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How Common is Sexual Violence in Porn?

Does today’s mainstream porn portray mainly sensual but explicit sex, or is extreme content common? How common is sexual violence, really?

Did you know that the average internet user spends over 40% of their waking hours online?DataReportal. (2020). Digital 2020 global digital overview. ( No. 1). Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/DataReportal/digital-2020-global-digital-overview-january-2020-v01-226017535COPY  40%! That’s a lot of time on the internet.

Whether streaming a new Netflix series, scrolling through social media, or sending memes to friends, everything we consume communicates a message. So, does the media we consume online actually have an effect on us, or is it passively consumed and then quickly forgotten?

Countless researchers have been asking similar questions since the dawn of the internet, and according to their findings, the short answer is “yes”—our internet consumption has an effect on the way we think and behave. From poorer mental healthHökby, S., Hadlaczky, G., Westerlund, J., Wasserman, D., Balazs, J., Germanavicius, A., Machín, N., Meszaros, G., Sarchiapone, M., Värnik, A., Varnik, P., Westerlund, M., & Carli, V. (2016). Are Mental Health Effects of Internet Use Attributable to the Web-Based Content or Perceived Consequences of Usage? A Longitudinal Study of European Adolescents. JMIR mental health, 3(3), e31. https://doi.org/10.2196/mental.5925COPY  to more negative body image,Fardouly, J., & Vartanian, L. R. (2016). Social media and body image concerns: Current research and future directions. Current Opinion in Psychology, 9, 1-5. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.09.005COPY Aparicio-Martinez, P., Perea-Moreno, A. J., Martinez-Jimenez, M. P., Redel-Macías, M. D., Pagliari, C., & Vaquero-Abellan, M. (2019). Social Media, Thin-Ideal, Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Attitudes: An Exploratory Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(21), 4177. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16214177COPY  studies are increasingly clear that what people consume online has the potential to affect them—both positively, and negatively.

Related: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

So, with that in mind, considering that an estimated 91.5% of men and 60.2% of women consume porn, let’s take a few moments to examine how porn may be affecting its consumers.Solano, I., Eaton, N. R., & O'Leary, K. D. (2020). Pornography Consumption, Modality and Function in a Large Internet Sample. Journal of sex research, 57(1), 92–103. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1532488COPY 

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Violence in porn

To start, let’s talk about the content of porn. Is it mainly sensual but explicit sex, or is extreme content common?

One team of researchers with the same question analyzed hundreds of the most popular porn scenes and found that 88.2% contained physical violence or aggression while 48.7% contained verbal aggression.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:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY 

Another study estimated that nearly 40% of videos analyzed on Pornhub contained visible aggression or violence, while 25% contained verbal aggression.Shor, E., & Seida, K. (2019). 'Harder and Harder'? Is Mainstream Pornography Becoming Increasingly Violent and Do Viewers Prefer Violent Content? Journal of sex research, 56(1), 16–28. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1451476COPY  And yet another study suggested that 45.1% of Pornhub videos and 35.0% of videos on XVideos depicted violence or aggression.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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  And as each of these studies agreed, women were almost always the targets.

Did you follow that?

Even by the lowest estimate, that still means that more than 1 in every 3 porn videos depicts sexual violence or aggression.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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  In fact, according to a study that analyzed porn titles alone, 1 out of every 8 titles suggested to first-time users on porn sites described acts of sexual violence.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, azab035. doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY 

Related: How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

While some studies have examined violence in porn by analyzing the content of porn videos, others have estimated the prevalence of violence in porn by asking porn consumers how frequently they see certain types of behaviors depicted in the porn they watch.

For example, a recent Australian study found that 70% of young people reported frequently seeing men as dominant, 34% frequently see women being called names or slurs, and 11% reported frequently seeing violence or aggression toward a woman that was nonconsensual. Another 13% of young people reported seeing aggressive nonconsensual sex “occasionally” when they watch porn, so together the study found that 1 in 4 young people have had repeated exposure to depictions of violent, nonconsensual sex within the last year of their lives.Davis, A. C., Carrotte, E. R., Hellard, M. E., & Lim, M. (2018). What Behaviors Do Young Heterosexual Australians See in Pornography? A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of sex research, 55(3), 310–319. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1417350COPY 

While the amount of violence shown in porn is troubling, what is perhaps even more disturbing is the portrayed reactions to that violence.

One study found that 95% of the targets of violence or aggression in porn appeared either neutral or appeared to respond with pleasure.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:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY  In other words, porn is sending the message that sexual violence is just a part of sexual pleasure.

Porn normalizes violence

Porn plays a role in normalizing sexual violence, which can have devastating real-world consequences. Regular porn consumers might tell themselves that they aren’t personally affected by porn or the toxic messages it perpetuates, but research suggests otherwise. There is no guarantee that porn won’t affect a consumer’s attitudes about sex in unhealthy ways.

A significant portion of the porn consumed by millions of people every day reinforces the message that sexual violence is a normal part of what “good sex” is supposed to be, making it more challenging for many young people to prepare for healthy sexual relationships where their consent and boundaries are respected.

As our society continues to reckon with rape culture and the things that perpetuate it, it’s important that we start to recognize the role that porn plays in normalizing sexual violence.

This is a selected excerpt from one of our Get The Facts articles. Click here to read the full article, “How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence.”

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