Research On Porn, Pagan Ideals

Russell Williams

Because several people in this discussion have cited unnamed studies to support their views, I'll just throw in a few research results here. I've been researching the topic of societal attitudes toward sexuality, with an emphasis on the religious origins of sex-negative attitudes. Apropos the current discussion, here's some info from *Pornography and Sexual Aggression*, Ed: Malamuth & Donnerstein. Like virtually all such research, it is focused on hard-core pornography, violent pornography, and violent films (e.g. Friday the 13th, Straw Dogs, etc.)

Donnerstein is a leading researcher in the field, and his findings were loudly misrepresented by the Meese commission. He found that the key variable in increasing violence toward women *in a laboratory setting* was violence, not sex. The findings on violence are consistent with other findings on behavioral modeling Q behavior depicted as acceptable becomes more acceptable to the viewer. Some studies have not controlled for the content of pornographic material used in the research: was it somewhat violent? Did it have a plot or was it just scenes of sex? One study found that after viewing non-violent porn, men exhibited a slight increase in aggressiveness toward men and a slight decrease in aggressiveness toward women

Several studies have demonstrated that individuals with a negative sexual-socialization history rate their affective and evaluative responses to erotica as negative while those with a positive history of sexual experiences express positive affective-evaluative responses to sexual stimulation. Individuals found to rate high on the trait of sex guilt react to erotica with more negative emotions, including disgust, than those rating low on sex guilt. Likewise, authoritarianism is positively related to negative emotions, higher judgments of the pornographic character of sexual stimuli, and the placing of legal restrictions on their availability. Erotophobes (those reacting negatively to explicit sexual imagery of coitus and oral sex) have more negative sexual-socialization experiences, more limited sexual experience, and more conservative sex-related attitudes than erotophiles.

Interestingly, only the erotophobes reported an increase in sexual activity from the pre- to post-exposure periods (it is unclear whether the activity or the reporting increased). In the standard experimental setup for media / aggression research (subjects watch film, are then placed in artificial situation designed to anger them, then given an opportunity to express aggression at the focus of their anger), people who enjoyed and saw porn films less were more likely to increased aggression after viewing porn. (This is one of those studies that didn't specify what films they were using).

Note that A=>B does not mean that B=>A, and we are talking about correlation coefficients significantly less than 1.0. In other words, do not interpret these studies to mean that individuals expressing negative attitudes toward Playboy, here or elsewhere, are high on sex-guilt scales.

Donnerstein notes that instead of using research on the behavioral effects of sex and violence in media to inform public policy, it is usually just grist for a propaganda mill. It's twisted to suit someone's purpose when convenient, and ignored otherwise. Some have also argued that "if it's shown to cause harm, it should be banned," or even "if some women feel it harms them, then it shouldn't be viewed". Several caveats should be kept in mind:

  1. Virtually all research on pornography is based on "laboratory experiments", but some of these have been several months long and have included reporting of non-laboratory behavior. There is good evidence that some of these results *can* be applied to real-world behavior.
  2. Very few of the research results cited on "pornography" apply to Playboy, whether you personally would classify Playboy as pornography or not.
  3. Demonstrating the harmful nature of violent pornography and deciding to ban it are two separate issues. No society bans things strictly based on a cutoff level of "amount of scientifically provable harm" done. In the U.S., we tend to be biased toward allowing any speech or writing except for that proved directly harmful to someone. Major restrictions on speech fall in the areas of national security, fraud, and slander or libel. The major exception to this is sexual speech, which has been suppressed without regard to its measurably harmful effects or lack thereof. There has been much more call to ban "Lady Chatterley's Lover", "Devil in Miss Jones," or even Playboy than "Mein Kampf" or material that demeans women in a non-sexual way.

As for my own biases, I completed a college major in Women's Studies and am a former member of Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media. I am a Witch, a worshipper of the Goddess, and consider myself a feminist. I became disillusioned with WAVPAM after discovering that they seriously misrepresented the character of most pornography. I also met many women who felt that WAVPAM and women like Andrea Dworkin were just another group of authoritarians trying to tell them what they should think and what "acceptable" sexual feelings were. The denouncements of S/M women by feminists in the 1980s sound almost identical to the denouncements of gay women by straight feminists in the 1960s. Fifteen years ago, I tried to read everything Robin Morgan wrote. Today I try to read everything Susie Bright writes. I now believe that attempted enforcement of "correct " sexual feelings and attitudes is a much greater threat to the freedom of women (and men ) than is sexually explicit material. I feel no obligation to cease practicing my religion because some people believe it is harmful, and I feel no obligation to refrain from viewing sexually explicit material because some people think it is harmful.

The Wiccan Rede says "an it harm none, do as you will," but of course there is a huge gray area in trading off perceived harm against personal freedom. Since becoming a Pagan my requirements have gone up for demonstrating concrete and significant harm before removing someone else is freedom. Cult hunters who rail against Satanism and Witchcraft but say "of course they're protected by the first amendment" are really trying to restrict our religious freedom. They increase intolerance toward non-traditional religions and try to pass laws restricting them. So too do many who crusade against pornography but say "we don't favor censorship" try to restrict our sexual freedom. They increase intolerance toward alternative sexual lifestyles and often try to pass laws restricting sexuality. Is Jesse Helms well-being or freedom in danger from Pagans, or are we in danger from him? He thinks he's defending himself and other God-fearing people from the evils of Witchcraft. Is Andrea Dworkin in danger from Susie Bright, readers of porn, and S/M practitioners, or is their freedom in danger from her? She thinks she's protecting herself from the rapists generated by pornography. To put it more colorfully, my right to swing my arm stops at your nose, but I reject convoluted theoretical definitions of your nose.

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