The National Center on Sexual Exploitation is dedicated to addressing the harms of all forms of sexual exploitation—from sex trafficking, to sexual violence, to prostitution, to child sexual exploitation, and more. One of the topics that makes NCOSE unique is our emphasis on the exploitation and public health harms of pornography.
The role of pornography in sexual exploitation is chronically under-represented and misunderstood in the field of human rights, and so we regularly hear the same questions and arguments from individuals who defend pornography as a neutral or positive substance.
Here are some answers to the frequently asked questions about pornography.
Some feminists have sought to embrace certain types of pornography as validating their autonomy and sexual agency.
However, we believe pornography is inherently inconsistent with equality between men and women, and so it is inherently anti-feminist. Historically, pornography has been a product primarily created by men and intended for male vicarious access to women’s bodies.
In modern days, even when female feminists create pornography, pornography is centered on the sexual objectification of the individuals being portrayed. It is centered on reducing an individual to their body parts for personal private pleasure, which reinforces a patriarchy that views women’s bodies as public commodities.
Feminist Gail Dines in her book Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality states: “Anyone willing to feed off women’s bodies and use them as raw materials to make a profit has no right to call themselves feminists,” and adds that even porn that doesn’t feature “overt violence” counts as a form of exploitation “since it reduces women to a series of body parts.”
- Negative Body Image and Pressure to Perform Pornographic Acts: As a result of viewing pornography, women reported lowered body image, criticism from their partners regarding their bodies, increased pressure to perform acts seen in pornographic films, and less actual sex. Men reported being more critical of their partner’s body and less interested in actual sex.[i]
- Acceptance of Rape Myths: Women who were exposed to pornography as children were more likely to accept rape myths and to have sexual fantasies that involved rape.[ii]
- Domestic Violence & Sexual Abuse: The use of pornography by batterers significantly increased a battered woman’s odds of being sexually abused. Pornography use alone increased the odds by a factor of almost 2, and the combination of pornography and alcohol increased the odds of sexual abuse by a factor of 3.[iii] Other research has found that pornography use by batters is associated with learning about sex through pornography, imitation of behaviors seen in pornography, comparison of women to pornography performers, introduction of other sexual partners, filming sexual acts without consent, and the broader culture of pornography (e.g. fetishes).[iv]
- Increased Marital Rape: Males who use pornography and go to strip clubs were found to engage in more sexual abuse, stalking, and marital rape than abusers who do not use pornography and go to strip clubs.[v]
[i] Julie M. Albright, “Sex in America Online: An Exploration of Sex, Marital Status, and Sexual Identity in Internet Sex Seeking and Its Impacts,” Journal of Sex Research 45 (2008): 175–186.
[ii] Shawn Corne, John Briere, and Lillian M. Esses, “Women’s Attitudes and Fantasies about Rape as a Function of Early Exposure to Pornography,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 7, no. 4 (1992): 454–461.
[iii] Janet Hinson Shope, “When Words Are Not Enough: The Search for the Effect of Pornography on Abused Women,” Violence Against Women 10, no. 1 (2004): 56–72.
[iv] Walter S. DeKeseredy and Amanda Hall-Sanchez, “Adult Pornography and Violence against Women in the Heartland: Results from a Rural Southeast Ohio Study,” Violence against Women (May 2016), 1–20.
[v] C. Simmons, P. Lehmann, and S. Collier-Tenison, “Linking Male Use of the Sex Industry to Controlling Behaviors in Violent Relationships: An Exploratory Analysis,” Violence Against Women 14, no. 4 (2008): 406–417.
Contrary to popularly held beliefs, obscenity (most hardcore pornography) is not protected Free Speech. In fact, federal obscenity laws, which are not being enforced, prohibit distribution of hardcore, obscene pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite or hotel/motel TV and in sexually oriented businesses and other retail shops. See EndSexualExploitation.org/woip for more information.
Enforcement of obscenity laws does not raise Constitutional problem – In Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571-572 (1942), the Supreme Court said: “There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene…It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.
Obscenity is not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press – In Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957), Justice Brennan observed that “this Court has always assumed that obscenity is not protected by the freedoms of speech and press” (at 481). In Roth, the Supreme Court went on to hold that obscenity is “not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press” (at 485).
First Amendment was intended to protect ideas and debate, not obscene material – In Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 34 (1973), the Supreme Court said: “[T]o equate the free and robust exchange of ideas and political debate with commercial exploitation of obscene material demeans the grand conception of the First Amendment and its high purposes in the historic struggle for freedom. It is a ‘misuse of the great guarantees of free speech and…press.’”
More recently, in Ashcroft v. ACLU, 535 U.S. 564!(2002), the Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to application of obscenity laws to the Internet. See also, United States v. Extreme Associates, 431 F.3d 150 (3rd Cir. 2005), cert. den., 547 U.S. 1143 (2006).
Definition of Pornography:
The term “pornography” is a generic, not a legal term. As noted by the Supreme Court in the landmark 1973 obscenity case, Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 20, n.2, the term “pornography” derives from the Greek (harlot, and graphos, writing). The word now means “1: a description of prostitutes or prostitution 2. a depiction (as in a writing or painting) of licentiousness or lewdness: a portrayal of erotic behavior designed to cause sexual excitement.” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary [Unabridged 1969])
Definition of Obscenity:
The term “obscenity” is a legal term, and in Miller v. California, the Supreme Court established a three-pronged test for determining whether a “work” (i.e., material or a performance) is obscene and therefore unprotected by the First Amendment. To be obscene, a judge and/or a jury must determine: First, that the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; AND second, that the work depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, as measured by contemporary community standards, “hardcore” sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable law; AND third, that a reasonable person would find that the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political and scientific value. (NOTE: Typical “hardcore pornography” [e.g., a website, DVD or magazine] consists of little if anything more than one depiction of hardcore sex after the other [i.e., it’s “wall-to-wall” sex].)
The pornography of today has created an unprecedented epidemic of sexual harm. Children and young people are being exposed to violent and degrading content, which by default has served as their sex education. Once a social or health issue involves problems that affect individuals or groups beyond their capacity to correct – responsibility shifts from individual accountability to holding the forces and influences that cause it accountable. While educating individual parents to guide and protect their children is always part of any prevention plan, the problem is well beyond what individual parents and children can do to protect themselves.
Science and research are catching up with the concerns of many and is now showing a wide range of harm caused by pornography.
Like other public health issues, not all exposed have the same response. However, for many, repeated exposure and use is correlated to problematic sexual behaviors that can lead to porn-induced erectile dysfunction, divorce or failed relationships, and sometimes sexually aggressive and violent behaviors. Research is also showing correlations to violence against women, increased STI rates, and increased sexual dysfunction among young men.
First of all, pornography today is so ubiquitous it is nearly impossible for parents to prevent their children from being unintentionally exposed to it. Young children are now exposed to hardcore (mainstream) pornography at an alarming rate, with 27% of older millennials (age 25-30) reporting that they first viewed pornography before puberty. Certainly the age is much younger for youth today as they have much easier access, often unsupervised, to Internet-connected devices.
Further, the lessons that pornography teaches—such as normalizing sexual violence against women—go on to filter into our pop culture and relationships. So even individuals who never see hardcore pornography are impacted by the societal pressures and the worldviews of individuals who have been regularly exposed to pornography.
Simply because pornography is typically used in private doesn’t make it harmless. While smoking tobacco is a private choice, as a society we recognize that individuals need to be aware of the physical harms smoking causes them, and the potential “second hand” effects.
Pornography harms the user, society at large, and the performers portrayed in pornography.
Pornography harms the brain. Since 2009, there have been 30 neurological studies that have revealed porn has negative and detrimental impacts on the brain. Pornography is also linked to increases in sexual violence. A 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike. Whether desired or not, pornography consumption also often colors ones judgment about sex, intimate relationships, and the opposite sex, which goes on to impact their personal relationships and often their interactions with others in daily life.
Professor Mary Anne Layden, Director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania, has stated: “Overall, the body of research on pornography reveals a number of negative attitudes and behaviors that are connected with its use. It functions as a teacher, a permission-giver, and a trigger of these negative behaviors and attitudes. !e damage is seen in men, women, and children, and to both married and single adults.”
Further, the individuals used to create pornography often struggle with a kaleidoscope of physical, sexual, or substance abuse either before or during their time in the pornography industry. Some individuals are even sex trafficked into pornography, and so no regular pornography user can be certain that they have not vicariously participated in another individual’s sexual slavery. While an individual may watch pornography in private, they are perpetuating an industry that thrives on the sexual brokenness and exploitation of its performers. To learn more about the links between pornography and sex trafficking visit StopTraffickingDemand.com.
For the sake of individuals using pornography, and those who are impacted by porn-culture, it is vital to speak out against the harms of pornography.
To learn more about the harms of pornography visit: http://endsexualexploitation.org/publichealth/
This reason is very misleading and demands further explanation.
Often, the adults in pornography are not consenting. Sex traffickers use their victims to produce porn in addition to prostituting and abusing them. If one is regularly viewing Internet pornography, they are no doubt also viewing pornographic images of trafficked women and children in the mix of porn they find.
Even among “consenting” performers, while participating in the pornography, performers suffer frequent violence and coercion and are often forced to continue against their will and wishes.
In addition, one must also take into account the background of these performers and ask whether or not they were capable of making a clear and healthy decision to get involved in pornography. According to feminist activist Maggie Hays, the question of whether women choose to get into pornography must be understood in a broader context beyond their immediate decision to do one project. Nearly all female performers in pornography experienced rape, childhood sexual abuse, and extreme violence before being recruited for porn. As one prominent psychologist and researcher, Melissa Farley, points out, “such injuries left them with difficulty establishing trusting relationships with others, inadequate skills in establishing personal and sexual boundaries, low self esteem, and a lower than average ability to recognize dangerous cues in relationships.” Financial deprivation is another common precursor to entry into the pornography industry brought on by homelessness, unemployment, abandonment, or running away from child abuse.
These women need love and healing, not further abuse by the porn industry. Porn harms the people in it, often even more than it harms the people using it. Pornography perpetuates exploitation and suffering. Hear from former performers at www.ThePinkCross.org.
Here are videos of former porn performers speaking about their experience:
The exact opposite is true: porn use is linked to increased violence against women. Porn encourages viewers to exploit women for sex, dehumanizes sex partners, and legitimizes violent and coercive sexual activity by depicting its victims as enjoying the violence. In addition, victims of domestic violence often point to porn use as a factor in the violence, with abusive partners forcing them to re-enact pornographic scenes even when dangerous or painful. To people inclined to sexual violence, porn fuels the desire to hurt others for sexual gratification.
Pornography consumers are more, not less, likely to take advantage of trafficking by hiring prostitutes. Porn creates a demand for more sex partners and more abusive sex, and its consumers are more likely to pay for sex, enriching human traffickers and increasing the abuse of prostitutes and sex slaves. Porn doesn’t replace the demand for prostitution and sex trafficking, it fuels that demand.
No, saying someone who is anti-pornography is anti-sex is like saying a nutritionist speaking out against junk food is anti-food.
We are anti-abusing, exploiting and using others. In many people’s lives, pornography becomes an alternative to sex, becoming an addiction that fuels harmful sexual behavior and deadens emotions. Pornography discourages the intimacy, trust, and respect that a healthy relationship needs, putting self-gratification and novelty above the emotional and sexual needs of one’s partner. Pornography is anti-sex.
“Porn sex is not about making love, as the feelings and emotions we normally associate with such an act—connection, empathy, tenderness, caring, affection—are replaced by those more often connected with hate—fear, disgust, anger, loathing, and contempt.”
– Gail Dines, Pornland
While pornography is still debated by psychologists and therapists and is not yet formally recognized as an addiction by the DSM (largely for monetary reasons), the neuroscience field conclusively demonstrates the addictive and dependency-inducing connections with pornography.
Since 2009, 30 separate neurological studies have demonstrated pornography’s negative impacts on brain function and structure. Some of the findings include:
- A 2014 study found that increased pornography use is linked to decreased brain matter in the regions of the brain associated with motivation and decision making.
- The brain scans of porn addicts show more pronounced stimulation in pleasure centers when watching x-rated material when compared to those not addicted – this mirrors similar studies on drug addict’s and alcoholic’s brain scans.
- A 2015 MRI study from Cambridge found that compulsive sexual behavior is characterized by novelty-seeking, conditioning, and habituation to sexual stimuli in males—meaning users need more extreme content over time in order to achieve the same level of arousal.
For more information on studies about the neurological harms of pornography visit: http://yourbrainonporn.com/brain-scan-studies-porn-users
Psychiatrist Norman Doidge, author of best-selling book The Brain That Changes Itself, explains:
“Pornography, by offering an endless harem of sexual objects, hyperactivates the appetitive system. Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated. Just as our muscles become impatient for exercise if we’ve been sitting all day, so too do our senses hunger to be stimulated.”
With pornography, in other words, our brain’s pleasure system that excites our desires is activated, but users are unable to ever find real satisfaction. This explains why certain people can spend endless hours searching for pornography on the Internet, and why it is increasingly difficult for many to find satisfaction in normal physical sexual relationships. It also explains why the content of pornography in recent years has changed so drastically. Women simply revealing their breasts no longer excite users. The content in pornography is increasingly dominated today by pseudo-child images (women dressed and posed to look younger), and by sadomasochistic themes of forced sex, ejaculations on women’s faces, angry anal sex all with the end-goal of humiliating, and objectifying one or more of the participants, usually female.
Learn more about the addictive nature of pornography here:
Here are some video presentations about pornography addiction:
While pornography might create a temporary spike in sexual activity between couples, its long-term effects are devastating for couple intimacy.
On April 5th, 2016, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, clinical psychologists and co-founders of the Gottman Institute, posted “An Open Letter on Porn.” This article discussed the serious threat pornography poses for intimacy and relationships in a powerful and direct manner.
Sexual fantasy is “rehearsal for relationships.” If you imagine others as mere instruments of your gratification, you are literally rehearsing exploitative patterns of behavior towards others. And, of course, the more one engages in such behavior, the more normal selfishly using others for sex becomes (whether it’s the real life partner in your life, or the person displayed on your computer screen). Interestingly, brain science has revealed that fantasizing or imaging doing something activates many of the same brain circuits as actually doing it (see: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120723134745.htm). Thus, is can come as little surprise that so many people through their pornography use are conditioning themselves away from loving and passionate relationships with their spouses.
You can read more on this topic here.
As human beings, we are marked by a free will that has the ability to distinguish between instinct or impulse and action. The argument that men cannot help but sexually objectify, and use, women is an insult to their humanity and personal autonomy—such an argument demotes men to mindless animalistic instincts.
We believe in the ability of men to rise above these false expectations, and to help lead a movement to respect the dignity of every individual.
Yes, as many argue, pornography has always been around. But due to the prevalence of high-speed Internet pornography today, consumers are experiencing higher rates of exposure and use than ever before. The pornography industry is promoting more violent and degrading material, often for an audience of young adolescent boys who have yet to experience or define their own sexual boundaries apart from pornography’s influences.
As the brain science explains, those who use porn are cultivating a taste for the most deviant, and damaging sexual materials. One is not born with a sexual preference for violent or degrading sexual activities. It is an acquired taste developed after repeated exposure to pornography and, or traumatic life experiences such as violence or sexual abuse, according to psychiatrist Norman Doidge, author of best-selling book The Brain That Changes Itself.
Further, just because pornography has been around for a long time doesn’t mean it is harmless, the same way tobacco has existed for a long time despite its harmful effects on users. It is vital now more than ever to help people recognize the impacts pornography is having on the individual and family and society, so that they can make better informed decisions.
Pornography teaches that women enjoy sexual violence. Analysis of the 50 most popular pornographic videos (those bought and rented most often) found that 88% of scenes contained physical violence, and 49% contained verbal aggression. Eighty-seven percent of aggressive acts were perpetrated against women, and 95% of their responses were either neutral or expressions of pleasure.
In addition to the extreme violence, themes most popular in today’s mainstream pornography include: sex with teens or individuals made to extremely young; incest; slavery; racist; and simulated (or sometimes real) rape.
Is that the kind of sexual education we want?
Further, on April 5th, 2016, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, clinical psychologists and co-founders of the Gottman Institute, posted “An Open Letter on Porn” to discuss the harms of pornography in sexually intimate relationships.
In their letter, the Gottmans write:
“There are many other factors about porn use that can threaten a relationship’s intimacy. First, intimacy for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people. But when one person becomes accustomed to masturbating to porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction. Second, when watching pornography the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control with the partner. Thus a porn user may form the unrealistic expectation that sex will be under only one person’s control. Third, the porn user may expect that their partner will always be immediately ready for intercourse (see Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski). This is unrealistic as well. Research has revealed that genital engorgement leads to a desire for sex only 10% of the time in women and 59% of the time in men. Fourth, some porn users rationalize that pornography is ok if it does not involve partnered sexual acts and instead relies only on masturbation. While this may accomplish orgasm the relationship goal of intimate connection is still confounded and ultimately lost.
Worse still, many porn sites include violence toward women, the antithesis of intimate connection. Porn use can become an actual addiction with the same brain mechanism activated in other behavioral addictions, like gambling (see Your Brain on Porn by Gary Wilson). Pornography can also lead to a decrease in relationship trust and a higher likelihood of affairs outside the relationship. Many porn sites now offer an escalation of sexual activity beyond simply viewing porn that includes actually having sex with other individuals. Finally, the support of porn use is reinforcing an industry that abuses the actors employed to create the pornography (see The Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges).”
Pornography is also linked to lower sexual and relational satisfaction among male viewers in a meta-analysis entitled Pornography Consumption and Satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis.
Organic sexuality, where individuals engage and discover together, is far more rewarding than the fake, commercialized, pornography industry’s depiction of sex which typically portrays violence and unrealistic sexual practices or traits.
Pornography devalues women and men, portraying them as sexual objects to be used without regard for their humanity—this is the opposite of empowerment. Further, aggression against women in mainstream pornography today is the rule, not the exception, which is antithesis to equal respect.
Pornography disempowers both the individuals depicted in pornography, and the people who are using pornography by disengaging organic, vibrant sexuality from the person and instead wiring it to a commodified Internet product.