New research provides evidence that the consumption of pornography is mostly unrelated to sexist beliefs about the role of women in society. The study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, also indicates that people who believe pornography should be legal tend to hold more egalitarian gender attitudes compared to those think pornography should be banned.
“Pornography is a very polarized topic, there is a lot of debate, both academic and informal, about the effects pornography has on the individuals in it, those who consume it, and society as a whole. We found that there was little recent academic literature that effectively assessed the effects of pornography on attitudes toward sexual equality,” said study author Jordan MacDonald, a student at the University of New Brunswick.
“On one side of this debate, those opposed to pornography suggest that it is, by nature, sexist because it objectifies women; on the other side of the debate, those who support pornography make the argument that those involved in the creation, production, and consumption of pornography should be free to do so and that preventing them from this solely because they are women would itself be sexist,” added co-author David Speed (@Professor_Speed), an assistant professor.
For their study, the researchers analyzed nationally-representative data from 7,401 American adults who participated in the National Opinion Research Center’s annual General Social Survey between 2010 and 2018.
“We used General Social Survey data, which gathers information from across the United States about many different topics, including questions about pornography legality, consumption and gender equality. We found that people who support pornography being legal and regulated reported less sexist attitudes than those who believed pornography should be outright illegal,” MacDonald told PsyPost.
Those who believed pornography should be legal for adults were less likely to endorse statements such as “men are better suited for politics than women,” “a woman’s role is to be a mother, not a provider,” and “young children suffer if a mother goes to work” compared to those who believed pornography should be illegal regardless of age. These relationships held even after accounting for other factors, such as sex, age, race, region, education, political orientation, and religiosity.
Moreover, those who had viewed an X-rated movie in the past year were less likely to agree with statements such as “a woman’s role is to be a mother, not a provider” and “young children suffer if a mother goes to work” compared to those who had not viewed such movies. But these relationships evaporated when the researchers controlled for other factors.
“While the simple models were able to detect several relationships between ‘pornography viewing’ and sexism, these relationships appear to overlap with other aspects of participants’ social, religious, or political characteristics,” the researchers explained.
“Generally, consuming pornography or supporting legal pornography was either non-predictive of sexism, or predicted lower sexism,” Speed told PsyPost.
But the new study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“We used nationally representative data, which means that the results should hold for a general American sample. However, using GSS data, like we did in this case, did not allow us to specify the questions we wanted to ask. While we had a handful of good questions, it would be best to try and replicate this study using a wider range of questions addressing pornography and sexism. It is possible that future research, that has greater control over these questions, may yield different or similar results,” MacDonald explained.
“However, our research was consistent with previous research suggesting that the relationship between pornography and sexism was non-existent or actually positive,” Speed noted. In particular, research published in 2015 found that people who watched pornography were more likely to see women as equals compared to people who did not watch it. Another study, published in 2020, found that attendees at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo were no more sexist than the general U.S. public.
The new study was the result of a student-led endeavor.
“The paper was a collaboration between Speed and several upper-year undergraduate students for a class credit,” MacDonald explained. “Speed, who has experience with using large datasets, suggested several potential research questions. Students were divided into groups based on expressed interest in these research questions. The undergraduate students were responsible for building a literature review and for proposing hypotheses. Dr. Speed handled the methodology and data analysis.”
The study, “Pornography Consumption and Attitudes Towards Pornography Legality Predict Attitudes of Sexual Equality“, was authored by David Speed, Jordan MacDonald, Alyssa Parks, Hannah Doucette, and Keerthana Munagapati.