Porn watchers think more highly of women

The assumption that people who watch porn are more likely to hold negative or sexist views of women has been challenged by a recent study in the Journal of Sex Research.

TaylorIn fact the opposite might be true, the study links those who watch porn with more positive views towards women. We spoke with lead author Taylor Kohut, from the The University of Western Ontario, to get an insight into the research.

ResearchGate: What encouraged you to study how watching pornography affects people’s views of women?

Taylor Kohut: It is often said that pornography causes users to devalue women and this devaluation is expected to contribute to gender inequality in society. This has motivated attempts to introduce—or in some places, change—legislation concerning the regulation of obscenity across the world. It's also a major assumption in a great deal of research concerning the link between pornography use and sexual aggression. With that said, the assertion that pornography users devalue women and try to maintain structures of inequality to ensure that women remain subservient to men has not received much direct empirical attention.

RG: Your hypothesis was that porn watchers weren’t into gender equality. What did you find out?

Kohut: You're right, according to radical feminist theory, pornography users should hold more gender non-egalitarian attitudes than non-users of pornography. We tested this basic hypothesis across five variables pulled from American General Social Survey data and did not find any supportive evidence. In fact, pornography users were more supportive of women in politics, more supportive of women working outside the home, and more supportive of women's access to abortion, than were non-users of pornography.

RG: Did the results surprise you? If not, why?

Kohut: I'm a skeptic by nature, and I had certainly had suspicions that the hypothesis would not be supported. At the same time, it was a bit of surprise to find evidence of higher gender-egalitarianism among pornography users. Now, after discussing the findings with some colleagues, and performing some post-hoc analyses, the results are beginning to make more sense.

RG: How so?

Kohut: It's important to keep in mind that evidence of correlation should not imply causation. My colleagues and I think our findings are best explained by third-variable factors. There are certain groups of people (e.g., religious, social, and political conservatives) that avoid pornography use who also tend to hold more gender non-egalitarian attitudes. If we assume that there is no relationship between pornography use and gender egalitarianism, then including these people will lead to a positive bias in the results (i.e. more supportive gender-egalitarian attitudes among pornography users). Our findings may simply reflect the presence of people who avoid pornography use and hold more gender non-egalitarian attitudes in our sample.

RG: Who watches porn, and who doesn’t? Do you think the people in your sample could have been scared to admit watching porn?

Kohut: That's a tricky question. Research estimates have suggested that between 25-95% of men and 2-85% of women use pornography. So, depending on how we ask the question and who we ask it to, studies have indicated that virtually everyone, or almost no one uses it. With that in mind, there are some fairly consistent patterns that keep cropping up: men are more likely to use pornography than women and tend to use it more frequently; younger people are more likely to use pornography than older people; and people with more conservative social values tend to avoid it when possible. Are people generally unwilling to admit to porn use? Certainly some people are going to lie about, though the high figures reported in some studies suggest that lying is probably not widespread (or that people lie in both directions).

RG: What is it about pornography that causes negative reactions in the first place?

Kohut: We know that some people respond to sexual stimuli with negative responses like disgust, while others do not. Other lines of research suggest that negative responses, particularly disgust, can guide moral reasoning. So, on this basis, it seems reasonable to suggest that people who are bothered by it will generate arguments that rationalize their moral judgments about the appropriateness of its production or use. However, why some people are bothered by it and others are not, and just what they're responding to in pornography remain open questions that need more research attention.

Image courtesy of Azri.