Vice or Virtue? The Pros of Pornography

A little smut won't hurt. So let's just enjoy the show.

By Matthew Hutson, published January 1, 2008 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Hardcore porn. The ultimate guilty pleasure. Does the average user really want the dirty temptation out of his or her life? Maybe not.

A study conducted in Denmark shows that men and women generally consider hardcore pornography a positive influence in their lives. They credit it with improving their sex lives, their sexual knowledge, their attitudes toward the opposite gender, and even their general quality of life. Those who use it the most, those who pleasure themselves the most, and those who consider their source material the most realistic perceived the greatest positive effects.

Lead author Martin Hald concedes that people generally view themselves as relatively immune to harmful media effects and that users may focus on porn's benefits to rationalize continuous consumption. Indeed, studies by others show that exposure to X-rated material makes both men and women less satisfied with their partners, less supportive of marriage, more interested in emotionless sex, and more accepting of female servitude.

Yet Hald maintains that porn can be used in a healthy way. One study at Illinois State University supports a mixed take: A third of women whose partners use porn said they experienced significant distress, but the rest were fine with it. And Hald's co-author, Neil Malamuth, who teaches communications and women's studies at UCLA, published a paper in 2007 putting a less alarmist spin on claims that smut instigates violence against women. "In certain people who are already inclined to be sexually aggressive, it adds fuel to the fire. But for the majority of men," Malamuth says, "we don't find negative effects."

In the end, these studies paint a picture as compelling and contentious as the images they address.