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The Science of Porn in Prisons: Tool for Sexual Release, or Fuel for Aggression?

By July 3, 2018 No Comments

Over the last ten years, there’s been a rise in cases of prisons banning something that’s widely accepted and even promoted in our everyday society.

If you guessed porn, you’d be right. In Connecticut, Michigan, Nebraska, Illinois, Kansas, parts of Canada, and elsewhere, inmates have protested against these bans. Many of them claim the right to have and watch sexually explicit materials is protected, as well as saying it serves as a form of sexual release. Depending on the state, the ban can be a partial ban, restricted to limited sexually explicit material of a certain kind, or an outright zero-tolerance one.

Subjective restrictions, but solid facts

The cases brought forward have resulted in mixed rulings. In some cases, the courts have ruled in favor of the inmates, in others, in favor of the prisons. In the U.S., the wardens decide what pornographic material is allowed, though restrictions must be based on, “legitimate penological purposes.” These “legitimate purposes” according to one Illinois warden included that porn caused:

“(1) engag[ing] in black-market trading for the publications and photographs; (2) inmate-on-inmate violence and intimidation [increase], especially when these publications become lost, stolen, and/or when there is a perception that the publications are not being fairly traded or shared; and (3) female employees … are more often objectified and harassed….”

Related: Porn In Prison: 4 Real Inmates Reveal Porn-Trading Secrets Behind Bars

The facts? Very little research has been conducted specifically on the effects of porn in prisons and on inmates, so there’s a lot of debate as to whether porn is actually harmful to prisoners, especially because we don’t know how general studies apply to prison settings. Even so, porn has been labelled as “counterproductive” to reintegration in society; and, there is no debate on what studies conclude on this fact: the availability and consumption of porn in no way lessens the likelihood of someone sexually offending. [1]

Not only that, but we do know porn consumption is associated with sexual aggression and can lead to objectification, usually of women. We know that frequent porn consumption can trigger these aggressive attitudes and behaviors, especially when the content is violent or hardcore (which states with no bans may allow) but also when the consumer is high risk for sexual aggression.

How porn and aggression are connected

Aggressive men appear to interpret and respond differently to porn than non-aggressive men. [2] And with almost 1.3 million violent crimes committed last year, and almost 5% (known to be an underreported statistic) of inmates reporting sexual victimization in prisons, we are looking at a potentially very large number of high-risk individuals for sexual aggression or violence. Here’s why:

Prisons are known for having a difficult adjustment period; they have the potential to, “[create] habits of thinking and acting that can be dysfunctional in periods of post-prison adjustment.” [3] They can also force inmates to give off a sense of violence so as to not be victimized. Prisons can create an, “environment characterized by enforced powerlessness and deprivation, [where] men and women prisoners confront distorted norms of sexuality.” [4]

Dysfunction and distorted norms of sexuality? Violent attitude because of fear? The research on prison-specific knowledge may be slim, but it doesn’t take a lot of investigating to realize that prisons can be an ideal place for humans to develop or foster an already existing distorted sexuality and numbed disposition to violence or violent attitudes. In no way does porn help to combat that.

Porn and its history with criminals

Add that to what we know about porn, and what we’ve mentioned its effects can be when linked with violent or high-risk sexual behavior, and there’s no surprise many researchers have written about rapists’ and sexual assault criminals’ (over 160,000 cases) previous porn problems. Many actually have a long-term relationship with pornography—in one study, 80% of murderers said their biggest interest was in reading porn.

Clearly, the science shows the connection between crime and porn, and personal accounts do too.

Related: Ohio Prison Inmates Built & Hid Computers Behind Bars, Downloaded Porn

Ted Bundy, convicted rapist and serial killer, attested to this, stating, “I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence just like me and without exception, every one of them was deeply involved with pornography. Without question, without exception, deeply influenced and consumed by addiction to pornography.”

Of course, this in no way means that everyone who consumes porn wil become a rapist, while it does mean there is definitely a relationship between porn and those who have committed sexually or other violently-charged crimes.

The relationship between porn and prisons still has a long way to go before the scientific community understands exactly how porn affects inmates. While we’ve looked at some of the basics, and we’ve seen there’s plenty of evidence that backs a clear association, there’s more research needed to peer behind the iron bars and really understand its full impact.

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