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Porn and Sexual Violence: 7 Important Facts

Last Updated: April 3, 2023

Does watching porn correlate with sexual violence? Yes, it does. Does it cause sexual violence? That depends.

Decades of research testify to the close connection between pornography and sexual violence. And though the porn defenders adamantly insist there’s no causation, study after study points the finger at porn as a factor in sexual violence.

Does this mean that everyone who watches porn is sexually violent? Absolutely not. But it does mean the things we watch influence us, both on an individual level and on a broader scale in society.

Let’s take a look at this important body of research that goes back decades and traces the close link between pornography and sexual violence. These seven facts demonstrate, even if pornography is not the direct cause of sexual violence, that it contributes to sexual violence.

1. Mainstream Pornography Is Violent

In 2020, researchers from Indiana University conducted a survey of over 4000 pornographic videos from two popular porn sites. On one site, nearly half of the videos (45%) had at least one act of physical aggression. The other site had fewer instances of violence—about one-third.

“Spanking, gagging, slapping, hair pulling, and choking were the five most common forms of physical aggression. Women were the target of the aggression in 97% of the scenes, and their response to aggression was either neutral or positive and rarely negative. Men were the perpetrators of aggression against women in 76% of scenes.”1

The researchers concluded, “This study suggests aggression is common against women in online pornography, while repercussions to this aggression are rarely portrayed.”

In 2021, researchers from Durham University published a similar study and took the implications further, suggesting that violent trends in pornography are shaping the way that society thinks about sex:

“Our study provides clear evidence that sexual violence is a normative sexual script in mainstream online pornography, with significant implications at a social level for understandings of the difference between sexual pleasure and sexual harm.”2

It’s an important claim because it means that pornography is making our society more violent, or at least more tolerant of violence. Porn defenders contend that porn provides an outlet for people’s repressed fantasies, actually making them less likely to carry out acts of sexual violence. But is this true?

Let’s examine the evidence further and see whether this holds up.

2. Watching Porn Can Change Our Emotional Responses—Even if We Don’t Realize It

It goes without saying that people feel differently about pornography. Responses to porn can range from indifference, to enthusiasm, to disgust and horror. What’s less obvious is that using porn can change how we feel—without our realizing it.

This is what researchers from Australia and Austria concluded in a 2017 paper published in Applied Sciences. “Increased pornography use appears to have an influence on the brain’s non-conscious responses to emotion-inducing stimuli which was not shown by explicit self-report.”3

Brain scan technology indicated that pornography had changed the subjects’ emotional responses—even when they weren’t aware of it. In particular, they noted the reactions of people who were exposed to violent and erotic images.

While this study alone doesn’t tell us whether watching porn can make you more violent, it’s an important piece of the puzzle. Many people who watch porn deny it affects them. But porn can unconsciously change the way we feel—which becomes even clearer in the next study.  

3. People Who Consume Pornography Have a Higher Tolerance for Sexual Violence

For decades now, researchers have been studying the ways that pornography shapes feelings and beliefs about sex. And what they find again and again is that pornography desensitizes people to sexual violence, particularly violence toward women.

According to a meta-analysis of 46 different studies published in 2000, if you watch pornography you have a 31% increased risk of accepting rape myths—that is, believing things that would reduce your empathy for a rape victim or lead you to blame a rape victim for being assaulted.4

In 2007, Canadian criminologist Philipe Bensimon concluded that “Many researchers agree on one thing: Long-term exposure to pornographic material is bound to disinhibit the individual… long-term exposure to pornography has an addictive effect and leads offenders to minimize the violence in the acts they commit.”5

Supporters of the porn industry challenged these findings and the studies included. Seeking to improve on past research, researchers from the University of California conducted another meta-analysis in 2010. Like earlier studies, they found that “the current results showed an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in nonexperimental studies.”6

Dr. John Foubert is an expert on the relationship between porn and sexual violence. In 2016, he and his colleagues examined whether pornography makes a difference in someone’s willingness to intervene in a sexual assault. They found that violent and degrading pornography “may contribute to a culture of acceptance of violence against women.”7

So then, a substantial body of evidence testifies that pornography shapes people’s thoughts and feelings about sexual violence. But does this translate into different sexual behavior?

4. Pornography Consumption Affects Sexual Behaviors

It seems likely that attitudes about sex that pornography would likewise influence sexual behaviors. But do they? Different approaches in methodology, some vagueness in definitions of terms, as well as ethical concerns all make it difficult to answer this question.

However, there seems to be a connection. Researchers from Indiana University found in 2020:

“After adjusting for age, age at first porn exposure, and current relationship status, the associations between pornography use and sexual behaviors was statistically significant.”8

The more porn people watched, the more they imitated the kind of violence that is mainstream in pornography—as we’ll see confirmed in the following research. This is likewise borne out in dozens of anecdotal testimonies. One survey of sex workers found that 86% had been shown pornography by clients to demonstrate what they wanted.  

5. Those Who Consumed Pornography Have a Greater Likelihood to Use Sexual Violence

The most compelling evidence on the connection between porn and sexual violence comes from studies of teens and college students. According to a 2005 college-age study, the prevalence of objectifying images of women in your dorm room or fraternity house significantly correlates to having attitudes that are hostile to rape victims.9

In 2016, researchers from the University of Amsterdam published a review of literature examining the effect of pornography on adolescents. The authors felt that there wasn’t consistent enough methodology for the results to determine whether porn caused certain behaviors. However, they stated,

“Pornography use was associated with more permissive sexual attitudes and tended to be linked with stronger gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs. It also seemed to be related to the occurrence of sexual intercourse, greater experience with casual sex behavior, and more sexual aggression, both in terms of perpetration and victimization.”10

Another meta-analysis from 2017 concluded, “A growing body of literature demonstrates that exposure to sexually explicit media (SEM) and sexually violent media (SVM) may be risk factors for DV [dating violence] and SV [sexual violence].”11

Even more concerning, a 2019 study of 10th graders found that boys who watched violent pornography were 2-3 times more likely to commit acts of dating violence. Girls exposed to violent porn were 1.5 times more likely to engage in threats of violence than girls who had not been exposed.12 A 2020 study of men on college campuses likewise found that those who watch aggressive pornography are more likely to act out in sexually aggressive ways.13

Other scholars have explored the wider effects of pornography on culture, and argue that even if it doesn’t directly cause sexual violence, it is shaping sexual behaviors.14

Another study of 320 men found that pornography contributed to dehumanizing attitudes and behaviors toward women.

“Research shows that sexual objectification leads to the expression of aggressive attitudes and behaviors toward women. Based on a survey study of 320 male participants, this study re-conceptualizes sexual objectification in terms of two forms of dehumanization. Evidence suggests men’s pornography use is positively associated with both forms, but mechanistic dehumanization of women is more associated with aggressive attitudes while animalistic dehumanization is more associated with aggressive behaviors.”15

6. Women Who Consumed Pornography Are More Likely to Be Victims of Sexual Violence

Pornography influences sexual attitudes, preferences, and behaviors, which contributes to sexual violence. That certainly bears out with people who show sexually aggressive attitudes and behaviors. But watching pornography shapes the attitudes and behaviors of the victims as well.

There’s evidence to suggest that exposure to porn also makes women more vulnerable to sexual violence. One study found that “pornography alone increases a woman’s likelihood of being raped 2.7 times compared to women who do not view porn.”16

7. Even Consuming Non-Violent Pornography Correlates With Violence Toward Women

In 2016, researchers from the University of Indiana and the University of Hawaii conducted a meta-analysis of porn users and acts of sexual aggression. They looked at 22 studies from 7 different countries. They found that violent content may be an exacerbating factor in both verbal and physical sexual aggression.17

While it stands to reason that violent and degrading forms of pornography might contribute toward sexual violence, what about non-violent porn? An older meta-analysis suggests that even nonviolent sexual content contributes to aggressive behavior. 18 A 2010 study corroborated these findings. While violent pornography correlated much higher, even nonviolent pornography was associated with violent attitudes towards women.19

While porn may not directly cause sexual violence, the evidence is clear that it influences both attitudes and behaviors in ways that contribute to sexual violence.

LEARN MORE PORN STATISTICS

References for Porn and Sexual Violence

1 Fritz N, Malic V, Paul, B. et al. A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2020; 49, 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0

2 Vera-Gray F, McGlynn C, Kureshi I, Butterby K. Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology. 2021; 61(5), 1243–1260. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azab035

3 Kunaharan S, Halpin S, Sitharthan T, Bosshard S, Walla P. Conscious and Non-Conscious Measures of Emotion: Do They Vary with Frequency of Pornography Use? Applied Sciences. 2017; 7(5):493. https://doi.org/10.3390/app7050493

4 Paolucci EO, Genuis M, Violato C. A meta-analysis of the published research on the effects of pornography. The Changing Family and Child Development. 2001; 48–59.

5 Bensimon P. The Role of Pornography in Sexual Offending. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity. 2007; 14:2, 95-117, DOI: 10.1080/10720160701310468.

6 Hald GM, Malamuth NM, Yuen C. Pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women: revisiting the relationship in nonexperimental studies. Aggress Behav. 2010 Jan-Feb;36(1):14-20. doi: 10.1002/ab.20328.

7 Foubert JD, Bridges AJ. Predicting Bystander Efficacy and Willingness to Intervene in College Men and Women: The Role of Exposure to Varying Levels of Violence in Pornography. Violence Against Women. 2017; 23(6), 692–706. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801216648793

8 Herbenick D, Fu TC, Wright P, Bryant P, Gradus R, et al. Diverse Sexual Behaviors and Pornography Use: Findings From a Nationally Representative Probability Survey of Americans Aged 18 to 60 Years. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2020; 17(4), 623–633. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.01.013

9 Bleecker ET, Murnen SK. Fraternity Membership, the Display of Degrading Sexual Images of Women, and Rape Myth Acceptance. Sex Roles. 2005; 53, 487–493. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-005-7136-6

10 Valkenburg PJ. Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research. J Sex Res.. 2016 May-Jun;53(4-5):509-31. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441.

11 Rodenhizer KAE, Edwards KM. The Impacts of Sexual Media Exposure on Adolescent and Emerging Adults’ Dating and Sexual Violence Attitudes and Behaviors: A Critical Review of the Literature. Trauma Violence Abuse. 2019 Oct;20(4):439-452. doi: 10.1177/1524838017717745.

12 dRostad WL, Gittins-Stone D, Huntington C, Rizzo CJ, Pearlman D, Orchowski L. The Association Between Exposure to Violent Pornography and Teen Dating Violence in Grade 10 High School Students. Arch Sex Behav. 2019 Oct;48(7):2137-2147. doi: 10.1007/s10508-019-1435-4.

13 de Heer, BA, Prior S, Hoegh G. Pornography, Masculinity, and Sexual Aggression on College Campuses. Violence Against Women. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520906186

14 DeKeseredy WS. The Rose of Adult Pornography in Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Perpetrators’ Offending. https://www.biscmi.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Porn-and-ISPV-final-draft.pdf. Also Tarzia L, Tyler M. Recognizing Connections Between Intimate Partner Sexual Violence and Pornography. Violence Against Women. 2021; 27(14), 2687–2708.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801220971352

15 Zhou Y, Liu T, Yan Y, Paul B. Pornography Use, Two Forms of Dehumanization, and Sexual Aggression: Attitudes vs. Behaviors, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. 2021; 47(6), 571-590, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2021.1923598.

16 de Heer B, Prior S, Fejervary J. Women’s Pornography Consumption, Alcohol Use, and Sexual Victimization. Violence Against Women. 2021; 27(10), 1678–1695. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801220945035

17 Wright PJ, Tokunaga RS, Kraus A. A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies. Journal of Communication. 2016; 66(1), 183-205. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201

18 Allen M, D’Alessio D, Brezgel K. A meta-analysis summarizing the effects of pornography: II. Aggression after exposure. Human Communication Research. 1995; 22(2), 258–283. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.1995.tb00368.x

19 Hald GM, Malamuth NM, Yuen C. Pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women: revisiting the relationship in nonexperimental studies. Aggress Behav. 2010 Jan-Feb;36(1):14-20. doi: 10.1002/ab.20328.

  1. Thaddeus Tague

    What you call a vendetta against porn, the Bible would call a struggle for purity. We are told we will struggle with sin our entire lives – so in essence, “stop being baised”, life is a losing battle. Does that mean we stop fighting? A struggle to overcome porn starts in many places. CE doesn’t claim to stop porn, they want to liberate as many men and women from its grasp as possible. Sin will always be amongst us. I appreciate that you took the time to share your thoughts, but please help us be constructive and winsome in presenting the message. From my point of view, your comment was not constructive or helpful.

  2. Stop Being Biased

    By the way, I know you have a vendetta against porn, but you are really fighting a losing battle. Here is the reality that you repeatedly fail to address: women are the ones doing it all the time — they push sex. As the weaker sex, they use their beauty to manipulate. Translation: they use sex to manipulate.

    When you start counting the individual women in porn, escorting, stripping, web camming, modeling, massaging, doing homemade porn, sexting, phone sex operations, etc —– you see the clear numbers: there are HUNDREDS of millions of women using sex to get the things they want. From rent money to clothes to just a comfortable luxury filled life.

    So when you want to realistically discuss the subject and give comments such as mine equal billing, let me know because that is when real change will happen. Until then, your words will fall on deaf ears because people see the hypocrisy of it all. When Kim Kardashian can make 50 million dollars because she did a sex tape —- well people see the hypocrisy and see women for what they really are. Also, why do you go against the bible on this? Do you not see the same type of women in the bible? Do you think they went away? Has the PC world made you forget these parts of the bible? Hate to tell you — those women never went away. They are alive and well.

    • Colleen

      Yes women use sex to manipulate but it takes two to tango. If men would stop letting women play that game…well you do the math.

    • We regularly write about that angle here, so I’m not sure how we’re neglecting that side of things—but I certainly wouldn’t phrase it the way you do. The fact that men are willing to be so enslaved to their sexual desires, willing to throw gobs of money at it, is the reason why there is a demand commercial sex. No demand, there would be be very little supply.

  3. Stop Being Biased

    We need to get real on this subject. Women are very violent creatures. They have aborted 58 MILLION babies. That is killing to make one’s life better. That is all it amounts to really. Killing for convenience.

    Then when you look at domestic violence, upwards of 40% of men experience it. Further, while injury was more likely when violence was perpetrated by men, in relationships that featured reciprocal violence men were injured more often (25 percent of the time) than women (20 percent of the time).

    Let’s just stop with they hypocrisy and constant tears for women. The reality is they are aggressive, they kill, and the only reason why they do not do as much damage is they are the weaker sex. Wonder why things do not ever get better? We never hold women accountable for their actions. Never.

    Also, your statistics are very biased. When you go to shelters only for women, of course it is going to appear that women are constantly victims. So just stop it with your nonsense and do some real research and real reporting.

    • Since a number of these studies involved both men and women, I fail to see why we aren’t “getting real,” as you call it.

      What you call “biased” we call “staying on subject.” Are women guilty of violence? Sure. But we’re focusing on the studies that connect porn to violence, not covering every other kind of violence in the world.

    • davea0511

      I’m led to wonder in what groups you would fall regarding the results of the studies reported here.

  4. Is there a website where you can list the men who raped or were domestic violence assault batterers. At the time I was too scared to report it.

    • I was married for thirty three years and my husband walked out and left me and our ten year old child. Six months befor that he was very violent with me and done things during our sex that I could believe and caused ripping in my annul area. I almost passed out after he did it because I never seen it coming and I told him to stop but he didn’t he also slapped me so hard I almost cried. I can’t believe what my life has become with the sexual and emotional abuse of what he has become. Nobody understands what I’ve went threw nor does anyone offer support. He has made my life very hard to deal with and I don’t mention anything because he is so charming that nobody believes me anyway. I hope I can get support for me and my child so that he doesn’t grow up like him. Thank you. Sharon

    • Kay Bruner

      Sharon, I am so, so sorry. It sounds to me like you should be eligible for support through survivor services like a Family Advocacy Program,a Children’s Advocacy Center, or a battered women’s shelter. Often, individual cities will have a Family of Childrens’ Advocacy Center. Womens’ shelters often offer groups for victims of abuse, even if you don’t live at the shelter; or they can refer you to groups in your area. You’ll have to check in your community and see what resources are available, but there should be services available to you and to your child as well. Very often those are available at low cost (income based) or they are offered for free through non-profits.

      Those kinds of programs are set up to provide support in exactly the kind of situation you’re describing. While others may not understand that dynamic of the charming abuser, battered womens’ groups will completely get it. That is exactly how abusers present themselves to the world, and it’s exactly why they can get away with the terrible things that they do, over and over again.

      I would encourage you to check in your community, and find those resources that are available to families that have suffered abuse. Blessings, Kay

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