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Is There a Connection Between Porn Culture and Rape Culture?

What if we told you something normalized in our digitally-driven society is also driving the normalization of rape and sexual violence?

By September 14, 2021No Comments

For so many in our society, porn is the norm.

For the average consumer, it’s the go-to entertainment when boredom hits, the default for education about sex when there are questions or curiosities, or the quick fix for when feelings of loneliness strike.

But what if we told you something so accepted and so normalized in our digitally-driven society is also driving the acceptance and normalization of harmful behaviors, like rape and sexual violence?

But wait, doesn’t porn lessen instances of assault and violence?

By now, most people have heard the pro-porn cliché that “porn helps to lower instances of rape” and “porn is a great outlet for someone’s violent fantasies,” etc.

Just check out these tweets:

But what if porn actually isn’t helpful in stopping violence, or a “safe” way to express abusive tendencies? What if it’s actually further complicating the already complex and heartbreaking issue of sexual assault and sexual violence?

“Rape culture” is 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 blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by sexual violence, or some combination of these.”

Related: Is Rape Culture Real? Let’s Take A Look At The Evidence

With that in mind, here are five examples from the research showing how porn is fueling rape culture and negatively affecting attitudes when it comes to rape and sexual violence.

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Sexual violence in porn

If a rape culture is a culture in which sexual violence is normalized, how does porn play into that?

According to a 2021 study, 1 out of every 8 porn titles shown to first-time visitors to 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, doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY  And according to studies analyzing the content of porn videos themselves, it’s estimated that as few as 1 in 3 porn videos (35.0%) and as many as 9 in 10 videos (88.2%) show acts of physical aggression or violence, while 48.7%—about half—contain verbal 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 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. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801210382866COPY 

Related: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

These studies also found that despite the levels of violence and aggression, the targets were almost always portrayed as responding with pleasure or neutrality. What type of message does that send to young people who turn to porn to learn about sex?

Porn and rape myth acceptance

To start, rape myths are a common part of rape culture—they’re erroneous, stereotypical, prejudicial beliefs about 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.

Victim-blaming, which is a large part of rape myth acceptance, happens when people say a victim was “asking for it” or focus on what the victim should have done differently to avoid being abuse, rather than focusing on what the perpetrator should have done differently to avoid abusing. Likely due to the normalization of rape and sexual violence in pornography, research indicates that porn consumers are significantly more likely to endorse rape myths and victim-blame survivors of sexual violence.Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(20), 3071–3089. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515596538COPY 

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

Porn and intent to rape

In one study of fraternity men, those who consumed mainstream pornography expressed a greater intent to commit rape if they knew they would not be caught than those who did not consume pornography.Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY 

Additionally, those who consumed sadomasochistic pornography expressed significantly less willingness to intervene in situations of sexual violence, greater belief in rape myths, and greater intent to commit rape, and among those who consumed rape-themed pornography, the researchers described “serious effects” including less bystander willingness to intervene and greater intent to commit rape.Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY 

In other words, there was no type of pornography that did not result in a greater intent to commit rape by a user if they knew they would not be caught.

Porn and increased verbal/physical aggression

According to Dr. Robert Jensen of the University of Texas, in his paper “Pornography and Sexual Violence”, pornography facilitates toxic rape culture: “My own studies and reviews of other examinations of content suggest there are a few basic themes in pornography: (1) All women at all times want sex from all men, (2) women enjoy all the sexual acts that men perform or demand, and, (3) any woman who does not at first realize this can be easily turned with a little force, though force is rarely necessary because most of the women in pornography are the imagined nymphomaniacs about whom many men fantasize.”

Related: Report: 1 In 16 U.S. Women Report Being Raped During Their First Sexual Encounter

Despite claims that pornography decreases rates of sexual violence, dozens and dozens of studies actually show the opposite. For example, a 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in actual acts of sexual aggression, among males and females alike.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 

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Porn, objectification, and dehumanization

Sexual objectification occurs when people perceive others as sex objects, rather than complex human beings deserving of dignity and respect.

In fact, in a review of research on sexual violence, two leading experts called sexual objectification the “common thread” that connects different forms of sexual violence.Gervais, S. J., & Eagan, S. (2017). Sexual objectification: The common thread connecting myriad forms of sexual violence against women. The American journal of orthopsychiatry, 87(3), 226–232. https://doi.org/10.1037/ort0000257COPY 

The people in pornography are often explicitly presented as objects. Porn videos are listed and labeled with the specific acts they perform or physical attributes they possess so the observer can “order” porn that fits their exact expectations. Unsurprisingly, research routinely shows that frequent porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others.Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY Skorska, M.N., Hodson, G., & Hoffarth, M.R. (2018). Experimental effects of degrading versus erotic pornography exposure in men on reactions toward women (objectification, sexism, discrimination). The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 261 - 276.COPY Zhou, Y., Liu, T., Yan, Y., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography use, two forms of dehumanization, and sexual aggression: Attitudes vs. behaviors. Null, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2021.1923598COPY 

Related: Can You Tell The Difference Between What Rapists And Porn Magazines Say About Women?

With so many people consuming pornography, is it any wonder that many are developing attitudes of sexual entitlement and objectification?Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY 

Porn, domestic violence, and sexual abuse

In one recent news report of the domestic violence crisis in Australia, Director of the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence Di McLeod said this: “What research is finding and what we are seeing at our centre is that pornography is clearly influencing sexual expectations and practices between intimate partners, so that the correlation between pornography, rape, and domestic violence can no longer be ignored.”

According to qualitative research on domestic violence, victims of intimate-partner abuse regularly report that their abusers consumed pornography, with more than half of interviewees reporting that pornography was directly involved in their sexual assaults. DeKeseredy, W. S., & Hall-Sanchez, A. (2017). Adult Pornography and Violence Against Women in the Heartland: Results From a Rural Southeast Ohio Study. Violence Against Women, 23(7), 830–849. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801216648795COPY 

What can we do?

First off, we want to emphasize that this is an issue that involves everyone—people of all genders can be porn consumers, and people of all genders can be victims of sexual violence.

We also want to be clear in saying that by sharing these studies and stats, we are not saying that every porn consumer will become a violent abuser.

By sharing this info, we simply want to help you re-evaluate what you think you know about porn. Our goal as an organization is to spark conversations that are based in research so that people will be better able to make a more informed decision about porn. Porn isn’t healthy, it isn’t cool, and it doesn’t help us to be better partners or friends.

Porn, sexual violence, and rape are all more closely connected than you might realize, and it’s our time to raise awareness on these important issues.

Related: Does The Porn Industry Really Care About Empowering Women?

Once you know this information, you can’t un-know it. Once you read the stats and facts, you can’t forget them. If you’re interested in reading more empirical evidence on the harms of porn, click here to see our Get the Facts pages.

In the end, it’s up to each of us to spread the word that porn is anything but harmless entertainment, and we all deserve better than what porn provides in society.

Join us in fighting for love, and taking a stand against the status quo of porn.

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