It’s no secret that much of porn is violent, but many people don’t understand the extent to which porn’s underlying messages influence behavior. Porn is packed full of women being disrespected,  coerced, and physically and verbally abused, and that’s shaping how society thinks and acts.

A few years ago, a team of researchers looked at 50 of the most popular porn films—the ones bought and rented most often. [1] Of the 304 scenes the movies contained, 88% contained physical violence and 49% contained verbal aggression. On average, only one scene in 10 didn’t contain any aggression, and the typical scene averaged 12 physical or verbal attacks. One particularly disturbing scene managed to fit in 128!

The amount of violence shown in porn is astonishing, but equally disturbing is the reaction of the victims. In the study, 95% of the victims (almost all of them women) either were neutral to the abuse or appeared to respond with pleasure. [2]

In other words, in porn, women are getting beaten up and they’re smiling about it.

Of course, not all porn features physical violence, but even non-violent porn has been shown to have effects on viewers. The vast majority of porn—violent or not—portrays men as powerful and in charge; while women are submissive and obedient. [3] Watching scene after scene of dehumanizing submission makes it start to seem normal. [4] It sets the stage for lopsided power dynamics in couple relationships and the gradual acceptance of verbal and physical aggression against women. [5] Research has confirmed that those who watch porn (even if it’s nonviolent) are more likely to support statements that promote abuse and sexual aggression toward women and girls. [6]

But porn doesn’t just change attitudes; it can also shape actions. Study after study has shown that users of violent and nonviolent porn are more likely to use verbal coercion, drugs, and alcohol to push women into sex. [7] And multiple studies have found that exposure to both violent and nonviolent porn increases aggressive behavior, including both having violent fantasies and actually committing violent assaults. [8]

In 2016, a team of leading researchers compiled all the research they could find on the subject. [9] After examining twenty-two studies they concluded that the research left, “little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive [favorable] to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression.”

If you’re wondering how sitting in a chair watching porn can actually change what a person thinks and does, the answer goes back to how porn affects the brain (See Porn Changes the Brain). Our brains have what scientists call “mirror neurons”—brain cells that fire not only when we do things ourselves, but also when we watch other people do things. [10] This is why movies can make us cry or feel angry or scared. Essentially, mirror neurons let us share the emotion of other people’s experiences as we watch. So when a person is looking at porn, he or she naturally starts to respond to the emotions of the actors seen on the screen. As the person becomes aroused, his or her brain gets to work wiring together those feelings of arousal to what is seen happening on the screen, almost as if he or she were actually having the experience. [11] So if a person feels aroused watching a woman get kicked around and called names, his or her brain learns to associate that kind of violence with sexual arousal. [12]

To make matters worse, when porn shows victims of violence who seem to accept or enjoy being hurt, the viewer is fed the message that people like to be treated that way, giving porn users a sense that it’s okay to act aggressively themselves. [13]

Viewers might tell themselves that they aren’t personally affected by porn, that they won’t be fooled into believing its underlying messages, but studies suggest otherwise. There is clear evidence that porn makes many users more likely to support violence against women, to believe that women secretly enjoy being raped, [14] and to actually be sexually aggressive in real life. [15] The aggression may take many forms including verbally harassing or pressuring someone for sex, emotionally manipulating them, threatening to end the relationship unless they grant favors, deceiving them or lying to them about sex, or even physically assaulting them. [16]

And remember that porn use frequently escalates over time, so even if users don’t start out watching violent porn, that may change. (See Why Porn is an Escalating Behavior.)The longer they watch, the more likely they’ll find themselves seeking out increasingly shocking, hard-core content. [17]

Not surprisingly, the more violent the porn they watch, the more likely the viewer will be to support violence and act out violently. [18] In fact, one study found that those with higher exposure to violent porn were six times more likely to have raped someone than those who had low past exposure. [19]

Of course, not every porn watcher is going to turn into a rapist. But that doesn’t change the fact that pornography is hitting us with a tidal wave of dehumanizing violence. It makes no sense for our society to accept the messages of porn, while at the same time calling for full gender equality and and end of sexual assault. A large portion of the porn viewed by millions of people every day is reinforcing the message that humiliation and violence are normal parts of what sex is supposed to be. [20] It’s wiring the minds and expectations of the upcoming generation, making it harder for many young people to prepare for loving, nurturing relationships [21] and leaving both women and men feeling like they can’t express the pain it’s causing them. [22] (See Why Porn Leaves You Lonely.)

Saying no to porn is helping to build a less violent world; one that’s more loving, just, connected, humane, sexy, and safe.

Citations
[1] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866
[2] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866. See also Whisnant, R. (2016). Pornography, Humiliation, and Consent. Sexualization, Media, & Society, 2(3), 1-7. doi:10.1177/2374623816662876 (Arguing that “pornography’s
[3] DeKeseredy, W. (2015). Critical Criminological Understandings of Adult Pornography and Women Abuse: New Progressive Directions in Research and Theory. International Journal for Crime, Justice, and Social Democracy, 4(4) 4-21. doi:10.5204/ijcjsd.v4i4.184; Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908; Layden, M. A. (2010) Pornography and Violence: A New Look at the Research. In Stoner, J. & Hughes, D. (Eds.), The Social Cost of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57-68). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute; Ryu, E. (2008). Spousal Use of Pornography and Its Clinical Significance for Asian-American Women: Korean Woman as an Illustration. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 16(4), 75. doi:10.1300/J086v16n04_05; Shope, J. H. (2004). When Words Are Not Enough: The Search for the Effect of Pornography on abused Women. Violence Against Women, 10(1), 56-72. doi:10.1177/1077801203256003
[4] Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half the Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908; Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., Kleiner, S., & Irizarry, Y. (2010). Pornography, normalization and empowerment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39 (6) 1389-1401. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9592-5; Doring, N. M. (2009). The Internet’s impact on sexuality: A critical review of 15 years of research. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(5), 1089-1101. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2009.04.003; Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27, 2: 41–44. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10904205
[5] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., & Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, and Spirituality as Predictors of Domestic Violence Attitudes in White College Students. Journal of College Student Development, 45:119–131. doi:10.1353/csd.2004.0019 ; Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., and Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure to Pornography and Acceptance of the Rape Myth. Journal of Communication, 45(1), 5–26. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1995.tb00711.x
[6] Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., and Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting the Relationship in Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression and Behavior, 36(1), 14–20. doi:10.1002/ab.20328; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., and Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, and Spirituality as Predictors of Domestic Violence Attitudes in White College Students. Journal of College Student Development, 45(2), 119–131. doi:10.1353/csd.2004.0019; Zillmann, D. (2004). Pornografie. In R. Mangold, P. Vorderer, & G. Bente (Eds.) Lehrbuch der Medienpsychologie (pp. 565–85). Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe Verlag; Zillmann, D. (1989). Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography. In D. Zillmann & J. Bryant, (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (p. 155). Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.
[7] Boeringer, S. B. (1994). Pornography and Sexual Aggression: Associations of Violent and Nonviolent Depictions with Rape and Rape Proclivity. Deviant Behavior 15(3), 289–304; doi:10.1080/01639625.1994.9967974; Check, J. & Guloien, T. (1989). The Effects of Repeated Exposure to Sexually Violent Pornography, Nonviolent Dehumanizing Pornography, and Erotica. In D. Zillmann & J. Bryant (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (pp. 159–84). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; Marshall, W. L. (1988). The Use of Sexually Explicit Stimuli by Rapists, Child Molesters, and Non-Offenders. Journal of Sex Research, 25(2): 267–88. doi:10.1080/00224498809551459
[8] Wright, P.J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:10.1111/jcom.12201; DeKeseredy, W. (2015). Critical Criminological Understandings of Adult Pornography and Women Abuse: New Progressive Directions in Research and Theory. International Journal for Crime, Justice, and Social Democracy, 4(4) 4-21. doi:10.5204/ijcjsd.v4i4.184; Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., & Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure to Pornography and Acceptance of the Rape Myth. Journal of Communication, 45(1), 5–26. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1995.tb00711.x
[9] Wright, P.J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:10.1111/jcom.12201
[10] Rizzolatti, G. and Craighero, L. (2004). The Mirror-Neuron System. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27, 169–192. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144230
[11] Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered in the Context of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767. doi:10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
[12] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books; Malamuth, N. M. (1981). Rape Fantasies as a Function of Exposure to Violent Sexual Stimuli. Archives of Sexual Behavior 10(1), 33–47. doi:10.1007/BF01542673
[13] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Marshall, W. L. (2000). Revisiting the Use of Pornography by Sexual Offenders: Implications for Theory and Practice. Journal of Sexual Aggression 6(1-2), 67. doi:10.1080/13552600008413310
[14] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Milburn, M., Mather, R., & Conrad, S. (2000). The Effects of Viewing R-Rated Movie Scenes that Objectify Women on Perceptions of Date Rape. Sex Roles, 43(9-10), 645–664. 10.1023/A:1007152507914; Weisz, M. G. & Earls, C. (1995). The Effects of Exposure to Filmed Sexual Violence on Attitudes Toward Rape. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 10(1), 71–84; doi:10.1177/088626095010001005; Ohbuchi, K. I., et al. (1994). Effects of Violent Pornography Upon Viewers’ Rape Myth Beliefs: A Study of Japanese Males. Psychology, Crime, and Law 7(1), 71–81; doi:10.1080/10683169408411937; Corne, S., et al. (1992). Women’s Attitudes and Fantasies About Rape as a Function of Early Exposure to Pornography. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 7(4), 454–61. doi:10.1177/088626092007004002; Check, J. & Guloien, T. (1989). The Effects of Repeated Exposure to Sexually Violent Pornography, Nonviolent Dehumanizing Pornography, and Erotica. In D. Zillmann & J. Bryant (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (pp. 159–84). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; Check, J. & Malamuth, N. M. (1985). An Empirical Assessment of Some Feminist Hypotheses About Rape. International Journal of Women’s Studies 8, 4: 414–23.
[15] Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., & Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting the Relationship in Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression and Behavior 36(1), 14–20. doi:10.1002/ab.20328; Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Boeringer, S. B. (1994). Pornography and Sexual Aggression: Associations of Violent and Nonviolent Depictions with Rape and Rape Proclivity. Deviant Behavior 15(3), 289–304. doi:10.1080/01639625.1994.9967974; Check, J. & Guloien, T. (1989). The Effects of Repeated Exposure to Sexually Violent Pornography, Nonviolent Dehumanizing Pornography, and Erotica. In D. Zillmann & J. Bryant (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (pp. 159–84). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; Marshall, W. L. (1988). The Use of Sexually Explicit Stimuli by Rapists, Child Molesters, and Non-Offenders. Journal of Sex Research, 25(2): 267–88. doi:10.1080/00224498809551459
[16] Wright, P.J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:10.1111/jcom.12201; DeKeseredy, W. (2015). Critical Criminological Understandings of Adult Pornography and Women Abuse: New Progressive Directions in Research and Theory. International Journal for Crime, Justice, and Social Democracy, 4(4) 4-21. doi:10.5204/ijcjsd.v4i4.184; Barak, A., Fisher, W. A., Belfry, S., & Lashambe, D. R. (1999). Sex, Guys, and Cyberspace: Effects of Internet Pornography and Individual Differences on Men’s Attitudes Toward Women. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 11(1),63–91. 10.1300/J056v11n01_04
[17] Park, B. Y., et al. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences, 6, 17. doi:10.3390/bs6030017; Kalman, T.P. (2008). Clinical Encounters with Internet Pornography. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 36(4) 593-618. doi:10.1521/jaap.2008.36.4.593; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.
[18] Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., and Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting the Relationship in Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression and Behavior 36(1), 14–20. doi:10.1002/ab.20328.; Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., & Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure to Pornography and Acceptance of the Rape Myth. Journal of Communication, 45(1), 5–26. 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1995.tb00711.x
[19] Boeringer, S. B. (1994). Pornography and Sexual Aggression: Associations of Violent and Nonviolent Depictions with Rape and Rape Proclivity. Deviant Behavior 15(3), 289–304. doi:10.1080/01639625.1994.9967974
[20] Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect on Interpersonal Relationships. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books; Layden, M. A. (2004). Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Science and Space, U.S. Senate, Hearing on the Brain Science Behind Pornography Addiction, November 18.
[21] Yoder, V. C., Virden, T. B., & Amin, K. (2005). Internet Pornography and Loneliness: An Association? Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 12, 19-44. doi:10.1080/10720160590933653; Brooks, G. R., (1995). The centerfold syndrome: How men can overcome objectification and achieve intimacy with women. San Francisco, CA: Bass.
[22] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner & D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Wolf, N. (2004). The Porn Myth. New York Magazine, May 24.

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