Porn and Critical Thinking: The Importance of Using Your Head When Looking at Scientific Results

Recently, my colleagues and I accidentally reinvigorated public discussions of pornography’s impact on the treatment of women by publishing an archival study[i] examining the correlates of pornography use. Although limited in its scope, and never really intended for public consumption, our findings, which surprised many people (including us to some extent), captured media attention for a few weeks, and appear to have briefly rekindled public interest in porn research. For those who are not familiar with our study, we examined the responses of over 25,000 Americans collected over the course of 35 years, and found evidence — in contrast to pervasive cultural beliefs — that pornography users in the sample held more gender egalitarian attitudes than non-users on three of our five indices. Specifically, those who indicated that they had watched an X-rated movie in the past year were more likely to agree that women are suited for politics, should be free to work outside the home, and should be able to access abortion.

While we are the first to admit that the interpretation of our findings must be qualified by several important shortcomings with the study, the pushback we have received in some public forums — including accusations that we are uncritical apologists of Big Porno — is quite at odds with the actual weaknesses of the study, and has reminded us that most people lack access to basic research concerning pornography use. Mirroring trends in public discourse, it may surprise some people to know that the topic of pornography has contributed to considerable conflict within academic circles for nearly 50 years. Since the late 1960s, researchers have asserted many (sometimes conflicting) effects of viewing the stuff, the most controversial of which concerns the idea that pornography use increases the risk for sexual assault. Considerable research has been conducted on —> Read More

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