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Pornography: Beneficial or Detrimental?

It turns out that pornography may be good for you.

For the past several decades, a debate has raged as to whether or not pornography yields deleterious effects at the individual or societal levels (increased negative views toward women, for example, or increased rate of sexual crimes against women).

In many instances, those who have sought to link pornography to countless ills have been ideologically motivated, as the aggregate scientific evidence hardly supports such conclusions. (See chapter six of my book, The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption, for some relevant references on pornography.)

In today's post, I'd like to briefly report on two recent studies that shed light on the matter. In a paper published in 2009 in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Milton Diamond reviewed a very broad number of studies that have explored the supposed ill effects of pornography. Subsequent to his extensive review, Diamond concludes:

"Indeed, the data reported and reviewed suggests that the thesis is myth and, if anything, there is an inverse causal relationship between an increase in pornography and sex crimes. Further, considering the findings of studies of community standards and wide spread usage of SEM [sexually explicit material], it is obvious that in local communities, as nationally and internationally, porn is available, widely used, and felt appropriate for voluntary adult consumption. If there is a consensus against pornography, it is in regard to any SEM that involves children or minors in its production or consumption. Lastly, we see that objections to erotic materials are often made on the basis of supposed actual, social, or moral harm to women. No such cause and effect has been demonstrated with any negative consequence."

This is yet another review of the literature that seems to find no societal ill effects of pornography.

What about at the individual level? Are women who view pornography terrorized beyond redemption? Do they descend into a well of despair and self-doubt about their sexuality? Do men become misogynist monsters upon viewing pornographic material? Do they develop debilitating penis insecurities at the sight of well-endowed male porn actors?

Let's see what Gert Martin Hald and Neil M. Malamuth found in their 2008 paper, titled "Self-Perceived Effects of Pornographic Consumption." (I should mention that Neil Malamuth is a highly regarded scholar of pornography who has often argued for its supposed ill effects. Hence, if there exists a possibility of an a priori bias here, it would likely be in hoping to find that pornography yields negative consequences.)

In their survey of 688 young Danish adults (316 men; 372 women), Hald and Malamuth found that respondents construed the viewing of hardcore pornography as beneficial to their sex lives, their attitudes towards sex, their perceptions and attitudes towards members of the opposite sex, toward life in general, and overall. The obtained beneficial effects were statistically significant for all but one measure across both sexes.

Now here's the kicker: A positive correlation was obtained between the amount of hardcore pornography that was viewed and the impact of the benefits reaped. This positive correlation was found for both sexes. In other words, the more that one watched porn, the stronger the benefits—for both sexes! There you have it.

This post should not be construed as my being in favor of pornography, as my personal opinion is irrelevant to the matter at hand. Rather, I am reporting on recent data regarding this debate and in so doing I wish to highlight the fact that ideology should never trump scientific evidence.

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