BlogWorld

Does Porn Fuel Rape Culture and Sexual Assault on College Campuses?

By April 5, 2021No Comments

What does sexual assault have to do with pornography? Well, turns out they’re more closely linked than people think.

It’s no secret that sexual assault on college campuses is a very serious issue.

In September of 2015, The New York Times reported that a survey commissioned by the Association of American Universities (AAU) showed more than about 23% of female college undergrads at leading universities reported being sexually assaulted by force or when they were incapacitated. This included everything from unwanted touching to rape.

In 2020, a follow-up report was published by the AAU that stated: “The overall rate of nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent since the student enrolled at the school was 13%, with the rates for women, [transgender/nonbinary/genderqueer individuals], and undergraduate students being significantly higher than for men and graduate/professional students… For the schools that participated in both the 2015 and 2019 surveys, the rate of nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent increased from 2015 to 2019 by 3 percentage points for undergraduate women, 2.4 percentage points for graduate and professional women, and 1.4 percentage points for undergraduate men.”

Out of a sample of over 100,000 individuals, the numbers from the AAU report make it clear who the most vulnerable population for sexual violence victimization is on college campuses: “The estimate for women undergraduates is nearly three times higher than for women graduate and professional students (25.9% vs. 9.7%).”

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

(Keep in mind that only 2-8% of rapes are falsely reported, the same percentage as for other felonies. That’s about the same rate as false reports of robbery or stolen cars.)

In other words, according to nearly every national study, an undergraduate woman has between a 1 in 10 and 1 in 6 chance that she will experience rape or attempted rape while in college.

It’s very clear that something very toxic is happening on college campuses. At the very place where students are supposed to be free to learn, discover themselves, and make lifelong friends, instead, too many are being faced with life-changing violence and degradation.

Sigma Nu Fraternity at Old Dominion University in Virginia welcomes new freshman with these disturbing banners.

Sigma Nu Fraternity at Old Dominion University in Virginia welcomed new freshman with these disturbing banners a few years ago.

With more and more survivors coming into the spotlight, universities are forced to acknowledge the problem and work to combat it.

In order to do so, many universities have made attempts to better educate their students on consent (which is incredibly important), yet they seem to be ignoring a toxic everyday activity that is undoubtedly playing a huge role in the normalization of sexual assault: pornography.

If you didn’t know before, college students watch a lot of porn.

RelatedDoes Porn Really Decrease Rates Of Sexual Assault?

One survey polled about 2,500 university students from across the UK, half of whom were between the ages of 16 and 19, and found that 80% of men and 45% of women admitted to regularly watching porn

Colleges in the United States are no different. For example, according to Pornhub “students returning to Ole Miss cause an incredible 35% increase in Pornhub traffic within Oxford, followed closely by Auburn University which increases Auburn, Alabama traffic by 31%.” In other words, that’s a huge spike in web traffic from those areas from college students alone. And it’s the same with big schools all over the country.

Correlation is not causation, of course. How could the national issue of sexual violence on campuses be directly linked to watching porn and porn culture? Let’s review some facts and stats.

Podcast - Wood Figures - Light

Unacceptable in reality, celebrated in fantasy

Rape Culture is commonly defined as a “social environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.” Note that rape culture also applies to male victims of rape and sexual assault.

We don’t have to look any further than the mainstream porn industry to see where sexual violence against women is normalized and excused.

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

Consider the titles of popular porn videos that can be found with a simple Google search: “Stupid wh— taught to listen as she is f— in the a—,” 2.9M views. “Drunk s— degraded and gets what she deserves.” “Wh— raped and humiliated.” These are just the start of easily accessible porn videos with millions of views that fetishize, normalize, and even celebrate sexual violence against women, selling it as a fantasy instead of the real nightmare that it is.

The sad fact is, violent videos that normalize and fantasize abuse are more of the rule and less of the exception in today’s violent mainstream porn.

Here’s some research to back that up.

A few years ago, a team of researchers looked at 50 of the most popular porn films.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  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.

Or, let’s look at this 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 XvideosThe 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.

Violence in porn isn’t an exception, it embodies entire genres on porn sites.

Of course, not all porn features physical violence, but even non-violent porn has been shown to have effects on consumers. The vast majority of porn—violent or not—portrays men as powerful and in charge; while women are submissive and obedient.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.COPY  Watching scene after scene of dehumanizing submission makes it start to seem normal.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.COPY  It sets the stage for lopsided power dynamics in couple relationships and the gradual acceptance of verbal and physical aggression against women.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; Check, J. and Guloien, T. (1989). The Effects of Repeated Exposure to Sexually Violent Pornography, Nonviolent Dehumanizing Pornography, and Erotica. In D. Zillmann and 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.COPY  Research has confirmed that those who consume porn (even if it’s nonviolent) are more likely to support statements that promote abuse and sexual aggression toward women and girls.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.V4i4.184COPY 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:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908COPY 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_05COPY 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/10904205COPY 

But porn doesn’t just change attitudes; it can also shape actions. Study after study has shown that consumers of violent and nonviolent porn are more likely to use verbal coercion, drugs, and alcohol to coerce individuals into sex.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:10.1080/01639625.1994.9967974COPY  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.COPY 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:10.1080/00224498809551459COPY  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.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.12201COPY  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.V4i4.184COPY 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.XCOPY 

In 2016, a team of leading researchers compiled all the research they could find on the subject.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.12201COPY  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.”

Porn and violence go hand in hand

But how does watching something on a screen influence our beliefs and what we do?

If you’re wondering how sitting in a chair consuming porn can actually change what a person thinks and does, the answer goes back to how porn affects 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.Rizzolatti, G. And Craighero, L. (2004). The Mirror-Neuron System. Annual Review Of Neuroscience 27, 169–192. Doi:10.1146/Annurev.Neuro.27.070203.144230COPY  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.

Related: Is There A Connection Between Porn Culture And Rape Culture?

As the consumer 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 was actually having the experience.Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered In The Context Of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3:20767. Doi:10.3402/Snp.V3i0.20767COPY  Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.COPY  So if a person feels aroused watching a man or woman get kicked around and called names, that individual’s brain learns to associate that kind of violence with sexual arousal.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 InstituteCOPY Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.COPY 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/BF01542673COPY 

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 consumers a sense that it’s okay to act aggressively themselves.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 InstituteCOPY 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 InstituteCOPY 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:10.1080/13552600008413310COPY 

Give One For Love

Addressing a real part of the problem

With our generation being raised on porn and with at least 64% of college-age consumers watching pornography weekly,Michael Lahey, Porn University: What College Students Are Really Saying About Sex on Campus (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2009).COPY  is it any wonder that this dehumanizing violence keeps happening?

No, not even close to every porn consumer will become a violent rapist. It can’t be ignored, even still, that porn often normalizes and fantasizes the realities of sexual assault and sexual violence.

Ending sexual assault as a society needs to include recognizing a fueling factor of this existing violence: porn.

Related: Does The Porn Industry Really Care About Empowering Women?

If we’re really going to tackle the issue of sexual abuse as a society, we need to be aware of all the places where this harmful behavior is normalized, and even promoted. The same kind of behavior that many college sexual assault and rape survivors endured is easily accessible for anyone with internet to watch.

How is that acceptable? This is why we’re speaking out and shining a light on the connection between porn and making fantasy out of abusive situations.

Send this to a friend