Psychology Today Gets It Wrong: It’s More Porn, More Victims

By Published on January 20, 2018

I’ve been watching the #metoo movement with a sense of astonishment and sorrow. And wonder, too, regarding the real source of the problem. Recently I wrote on Facebook, “I can’t help but wonder how much porn, which portrays women as sex toys with a pulse, has to do with all of the #metoo posts.”

I know I’m not alone in wondering that. To my surprise, though, some Facebook commenters took issue with the suggestion. Most of them shared an article from Michael Castleman at Psychology Today, titled “Evidence Mounts: More Porn, LESS Sexual Assault.”

Could Castleman be right? Could porn actually reduce sexual misconduct? As a Christian I find that hard to believe. But what does the evidence actually say?

Castleman’s Claim

Castleman’s main point was this: “Porn doesn’t incite men to sexual violence. It looks more like a safety valve that gives men an alternative outlet for potentially assaultive energy. Instead of attacking women, men who might commit that crime can masturbate to unlimited amounts of Internet porn.”

He appealed to changes in crime statistics in various places, such as Denmark, Japan, and China, before and after pornography became common there. According to his research, rape actually dropped after porn was made legal or else became more accessible through the internet. 

He concluded, “Those who feel offended or disgusted by pornography are entitled to their opinion. But they are not entitled to misrepresent its effects on men and society. Porn does NOT isolate men from significant others, nor does it contribute to rape and other sex crimes.”

More porn, less sexual assault — if he’s right. But I’m convinced he’s wrong.

More porn, less sexual assault — if he’s right. But I’m convinced he’s wrong.

Conclusions Contradicted

There remains plenty of evidence that porn use is connected with sexual assault. It’s not that every porn user becomes a rapist. But every guy who uses porn is being trained to view women as sexual objects.

In an article at Fight the New Drug, researchers presented dozens of studies on how porn changes users’ perception of women. They wrote,

There is clear evidence that porn makes many consumers more likely to support violence against women, to believe that women secretly enjoy being raped, and to actually be sexually aggressive in real life.

Truth About Porn is a resource center for information on the harmful effects of pornography. They have an impressive database of research, including these major findings regarding porn’s influence on:

1. Sexual expectations: “Participants who viewed music videos of highly objectified female artists reported more adversarial sexual beliefs, more acceptance of … violence, and [possibly] more negative attitudes about sexual harassment.”

2. Sex without asking consent: “Exposure to men’s magazines was significantly associated with lower intentions to seek sexual consent and lower intentions to adhere to decisions about sexual consent.”

3. How men view victims of sexual violence: “Males shown even nonviolent but sexually objectifying and degrading scenes of women … were more likely to indicate that [rape victims] felt pleasure and ‘got what she wanted.’”

4. Violent fantasies: “Exposure to either nonviolent or violent porn increased behavioral aggression, including both violent fantasies and actual violent assaults. Violent pornography showed the strongest negative effect.”

5. the psychology of violent pornography: Based on social cognition theory, it’s likely that “viewers of pornography are learning that aggression during a sexual encounter is pleasure-enhancing for both men and women.”

I have only scratched the surface. There is a mountain of evidence against Castleman. He did not even acknowledge, much less answer any objections to his argument. To his credit, he did provide several references to support his claims. But that leads to my second major point.

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Incomplete Information Yields Poor Results

Any thinking person would do well to apply skepticism to Castleman’s claims.

First, I’ve already noted that his research base was weak. He only referenced seven papers. Those seven papers were the work of five different researchers. To put that in perspective, this article has already referenced more papers and at least a dozen researchers. 

Second, sexual assault is the most under-reported of all violent crimes. According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 33.6 percent of rapes and sexual assault cases were reported to police in 2014. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center writes, “Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to the authorities.”

They also cited evidence that 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses never come forward. At one university, 63.3 percent of men confessed in surveys to committing repeated rapes.

Any thinking person would do well to apply skepticism to Castleman’s claims.

This should lead us to caution about Castleman’s claims. We could point to many issues outside of pornography which could explain the decreased violence he noted. The most obvious, I believe, is the likelihood that women are afraid or ashamed to come forward. We don’t even know about the majority of sexual assaults.

Under-Reporting May Be Increasing

Third, the prevalence of pornography in a society could actually contribute to the problem of under-reporting crimes.  According to Dr. Jill Manning, exposure to porn even causes females to objectify themselves. Take, for example, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the biggest party song of 2013. The lyrics included:

OK, now he was close
Tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal
Baby, it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you
You don’t need no papers
That man is not your mate
And that’s why I’m gon’ take you…”
Good girl!
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it

Think of the freshman whose boyfriend is pressuring her to have sex, and who’s heard a thousand times, “You’re an animal… it’s in your nature… I know you want it…” What’s she going to do? Who would she tell it to afterward? Porn could be responsible for both aggressive behaviors from men and under-reporting from the victims. 

Summary

So it seems clear that Castleman is wrong. His research base is weak, and his interpretation is lacking in nuance. When it comes to a subject like sexual assault, we need to think more deeply and research more diligently.

What does the evidence actually say? Porn usage is still destructive, just as it always has been.

 

Aaron Shamp is a husband and father, lead pastor at Redeemer City Church in Lafayette, LA, and graduate student in philosophy and apologetics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Adapted from an article published at Medium.com. Used by permission.

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