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This Study Evaluated 7,430 Porn Videos and Found Women Receive 97% of Physically Aggressive Acts in Porn

By October 26, 2020No Comments

There's a vast amount of research on the harmful effects of pornography, and it's important that this information is accessible to the public. Weekly, we highlight a research study that sheds light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn's harms. These studies cover a wide range of topics, from the sociological implications of pornography to the neurological effects of porn-consumption.

TRIGGER WARNING
The following post contains descriptions of sex acts.

The full study can be accessed here.

A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography

Authors: Niki Fritz, Vinny Malic, Bryant Paul, Yanyan Zhou

Published July 2020

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Archives of Sexual Behavior. Advance online publication July 13, 2020

Background

Previous content analyses of mainstream pornography find that women are overwhelmingly the target of aggression in pornography. Barron and Kimmel (2000) found that women, more often than men, were depicted as victims of the sexual violence in all three media they analyzed, including online pornography (84.7%), VHS movies (79.6%), and in magazines (61.5%). Bridges et al. (2010) found women were the targets of 94% of aggressive acts depicted in their sample of 50 DVDs. Two recent studies utilizing samples of online pornography also found women were more often depicted as the target of sexual aggression: 37% of scenes in Klaassen and Peter (2015) content analysis contained sexual aggression against women and 36% of scenes in Fritz and Paul’s (2017) study, compared to 3% and 1% of scenes containing aggression against men, respectively. Taken together, previous content analyses of pornography find women are far more often the target of aggression than men.

Most models of social learning suggest consistency and frequency of messages matter. If women are more often the target of aggression, the consistency of this message will make it more likely to be learned. Additionally, social cognitive theory suggests that the depicted reaction to behavior in media is important. Positive reactions by the target of a behavior are understood as reinforcing or rewarding the behavior, while negative reactions may discourage viewers from applying such behaviors. If women react either positively or neutrally to aggression, sexually aggressive scripts held by the consumers may be reinforced.

Given the framework of learning theory, we pose the following questions in this study:

“In what proportion of coded acts of aggression are women the (a) target and/or (b) the perpetrator compared to men?” and “In what proportion of coded acts of aggression, do women have a negative reaction when they are the target of sexual aggression?”

Our content analysis examined different types of mainstream pornography. Mainstream pornography is defined as different from feminist or niche pornography because of its focus on pleasing a mass audience and bringing in a profit (Fritz & Paul, 2017). There are many different categories or genres of content within mainstream pornography, however. Recent content analyses have highlighted the importance of examining how different categories of pornography vary in their depiction of sexual scripts. Therefore, given recent research into the differences between categories, it is worthwhile to consider whether the most populous pornographic categories present depictions of sexual aggression differently. So, we also posed the following question: “Are there differences in the depiction of physical aggression across the Teen, MILF/ Mature, Amateur, and Hardcore categories within Xvideos and Pornhub?”

Methods

A large-scale content analysis coded a sample of 7,430 pornographic videos taken from two free Internet pornographic tube sites, Xvideos.com and Pornhub.com, which are two of the most popular sites according to alexa.com and similarweb. com. This study oversampled and also added additional LGBT videos after the initial video collection, raising the total number to 7,430. The goal of this large-scale project was to take a snapshot of popular online pornography by sampling a large and random number of videos from each site. Videos were not selected based on posted date or popularity. Instead, a random sample of all available videos was taken to demonstrate what sexual behaviors a selected video of Internet pornography might contain.

This study examined the heterosexual subset of the total sample, including 4,009 heterosexual scenes from 3,767 videos sampled from Pornhub.com (574 scenes) and Xvideos.com (3,435 scenes). Data for this analysis came from two separate groups of coders trained using the same coding book. The first large group of coders coded a sample of videos from, Xvideos; the second, smaller group coded a smaller selection from Pornhub in order to add diversity to the sample and also for comparison purposes. For this analysis, only videos classified as heterosexual by Pornhub and Xvideos were analyzed; notably, some heterosexual videos included same-sex sexual behaviors and aggression; however, these data are not analyzed in this study. Additionally, only videos that included at least two people were included; scenes classified as “solo” with only one performer were not included in the analysis.

Results

The current study provides a baseline of the prevalence of sexual aggression on two popular online pornography sites based on a large-scale content analysis. Previous studies of sexual violence or aggression in pornography have varied widely in their reported presence of aggression, ranging from as few as 1.6% of examined scenes in a non-random sample of 50 popular DVDs (McKee, 2005) to as high as 88% in a non-random sample of 100 popular pornographic DVDs (Bridges et al., 2010).

The current study found physical aggression against women present in 44.3% of Pornhub and 33.9% of Xvideos scenes. These findings are in line with the findings from the studies by Klaassen and Peter (2015) and Shor and Golriz (2019) of online videos. Given that Bridges et al. (2010) examined pornographic DVDs, it may be that longer, professionally made videos contain more aggression. Indeed, Klaassen and Peter (2015) found that “professional” online videos contained more physical aggression against women than videos labeled as “amateur.” Furthermore, often videos on free pornographic tube sites such as Pornhub and Xvideos are shorter video clips of longer pornographic scenes. It may be that some aggression is cut out of the clips in editing for the free tube sites.

The current study found that physical aggression was substantially more common in online pornographic videos than verbal aggression. Although this study did not record the content of every insult, many insults were gender-specific, such as calling a woman a “bitch” or “slut.” This finding may also reflect the relatively low level of verbal communication in pornography, especially on free streaming sites. Many videos are edited to cut out many of the early action and scenes. These scenes are typically the ones providing context for the subsequently depicted sexual action and are also likely to include dialogue which may include verbal aggression.

Overall, physical aggression was present in more than a third of pornographic videos in the sample. Spanking was found to be the most common type of physical aggression, occurring in almost a third of Pornhub scenes and in almost a quarter of Xvideos scenes. Although some critics have suggested spanking and gagging may not qualify as a particularly “rough” or intense form of aggression, it has certainly become an accepted and increasingly significant part of the normal sexual script in pornography (Gorman et al., 2010; McKee, 2005). Notably, gagging often occurs not with fellatio, but with forceful fellatio, during which a man holds his partner’s head in place while thrusting his penis in and out. The gagging that is produced with forceful fellatio implies at least that the man’s partner is uncomfortable, and that airflow may be interrupted. Therefore, it seems like gagging, which occurred in 6.7% of the scenes, could be considered a physically aggressive act worth future investigation. Notably, more extreme aggression such as mutilating, kicking, punching, or using a weapon occurred relatively infrequently across the videos in the sample. While “extreme” types of aggression were rare, the greater prevalence of milder versions of aggression such as spanking suggests to viewers that such acts are normative without explicit verbal consent as part of sexual behavior.

In line with results from previous studies, women were overwhelmingly found to be the target of both physical and verbal aggression (Bridges et al., 2010; Klaassen & Peter, 2015). Specifically, women were the target of nearly 97% of all physically aggressive acts in the samples from both sites. This is an important finding. Although some have argued spanking could be considered a non-aggressive sexual act if the intent is not to harm (McKee, 2005), the data suggest women are the target of spanking in almost all scenes. Our data clearly suggest that a sexual script of spanking women but not spanking men is being normalized within online pornography. Indeed, all examined aggressive acts appear normalized to be perpetrated toward women and not men, such that it is implausible to imagine a woman spanking a man, choking him, or pulling his hair outside the context of a consensual BDSM depiction. As such, most physical aggression has not just been normalized in the sexual script, and it has been normalized to be against women.

Although women were overall the primary target of aggression, a more complicated relationship was evident when examining who was the perpetrator of aggression against women. Although men still primarily demonstrated physical aggression against women (about three-quarters of all acts), women aggressed against other women or themselves in about 20% of all physically aggressive acts. Often self-aggressive behaviors begin pornographic scenes; the actress will strip for the camera, spanking her buttocks or slapping her breasts. Considered through the framework of Fredrickson and Roberts’ (1997) objectification theory, this suggests it is not just that men who are objectifying women, but that women are self-objectifying. The script of aggression against women has become so normalized that women hit and spank themselves, partaking in the sexual script of aggression against women. It should also be noted that there were almost no acts of men aggressing against themselves or other men.

The findings indicate women’s response to both physical and verbal aggression is overwhelmingly positive or neutral, demonstrating either explicit or implicit affirmations of pleasure. This is not to say women cannot enjoy acts of aggression, particularly when it is consensual. However, it is problematic if women respond to aggression by displaying no reaction at all. Affirmative reactions endorse a sexual script suggesting women enjoy and welcome aggression, while neutral reactions suggest a woman is not even engaged with the sexual aggression against her. She has become a sexual object with no interaction with her sexual partner. If the only responses seen when women are the target of aggression are pleasure or non-response, male viewers may assume women either enjoy aggression or that their feelings or feedback regarding aggression is simply not important. This may normalize a script of a woman’s body as an object or recipient of aggression. Women may also learn that they are supposed to experience pleasure with aggression or that they should ignore any discomfort they do experience and give a neutral response. This general lack of displeasure by women in response to seemingly unpleasant occurrences in pornography implies they should enjoy all sexual behaviors enacted upon them.

Consistent with Klaassen and Peter (2015), the current analysis found videos categorized in the Amateur category depicted significantly less aggression than those in other categories. It should be noted, however, that there has been an industry shift in the past few years toward the production of “pro am” content, or professional amateur pornography. This is content produced using professional performers, directors, ad crews while delivering more of an amateur aesthetic. It is unknown if such content depicts more or less aggression than traditional professional videos. Categories signaling “professional” content such as “Hardcore” on Xvideos were found to contain more aggression. Interestingly though, the Pornhub Hardcore category did not contain more aggression, suggesting category title might not be the best indicator of the level of aggression. It also may be that overall, Pornhub contains more aggression, or that aggression on that site has become normalized across categories. Given the focus on how the level of aggression in pornography may moderate the effect on sexually violent behaviors, more research is needed on the differences of depictions across categories of pornographic content.

This study suggests that a significant portion of pornography contains depictions of aggression against women with no negative responses from targets; this may lead to the development among consumers of a sexual script that encourages the learning of aggression against women. Although consumers may not go to mass media, including pornography, with the specific motivation to learn sexual behaviors, they still might absorb the provided scripts. Research suggests mass media, ranging from magazines, to TV, to pornography, can have an impact on consumers’ sexual attitudes and behaviors (Hust et al., 2013; Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2015; Wright et al., 2016).

The full study can be accessed here.

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