The following excerpt from Diana Russell's book Against Pornography:
The Evidence of Harm (Berkeley, California: Russell Publications,
1994) explores links between the consumption of pornography and
violence against women. For more on Diana Russell's work, see her
I. THE ROLE OF PORNOGRAPHY IN PREDISPOSING SOME MALES TO WANT
(1) Pairing sexually arousing/gratifying stimuli with rape
A simple application of the laws of social learning suggests
that viewers of pornography can develop arousal responses to depictions
of rape, murder, child sexual abuse, or other assaultive behavior.
Researcher S. Rachman of the Institute of Psychiatry, Maudsley Hospital,
London, has demonstrated that male subjects can learn to become
sexually aroused by seeing a picture of a woman's boot after repeatedly
seeing women's boots in association with sexually arousing slides
of nude females (Rachman and Hodgson, 1968). The laws of learning
that operated in the acquisition of the boot fetish can also teach
males who were not previously aroused by depictions of rape to become
so. All it may take is the repeated association of rape with arousing
portrayals of female nudity (or clothed females in provocative poses).
(2) Increasing males' self-generated rape fantasies
Further evidence that exposure to pornography can create in males
a predisposition to rape where none existed before is provided by
an experiment conducted by Malamuth. Malamuth classified 29 male
students as sexually force-oriented or non-force-oriented on the
basis of their responses to a questionnaire (1981a). These students
were then randomly assigned to view either a rape version or a mutually
consenting version of a slide-audio presentation. The account of
rape and accompanying pictures were based on a story in a popular
pornographic magazine, which Malamuth describes as follows:
The man in this story finds an attractive woman on a deserted road.
When he approaches her, she faints with fear. In the rape version,
the man ties her up and forcibly undresses her. The accompanying
narrative is as follows: "You take her into the car. Though
this experience is new to you, there is a temptation too powerful
to resist. When she awakens, you tell her she had better do exactly
as you say or she'll be sorry. With terrified eyes she agrees. She
is undressed and she is willing to succumb to whatever you want.
You kiss her and she returns the kiss." Portrayal of the man
and woman in sexual acts follows; intercourse is implied rather
than explicit (1981a, p. 38).
In the mutually consenting version of the story the victim was not
tied up or threatened. Instead, on her awakening in the car, the
man told her that "she is safe and that no one will do her
any harm. She seems to like you and you begin to kiss." The
rest of the story is identical to the rape version (Malamuth, 1981a,
All subjects were then exposed to the same audio description of
a rape read by a female. This rape involved threats with a knife,
beatings, and physical restraint. The victim was portrayed as pleading,
crying, screaming, and fighting against the rapist (Abel, Barlow,
Blanchard, and Guild, 1977, p. 898). Malamuth reports that measures
of penile tumescence as well as self-reported arousal "indicated
that relatively high levels of sexual arousal were generated by
all the experimental stimuli" (1981a, p. 33).
After the 29 male students had been exposed to the rape audio tape,
they were asked to try to reach as high a level of sexual arousal
as possible by fantasizing about whatever they wanted but without
any direct stimulation of the penis (1981a, p. 40). Self-reported
sexual arousal during the fantasy period indicated that those students
who had been exposed to the rape version of the first slide-audio
presentation, created more violent sexual fantasies than those exposed
to the mutually consenting version irrespective of whether they
had been classified as force-oriented or non-force-oriented (1981a,
As the rape version of the slide-audio presentation is typical of
what is seen in pornography, the results of this experiment suggests
that similar pornographic depictions are likely to generate rape
fantasies even in previously non-force-oriented consumers. As Edna
Einsiedel points out (1986, p. 60):
Current evidence suggests a high correlation between deviant fantasies
and deviant behaviors....Some treatment methods are also predicated
on the link between fantasies and behavior by attempting to alter
fantasy patterns in order to change the deviant behaviors (1986,
Because so many people resist the idea that a desire to rape may
develop as a result of viewing pornography, let us focus for a moment
on behavior other than rape. There is abundant testimonial evidence
that at least some males decide they would like to perform certain
sex acts on women after seeing pornography portraying such sex acts.
For example, one of the men who answered Shere Hite's question on
pornography wrote: "It's great for me. It gives me new ideas
to try and see, and it's always sexually exciting" (1981,
p. 780; emphasis added). Of course, there's nothing wrong with getting
new ideas from pornography or anywhere else, nor with trying them
out, as long as they are not actions that subordinate or violate
others. Unfortunately, many of the behaviors modeled in pornography
do subordinate and violate women, sometimes viciously.
Psychologist Jennings Bryant testified to the Pornography
Commission about a survey he had conducted involving 600 telephone
interviews with males and females who were evenly divided into three
age groups: students in junior high school, students in high school,
and adults aged 19 to 39 years (1985, p. 133). Respondents were
asked if "exposure to X-rated materials had made them want
to try anything they saw" (1985, p. 140). Two-thirds of the
males reported "wanting to try some of the behavior depicted"
(1985, p. 140). Bryant reports that the desire to imitate what is
seen in pornography "progressively increases as age of respondents
decreases" (1985, p. 140; emphasis added). Among the
junior high school students, 72% of the males reported that "they
wanted to try some sexual experiment or sexual behavior that they
had seen in their initial exposure to X-rated material" (1985,
In trying to ascertain if imitation had occurred, the respondents
were asked: "Did you actually experiment with or try any of
the behaviors depicted [within a few days of seeing the materials]?"
(1985, p. 140). A quarter of the males answered that they had. A
number of adult men answered, "no," but said that some
years later they had experimented with the behaviors portrayed.
However, only imitations within a few days of seeing the materials
were counted (1985, p. 140). Male high school students were the
most likely (31%) to report experimenting with the behaviors portrayed
(1985, p. 141).
Unfortunately, no information is available on the behaviors imitated
by these males. Imitating pornography is cause for concern only
when the behavior imitated is violent or abusive, or when the behavior
is not wanted by one or more of the participants. Despite the unavailability
of this information, Bryant's study is valuable in showing how common
it is for males to want to imitate what they see in pornography,
and for revealing that many do imitate it within a few days
of viewing it. Furthermore, given the degrading and often violent
content of pornography, as well as the youthfulness and presumable
susceptibility of many of the viewers, how likely is it that these
males only imitated or wished to imitate the non-sexist, non-degrading,
and non-violent sexual behavior?
Almost all the research on pornography to date has been conducted
on men and women who were at least 18 years old. But as Malamuth
points out, there is "a research basis for expecting that children
would be more susceptible to the influences of mass media, including
violent pornography if they are exposed to it" than adults
(1985, p. 107). Bryant's telephone interviews show that very large
numbers of children now have access to both hard-core and soft-core
materials. For example:
The average age at which male respondents saw their first
issue of Playboy or a similar magazine was 11 years (1985,
All of the high school age males surveyed reported having
read or looked at Playboy, Playgirl, or some other
soft-core magazine (1985, p. 134).
High school males reported having seen an average of 16.1
issues, and junior high school males said they had seen an average
of 2.5 issues.
In spite of being legally under age, junior high students
reported having seen an average of 16.3 "unedited sexy R-rated
films" (1985, p. 135). (Although R-rated movies are not usually
considered pornographic, many of them meet my definition of pornography.)
The average age of first exposure to sexually oriented R-rated
films for all respondents was 12.5 years (1985, p. 135).
Nearly 70% of the junior high students surveyed reported
that they had seen their first R-rated film before they were 13
(1985, p. 135).
The vast majority of all the respondents reported exposure
to hard-core, X-rated, sexually explicit material (1985, p. 135).
Furthermore, "a larger proportion of high school students had
seen X-rated films than any other age group, including adults":
84%, with the average age of first exposure being 16 years, 11 months
(1985, p. 136).
In a more recent anonymous survey of 247 Canadian junior high school
students whose average age was 14 years, James Check and Kristin
Maxwell (1992) report that 87% of the boys and 61% of the girls
said they had viewed video-pornography. The average age at first
exposure was just under 12 years.
33% of the boys versus only 2% of the girls reported watching pornography
once a month or more often. As well, 29% of the boys versus 1% of
the girls reported that pornography was the source that had provided
them with the most useful information about sex (i.e., more than
parents, school, friends, etc.). Finally, boys who were frequent
consumers of pornography and/or reported learning a lot from pornography
were also more likely to say that is was "OK" to hold
a girl down and force her to have intercourse (abstract).
Clearly, more research is needed on the effects of pornography on
young male viewers, particularly in view of the fact that recent
studies suggest that "over 50% of various categories of paraphiliacs
[sex offenders] had developed their deviant arousal patterns prior
to age 18" (Einsiedel, 1986, p. 53). Einsiedel goes on to say
that "it is clear that the age-of-first-exposure variable and
the nature of that exposure needs to be examined more carefully.
There is also evidence that the longer the duration of the paraphilia,
the more significant the association with use of pornography"
(Abel, Mittleman, and Becker, 1985).
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