Social Science Research on Pornography

Opposition to pornography has become associated with “prudish right-wing fundamentalists,” but as with many things, the growing body of social science research confirms that this debate should extend far beyond the boundaries of belief.

A recent editorial in National Review about Rick Santorum’s opposition to pornography links to several such important studies.  I’m less interested in Santorum’s desire to combat porn by government muscle than I am in bringing facts to an honest national conversation.  Follow the links if you want some truth:

Likewise, Santorum’s views on pornography are a natural extension of his views on marriage as a public good — a sacred, lifelong bond between man and woman, designed to unify the couple and create children who, in turn, will make faithful, committed spouses one day. Interestingly, Santorum’s position is consistent with a rapidly growing body of social-science research. The older idea of pornography as a harmless rite of passage for boys, and a potential boost for the sex lives of married couples, are being challenged by data which show a potential for real and measurable harm. Studies have revealed a clear connection between regular pornography use and a host of negative consequences, including: sexual deviancy (lower first age of intercourse, obsessive masturbation), belief in the “rape myth” (that women cause rape), and loss of interest in sex. More frequent users of pornography report higher incidences of having sex for money, substance abuse, conduct problems, and having feelings of sexual desire “almost all the time.” Among young adults, pornography use correlates with higher numbers of casual-sex partners and lower relationship satisfaction. Both infidelity and divorce have been linked to the use of pornography. But there is a striking dearth of longitudinal research on the latter relationship. NIH should fund a comprehensive, long-term research project devoted to the impact of pornography use on marriage and the family.

7 comments on “Social Science Research on Pornography

  1. I don’t really disagree with your conclusions here but this is an odd position for a libertarian to take, as Ron Paul’s positions make clear. There are many things in our culture which have the potential to spark addiction in some of those who encounter them: cigarettes, alcohol, video games, television, the internet, shopping, and work have been cited as well. Should the government fund studies of these to determine whether they are detrimental to Americans? If they are, should government prohibit them?

    There are two basic problems with what you suggest in addition to the libertarian cognitive dissonance. First of all, some entity must determine what material is pornographic and what is not. While some of the material available would be universally seen as appealing only to prurient interest, there are gray areas where someone (government?) would have to make a subjective assessment. If we allow the government to decide what we can read, or view or download, that threatens individual liberty.

    The second problem is that you are assuming that marriage and the family are so vital to the national interest that the government should fund studies to make sure they are not impacted by external forces. I have to assume you are speaking of traditional marriages and traditional families here, not about same-sex marriages or non-traditional families. Is your assumption accurate in today’s world, or should we commission a government-funded study to determine whether traditional marriage and families are actually beneficial to the nation as a whole? We already subsidize and provide legal benefits to traditional couples and families so it makes a great deal of sense to regularly re-evaluate whether the society and nation is receiving benefits from these institutions commensurate with the revenue lost or spent in supporting them.

  2. Charles, I suppose your comment is based on the last sentence of my quote. Actually, all I’m really in favor of here is voluntary abstinence. Hopefully, broader discussion of unpopular facts in the media’s marketplace of ideas will foster such personal responsibility. How’s that libertarian position for ya? :)

    • I think voluntary abstinence in this case will work just as well as it does with extramarital sex. Voluntarism is the answer only when you really don’t care whether the problem is solved or not.

        • I’m sure that works relatively well for religions, but not for nations or for markets. Self-governance without some fundamental shared ethical code is anarchy. Whether we like it or not, this nation does not have a shared ethical code, if it ever did.

          • On the contrary, public awareness of and social stigma about smoking has done more to reduce that problem than anything else ever did. Granted, much of that awareness came about through publicly funded campaigns, but they could just as well have been private.

            So legislation and regulation are necessary to create “shared ethical codes,” or at least to enforce them? I find your lack of faith (in humanity) disturbing.

            • Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by federal and state governments to encourage people to quit smoking or warn them not to start. It is hard to imagine that any private concern would have ponied up that kind of money in order to prevent the sale of a product in the “free market”. Smoking has scientifically proven negative effects on the person doing the smoking, while pornography primarily affects others, not the addict himself.

              While I have some faith in human beings, I don’t expect them to act against their own interests, or to voluntarily give up pleasure or profit in order to help someone else with whom they have no personal relationship. When there is a generally accepted norm of behavior in a society, people will tend to follow that norm, but there is no such norm that applies to the United States as a whole, and we cannot reasonably expect that people will “do the right thing” when millions are being spent to entice them to use pornography and when it is generally accepted in the popular culture.

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