The image of pornography has vastly changed over the decades. Today with the thriving pornography industry, many are vigorously trying to prove or disprove a direct causal relationship between pornography and sexual crimes. Scholars, psychologists, feminists and sociologists are constantly challenging, experimenting and arguing over conflicting viewpoints and findings. This papers attempt to analyse a possible relationship between pornography and sexual crimes focuses on whether how pornography may encourage misogynistic attitudes, and whether these same effects might lead to sex crimes later.
Pornography is one of the most profitable industries in the world, and has been growing at escalating rates in recent years. Sociologists, psychologists and feminists groups alike have long attempted link exposure to pornography with misogyny. In the past decade, there have been numerous debates over whether pornography encourages misogyny. The common perception is that pornography is used as a form of sexual entertainment for men, because the women are portrayed as willing sexual objects for mens fantasies, and sexual release. What then is the real formal definition of pornography? Perhaps due to emotional sensitivity, pornography has never been clearly defined.
In Jacobellis v. Ohio, (1964), Justice Potter Stewart admitted that although he could not intelligibly define pornography, he knew it when he saw it (p.1). His claim has become famous and is commonly used in academic papers that discuss issues on pornography because it brings to point that explicitly defining pornography is difficult. Apart from Justice Potter Stewarts claim, there is also the feminist claim that men create almost all forms of pornography. Dworkin & MacKinnon, (1988, p.1) writes:
A systematic practice of exploitation and subordination based on sex that differentially harms and disadvantages women.
Arguments both for and against this relationship have been equally compelling. What is undeniable, however, is that attitudes towards pornography over the years have changed and pornography has become much more a part of mainstream entertainment than in the past. Besides reviewing mens social influences on women after viewing pornography, this paper will also explore whether there are any elements involved in this relationship and the effects of pornography on women.
2 Research and Studies on Pornographic Influences
2.1 Are there reliable effects?
To begin, this paper shall define sexual crimes to actions such as sexual assault and molest. These two sexual offences are chosen because they represent acts where one party exerts control over another and the victim is objectified.
There are no accurate ways to determine the effects of viewing only a small amount of pornography. There are also very few studies carried out in naturalistic settings, or accurate studies that focus on teenagers sneaking a peek in their parents bedrooms for their first and consecutive previews of playboy magazine or pornographic videotapes. In many societies there is a largely unspoken acceptance that it is natural for men to use pornographic materials for masturbation. However, there is no sure way of telling when or what kind of men can be lead from pornographic viewing pleasure to forming misogynistic views or actions. Where feminist critique anti-pornography literature is concerned, there are no such simplistic explanations that can pass for a universally accepted answer. Some researchers have concluded that the effects of exposure to sexually explicit materials remain elusive (p.354) and that there is a highly inconsistent literature concerning effects of sexually explicit stimuli on mens attitudes and behaviours toward women(p.365) Barak and Fisher (1997). The inconsistencies of literature involved are dependent on different opinions and a wide variant of logical explanations. A laboratory experiment was carried out where male research participants were shown some violent pornography, and were told by the experimenter to deliver electric shocks to a woman when she answered a question wrongly. The experiment resulted in higher levels of electric shock sent out by men who viewed the tape containing violent pornography than compared to those who did not (Donnerstein & Berkowitz, 1981). These results have been argued forcibly with reasons that it may be exposure to violent behaviour that might have an immediate effect on aggressive behaviour toward women but this effect may dissipate over time, (Malamuth & Ceniti 1986).
This emphasizes my point that because these experiments did not occur in a naturalistic environment where other options are open; for example, non-violent reactions, the results are questionable. There is also the question of different cultural backgrounds, personality differences, or different sexuality preferences.
An extreme but maybe not uncommon example, cited by many, is Craig who was interviewed in Jensen (1995). Craig was first exposed to pornographic magazines at the age of 7 or 8. From then onwards, he continually used pornography that he shoplifted from stores. At the age of 18, he joined the marines and around that time, began heavy consumption of explicit pornography, which included violent underground examples. He believed that pornography and prostitutes, in that order, were the two driving forces in his life. While still in his 20s, Craig also began using child pornography, which led to him abusing girls as young as 7 years in age, and to him using pornography and woman or girls together within the same act. He described feeling complete exhilaration during the acts, where his whole body would go numb. Before his arrest, he described his view of women as
that they were made for sex, thats all. I grew up with that attitude [my older brother] kept saying over and over that women are for sex. Use them and throw them away. I thrived on that. (39).
Craig felt reluctant to blame his behaviour on pornography, but he emphasized pornography playing an important role in shaping his sexuality as a child, and its continued influence as an adult. For obvious reasons, Craig did not want his real identity revealed.
Craigs feelings and abusive behaviour towards women and girls are a dangerous example of misogyny manifested in sexual crimes. One could argue that his actions may have escalated in intensity had he not been arrested. It is also important to state here that although Craigs feelings do not represent the majority, misogyny would exist in many who might fit his profile. His interview was not included here for a psychological profile but to highlight that pornography can sometimes be a factor that influences a persons tastes, sexual interests, and opinions on sexual deviance and personal views on gender relationships.
2.2 Effects of exposure to pornography
The message that is constantly emphasised in pornography involves possession. Womens bodies in pornographic photographs or videos are depicted as the pliable property of the publishing house, directors, male characters, and even the audience. Women in pornography are often subjugated and controlled through sexual suggestion, intimidation or force. This raises the question of whether exposure to pornography induces tolerance for sexually harassing behaviour and sexual crimes.
Studies have also focused on pornography where the reaction of the female characters response in a violent situation was surprisingly positive. Some have argued that misogynistic violence and tolerance to misogyny may result from repeated portrayals of women enjoying or receiving sexual fulfilment when beaten, raped or tortured during sexual intercourse. A series of findings showed that rape scenes depicting the victim deriving physical pleasure from her experience fostered attitudes more condoning of sexual aggression. Rape depictions that portrayed the victim abhorring the experience on the other hand resulted were less likely to have such effects (Malamuth 1987).
In Malamuth, Feshbach & Heim (1980), both mens and womens sexual arousal levels when viewing female characters who reacted positively when victimized, were frequently higher than when confronted with scenes where the female character responded negatively. This raises the question of how large a part the process of empathising with onscreen characters plays in modifying peoples attitudes.
Male viewers have been known to become desensitised to depictions of sexual aggression against women (Linz, Donnerstein & Adam 1989, Linz, Donnerstein & Perod 1984, Mullin & Linz 1995). Linz and his associates showed sexually violent slasher films to male subjects in a study, which were originally depressing and anxiety provoking in the beginning, but became less so with the male subjects after prolonged exposure. This seemed to signify a lowering in male empathy for the female rape victims depicted. If women had the same prolonged exposure to pornography, their feelings might arguably be influenced too. This may result in an increased acceptance of misogynistic views. According to Brownmiller (1975), pornography promotes a climate in which acts of sexual hostility directed against women are not only tolerated but ideologically encouraged(444). Depictions of sexual aggression for example, rape in particular, are especially intimidating and hostile to women. Rape and depictions of rape may be, as Brownmiller writes, nothing less than a conscious process of intimidation by which men keep all women in a state of fear. According to Krafka & Linz (1997), this general theory of female submissiveness and fearfulness has come to be termed the cultural climate hypothesis.
2.3 Arguments against a causal relationship between pornography and sexual crimes
Thus far, it has been established that a relationship exists between pornography and misogyny. However, before one goes a step further to point towards a direct causal relationship between pornography and sexual crimes, there are 2 main counter-arguments to consider. First, to ignore that the typical sexual crime comprises more than one causative element would be denying the obvious. Second, academics that continually strive to establish a causal relationship have continually been unable to account for the fact that the majority of people who indulge in pornography but do not commit sexual crimes.
It would be fair to include that there are other elements involved, besides the use of pornography, that lead to misogyny and misogynistic views. For example, in a country like Bangkok, where the prostitution industry is thriving and world famous, workers in the sex industry are seen as sex objects for mens use. This has led to societal classification of women as either good or bad. As expected, good women would receive no less than the usual standards of respect and gentlemanly treatment. However, bad women were viewed as deserving less respect and empathy. This devaluation of stature amongst a section of women could arguably lead to decreased empathy for their welfare and safety; increasing their vulnerability to victimization in sexual crimes.
The same may apply for some traditionally based or religiously led cultures where women are treated as second-class citizens, and where it may be the norm for men to control their wives with violence. News reports frequently report cases in India where dowry murders occur. While not qualifying as a sexual crime, this phenomenon may be indicative of an increased risk that Indian women may face from victimization in sexual crimes.
In contradiction, some research conducted in Denmark (Kutchinsky, 1970, 1991) and in Japan (Diamond & Uchiyama, 199), there has been no evidence of increased sexual crimes in spite of the wide availability of pornography. In response to these findings, Malamuth & Donnerstein (1984) suggested, there may be considerable variations among individuals within a culture in susceptibility to media influences...(141).
It has been further argued that alcohol mixed with exposure to pornography has also been linked to sexual aggression towards women. There has been research that resulted in showing that factors such as alcohol consumption (Abbey, Ross, & McDuffie, 1994; Norris & Cubbins, 1992, Norris & Kerr, 1993) and exposure to violent pornography (George, Dermen, & Nochajski, 1989, Norris & Kerr, 1993) may also increase the likelihood of sexual aggression. In Norris and Kerr (1993) there were two findings that showed alcohol consumption for male subjects, increased the tendency of behaving like a sexually aggressive male character that they were viewing in a violent pornographic story. The next finding demonstrated that the presence of alcohol in a violent pornographic film increased the male subjects tendency of behaving like the assailant with or without alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption has also been blamed as a trigger that results in ratings of increased deviance and less social acceptability of the female character. It has been argued that the presence of alcohol exaggerated the subjects focus on sexual cues that they perceived that their victims were giving out.
One could point towards the statistics that show the effects of pornography in heightening aggression and lowering empathy towards women. One could correctly argue that both these phenomenon are crucial elements in sexual crimes. Feminist theories further highlight pornography as a manifestation and means of controlling women; providing a further link to sexual crimes, which are argued to be instances where males seek to control females.
However, one could easily argue that research presents just as convincing a counter-argument. These findings and counter-arguments would dilute the claims of a direct causal relationship between pornography, as a sole driving influence and sexual crimes. In conclusion, one could argue that there is definitely a relationship between pornography and sexual crimes. However, one cannot concretely label this relationship a direct and causal one as yet.