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.


BL1Y

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.

Rob Reinheimer

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

HEY NOW!!!

Lisa

HEYOOOOOOOOO

Edainne

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?

Summer

The rise of internet also correlated to the rise of online communities dedicated to sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, and the second-largest (http://www.ijm.org/downloaddocument?gid=1)

Maybe these rapists are just doing it under the table to invisible members of our society.

Point 1: Rape is not about sex, it's about power.

Point 2: Even if you think that rape is about sex, pornography increases an individual's sexuality, not decreases it.

Point 3: Rape is happens in the mind before it happens in reality. Porn opens those avenues of thought.

Point 4: Pornography objectifies women, which is a driving force behind rape. Girlfriends are dissatisfied with their sex lives with porn users because they feel objectified during sex.

Point 5: It seems ridiculous to me that "internet" is synonymous with "porn" and not with "increased networks between people" that would enable something like sex trafficking.

Point 6: Intuitively and empirically, it would seem like this trend would not pass any serious sociological evaluation.

Point 7: Shame on you for publishing it.

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Dan Santo

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.

somedood

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.

Dan Santo

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)

Matthias

Porn has no ill effects? Tell that to my sister, who for years was never good enough for her husband who was secretly addicted to porn. It recently and unfortunately came to a head when he was caught having an affair and now she is going through a bitter divorce with four children in the mix.

somedood

porn does not cause an over active sex drive, it may have been a symptom

somedood

can we learn a lesson from catholic priests?

Jason

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.

somedood

good point

Mr. J

Porn certainly acts as an outlet for deviancy, but it also exposes one to a whole new level of deviancy never previously experienced. This super-stimulus may well render normal sex unsatisfactory leading people to unacceptable acts. Furthermore the addiction to this may well make the person reclusive and without a partner to explore this with, increasing the possibility of committing , well, rape.

somedood

I disagree.
There is no increase in deviancy.
A Murder is a murder, alcoholic is an alcoholic. People don't start off with one beer and then go out killing people.

Someone who masturbates too often, might need something 'hotter' to stimulate them. (also applicable to people who are not stimulating themselves with porn, or people who have frequent sex) But it's still the stuff you like, it's not an increase progression of deviancy. For example, If you like lesbians, school girl outfits, and threesomes; you might be easily stimulated by a simple lesbian video one time. The next time you might try to combine to kick it up a notch, lesbian's in school girl outfits... or lesbians in a threesome in school girl outfits, getting kinkier? Not really, it's still the stuff you would have liked in the first place, just a better version of it. There's no progression to bondage or brazilian fart porn, or urination video's that will ever occour, unless you liked those things in the first place. Sometimes you may stumble across something that you like, that you didn't know you liked until you saw it. For example, cheerleader outfits. But this hardly jumps us over to fart porn and rape.

for people in a relationship, responsiveness to normal sex (which you make sound incredibly boring btw) will return after abstaining for a day.

rape is an irrational decision made by those who can no longer control their own biological urges.

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Shane

"If porn somehow reduces rape, why would that be?"

I see a possible reason. If rapists are masturbating several times a day in front of their computer then presumably their sexual desire will always remain fairly low. If they masturbate very often they may be simply incapable of sustaining an erection for rape.

I'm fairly familiar with feminist ideas that rape is "about power", yet it seems likely that there is a strong sexual aspect too.