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Getting to the Truth of the Link Between Porn and Rape

Studies showing an ostensible link between watching porn and committing rape are full of flaws.

Yui Mok/ZUMA Press/NewscomYui Mok/ZUMA Press/NewscomDoes viewing pornography increase a person's propensity for sexual violence? There are a slew of studies saying no, while another body of research says yes. So how do we know which data to believe? Over at Psychology Today, longtime science journalist Michael Castleman explains why the studies showing an ostensible link between porn and rape are full of flaws.

Castleman's latest effort comes in response to an earlier post on evidence that sexual assault rates have declined while widespread access to pornography is growing. The post "appalled one reader," writes Castleman, "whose critique included citations of studies she claimed demonstrated a strong connection between exposure to porn and sexual assault."

The studies supplied showed, respectively, that 1) a small group of imprisoned Canadian rapists tended to have been avid adult-film consumers, 2) a small group of domestic violence victims in Philadelphia tended to report that their abusers regularly watched porn, and 3) of 62 convicted rapists in Singapore, most had consumed porn within six months before committing their assaults.

It doesn't take an advanced degree to see how extrapolating these findings to the general population is in folly. These studies might show that violent men tend to watch porn, but other studies show that most men have watched porn at some point and many watch it regularly. Since most men don't go on to become violent sexual predators, it's hard to argue that the "link" between porn and predation is one of cause and effect.

Alas, this is just the kind of junk science that culture warriors regularly cite to confuse general audiences. In the realm of sex-work research, it's common for studies to include only data on incarcerated sex workers, on those with criminal records, on those in court-ordered diversion programs, or on those using certain emergency services, and then extrapolating from them to the entire population of people who sell sex. As with the studies that purport to show the effects of porn on all consumers by studying convicted criminals, this conflation leads to reports showing drastically more dire consequences of sex work than exist in more general populations.

While retrospective studies of these sorts are cheaper and lead to faster results, they also "have major—and unavoidable—flaws," notes Castleman. Besides involving only small numbers of participants who are not representative of the whole population in question, "they're prone to recall errors. And in this case, they're plagued by a key researcher error, the assumption that viewing porn is unusual, that most men don't do it, only bad guys."

The studies favored by Castelman's critic, who was trying to show a positive link between porn and rape, were all retrospective. Meanwhile, the studies Castelman cited that showed no such link were all prospective studies, in which respondents were tracked and surveyed over time. These studies "used huge natural experiments—rape rates before and after porn became easily available—in several countries with male populations in the hundreds of millions," notes Castleman. "Those enormous numbers add to the studies' credibility. So does their consistency. In every prospective trial, as the availability of porn increased, rates of sexual assault declined."

Related:

Photo Credit: Yui Mok/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • Citizen X - #6||

    Fun fact: if you use a Google search string containing all of this article's tags, you'll get to have an awkward conversation with a detective.

  • Aloysious||

    Again? Dammit, Agent Smith isn't going to believe my "It's for research purposes" excuse many more times as it is.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    They can't just let "Media > Online" go unpunished.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    Back in my day the president would have created a "Porn Czar" to answer once and for all whether or not watching pornography inspires violent sexual acts.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You're just mad because Vivid took out a restraining order rather than offering you a distribution deal for your films.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    As a way to entice me to go a party, a friend told me, "the guy from Captain Stabbin' will be there." I didn't go, because the Cap' does nothing for me, but if the Milfhunter was going to be at that party, well, not only would I have shown up, I would have made a delicious dip.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I'm trying to type something about euphemisms, but it's hard with all the vomit and tears coming out of my face.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    What? You don't like MILFs?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I'd better, i'm married to one.

    However, when Crusty says "made a delicious dip," he does not mean what you want "made a delicious dip" to mean.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    Since when does baba ghanoush have another meaning?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    D-:

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    My soul withers at the fact I know the penises of which you speak. Porn shouldn't be spoken of in the light of day.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    +1 millstone for a browser history

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...most men have watched porn at some point and many watch it regularly.

    That's an outrageous generalization and I would indignantly tear it apart if this one handed typing wasn't so difficult.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    Fun fact: Fist's linus strongly resembles a chunk of gnarled driftwood.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    YOU WISH.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Including barnacles and shipworms.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    But in that gnarl you can see the face of the Savior's Blessed Mother.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    Isn't it true, according to those Pornhub data releases, that women tend to search for far more hardcore pornography then men do? Maybe women are the ones with violent, sexual tendencies.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Probably just tells us that men who claim to be women on the internet like to get fucked hard.

    Though, if we start going into the deep-end of Tumblr Porn/Erotic Art, there are some women making some pretty terrifying pornographic art.

  • MarkLastname||

    Or men pretending to be women search for more hardcore porn.

  • NEET||

    You don't actually believe, do you? An internet pastime is pretend something you're not, and a man calling himself a woman online is of the favorites. It's easy way to make bank in MMOs.

  • Brother Kyfho||

    Data analytics is pretty good on this topic. These sites know within a pretty small margin of error who is what sex.

    STOP PUTTING THE PUSSY ON A PEDESTAL. STOP WITH THE PUSSY PASS. STOP WHITE-KNIGHTING.

  • Brother Kyfho||

    You're referring to the fact that women search for porn in which women are dominated, abused and objectified far more than men do. On Pornhub, more women search for gang bangs than men do. Not proportionally, in absolute numbers.

    Women are depraved.

    therationalmale.com

  • Longtobefree||

    Porn also causes global warming

  • Citizen X - #6||

    It'll certainly warm your globes.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I would like to hear a reasonable explanation as to WHY porn would increase rape rates. At best it seems like it would be neutral, since rape is a whole mishmash of toxic emotions and power fantasies that is kind of separate from sexuality in general.

  • NEET||

    since rape is a whole mishmash of toxic emotions and power fantasies
    Makes sense since quite a few rapists have been raped themselves.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Man, I got a lot of hot opinions on porn.

  • OM Nullum gratuitum prandium||

    The studies supplied showed, respectively, that 1) a small group of imprisoned Canadian rapists tended to have been avid adult-film consumers


    I bet all of them were also avid milk drinkers.

    We must ban milk.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    At the very least bagged milk.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Anti-Canadite.

  • OM Nullum gratuitum prandium||

    [...] but other studies show that most men have watched porn at some point and many watch it regularly.


    Well, I wouldn't say regularly per se, of course. I mean... I mean, occasionally would be a word that, uh, that better describes it, I guess...

    [Pulls shirt collar as if letting out a squirrel caught inside]

  • John C. Randolph||

    of 62 convicted rapists in Singapore, most had consumed porn within six months before committing their assaults.

    How many of them had attended a religious service?

    -jcr

  • Longtobefree||

    How many had consumed a sugary beverage??!!

  • Sugarsail||

    how many non-rapists also consumed porn within the last six months. I bet close to 100% You got to love utterly meaningless correlations.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Settled science, no?

  • Longtobefree||

    It is not porn. It is ice cream.
    Every study to date has shown the incidence of (reported and unreported) rape is directly related to ice cream sales.
    Most authorities on the subject discount the unproved theory that both might be related to warm weather.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I have noticed that as the winter turns to spring, and as the weather becomes more palatable all of my fancy turns to rape.

  • Number 7||

    my scientific observation from YEARS if observation- men like tits.

    Rapists like angry sex, I can't imagine the kind of sex they engage in, I sort of like a woman to enjoy it and look me in the eye, not scream and thrash but that's just me.

  • NEET||

    You're missing out, man. To tame an angry chick with the power of cock is both hilarious and delicious. I recommend most rape comics.

  • NEET||

    I've watched some amazing lewd material in my life including a woman taking both several dogs and pigs in the vagoo and ass. All it does is make we want to seclude myself more so I can experience watching these deliciously depraved acts. Then again it's all 2D and none of that 3D succubi bullshit.
    Also traps = gay

  • AlbedoAtoned||

    The same argument against porn could be made for food and air. Even moreso in fact, since not every rapist watched porn, while every rapist has to have eaten or breathed sometime in the past. Fortunately nobody is demanding that food or air should be banned,

  • Texasmotiv||

    Give California time...

  • Rogers1234||

    Don't encourage them

  • retiredfire||

    With the explosive increase in access to porn that the interweb has brought about - in the early days, it was reported that approximately 60% of internet use was for porn viewing and that the whole thing might have collapsed if not for that - there should have been a consequent explosion of sexual assault - real assault, not what colleges are using as definitions.
    As far as I can tell there hasn't, which should disprove any correlational, let alone causational, links.

  • p3orion||

    "[A] small group of domestic violence victims in Philadelphia tended to report that their abusers regularly watched porn..."

    I wonder if it's actually that the prosecutors reported it, in order to make the defendant even less likeable in the eyes of the jury. If you pile on enough shit, some of it is bound to stick.

    It reminds me of recent ads airing on conservative radio that point out that Esteban Santiago, the mass shooter in the Fort Lauderdale airport in January, had earlier been reported for domestic abuse by his girlfriend. Never mind that lowlife is beating his wife, maybe it's a sign he's also a deranged killer!

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