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Study Finds 1 in 8 Porn Titles Shown to First-Time Users Describes Sexual Violence

This study found that mainstream pornography websites are likely hosting material that is unlawful to distribute or download.

By September 14, 2021No Comments

Decades of studies from respected academic institutions, have demonstrated significant impacts of porn consumption for individuals, relationships, and society. "What’s the Research" aims to shed light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn’s harms in a variety of ways. Below are selected excerpts from published studies on this issue.

The full study can be accessed here.

Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography

Authors: Fiona Vera-Gray, Clare McGlynn, Ibad Kureshi, Kate Butterby
Published: April 2021

Peer-Reviewed Journal: The British Journal of Criminology

Abstract

This article examines the ways in which mainstream pornography positions sexual violence as a normative sexual script by analyzing the video titles found on the landing pages of the three most popular pornography websites in the United Kingdom.

The study draws on the largest research sample of online pornographic content to date and is unique in its focus on the content immediately advertised to a new user. We found that one in eight titles shown to first-time users on the first page of mainstream porn sites describes sexual activity that constitutes sexual violence. Our findings raise serious questions about the extent of criminal material easily and freely available on mainstream pornography websites and the efficacy of current regulatory mechanisms.

Methods

Within the aim of developing a new empirical basis for understanding the content advertised to a first-time viewer of pornography in the United Kingdom, the study set out to address three key research questions: 1) Is pornography that describes criminal acts of sexual violence being advertised to a first-time user of mainstream online pornography? 2) How common is the script of sexual violence in the content advertised to a first-time user of mainstream online pornography? 3) How is the boundary between consensual and criminal sexual practices communicated to a first-time user of mainstream online pornography?

To generate a sample able to answer these questions, the three most accessed pornographic websites were identified through Alexa Internet, a web traffic analysis tool. At the time of data collection, these were Pornhub.com, Xhamster.com, and XVideos.com…

We were interested in what content the pornography websites themselves pushed to the landing page without any user intervention, thus replicating the content advertised to the new or first-time user. We discovered the sites tracked and adapted to user actions to different degrees from an exceedingly high level of customization (Pornhub and XHamster) to operating as a relatively static site (XVideos). Accordingly, we developed a process across all three sites that enabled us to collect the data without interacting with the site, as any interaction would notify the site’s algorithms of our location and that we were the same user.

Results

In total, we found 12 percent (n = 15,839) of the total analyzable sample (n = 131,738) of titles described sexual activity that constitutes sexual violence. This equates to one in every eight titles. The site spread was roughly equal to the representation of each site in the overall corpus. Titles from Xhamster were found in 49.6 percent of the content coded as sexual violence (7,862 titles) and comprised 47.7 percent of the overall corpus. Titles from Pornhub comprised 20.7 percent (3,278) of the titles coded as sexual violence and 26.7 percent of the data corpus, while XVideos’ titles comprised 29.7 percent of the titles coded as sexual violence (4,699) and 25.6 percent of the sample overall.

Word frequency showed that ‘teen’ was the most frequently occurring word in both the entire data corpus (n = 10,149, 7.7 percent) and the sample coded as describing sexual violence (n = 1,344, 8.5 percent). ‘Teen’ is thus a more common way to describe pornography than any description of a sex act or body part, and it appears to be slightly more common in content describing sexual violence.

Sexual activity between family members:
The most frequent form of sexual violence in the data was that relating to sexual activity between family members… Representations of step relationships were less common than blood relationships. This was replicated in word frequency analysis which found that the majority of titles describing sexual activity between family members referred to members of the immediate family (mother, father, sister, son, and daughter).

Physical aggression and sexual assault:
The second most common category was that of physical aggression and sexual assault… Our focus in this category ranged from titles that described forms of sexual assault, such as ‘force’, ‘grope’ or ‘molest’; to those that described physical forms of violence such as ‘kick’, ‘punch’, and ‘slap’; as well as those that described sexual acts using physically aggressive language such as ‘brutal’, ‘throat/skullf—ed’ and ‘pound’… Also notably the word ‘black’ occurred in the top twenty most frequent words for this category but not others (4.0 percent, n = 214), suggesting another connection between scripts of physical aggression and sexual assault and racialized descriptions of black performers.

Image-based sexual abuse:
The third category analyzed was titles describing ‘image-based sexual abuse’, namely all forms of the non-consensual creation and/or distribution of sexual images including material commonly known as ‘revenge porn’ and ‘upskirting’, as well as voyeurism including hidden cameras and ‘spy cams’… After coding, a total of 2,966 titles with unique video identifiers (2.2 percent of the analyzable data set) constituted descriptions of image-based sexual abuse.

Coercion and exploitation:
The final category analyzed was sexual scripts using coercion and exploitation. This included sexual activity that may be missed when focussing solely on aggression or physical assault yet meets the WHO definition of sexual violence (Krug et al. 2002). We also included terms that implied an inability to consent, such as being below the age of consent, using the keywords ‘very young’ and ‘schoolgirl’, though excluding more ambiguous terms such as just ‘young’ (n = 4,224) or ‘teen’ (n = 12,378). A total of 2,698 titles with unique video identifiers were coded as describing coercive and exploitative sexual activity (1.7 percent of analyzable data set).

Our findings provide new and substantial evidence on the prevalence and nature of descriptions of sexual violence in mainstream online pornography, available on the landing page of the most popular pornography sites in the United Kingdom. In total across the data set, one in eight titles described sexual activity that constitutes sexual violence. As our sample consists of the content advertised by sites prior to consumer interaction it is unique in the current literature. The study, therefore, provides significant new insights into the sexual scripts offered to first-time user, and our discussion centers on what these insights mean in relation to the legal and social responsibilities of mainstream pornography sites, as well as for academic debates on the relationship between representations and realities of violence.

We have found that mainstream pornography websites are likely hosting material that is unlawful to distribute or download. It is not the case that criminal material is relegated to niche sites, hidden from all but a determined viewer, or only available on the dark web…

It is untrue that the most popular pornography websites provide acceptable pornographic content which should be freely and easily accessible to adults, and more awareness is needed for users to ensure they are aware that such sites do not protect them from potentially committing criminal offenses.

The full study can be accessed here.

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