Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More porn, less rape

Some feminist thinkers have opposed the growing acceptance and availability of pornography on the grounds that it normalises the sexual objectification of women and may increase the risk of rape. The 1988 policy statement of the Campaign against Pornography and Censorship reads:

We believe that pornography is the most extreme portrayal of women as less than human and less than equal. We believe that pornography reinforces women's unequal status by presenting them as only sexual and 'sexualized' objects for men's titillation and gratification and perpetuates their unequal status... We believe therefore that pornography is propaganda against women which perpetuates sexism, sex discrimi­nation and sexual violence.

This simple argument, that pornography perpetuates sexual violence, should be demonstrable by a direct correlation between exposure to porn and tendency to sexually abuse victims.

But this correlation does not seem to exist in reality. In fact the rise of liberal attitudes and policies towards pornography correlates instead to a dramatic decline in sexual abuse, a decline observed in several countries. In 1999 a University of Hawaii study had this to say:

Presently in Japan, sexually explicit video tapes, books, and magazines which cater to all sorts of erotic interests and fetishes are readily available.... However, this availability of modern pornography is relatively new. Essentially since the end of World War II with the imposition of American military rules, which lasted until 1951, there was prohibition of any sexually explicit material. This continued under the Japanese government into the late 1980s; images or depictions of frontal nudity were banned as were pictures of pubic hair or genitals. No sex act could be depicted graphically.

The situation began to change markedly at the turn of the present decade.... Over this period of change, sex crimes in every category, from rape to public indecency, sexual offenses from both ends of the criminal spectrum, significantly decreased in incidence.

Most significantly, despite the wide increase in availability of pornography to children, not only was there a decrease in sex crimes with juveniles as victims but the number of juvenile offenders also decreased significantly.

The team added that studies in Denmark, Sweden, West Germany and the US showed a similar trend: as laws prohibiting pornography were liberalised, sexual violence either declined or showed a slight increase which, because awareness of sexual assault was increasing, may only have indicated an increase in reporting. Sexual violence against and by minors experienced a particularly strong decline. Gang rapes also declined in Japan and West Germany.

The last two decades have been an opportunity to explore a massive increase in availability of pornography with the rise of the internet. Now men can search for any fetish at low or no cost, and with a high degree of privacy. If watching pornography perpetuates sexual violence then this vast increase in access to porn should have been accompanied by a disastrous rise in sexual violence.

It has not. The 2007 study below by Todd Kendall of Clemson University explained that the rise of the internet is associated with a decline in rape, particularly rape committed by men aged 15-19. Kendall explains that there may be some negative changes in attitude by men who repeatedly watch pornography, such as a weakening of inhibitions towards rape. However he points out that there is another, stronger, mechanism at play: potential perpetrators use pornography as a substitute for rape.

With the mass market introduction of the world wide web in the late-1990's, both pecuniary and non-pecuniary prices for pornography fell. The associated decline in rape illustrated in the analysis here is consistent with a theory, such as that in Posner (1994), in which pornography is a complement for masturbation or consensual sex, which are themselves substitutes for rape, making pornography a net substitute for rape.

Kendall adds that more research is needed, but argues that his research indicates that "liberalization of pornography access may not lead to increased sexual victimization of women".

Kendall doesn't spell out the substitution effect of pornography for rape, so I will suggest a casual explanation. Sexual desire drops immediately after sex or masturbation, and there is a limit to how many times any man may ejaculate in a given period. If the potential rapist has already ejaculated repeatedly while watching pornography over the course of a day he will be biologically incapable of doing so with a rape victim.

More porn means more masturbation. More masturbation means more of a man's limited ration of ejaculations are wasted in private, leaving the rapist with a lower level of sexual desire and weaker biological ability to rape. Absurd as it sounds, perhaps feminists should be relieved to know potential rapists are masturbating alone in their rooms over degenerate pornography, rather than living out their brutal fantasies in real life.

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