Porn and Rape: The Debate Continues

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The question of whether the rise of Internet pornography has reduced incidents of rape is nothing new, and something we’ve covered before. Back in 2006, Levitt expressed skepticism over research done by one of his former students that suggests a link, writing at the time:

The kind of variation in the data that gives the result is that states that are quicker to adopt the internet saw bigger declines in rape. He then does a nice thing in the paper, going beyond just this one prediction to test other hypotheses, like do crimes other than rape fall with the internet (he says no) and does other sexual behavior change with the internet (he says yes). The concern is always, with this kind of approach, that there are other factors that might be driving both the adoption of the internet and the decline in rape. The challenge to those who want to refute Todd Kendall’s argument is to identify those variables. The challenge for Todd is to find other kinds of “natural experiments” that support his hypothesis.

Now comes an article in the current issue of Scientific American Mind, which posits that for “most people, pornography has no negative effects—and it may even deter sexual violence.” The article, titled “The Sunny Side of Smut,” is by Melinda Wenner Moyer, a science writer. Here’s a full version of the piece, via Moyer’s website. Though an interesting read, the article adds no new empirical evidence to the subject, and relies heavily on the data showing that rape decreased faster in states that got the Internet quicker. As Levitt pointed out, that’s not enough to go on. Moyer’s article is more of a tour through a handful of studies (and questionnaires) that look at the effects porn has on our behavior and views toward the opposite sex. Here’s a summary of the article from Scientific American Mind editor Ingrid Wickelgren, who is rightly skeptical:

But Wenner’s story goes beyond saying porn is safe. It suggests that it might actually be beneficial. I am not sure I buy this, but some coincidences worth mentioning back up this view. First, as access to Internet pornography grew in this country, rates of rapes and sexual assault went in the opposite direction. Those stats are at their lowest levels since the 1960s. And something similar happened in Japan, China and Denmark. Along those lines, the U.S. states in which rapes rose by 53 percent had the least Internet access between 1980 and 2000—and so the least access to Internet porn. States with the most access saw a 27 percent drop in reported rapes. These opposing trends don’t prove anything. It could be that they are unrelated to each other or that a third factor underlies both. But it makes you wonder.

If porn somehow reduces rape, why would that be? Wenner suggests that pornography may be a safe outlet for deviance. Exposure to it correlates with lower levels of sexual repression, experts say. And people seeking treatment in clinics for sex offenders commonly say that it helps them keep their abnormal sexuality in their minds. Otherwise, maybe these folks, and others, might have been contributing to those rape stats. I don’t really know, but that’s the idea.

Relationship-wise, watching porn could have drawbacks. Guys, if you overindulge and advertise it, you are unlikely to score points with your wife or girlfriend. In a study of female partners of heavy porn users, 42 percent said it made them feel insecure; 39 percent said it had a negative impact on their relationship and 32 percent said it negatively affected their lovemaking.

The prolific rise of Internet pornography over the last 15 years certainly represents a change from the past, and has surely had consequences for our behavior and attitudes. Whether we’ll ever have reliable empirical evidence to study its effect on violent sexual crime is unclear. But one thing is sure, it makes for an interesting debate.

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  1. BL1Y says:

    Were they able to isolate the increase in internet pron from the increase in total internet usage?

    An intuitive explanation is that internet tends to follow economic development, and that same economic development reduces violent crime.

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    • Jason says:

      Except that other non-sexual violent crimes don’t correlate well with internet uptake. That’s already been looked at.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  2. Rob Reinheimer says:

    I guess you could say it makes for a mass debate!!!!!!

    HEY NOW!!!

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  3. Edainne says:

    I find it interesting that the findings seem to mirror the overall drop in crime trends that you have previously related to the passage of Roe v Wade; any chance the availability of the internet spread in a similar pattern as the availability of abortions did previously, or is it just mere coincidence?

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  4. Summer says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Dan Santo says:

      Very little of your post had any relation to the article. And then, after your off-topic rant about things the article didn’t claim, you say shame on them for publishing it.

      Thumbs down.

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      • somedood says:

        the anti-porn people (like michele bachmann) believe porn is evil because it increases sexuality which leads to rape. what ever that means it’s not really true. people dont start off watching something that they like and then graduate to brazilian fart porn, then go on to be rapists.

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      • Summer says:

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      • Dan says:

        I do like how your entire argument is “I don’t believe it”. Then you post a study done by asking people if they think there’s a correlation! Why not post a study asking people if they think the world will end in 2012? It’s got the same basis in reality (None).

        You also ask us to accept your theory that rape-reporting has gone DOWN compared to 20/50/100 years ago. That’s a seriously unstable assumption and you’re going to have to show something other than “entirely possible, even probable”

        Your bizarre claim that the internet leads to sex-trafficking would seem to require some justification. If international sex-trafficking is indeed up (and not just easier to get numbers on due to modernization) wouldn’t that have more to do with increased population and ease of transport compared with 100 years ago? How has the victimization-per-million number changed over time?

        I’m sure you have answers to all of these beyond “porn is icky” dressed up in a torrent of words.

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      • Summer says:

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      • Summer says:

        Sorry, was there a single counter study or discernible rebuttal in there? Because if not, that would mean that you’re the one dressing up something with words… a knee-jerk refusal to look at evidence that maybe this material that people are consuming is actually really bad for them.

        Let’s sift through this… So, a survey of pornography addicts regarding whether they think porn directly leads to rape and adultery has… no basis in reality? Seems like they’d be aware of the tendencies that excessive porn awakens in a person, doesn’t it?

        And their opinions seem to line up with research:
        Psychologist Edward Donnerstein (University of Wisconsin) found that brief exposure to violent forms of pornography can lead to anti-social attitudes and behavior. Male viewers tend to be more aggressive towards women, less responsive to pain and suffering of rape victims, and more willing to accept various myths about rape.

        Dr. Dolf Zimmerman and Dr. Jennings Bryant showed that continued exposure to pornography had serious adverse effects on beliefs about sexuality in general and on attitudes toward women in particular. They also found that pornography desensitizes people to rape as a criminal offense.

        These researchers also found that massive exposure to pornography encourages a desire for increasingly deviant materials which involve violence, like sadomasochism and rape.

        Feminist author Diana Russell notes in her book Rape and Marriage the correlation between deviant behavior (including abuse) and pornography. She also found that pornography leads men and women to experience conflict, suffering, and sexual dissatisfaction.

        Researcher Victor Cline (University of Utah) has documented in his research how men become addicted to pornographic materials, begin to desire more explicit or deviant material, and end up acting out what they have seen.

        According to Charles Keating of Citizens for Decency Through Law, research reveals that 77 percent of child molesters of boys and 87 percent of child molesters of girls admitted imitating the sexual behavior they had seen modeled in pornography.

        There’s an awareness campaign going on about this right now: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700167575/Porn-leads-to-violence-against-women.html

        —-

        On rape reporting going down… Let me say it again. Sex trafficking is ballooning. Prostitutes (who, on average, enter the sex trafficking industry between the ages of 12 and 14, usually against their will) are the #1 victims of rape. 68% of interviewed prostitutes had been raped in the past (82% had been physically assaulted) http://womensissues.about.com/od/rapesexualassault/a/Wuornos.htmhttp://www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking/about/fact_sex.pdf

        Why? Because pimps and johns don’t see them as human beings. Because they know it will go unreported.

        So do the math.
        Nearly 7/10 prostitutes are raped (compared to the national average of 1/4).
        It is more likely that a prostitute will be raped by multiple men, so those numbers don’t fully represent the number of rapists.
        Prostitution is ballooning.
        And you say it’s crazy to argue that maybe rapists are just raping prostitutes as they become more available?

        As for my “bizarre” claim that the internet facilitates sex trafficking:

        “Craigslist is the single largest source of prostitution in the nation…1 Missing children, runaways, abused women and women trafficked in from foreign countries are routinely forced to have sex with strangers because they’re being pimped on Craigslist.”
        http://www.law.suffolk.edu/highlights/stuorgs/jhtl/docs/pdf/Kunze_Formatted_10JHTL241.pdf

        http://news.change.org/stories/the-internets-role-in-human-trafficking
        http://backstory.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/29/gang-sex-trafficking-and-the-internet/
        http://ionglobaltrends.blogspot.com/2011/05/sex-trafficking-us-traffickers.html
        http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2010/sep/10091707

        A nice scholarly piece… http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15362940802480241#preview

        Which has a nice graph indicating the huge spike in the 2000s of prostitution. While development / ease of transportation did not suddenly get a lot easier between 1996 and today, the internet skyrocketed.

        Should I keep going? Oh yeah, and hang on – does anyone have any rebuttal of substance or is everyone just pissed that they’re feeling a little more guilty about watching porn?

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 15
      • somedood says:

        whoever gets the last word wins!

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
      • Sam says:

        Please don’t keep going. You continue to make broad statements that do not contradict the blog post (and references) and cite articles and studies that don’t even come close to backing up the claims you make.

        I suggest you pick one small point you want to make and do your best job of backing up that one point, rather than the long unfocused (but passionate) rambles. Perhaps, that the rate of reporting rapes has gone down significantly — but don’t let me pick the one for you (there are so many unsubstantiated broad claims that you’ve made).

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  5. Dan Santo says:

    It is possible that a more highly technical society has fewer rapes because [fill in a dozen different possible reasons].

    As has been noted in the post, there are a LOT of other things that could be going on here.

    However, it makes a great news headline!

    I wouldn’t suggest using it as an excuse, though, guys.

    Boyfriend: But I need to watch all this porn, sweety! It helps me get rid of all my violent and deviant urges!

    Girlfriend: (runs out the door)

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  6. Matthias says:

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  7. somedood says:

    can we learn a lesson from catholic priests?

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 7
  8. Jason says:

    Fixed….

    In a study of female partners of heavy porn users, 58 percent said it did not make them feel insecure; 61 percent said it did not have a negative impact on their relationship and 68 percent said it did not negatively affect their lovemaking.

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    • somedood says:

      good point

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    • Dan Santo says:

      I get your point, but anything that causes significant unhappiness in a relationship 40+% of the time is a pretty serious deal. Just because a number doesn’t reach the magic 50% mark doesn’t mean it’s dismiss-able.

      A good comparison to see how significant the 40% group is, would be to compare it to the percentage who are *happier* because of the heavy porn use.

      Something that causes unhappiness 40% of the time and causes happiness 60% of the time is greatly different than something causing unhappiness 40% of the time and happiness only 10% of the time.

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      • somedood says:

        wait, is it about heavy porn use, masturbation, or the existence of internet porn?

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      • Miley Cyrax says:

        Excellent point, but porn is something that provides happiness 100% of the time for the males who use it. Women feeling insecure in relationships should not be an argument against porn, especially since it’s more than offset by the utility gained by males.

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      • somedood says:

        insecurity is another problem, removing the porn from the world; or that matter all the other women, does not make a person any more or less attractive than they are

        Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4
      • somedood says:

        whoops, should have typed:
        insecurity is another problem, removing all the porn from the world; or for that matter all the other women, does not make a person any more or less attractive than they are

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2