Keeping in view the need to orient policies to the fast emerging changes in the sex industry, the possibilities of further increase in the consumption of pornography and online transfer of sexual images should be taken into consideration. Just as policy response to prostitution should emphasize safety and welfare of women, similarly in the context of policies relating to the proliferation of porn also similar concerns should be prioritized.A study of adolescents in the 10-15 year age-group conducted over a period of 3 years in the USA ( year 2011, authors Ybarra et al ) revealed that those adolescents who were accessing/consuming violent pornographies were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive, compared to both those who viewed nonviolent pornographies and those who did not use pornography. This study gives two results which are both important in their own way. Firstly it shows very clearly that the impact of violent pornography on increasing sexual aggression among adolescents can be huge. Second and no less important aspect of this study is that in the case of nonviolent pornography this most important adverse impact is more or less non-existent ( while the possibility of other adverse impacts remains open). If confirmed by other evidence, the results of this study have clear policy implications.In a school survey in Sweden (2010, Kellerman et al) those boys who had perpetrated sexual aggression ( as well as those who had other conduct problems ) were more likely to use pornography frequently and had exposure to violent porn.
Of course frequent consumption of pornography does not necessarily make any man sexually aggressive entirely on its own. Such an adverse impact is more likely to be seen in men who have some or all of several other negative behavior patterns including hostility towards women, domination, tendency for impersonal sex, antisocial tendencies and overall lower intelligence. As Malamuth and Huppin argue in their study (2005), “ the extent to which a person possesses certain combinations of risk factors determines how likely he is to be sexually aggressive following pornography exposure.” Such men are likely to be easily convinced in the course of watching violent porn that women derive pleasure from sexual violence ( the rape myth). Such men in turn are more likely to seek violent pornography. Even if only 10 per cent of men fall in this category, then in a big city where a million men watch porn , it is likely that about one hundred thousand persons face the risk of becoming more sexually aggressive due to the impact of porn, and this is a huge number.
Kingston et al. have summarized this view in their 2006 study, “When examined in the context of multiple, interacting factors, the findings are highly consistent across experimental and non-experimental studies and across differing populations in showing that pornography use can be a risk factor for sexually aggressive outcomes, principally for men who are high on other risk factors and who use pornography frequently.”
Another problematic impact of pornography for women and girls is that men watch particular types of sex acts in porn videos and then more or less force this on women who are not inclined towards this. It is interesting that the response to such questions differs greatly on the basis of gender difference. According to a Swedish study, (Lofren-Martenson,2010), male youth fervently denied that they wanted to imitate pornographic practices in their own sexual relationships. However female respondents in the same study disagreed and said that their boyfriends insisted on activities, like anal sex, that they had seen in pornography. An American study (Rothman et al.,2015 ) reported similar results.
This impact of porn can on the one hand lead to more painful demands on sex workers. On the other hand this can also lead to an increase in marital rape. This impact can be particularly traumatic for brides from traditional families. Activists from a voluntary organization which has been resisting gender-based violence for several years told me recently that there are increasing cases of brides from traditional, rural backgrounds feeling revolted by such demands resulting in separation or divorce.
This problem is compounded by the fact that a lot of pornography presents unrealistic body images, creating highly unrealistic expectations, later leading to resentment against real-life partner without any reason. Another harmful aspect is that a lot of porn depicts casual sex devoid of genuine or long-term love and affection. A study (Vennier et al.,2014) has pointed out that in many videos the girl who resists sexual advances initially is later seen to be not just submitting but also enjoying, thereby perpetuating the myth of only token resistance which is a motivating factor for sexually aggressive men.Many porn videos promote unsafe sex. A study based on analysis of many porn web-sites ( Gorman et al., 2010) found that condoms were used rarely, only in 2 per cent of scenes. Most porn films depict women primarily as sex objects, focusing too much on certain body parts, thereby dehumanizing them.
A study by the Australian Institute of Family affairs which has used these and other studies to draw conclusions on this issue for youth guidance and policy says, “ There is a range of intersecting risk factors that increase the likelihood that male consumers of pornography will perpetrate sexual aggression or have a predisposition towards sexual aggression.”
The overall conclusion is that proliferation of porn is harmful for security and safety of girls and women in various ways but most particularly because they encourage the sexually aggressive behavior of men who in certain ways are somewhat predisposed towards such aggression. Moreover not all porn is likely to be equally harmful, it is violent porn which is likely to cause most harm in this particular context.
Hence more priority should be on curbing the proliferation of violent porn, even though excessive exposure to other forms of porn can also be harmful. Need of restraining porn exposure as much as possible and limiting it to soft forms should be emphasized, while efforts to entirely avoid violent porn and child porn should be stepped up. Studies should explore the forms and patterns of porn exposure that are found to be more harmful for certain sections of people. Many-sided adverse impacts of too much exposure to porn should be publicized and all stakeholders should be involved in sustaining and retaining a responsible behavior.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements.