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Softcore Porn Linked to Acceptance of Rape Culture, Research Shows

By August 5, 2019 No Comments
Portions of this post were originally posted on Futurity.

Forensic psychologists report that frequent consumers of softcore pornography are unlikely to think positively about women and are likely to have become desensitized to the images common in newspapers, ads, and the media.

Research on exposure to hardcore porn has demonstrated that there are links to increases in sexual deviance, sexual offending, negative attitudes to intimate relationships, and acceptance of rape myths. But there is less research on exposure to softcore porn.

Related: How Porn Fuels Toxic Rape Culture And Sexual Assault On College Campuses

The researchers say this is surprising because images of naked and semi-naked women are prevalent in advertising campaigns and social media and, therefore, there is more opportunity for most people to be exposed to softcore rather than hard-core pornographic images of women.

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Why softcore porn can be so harmful

One theory is that softcore porn has become such a regular feature of our daily lives that we have become desensitized to these images. However, the impact of these images on thinking and behavior is unknown, particularly among young people who are frequent users of social media and the targets of some advertising campaigns.

Before we go any further, for those who don’t know what the term “rape culture” means, it’s defined as a “sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. Behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blamingsexual objectificationtrivializing rapedenial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by sexual violence, or some combination of these.”

For some background, rape myths are a part of rape culture (like the “did she wear ‘slutty’ clothing that got her raped?” line of thinking)—they’re erroneous, stereotypical, prejudicial beliefs about reasons of sexual assaults, rapists, and rape victims, which serve to justify sexual aggression. Click here to read common rape myths from Rape Victim Advocates, a nonprofit dedicated to helping empower survivors of rape.

Back to the study: Simon Duff and Sophie Daniels of the University of Nottingham presented the findings listed below at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Forensic Psychology a few years ago.

Related: 9 Serious Issues Porn Culture Fuels In High Schools

They examined the relationship between frequency of exposure to softcore pornographic images of women and attitudes towards women, rape myths, and level of sensitivity or desensitization to the images.

The study recruited 143 participants (46.2 percent male), specifically young people with an average age of 19. The survey measured:

  • Self-reported exposure to softcore material across various media types
  • Sensitivity to softcore material
  • Attitudes to women, using the Attitudes Towards Women Scale
  • Acceptance of rape myths using Assessing Subtle Rape Myths Scale

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The research offers a powerful explanation

The results indicate that people who frequently consumed softcore pornographic images were less likely to describe these as pornographic than people who had low levels of exposure to these images. People who were desensitized to these images were more likely than others to endorse rape myths. Furthermore, people who frequently viewed these images were less likely to have positive attitudes to women.

“It’s difficult to unpick cause and effect with this type of research, so it’s not possible to say that softcore pornography changes attitudes towards women,” says Duff. “For example, it might be that people who do not hold positive attitudes towards women then seek out softcore pornography. However, there is a relationship between frequency of exposure to softcore pornography and attitudes towards women and that warrants further exploration.”

Related: Sex Sells, But In Today’s Porn Culture, Objectification And Dehumanizing Violence Sell More

The researchers state that “an argument could be made for greater media regulation and censorship” of softcore pornographic images of women. They say further research in this area is required in order to understand the potential “threat to public health,” as frequent exposure to hardcore porn has demonstrated.

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Why this matters

More than just this research shows how softcore pornography is damaging.

To give you an even clearer look at how damaging these images are, a study by Princeton psychologists showed a group of men pictures of male and females, some barely clothed and some not. During the study, the psychologists monitored their medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is involved in recognizing human faces and distinguishing one person from another. For the most part, the mPFC was activated with each picture. However, when the men viewed the pictures of sexually dressed women, it was not activated. Basically, the automatic reaction in the men’s brains suggests that they didn’t perceive the women as fully human. Just as a body.

Related: Activist Richie Hardcore Speaks Out On How He Fights Porn Culture In New Zealand And Australia

Our society and mass media are promoting softcore porn daily on TV, movies, newspapers, billboards, and magazines. Today’s softcore porn is what was hardcore 50 years ago. We have become numb to seeing sexualized and objectified bodies everywhere we look. There is no doubt this is having a negative effect on individuals, relationships, and society as a whole.

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