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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  • Kevin Carr

    Castleman’s analysis is flawed, porn has with it the “law of diminishing returns”. The more you view the more your brain wants to get the flood of endorphins, then you have to view more extreme and more to get the same high, Dr. Judith Reisman says porn is an erotoxin, mean you get the “high” but it damages the brain.

    Even Ted Bundy confessed to Dr. Dobson that he believed porn was the catalyst to his becoming a serial killer. Not that everyone becomes a serial killer, there are no positive effects to viewing porn.

  • SAMTHECAT

    Thank you for sharing the factual information. Wonder how many of the ones taking issue with the author’s comments were men? What is of great concern is the view of sex as being solely for self-pleasure. Sex is designed to be in the context of a committed relationship in order to bring the greatest joy and happiness. The statement by Castleman that “porn does NOT isolate men from significant others” is true in the sense that these men are already isolated and have chosen an image and masturbation instead of a committed relationship, which requires give and take, self-sacrifice and vulnerability- i.e. love.

    • Aaron Shamp

      I have received cricism for this argument from both men and women. I’ve also heard gratitude from men and women. Sadly, pornography is a disease that infects both sexes.

      • SAMTHECAT

        You are right about it affecting both sexes. With the Hugh Hefner so-called liberation, it just seems that men are more vocal about wanting to retain this “freedom”- to disassociate sex from relationship. Women have a difficult time doing that, despite the feminists arguments to the contrary. Thanks so much for the article.

  • There is a big problem with unreliable psychological studies. From the 2015 Washington Post article titled titled, “Many scientific studies can’t be replicated. That’s a problem.”:

    “volunteer army of fact-checkers has published a new report … Over the course of four years, 270 researchers attempted to reproduce the results of 100 experiments that had been published in three prestigious psychology journals. … They ultimately concluded that they’d succeeded just 39 times.”

    So I wouldn’t give a lot of credence to either Castleman’s study or the other studies. The more important issue is that pornography is morally wrong.

    • Kevin Carr

      i totally agree with you .

    • Aaron Shamp

      Ralph, I mostly agree with you. I’m usually skeptical when it comes to those kinds of studies. However, I chose this argument for two reasons. First, since Castleman used an evidential argument, I wanted to respond with data that would counter his claims. That way no one could accuse me of denying “evidence.”

      Second, the volume of studies related to the harmful effects of pornography are astounding. They repeatedly show the same conclusion. The correlation is too strong to ignore.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Thank you for the dialog, Aaron.

        A large number of studies leading to the same conclusions may reduce the problems associated with social science research. However so many studies in those fields are quite shoddy, either accidentally or deliberately or both. Thus citing references to such studies gives research in those fields more credibility than is really deserved.

        People declare “science says” as if that was some kind of guarantee of truth. Even very valid criticisms of findings will lead to the epithet of “anti-science.” On the other hand progressives implicitly recognize the credibility problems too because they have no qualms about attacking research, even very high quality studies, whose findings conflict with their narratives.

        For further reading, note the distinctions of credibility among the various types of science in my online article titled: There’s No Grand Unity Called “Science.”

        • SAMTHECAT

          Your comments are well stated. Creswell, in his book Research Design, states:..”in planning a study, researchers need to think through the philosophical worldview assumptions that they bring to the study…Although philisophical ideas remain largely hidden in research, they still influence the practice of research and need to be identified” (pg. 5-6). Many researchers fail to step back and evaluate their worldview and how it affects their research. The idea that science is value-free is false.

  • Bojaws Dubois

    I used to read Psychology Today many years ago until they just went berzerk.

  • Arthur R

    Castleman implies that a person should be able to do as he pleases in regards to porn and masturbation, and it harms no one–not the viewer, not the viewer’s spouse, not the people whose bodies were used for the making of the videos. There is absolutely NO accountability whatsoever. Apparently having a committed, honest, transparent relationship with one’s spouse is a foreign concept, but I digress. I could go on all day long about how I vehemently disagree with Castleman, but I will sum it up with a few points:
    1) many women in pornography and prostitution have been sexually abused in childhood and have internalized themselves as sex objects. He tries to claim that porn stars have debunked this assertion by saying they are happier than non porn actors and report that they have NOT been victims of abuse. Let’s be real here: most women NEVER admit to sexual abuse, whether they are porn stars or otherwise. He says that they (the porn stars) admit to drug use and more sexual partners openly, so we have no reason to disbelieve their claims of sexual abuse. That is all fine and dandy, except abuse is different, and EVERY psychologist knows that: abuse gives birth to internalized shame. I should know. I lived it every day for 8 years in an abusive romantic relationship that started when I was 14.
    (I still feel the shame from time to time). At that period in my life, I lacked guidance. Castleman says (in another article) that abuse victims can go to authorities because the authorities are “more sensitive” now than they used to be. Not true: When I sought legal counsel after my abuse (at 22), I was told that abuse of that nature often ends up being a he said/she said situation. If I wanted to press charges, it would most likely wind up being in the form of a restraining order. The gentleman working the desk then told me (in confidence) that a restraining order is “just a piece of paper,” and that the best thing I could do for myself is to distance myself from this person. Not to add to his anger by instigating him with a restraining order. He said domestic violence rarely ever ends well when a woman tries to extricate herself from the situation. My aggressor was obsessed with pornography and he conditioned me to watch it and even like it from a young age. Now, Castleman would have you believe this is simply anecdotal, but is it? Is my story one drop in a bucket of others? Are these voices being heard at all?

    After enough time, some stalking, and two murder attempts, my ex moved on and left me alone. He got bored when I stopped reacting. So I know first-hand that the police don’t necessarily just sit down and make out a report, as Castleman seems to think. I wanted to feel like I did something to protect myself from this individual in the future; I wanted to make myself admit the abuse out loud so I would force myself not to take him back for the umpteenth time. It worked for me. It doesn’t work for every woman. I created my own support system out of nothing; some women are not as fortunate. If you personally know a police officer, ask him what he thinks about domestic violence. I went on to marry a police officer, so I can shed some light. He told me there is a lot of misunderstanding on behalf of the law officials. There is a ton of “why would this woman go back to this man if he is abusive?” “Why don’t they (the abused person) willingly report the abuse?” “Why are we (the police) even getting involved, when we arrest someone tonight, and next weekend we are right back here?” Abuse is a cycle; one that usually remains unbroken, much like poverty or lack of education. Society wants to believe “because I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.” People hide abuse–plain and simple.

    2) Castleman repeatedly says that “virtually all men use pornography.” This is just plain incorrect. Millions, yes millions, of men are stepping out of the shadows and telling the world how porn has harmed them or their loved ones and how they no longer use it. Would Castleman even be capable of believing another man who said he didn’t use porn? His bias screams volumes. Don’t proclaim falsehoods to me when I know differently. My husband has looked at porn. Does he use it now? No. Why should I distrust him? We have a very open, and honest marriage. He has told me much more “frightening” and vulnerable things than “I occasionally look at porn.”

    3) what about vulnerable women and young girls who have no father figures at home? These women are already at a disadvantage sexually. Many of these women make up a good portion of pornographed and prostituted women. Women from fatherless homes are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior at earlier ages than their peers. Who is looking out for these people? They are falling through the cracks and will continue to do so so long as some men take the cowardly stance that “that 18 year old made her own choice to do porn.” Yeah, she made her own choice just like that poor person did to not “better herself.” Consent is multifaceted. It can only be taken seriously when we look at everything that surrounds the choice.

    I could go on all day, but this is just some food for thought.

    My two cents–for what it is worth.

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