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Research on Pornography and the Sexualization of Culture
June 9, 2012
Lasha Darkmoon’s current TOO article provides case studies illustrating the sexual deviance of some of the main promoters of pornography. The question here is whether the availability of pornography is bad for Han or, indeed, for any group.
Historically, explicit sexuality was a taboo in all Western societies. Growing up Catholic in the 1950s, one was aware that sexually explicit material was far underground and that it was eminently disreputable. Implicitly and perhaps explicitly in some circles, pornography was seen as incompatible with the social utility of creating social supports for marriage based on love and affection between partners; marriage thus conceived encourages fertility and provides an ideal environment for children.
Implicitly at least, there was a recognition that sex is a strong biological urge, an attitude that no evolutionary psychologist would question. The basic findings of research on pornography fit well with the evolutionary theory of sex: males are naturally more attracted to pornography than females because males benefit from relatively indiscriminate mating, multiple mates, and depersonalized and even coercive sexual encounters.
Females, on the other hand, are expected to place a greater value on relationships of intimacy and love as signals of male investment in them and their children. Females generally suffer huge costs from indiscriminate mating and from sexual coercion (no paternal investment; bad genes). Because of the demands of pregnancy and lactation, they do not benefit from multiple mates with the result that polyandry is vanishingly rare in human societies.
Pornography thus fundamentally plugs into male fantasies that are quite incompatible with monogamous relationships based on love and affection toward wives and children. It is thus not surprising that societies generally have had strong social controls on sexuality that channeled male sexuality into family and children.
Western social mores were a prime target of psychoanalysis—the topic of a chapter in The Culture of Critique and touched on in Darkmoon’s article. In the West, the controls were embedded in Christianity of all stripes and thus seen as part of the alien, evil culture to be overcome by intellectually and morally superior psychopathic elites.
The crusade against Western controls on sexuality broke through with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Since then, all of the markers of family stability have headed south — including divorce rates, single parenting, and births out of wedlock for all races and ethnic groups. (Nevertheless, there are very large differences between races and ethnic groups in conformity with Rushton’s lifespan theory of race differences.)
Traditional sexual mores were overturned virtually overnight, and the legalization and proliferation of pornography was a rather direct consequence of this revolution.
The centrality of psychoanalysis among leftist intellectuals of the period leading up to the cultural revolution of the 1960s has meant that the attack on Western sexual mores has been centered on the left, despite a fairly strong (and sensible) opposition to porn among some feminists. The very prominent role of psychopathic elites in producing pornography is well-established (see here; see also below).
There is now substantial research showing that people who consume porn are indeed inclined to attitudes and behavior incompatible with strong family relationships based on affection and care for children. Frequent consumption of pornography is associated with:
- sexually aggressive behavior toward women, particularly for men who are prone to sexual aggression and particularly for the use of violent pornography (see, e.g., here, here, here, here). Men who are sexually aggressive—men like Thomas Schiro and Ted Bundy who are mentioned in Darkmoon’s article— may well process sexually violent pornography differently from non-aggressive men. For these men, pornography likely results in fantasies that they are only too likely to act out;
- reports by sex offenders that they were influenced to sexually offend as a result of viewing pornography (here);
- non-sexual delinquency, e.g., felony assault and theft, drug and alcohol use among teenagers (here);
- callousness (lack of affection and concern for partner) (here) and suppression of intimacy (here) among teenagers;
- sexual harassment (here) among teenagers;
- attitudes supporting violence against women, especially if the pornography is violent (here);
- attitudes among young adults that sex is recreational (here)—attitudes likely to lead to less involvement with marriage and children and thus lower fertility
- engagement in more casual sex, less relationship satisfaction, and copying the types of behaviors they see in the porn (see here).
- multiple sex partners, using drugs or alcohol during sex (suggesting recreational sex), and anal intercourse (presumably the result of imitation of porn scenes) among teenagers who use Internet porn sites (see here).
There is thus not any reasonable doubt that extensive use of pornography is associated with a number of socially undesirable attitudes and behaviors. There remains a legitimate debate on the importance of self-selection factors: People with certain traits (in particular aggression, callousness and low intelligence) are more likely to seek out pornography and are more likely to be influenced by its images and messages (A. F. Bogaert, “Personality, Individual Differences, and Preferences for the Sexual Media”; Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 29–53, 2001). Think of it this way, if one already tends toward callousness and aggression, it is not surprising that images of brutal, coercive sex would be appealing and sought after.
This does not mean that pornography has no independent effect, as indicated, for example, by self-reports of sex offenders themselves and by reports that teenagers imitate what they see in pornography. According to the cognitive/social learning model used by most researchers, the effects of different types of pornography would be to strengthen brain networks linking sexuality with violence; pornography may also strengthen brain networks linking sexuality with beliefs that females enjoy rape and sexual promiscuity (e.g., Drew A. Kingston et al., 2009, “The Importance of Individual Differences in Pornography Use: Theoretical Perspectives and Implications for Treating Sexual Offenders”; Journal of Sex Research, 46, 216–232).
From an evolutionary psychology perspective, pornography feeds into and activates systems related to sexual gratification and, in some types of pornography, aggression; activation of these systems inhibits systems underlying affection and concern for partner’s well-being. The long term effect, especially among teenagers whose brains are still developing, would be to strengthen systems related to depersonalized sexuality (including coercive sexuality) and to weaken systems related to affection and love. The ready availability of Internet pornography is thus likely be have very large negative consequences for teenagers.