Pornographic notes

Keith Hudson

Notes abstracted from “Porncucopia” in aeon magazine by Maria Konnikova, author of Mastermind (2013); Confidence Game (January 2016), and a New Yorker columnist.

The first talk in the TED series on pornography (2012), by Gary Wilson, has had approximately 4.6 million viewers so far. His theme was that when you are constantly bombarded with heightened sexual stimuli, your virility is undermined and your ability to have full normal sexual life suffers. A movement based on this view appears to be growing since then.  A poll from the US Pew Research Center in 2007 had already quantified that feeling, finding that 70% pf Americans thought that pornography was harmful.

Ongoing research by Chyng Sun, professor of media studies at New York University estimates that 63% of Internet content is pornography and 1 in 4 searches are about porn. There are 40 million viewers of porn in America and around the world — and growing.  Out of 500 men sampled, only 1% had never seen porn, 50% had seen it before they were 13 year of age. It’s now very easy to stumble on it.

In 1991, Berl Kutchinsky, a criminologist at the University of Copenhagen, a specialist in public effects of porn, analysed 20 years of data acquired since Denamrk had legalised porn (1969). He found that rates of sexual aggression had fallen  Subsequent follow-ups in Sweden and West Germany where porn has also been legalised also exclude porn, beyond any reasonable doubt, from having any detrimental effects of sexual violence — in fact, such incidents decreased.

Apart from correlative evidence as above, scientists have been scared of experieental work on porn and sexuality.  Nicole Prause, head of the Sexual Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience lab at the University of Callifornia, Los angeles says: “Most of the information we currently have is not experimental or longitudinal.  Lot of data talk about correlates and associations, but the literature is especially bad — it can’t be trusted — because no one is doing experiemnts.  No one is showing cause and effect. That needs to change.”

Thankfully experimental work is now proceeding. Using fMRI, PET and EEG bfrain responses when looking at porn, Prause finds that porn evokes responses that are of the same mental magnitude and no more powerful than eating chocolate and other pleasures.  Working with James Plaus, she found that when exposed to porn, 280 men made them want more normal sex with a partner. There is no evidence that porn leads to addiction, and that the more that is watched the more that is required. Working with Cameron Staley she asked 44 monogamous couples to view porn alone and together.  They found that whether they watched alone or together their sexual desire to be with their partner had increased.

As part of the 2002 Swiss Multicenter Adolescence Survey on Heatth, of more than 7,500 16 to 20 year-olds, 75% of the males and 36% of the females had viewed Internet porn in the previous month. The researchers found no association between viewing pron and subsequent more sexually risky ways.  Milton Diamond of the University of Hawii found that the viewing of porn didn’t make men more violent nor more prone to having worse views about women.  In the Netherlands, Gert Martin Hald studied 4,600 15 to 25 year-olds in 20133 to see whether porn encouraged them to have much more unusual sex afterwards. He found up to a 3% effect. This year Hald and UCLA researcher, Neil Malamuth, found there was no link between porn viewing and subsequent negative attitudes towards women except for those already prejudiced.  Mary Koss of the Univeristy of Arizona found that porn viewing was only associated with violence by those who were already violent.

Researchers from VU University Amsterdam found that among 200 newlyweds who viewed porn when tracked over a period of three years found that amog the more compatible couples and the happier the men the less the men watched porn.  It was a self-reinforcing cycle.  Conversely, in those couples where the relationship was failing the men watched more porn.


Maria Konnikova then goes on to discuss the apparent variance between what appears to be reality and what people say about porn and she comes to the conclusion that porn is not something to worry about, particularly since women are much more involved in the production of porn films in the last few years and the ‘industry’ is more accountable and less sordid.  She believes porn is more of a fantasy exercise.

My own view mainly derives from what I experienced happening in industry about 45-50 years ago when erotic art and literature suddenly descended from high social circles and became porn booklets of the working classes — each with about a dozen photos and the equivalent of a short novella as text.  Initially highly-priced porn books coming from the Netherlands via Soho, London showing every possible variety of sexual practice swept through Coventry factories.  What I noticed after a year or two is that there was a dramatic decrease in ‘filthy stories’ (many very anti-feminine, too), hitherto very popular, told among the men on the shop floor (and in management also). In fact, these sorts of jokes practically disappeared. It was as though a lot of extremely defensive private views about sexual practice had been cauterised.  It seems to me that this parallels the findings of Berl Kutchinsky and others as mentioned by Konnikova above.

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