3-Decade-Old Porn Experiment Reveals Why We’re All Messed Up

One of the big problems with doing research about the effect of video pornography on people is it’s hard to find a control group. Not too long ago a researcher from the University of Montreal wanted to study the effect of pornography on men, but he said when he was looking for a control group of men in their 20s who had never consumed porn, he actually couldn’t find anyone.

But there was a study that was done in the mid-80s, before the dawn of the World Wide Web, and the results are fascinating.

Dr. Dolf Zillmann and Dr. Jennings Bryant took 80 male and 80 female participants and broke them into three roughly equal groups. In a lab setting, each group watched about five hours of media spread out over a six week period.

  • The first subgroup they called the No Exposure control group. They were shown just regular broadcast media.
  • The next was called the Intermediate Exposure group. Half of the media they consumed was regular stuff and the other half was pornographic movies.
  • The last subgroup was called the Massive Exposure group. All five hours of media they saw over that six-week stretch was pornographic.

At the end of the experiment they asked the participants questions. I’ll mention just five discoveries.

1. Less Sexual Satisfaction

Participants from the Massive Exposure group reported less sexual satisfaction with their partners since starting the experiment. They noticed how they were now rating their partner’s physical appearance, their affection, their sexual performance.

2. More Attraction to Casual Sex

Those exposed to more porn showed a greater attraction to casual sex. When asked questions related to their desire for marriage or having children or even staying faithful to your marriage partner, the Massive Exposure group was more likely to devalue these things.

3. Less Support for Women’s Rights

Participants from the Massive Exposure group also showed a loss of support for women’s rights. Participants were asked, “Do you support women’s rights?” Look at the results. 71% of the No Exposure group said yes, compared to 25% of the Massive Exposure group. Remember, the Massive Exposure group included both men and women—so even women exposed to porn were showing a drop in support for women’s rights.

4. Desensitized to Violence

Those exposed to more porn also showed a desensitization to sexual violence. Participants in all 3 groups were given a story about a man who rapes a female hitchhiker and were asked to recommend prison sentences for the rapist. Males in the Massive Exposure group recommended a sentence nearly half that recommended by the No Exposure group. Now, keep in mind, the pornography these people watched was not particularly violent porn, but those who viewed it still tended to trivialize rape more.

5. Less Likely to Want to Protect Minors from Porn

Those in the Massive Exposure group were far less likely to think minors should be protected from porn. 84% of the No Exposure group said minors should be protected, but only 37% of the Massive Exposure group said the same—a well over 50% drop.

“Massive Exposure” No Longer Massive

Think about it: back in the 80s, five hours of porn videos spread out over six weeks was called the Massive Exposure group. Today we might call that the Friday Afternoon group.

I think this experiment conducted 30 years ago offers a powerful lesson to men and women. I’m not here advocating for censorship. That’s another conversation for another day. Instead, we should think about how our media consumption impacts our values and live in wisdom.

  • Do you want to be a man or woman who really enjoys your sexual partner without the nagging comparison to porn videos you’ve seen?
  • Do you want to be someone who connects intimacy to sex, not just seeing sex as a cheap thrill?
  • Do you want to be someone who really honors and cherishes women, seeing them as persons to be given equal protection and rights as men?
  • Do you want to be a man or women who takes seriously the injustices women endure today through rape and abuse and trafficking?
  • Do you want to a person who thinks children today shouldn’t be sexualized?

If so, then let’s be wise media consumers and let’s warn people about the corrosive effects of porn on the mind.

Learn more in the free e-book called Your Brain on Porn.

DOWNLOAD YOUR BRAIN ON PORN .

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* Sources: Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of massive exposure to pornography,” in Pornography and Sexual Aggression (New York: Academic Press, 1984); Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Shifting preferences in pornography consumption,” Communication Research 13 (1986); 560-578, Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 18 (1988): 438–453, Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography on Family Values,” Journal of Family Issues 9 (1988): 518-544.