American culture is inundated with sexual imagery. We are reminded time and again that “sex sells”. After all, sex is a driving force in nature and may influence our day to day decisions more than we may like to believe. According to some, pornography has been around since ancient times in one form or another. However, what may distinguish pornography in the past from pornography today is the sheer ubiquity of access to pornography through the internet.  Through the internet, pornography has become incredibly accessible, and is viewed by millions daily.  For practitioners working in the field of sexual assault prevention, psychology and sociology effect on the people who view pornography, and on a society in which pornography is viewed strictly as an innate reflection of a biological drive for sex. 

        A report published by the parliament of New South Wales set out to try and find out if the accessibility of pornography impacted the prevalence of sexual assault. Since “pornography” itself does not have a definitive definition and can vary depending on one’s personal views and beliefs, the parliament identified pornography specifically as “material in which the primary concern appears to be to demean women and reassert their treatment as inferiors”. In the research examined, data hinted at a possible connection between instances of sexual crimes and the viewing of pornography. In the same study, they found that pornography was viewed just before or during a sexual assault in forty-one percent of sex crimes committed in Michigan over the course of twenty years. Another example shows that Alaska and Nevada have  a rape rate six times higher than  South Dakota, and Alaska and Nevada have five times the amount of sales of adult magazines as South Dakota. 

    VAWnet.org set out to investigate studies on whether or not pornography does have a direct correlation with the occurrence of sexual assault. The article states that “Virtually all reviews of the research on the potential connections between pornography and sexual violence suggest there is evidence for some limited effects on male consumers but no way to reach definitive conclusions”. One study cited reported that while pornography itself may not cause men to become more aggressive or have misogynistic views towards women, it may reinforce aggressive behavior and biased views in men who are already predisposed to such views. Another important factor mentioned in the article is that studies which expose men to pornographic material and then record results within a short period of time can never replicate the day to day consumption of pornography in a way that reflects how such consumption takes place in reality, over extended periods of time. As a result, it is unrealistic to state definitively that pornography directly shapes or affects behavior and ideas over a long period of time.

    While it might be difficult to fully explicate the connection between pornography and sexual assault, it has no doubt had an influence on the everyday lives of American consumers (e.g. all of us). If pornography is harmless and something to be expected for our population to consume, then we must look at the data to confirm that. Today, the data presented has come up inconclusive, perhaps in part because of pornography’s nebulous definition. In the end, we must decide for ourselves how we think others should be treated, and by extension, depicted.

Author: Natalie Thompson