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How the Porn Industry Normalizes and Romanticizes Sexual Violence

Not only does porn rarely depict consent, but it often portrays a lack of consent as normal and desirable—often at women’s expense and dehumanization.

Trigger warning: This article contains porn titles and descriptions of sexual violence. Reader discretion is encouraged.

Sexual assault isn’t sexy, and many parts of our society are calling it out now more than ever.

Many people are quick to condemn sexual violence, yet so many of those same people are reluctant to acknowledge something that drives, legitimizes, and eroticizes this violence—the porn industry.

Related: How Mainstream Porn Normalizes Violence Against Black Women

Consider how, not only does porn rarely depict consent, but it often portrays a lack of consent as normal and desirable.

For example, here is a very small selection of real porn titles on popular porn sites that were found with a simple internet search:

  • “Please no” (5.4M views)
  • “EXTREME SCREAMING PAINFUL ANAL DESTRUCTION AGAINST HER WILL” (2M views)
  • “He said no but I shoved it up his a—” (5.2M views)
  • “PLEASE DO NOT UPLOAD IT ON FACEBOOK. YEAH RIGHT” (5.7M views)
  • “Unwanted sex” (2.6M views)
  • “Trick your GF” (13M views)
  • “Cute Step-Sis Surprised by Brother’s C—” (23.8M views)
  • “Surprise Anal in Bar” (9.9M views)
  • “Nephew Takes What His Aunt Won’t Give Him” (8.4M views)

Porn reinforces the dehumanizing attitude that if you diminish someone’s humanity, you can do whatever you want to them. After all, objects can’t have feelings or respond—since they are, by definition, objects.

Related: Does Mainstream Porn Fuel And Normalize Sexual Violence In Teen Relationships?

Here’s what research shows about porn contributing to objectifying attitudes and behaviors, its impact on real people, and what this could mean for society’s future.

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Recent research on objectification and violence against women

To start, let’s talk more about the content of porn. Were those titles above just cherry-picked examples of the most extreme content? Is most porn on mainstream sites mainly sensual but explicit sex, or is extreme content actually 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 

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.

Related: How Common Is Sexual Violence In Porn?

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 sends the message that sexual violence is a normal part of sexual pleasure.

Related: 5 Studies That Show How Often Porn Normalizes Violence Against Women

This is especially worrying because many young people look to porn as their primary sex educator long before they’ve even had their first kiss. For a lot of them, their first sexual encounter is seeing rape, torture, or incest sexualized on a screen.

It’s not difficult to understand how they perceive what they’re seeing as “normal”—especially when these attitudes and behaviors are reinforced through popular media.

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The impact of normalized sexual violence

In 2016, a team of leading researchers performed a meta-analysis of quality studies on the connection between porn and sexual violence. After analyzing relevant studies on the topic, 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 to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression.”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 

Research also suggests that increased pornography consumption is associated with the enjoyment of degrading, uncommon, or aggressive sexual behaviors.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  Another study indicated that teens often report trying to copy porn in their own sexual encounters, and that the pressure to imitate porn was often an aspect of unhealthy relationships.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. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.960908COPY  And according to a UK survey of over 22,000 adult women, 16% reported having been forced or coerced to perform sex acts the other person had seen in porn.Taylor, J., & Shrive, J. (2021). ‘I thought it was just a part of life’: Understanding the scale of violence committed against women in the UK since birth. VictimFocus. Retrieved from https://irp.cdn-website.com/f9ec73a4/files/uploaded/Key-Facts-Document-VAWG-VictimFocus-2021a.pdfCOPY 

Related: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

Of course, not all porn features physical violence, but it’s important to recognize that even non-violent porn has been shown to be associated with negative effects like increased sexual aggression.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  And whether or not porn portrays sexual violence, it often glorifies other toxic narratives, including racism, sexism, incest, and the fetishization of marginalized people.

Female bodies are commodified and commercialized throughout popular media—fueled by porn culture and rationalized by the idea that “sex sells.” But we’re learning that sex isn’t the only thing that sells—dehumanization and objectification sell, too.

Is it any wonder that researchers find an astonishing increase in violence against women when these attitudes and behaviors are consumed by millions every day through porn and mainstream media?

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What you can do

It’s time we put an end to the porn industry getting a free pass when it comes to the dehumanization of women and girls—and men and boys, too.

People aren’t products or simply a collection of body parts to be used, consumed, and discarded. Each person exploited through porn and the resulting mainstream media—and each of you reading this, right now—deserve so much better than that.

Related: How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

With research continually showing how harmful porn is, we can take a stand against these harmful ideals, fight for our humanity, and give a voice to those who can’t fight for themselves.

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