Critics say porn demeans women & spurs sexism. A rigorous new study disagrees
Since the late-1990s when pornography flooded the Internet, porn bashers have asserted it fosters sexism, a set of beliefs that women are the inherently inferior gender, should be subordinate to men, and belong in the home, not out in the working world and especially not in positions of power.
A few small, non-representative studies have lent modest support to this view (below). But most of the research—including all of the most rigorous studies—have concluded that porn does NOT promote sexism. Recently, Canadian investigators explored this issue using the largest, most representative sample ever. They concluded that far from encouraging sexism, porn viewing is actually associated with men holding more EGALITARIAN views of women.
The New Study: Porn is NOT Associated with Sexism
The recent Canadian study used data from the General Social Survey, the oldest, largest, most in-depth nationally representative examination of the beliefs and actions of residents of the United States. Funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, GSS surveys have been conducted almost annually since 1972, and have involved more than 60,000 participants. Social scientists consider it very credible.
The GSS researchers asked several thousand men about their porn viewing during the previous year and how they felt about the following four statements:
• Most men are better suited emotionally for politics than most women.
Compared with participants who said they’d watched little or no porn during the previous year, men who admitted watching the most porn were no more likely to endorse this statement. In other words, viewing pornography did not boost their sexism.
• Preschool children are likely to suffer if their mothers work outside the home.
As porn viewing increased, men’s agreement with this statement decreased.
• Some say that because of past discrimination, women should be given preference in hiring and promotion (affirmative action). Others say affirmative action is wrong because it discriminates against men.
Pornography viewing had no significant effect on the men’s agreement with these statements.
• It’s better for families if the man is the breadwinner and the woman takes care of the home and family.
As men’s porn watching increased, there was a small— but statistically insignificant—increase in endorsement of this statement. In other words, the small increase might well have been a fluke. Upshot: Porn viewing does not significantly increase male sexism.
The researchers concluded, “Viewing pornography was associated with less sexism, not more.”
Other Studies: Porn Viewers Hold More Egalitarian Views of Women
The recent Canadian report if far from the only study showing that porn viewing dos not promote sexism:
• Using nationally representative U.S. data, other Canadian scientists found that compared with men who viewed little porn, those who watched more were less sexist. Those who watched porn frequently expressed more support for abortion rights, women working outside the home, and women occupying positions of political and economic power.
• An international team of researchers compared sexism among 863 men surveyed by the GSS and 294 porn “super-fans,” men who attended the Adult Entertainment Expo, a convention of porn producers, actors, and consumers. “We found that porn super-fans are no more sexist or misogynistic that the general U.S. population, and often held more progressive gender-role attitudes than the general public.”
• Researchers at Texas Tech University found that as porn viewing increases, sexism decreases, except for “benevolent sexism,” the belief that women need men’s protection.
A Few Studies Suggest Porn Promotes Sexism
Occasionally, a study appears suggesting that porn boosts sexism. For example, one Indiana University study suggests that porn may contribute to opposition to affirmative action for women.
Critics counter that the studies linking porn viewing to sexism usually involve small numbers of men from non-representative subject samples. They are less credible than the studies discussed above, which were all based on large, nationally representative samples—with the new study involving the largest representative sample ever assembled to explore porn’s impact on sexism.
Where Do Women Have More Rights and Opportunities?
Porn is fantasy, a cartoon version of sex, and the large majority of men know it. After watching the Roadrunner hit Wile E. Coyote over the head with a sledgehammer, men do not pick up hammers and assault real live people. Similarly, only a tiny fraction of men imitate what they see in other cartoons, action movies, video games—or porn.
Compared with countries where porn is illegal or difficult to view (Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia), in countries where porn is legal and easily available (the U.S., Canada, Western Europe), women have more social, economic, and political rights, opportunities, and power. In other words, as porn availability, increases, sexism decreases.
The new study shows that pornography does not promote sexism. On the contrary, as viewing increased, sexist attitudes decreased.
For more myth-busting about porn, check out my book, Sizzling Sex for Life.