Today we continue with our look at the academic literature related to violence and behaviours associated with sex addiction. As I mentioned last week, I'm aware that this is not going to be an easy topic for some of our readers. Please remember your grounding tools and other supports if this post (or any in this series) feels triggering. Also, keep in mind that while we are focusing on the "bad news" for awhile... this information is meant ultimately to help women and men get the best possible support.
All of the studies cited last week were conducted in North America. However, there has been one relatively recent study conducted with Chinese university students, 88.6% of whom were in a “committed” (e.g., married, engaged) or “serious” relationship. The study was looking to demonstrate a relationship between pornography use and relationship confidence. As part of understanding relationship confidence, the study measured incidents of various forms of physical assault, including sexual assault, directed at one’s partner.
This study concluded that a higher frequency of pornography use was associated with physical assault on one's partner. Moreover, frequency of pornography use was demonstrated to be directly related to the number of physical assaults.
In a qualitative study based in Kyrgyzstan, the authors interviewed 16 Kyrgyz women who had sought refuge at a domestic violence and crisis shelter. The women related a number of stories about their abuser/husband’s sexual-addiction type behaviours, and how these were interwoven with the violence experienced. The researchers summed up this theme saying, “A significant number of participants said that their husbands flaunted extramarital affairs, visited prostitutes, and then blamed these actions on the wives’ alleged nagging.”
Likewise, a qualitative study of 20 South Asian women, recently immigrated to the United States, revealed a similar theme of problematic sexual behaviours and intimate partner sexual violence. Said the researchers:
"With regard to sexual abuse, we found a considerable number of women in our study reporting the different ways in which their partners committed sexual violence on them… The women in our study also mentioned how their partners’ idea of ‘sex’ and ‘beauty’ was based on what they watched on pornographic videos."
In 2006, two criminologisy researchers published the results of a study conducted a few years earlier on the experiences of 55 rural women who had left or were trying to leave abusive relationships. One of the unexpected themes that emerged from the women’s stories was the connection between male pornography use and the women’s experiences of sexual violence. In subsequent years, the study’s lead researcher and other colleagues would more closely examine this and other themes that had emerged from the interview data—such as the connection between male peer support and the violence experienced—and publish papers revealing that “65 per cent of these women’s estranged partners viewed pornography and 30 per cent of the sample stated that porn was involved in their sexual abuse.” A later revisiting of this data, with a broadening of the definition of “pornography” would see these percentages increase.
In the words of Bridges et al.: “Among academics, pornography has endured as one of the most combative and divisive areas of research, splitting feminist researchers across the academy into warring factions.” Pro-porn researchers have used observational studies, which they claim are more reliable than the lab-based studies or the Confluence Model, to try and show that the availability and consumption of pornography increased in certain geographic locations, while reported rape declined in those locations at the same time.
Critics of these observational studies point out that rape is a vastly under-reported crime. Moreover, law enforcement rape statistics from 2013 onward show a steady increase in the incidents of reported rape in the US and of reported sex crimes in the UK. The most recent academic and market research available show a simultaneous increase in the number of people in the US viewing pornography.
There have been other types of studies, beyond the observational set, conducted by pro-porn academics to refute the research showing a correlation between porn use and anti-woman attitudes. For example, Kohut et al. published a study, which purports to demonstrate that porn use is associated with more gender egalitarian attitudes. In this study egalitarian views are equated with, amongst other things, support for abortion, and a “negative attitude toward the traditional family”. Gary Wilson has argued that the methodology of this study is highly flawed as it pits American secular populations (higher porn using; support abortion rights) against American religious populations (lower porn using; anti-abortion rights) and equates the former with “egalitarian”— to an already well-documented outcome: there is more porn use in the former population. Wilson goes on to cite 25 other studies, many published in the last couple of years demonstrating a correlation between porn use and less egalitarian attitudes.
Included in Wilson’s list is a meta-analysis which found evidence of significant negative effects on sexual attitudes and behaviours in youth who watched sexualized media. Other studies on his list were:
- A 2017 study showing increased objectification of women by porn users and the likelihood of users making unwanted sexual advances on women
- A study showing porn users’ acceptance of rape myths and behavioural intent to commit rape
- Studies demonstrating porn users’ desire—sometimes acted on—for certain types of sexual acts with a female partner, which she does not welcome
- Two 2019 high school studies, one on the association between violent pornography exposure and teen dating violence, the other on pornography and sexually predatory behaviour, including sexual assault perpetration
There are also studies showing that higher pornography use is correlated with a lower likelihood of intervening to prevent sexual assault, as well as two meta-analyses demonstrating that the majority of recent studies point to a link between porn use and actual acts of verbal, physical and sexual aggression.
Despite this wealth of various kinds of research demonstrating an association between porn use and attitudes conducive to violence and/or actual acts of aggression—over 100 on the latter alone—the debate between “pro” and “anti” porn academics rages on. A look at the latter’s research, however, does back up critics’ claims that the pro-porn camp tends to rely on a small number of outlying studies, thereby misrepresenting the full body of research available linking porn and aggression, and that at least some of these outliers appear to employ questionable methodology.
Next week I'll begin to present the results of my study. Stay tuned.