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Can You Tell The Difference Between What Rapists and Porn Magazines Say About Women?

This study falls in line with what so many others are saying about porn—it promotes rape, and it sells anything but healthy consent practices.

Portions of this post were reposted from Collective Shout. It has been edited for length and content. 4 minute read.

According to a 2012 study, psychologists from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey found that when presented with descriptions of women taken from porn magazines, and comments about women made by convicted rapists, most people who took part in the study could not correctly guess who said what.Horvath, M. A. H., Hegarty, P., Tyler, S., & Mansfield, S. (2012). “Lights on at the end of the party”: Are lads’ mags mainstreaming dangerous sexism? British Journal of Psychology, 103(4), 454-471. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02086.xCopy 

Even worse, when men involved with the study were asked which quotes they agreed with, they were actually more likely to agree with the rapist quotes.

The University of Surrey reported on the study (conducted jointly with researchers at Middlesex University), and it was published in the British Journal of Psychology. Researchers gave a group of men and women quotes from the British porn magazines, as well as excerpts from interviews with actual convicted rapists originally published in the book The Rapist Files. (Click here if you want to read the quotes. Trigger warning, proceed at your own discretion.)

Here’s the kicker: the participants couldn’t reliably identify which statements came from magazines and which from rapists—and what’s more, they rated the magazine quotes as slightly more derogatory than the statements made by men serving time for raping women.

The researchers also showed both sets of quotes to a separate group of men—the men were more likely to identify with the rapists’ statements than the pornographic magazine excerpts.

The only slightly bright spot in the study: when researchers randomly (and sometimes incorrectly) labeled the quotes as coming from either rapists or magazines, the men were more likely to identify with the ones allegedly drawn from mags. At least they didn’t want to agree with rapists.

Related: Is Rape Culture Real? Let’s Take A Look At The Evidence

“Asking for it” mentality

Still, the results as a whole are pretty disturbing.

Says lead study author Dr. Miranda Horvath, “We were surprised that participants identified more with the rapists’ quotes, and we are concerned that the legitimization strategies that rapists deploy when they talk about women are more familiar to these young men than we had anticipated.”

Her co-author Dr. Peter Hegarty adds:

“There is a fundamental concern that the content of such magazines normalizes the treatment of women as sexual objects. We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there should be no sexual information and media for young people. But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalize views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual offenders?”

“Many of the rapists quoted in the study talked about coercing women or having sex with them even though they were initially unwilling. However, so did the porn magazines.”

Horvath says, “Rapists try to justify their actions, suggesting that women lead men on, or want sex even when they say no, and there is clearly something wrong when people feel the sort of language used in a lads’ mag could have come from a convicted rapist.”

A lot of these stereotypes—that women say no when they really mean yes, or are “asking for it” by going out with a man or wearing revealing clothing—have indeed been normalized, and it’s sad but not surprising that they appear in a lot of these pornographic magazines.

Related: Why This Massively Popular Porn Site Doesn’t Care If Their Content Shows Rape

Defenders of such statements like to frame them as innocent, or even helpful, observations. But perhaps the news that they sound just like rapists will make people, and magazines, rethink their words.

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Violence in porn isn’t an exception

This study falls in line with what so many others are saying about porn—it promotes ideals that fall in line with rapist ideals, and it sells anything but healthy consent practices.

If you’ve ever checked out a mainstream porn site, you know you don’t have to search very thoroughly before violence and abuse appear. Video after video of people being treated roughly, physically assaulted, verbally demeaned, and even raped reveals the unsettling reality of porn-induced pleasure. Statistically, these people are often women.

A few years ago, researchers did a study of the most popular porn videos at the time. Their findings? Of the 304 scenes examined, 88% contained physical violence or aggression and 49% contained verbal aggression. 95% of the victims appeared to respond either neutrally or with pleasure, and the vast majority of the victims were women. The message that comes from porn is that women enjoy getting beat up and forced into sexual acts.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. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801210382866Copy 

Consider one 2020 study that entailed a large-scale content analysis and coding of a sample of 7,430 pornographic videos taken from the two most popular free porn sites, Pornhub and Xvideos. The study found physical aggression against women present in 44.3% of Pornhub and 33.9% of Xvideos scenes. In fact, the study found that physical aggression was substantially more common in online pornographic videos than verbal aggression. Specifically, women were the target of nearly 97% of all physically aggressive acts in the samples from both sites.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A descriptive analysis of the types, targets, and relative frequency of aggression in mainstream pornography. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(8), 3041-3053. doi:10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0Copy  Violence in porn isn’t an exception, it’s the goal.

By watching scene after scene of dehumanizing or violent content, it can start to seem normal.Daneback, K., Ševčíková, A., & Ježek, S. (2018). Exposure to online sexual materials in adolescence and desensitization to sexual content. Sexologies, 27(3), e71-e76. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sexol.2018.04.001Copy Ezzell, M. B., Johnson, J. A., Bridges, A. J., & Sun, C. F. (2020). I (dis)like it like that: Gender, pornography, and liking sex. J.Sex Marital Ther., 46(5), 460-473. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2020.1758860Copy  In fact, research indicates that porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others,Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058Copy Skorska, M.N., Hodson, G., & Hoffarth, M.R. (2018). Experimental effects of degrading versus erotic pornography exposure in men on reactions toward women (objectification, sexism, discrimination). The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 261 - 276.Copy Zhou, Y., Liu, T., Yan, Y., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography use, two forms of dehumanization, and sexual aggression: Attitudes vs. behaviors. Null, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2021.1923598Copy  more likely to express an intent to rape,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552Copy  less likely to intervene during a sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault. 18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552Copy  Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(20), 213–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558414547097Copy  more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552Copy Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(20), 3071–3089. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515596538Copy  more likely to support violence against women,Wright, P. J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2016). Men's Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 955–964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0644-8Copy Seabrook, R. C., Ward, L. M., & Giaccardi, S. (2019). Less than human? media use, objectification of women, and men’s acceptance of sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 536-545. doi:10.1037/vio0000198Copy  more likely to forward sexts without consent,van Oosten, J., & Vandenbosch, L. (2020). Predicting the Willingness to Engage in Non-Consensual Forwarding of Sexts: The Role of Pornography and Instrumental Notions of Sex. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1121–1132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01580-2Copy  and more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence.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:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201Copy Rostad, W. L., Gittins-Stone, D., Huntington, C., Rizzo, C. J., Pearlman, D., & Orchowski, L. (2019). The association between exposure to violent pornography and teen dating violence in grade 10 high school students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(7), 2137-2147. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1435-4Copy Goodson, A., Franklin, C. A., & Bouffard, L. A. (2021). Male peer support and sexual assault: The relation between high-profile, high school sports participation and sexually predatory behaviour. 27(1), 64-80. doi:10.1080/13552600.2020.1733111Copy Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058Copy 

RelatedWhy You Can’t Consistently Fight Sexual Abuse Without Fighting Porn

Consider how porn, isn’t produced with the intention of showing accurate displays of sexual encounters, or even only consensual ones. It’s created to entertain and manifest fantasies, no matter how violent or violating. For example, consider the top-most searched porn categories on Pornhub that not only heavily featured incest fantasies, but also scenarios fantasizing minors in the “teen” category.

In addressing the issues of gender equality, sexual exploitation, harassment, and abuse in our society, it is necessary that we address the ways that porn promotes inequality and feeds into the damaging narrative that women are objects to be used or sexual means to an end.

It won’t be easy to change the culture that surrounds us, but it is important that we do.