Research Spotlight: “A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography”

This research summary was co-authored by Lisa Thompson (Vice President and Director of the NCOSE Research Institute) and Jordan Marshall (Research Assistant).

Niki Fritz et al., “A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 49, (2020): 3041-3053, doi:10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0. 
Key Takeaway
A content analysis of 4009 heterosexual scenes from Pornhub and XVideos reported that 45% of Pornhub scenes and 35% of XVideos scenes included at least one act of physical aggression. Women were the target of physical aggression in 97% of scenes, and they responded with pleasure or neutrality in at least 93% of these scenes. Mainstream pornography endorses the sexual scripts that women enjoy physical aggression during sex and are mere sex objects whose feedback is unimportant. These sexual scripts send men the dangerous message that women find physical aggression pleasurable and that their responses to pain and abuse are not important. 

Study Highlights

This study conducted a largescale content analysis of 4009 heterosexual scenes from 3737 videos from two mainstream pornographic tube sites – Pornhub and XVideos. The pornography videos were randomly selected between fall 2013 through spring 2014, and analyzed for acts of physical aggression, including pushing, gagging, hair pulling, spanking, punching, slapping, choking, use of a weapon, mutilating, and other (that nature of “other” acts was not specified). Acts of verbal aggression, including name calling or insulting, were also assessed. Scenes were analyzed for the amount of aggression portrayed, as well as the reactions of those who were subjects of aggression. The study found the following: 

  • 45% of Pornhub scenes and 35% of XVideos scenes included at least one act of physical aggression against a woman or a man. 
  • The five most common forms of physical aggression were spanking, gagging, slapping, hair pulling, and choking. 
  • Approximately 10% of the scenes from both Pornhub and XVideos depicted at least one act of verbal aggression. 
  • Women were the targets of physical aggression in 97% of both Pornhub and XVideos scenes. 
  • Women responded with either pleasure or neutrality in 97% of Pornhub and 93% of XVideos scenes containing physical aggression.  
  • Men were the perpetrators of the aggression against women in 76% of the scenes (both Pornhub and XVideos). 
  • Women were aggressors against men in 3% of both Pornhub and XVideos scenes. 
  • Women were aggressors against other women in 14% of Pornhub and 12% of XVideos acts of physical aggression.  
  • Women physically aggressed against themselves in 7% of Pornhub and 9% of XVideos scenes. 

Commentary from the NCOSE Research Institute

In our view, this study demonstrates that physical aggression by men against women is common in online pornography. What is more, women’s responses to that aggression were overwhelming portrayed as sexually pleasurable or neutral. Thus, mainstream pornography both endorses and sexualizes two especially pernicious sexual scripts: 

  1. That women enjoy and welcome physical aggression during heterosexual sex.
  2. That women are mere sexual objects that do not interact with their male sexual partners.

These themes send male pornography consumers the very alarming messages that women find physical aggression sexually desirable and that women’s feedback regarding aggression is not important. These scripts also signal to women that they should find physical aggression sexually pleasurable and/or ignore and hide their discomfort. The fact that a significant minority of women were aggressors against other women shows how mainstream pornography’s scripts normalizing objectification of and physical aggression against women have been internalized by both men and women.

Importantly, this study did not assess the scenes reviewed for depictions such as sexual assault involving kidnapping, the sexual assault of intoxicated or incapacitated persons, non-consensually distributed sexually explicit content, incest, or indicia of underage status. Such a review would have undoubtedly shed more light on the prevalence of violent and abusive themes in mainstream pornography.

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