of Sexual Offenders examined the exposure to and the usage of pornography in the histories of 38 rapists and 26 child molesters. The study found that both groups reported exposure to pornography and were "significantly more likely" to use pornographic materials before and during their offenses. According to the study pornography was employed to relieve an impulse to act out. According to the study, child molesters indicated "significantly more" exposure to pornography than rapists in adulthood.[39]

According to the study "Pornography Use as a Risk Marker for an Aggressive Pattern of Behavior Among Sexually Reactive Children and Adolescents", sexually reactive children and adolescents (SRCAs), also referred to as juvenile sexual offenders, "may be more vulnerable and likely to experience damaging effects from pornography use." According to the study, the SRCAs who used pornography were "more likely" to display aggressive behaviors than their nonusing counterparts.[40]

However, some evidence suggests that pornography consumption helps some sex offenders to keep from acting out on their urges.[41]

Pornographic film actors[edit]

Because pornographic film making involves unsimulated sex, usually without condoms (barebacking), pornographic actors are particularly vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. In a paper written by the LA Board of Public Health, officials claimed that among 825 performers screened in 2000–2001, 7.7% of females and 5.5% of males had chlamydia, and 2% overall had gonorrhea. These rates are much higher than in patients visiting family planning clinics, where chlamydia and gonorrhea rates were 4.0% and 0.7%, respectively. Between January 2003 and March 2005, approximately 976 performers were reported with 1,153 positive STD test results. Of the 1,153 positive test results, 722 (62.6%) were chlamydia, 355 (30.8%) were gonorrhea, and 126 (10.9%) were coinfections with chlamydia and gonorrhea. Less is known about the prevalence and risk of transmission of other STDs such as syphilis, herpes simplex virus, human papillomavirus, hepatitis B or C, trichomonal infection, or diseases transmitted through the fecal–oral route.[42] The data collection of LA public health was criticized by pornographic industry sources on the grounds that most of those testing positive had never made an pornographic film, and were in fact being excluded from pornographic film acting until they had treated their STDs. Non-treatable STDs like HSV represent a difficult case: according to actress Chloe, "After you've been in this business for a while, you have herpes. Everyone has herpes."[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Segal, David (28 March 2014). "Does Porn Hurt Children?". New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Tamsin McMahon Will quitting porn improve your life? A growing ‘NoFap’ movement of young men are saying no to porn and masturbation Maclean's, January 20, 2014. Quote: "Kruger helped revise the sexual disorders section of the latest edition of the psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which doesn’t include sex or porn addiction due to lack of academic evidence that they exist."
  3. ^ a b Pornography, Sex Crime, and Public Policy by Berl Kutchinsky.
  4. ^ a b Kutchinsky, Berl (Summer 1973). "The Effect of Easy Availability of Pornography on the Incidence of Sex Crimes: The Danish Experience". Journal of Social Issues 29 (3): 163–181. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1973.tb00094.x. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Diamond, Milton (September–October 2009). "Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: A review". International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 32 (5): 304–314. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.06.004. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide, Volume 3 (book) by Joseph W. Slade.
  7. ^ a b Studies on Pornography and Sex Crimes in Denmark (1970) by Berl Kutchinsky.
  8. ^ a b Kendall, Todd D. (July 2007). "Pornography, rape and the internet". Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  9. ^ a b D'Amato, Anthony (23 June 2006). "Porn Up, Rape Down". Retrieved 19 December 2006. 
  10. ^ a b David Ley, Nicole Prause, and Peter Finn (2014). "The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ Model". Current Sexual Health Reports (Springer) 6 (2): 94–105. 
  11. ^ a b Cuthbertson, Richard (2 January 2015). "Internet porn 'rewiring' young brains, Halifax therapists say". CBC News (CBC News). Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  12. ^ Voon V, Mole TB, Banca P, Porter L, Morris L, et al. (2014). "Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours.". Plos One ( PLoS ONE). 
  13. ^ Kühn S, Gallinat J. (2014). "Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption: The Brain on Porn". JAMA Psychiatry (JAMA Psychiatry). 
  14. ^ a b c American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 481, 797–798. ISBN 978-0-89042-555-8. Thus, groups of repetitive behaviors, which some term behavioral addictions, with such subcategories as "sex addiction," "exercise addiction," or "shopping addiction," are not included because at this time there is insufficient peer-reviewed evidence to establish the diagnostic criteria and course descriptions needed to identify these behaviors as mental disorders. 
  15. ^ Stein, Dan J.; Hollander, Eric; Rothbaum, Barbara Olasov (31 August 2009). Textbook of Anxiety Disorders. American Psychiatric Pub. pp. 359–. ISBN 978-1-58562-254-2. Retrieved 24 April 2010. 
  16. ^ Parashar A, Varma A (April 2007). "Behavior and substance addictions: is the world ready for a new category in the DSM-V?". CNS Spectr 12 (4): 257; author reply 258–9. PMID 17503551. 
  17. ^ Twohig, M. P.; Crosby, J. M. (2010). "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a Treatment for Problematic Internet Pornography Viewing". Behavior Therapy 41 (3): 285–295. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2009.06.002. PMID 20569778.  edit
  18. ^ a b c d e f Zillmann, Dolf. "Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography". National Institutes of Health. 
  19. ^ Zillmann, pages 16-17
  20. ^ http://rory.net/PUBS/PornAdolescents.pdf
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  34. ^ Stewart, Destin; Szymanski, Dawn (2012). "Young Adult Women’s Reports of Their Male Romantic Partner’s Pornography Use as a Correlate of Their Self-Esteem, Relationship Quality, and Sexual Satisfaction". Sex Roles 67 (5-6): 257–271. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0164-0. 
  35. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Szymanski, Dawn; Stewart-Richardson, Destin (2014). "Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Correlates of Pornography Use on Young Adult Heterosexual Men in Romantic Relationships". The Journal of Men’s Studies 22: 64–82. doi:10.3149/jms.2201.6410.3149/jms.2201.64. 
  36. ^ Sellgren, Katherine (26 March 2013). "BBC News - Pupils 'should be taught about risks of pornography'". BBC News. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
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  38. ^ Silbert, Mimi H.; Pines, Ayala M. (1984). "Pornography and sexual abuse of women". Sex Roles 10: 857–68. doi:10.1007/BF00288509. 
  39. ^ Carter, D. L.; Prentky, R. A.; Knight, R. A.; Vanderveer, P. L.; Boucher, R. J. (1987). "Use of Pornography in the Criminal and Developmental Histories of Sexual Offenders". Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2: 196–211. doi:10.1177/088626087002002005. 
  40. ^ Alexy, Eileen M.; Ann W. Burgess; Robert A. Prentky (2009). "Pornography Use as a Risk Marker for an Aggressive Pattern of Behavior Among Sexually Reactive Children and Adolescents". Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association 14 (6): 442–453. doi:10.1177/1078390308327137. 
  41. ^ Moyer, Melinda Wenner (23 June 2011). "The Sunny Side of Smut". Scientific American. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  42. ^ Grudzen, Corita R.; Kerndt, Peter R. (June 19, 2007). "The Adult Film Industry: Time to Regulate?". PLoS Medicine. Public Library of Science, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Archived from the original on August 6, 2007. Retrieved October 1, 2007. 
  43. ^ Martin Amis (March 17, 2001). "A rough trade". London: guardian.co.uk. Retrieved April 10, 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Kutchinsky, Berl (1970). Studies on Pornography and sex crimes in Denmark. Denmark: New Social Science Monographs. 
  • Kutchinsky, Berl (1999). Law, pornography, and crime: The Danish experience. Oslo, Norway: Pax Forlag. 
  • Hald, Gert Martin (2007). Pornography Consumption - a study of prevalence rates, consumption patterns, and effects. Aarhus Universitet, Denmark: Psykologisk Institut. 
  • Hald, Gert Martin; Malamuth, Neil (2008). "Self-Perceived Effects of Pornography Consumption". Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention. doi:10.1080/10720162.2012.660431. 

External links[edit]