Friday, February 5, 2010

Two New Studies Find Benefit Rather Than Harm in Porn

Porn haters love to make vague references to "proof" and "scientific evidence" educed by "numerous studies" to the effect that pornography is harmful to individuals and society at large. But when confronted about the sources of this mountain of proof that supports that opinion, they understandably rabbit at the first opportunity. As even Gail Dines admits, there is no objective, peer-reviewed scientific research that validates the harm claims of the anti-porn camp.

In fact, the most recent investigations by respectable scientists not in league with this or that ideological camp fails to find any persuasive evidence that porn exerts a damaging influence on the public at large. Check out this post on Psychology Today's blog by Dr. Gad Saad:

He cites two newly released surveys concerning the harmful effects of porn that, after much meticulous examination, find none.

The second of the two studies, published in he International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, yields a lovely quote from author Milton Diamond, who painstakingly reviewed the existing research on the topic: " "Indeed, the data reported and reviewed suggests that the thesis is myth and, if anything, there is an inverse causal relationship between an increase in pornography and sex crimes. Further, considering the findings of studies of community standards and wide spread usage of SEM [sexually explicit material], it is obvious that in local communities as nationally and internationally, porn is available, widely used and felt appropriate for voluntary adult consumption. If there is a consensus against pornography it is in regard to any SEM that involves children or minors in its production or consumption. Lastly we see that objections to erotic materials are often made on the basis of supposed actual, social or moral harm to women. No such cause and effect has been demonstrated with any negative consequence."

But the more significant results may have come from a particular survey conducted in Denmark by Gert Martin Held and Neil Malmuth of a gender-balanced sampling of 688 adults "found that respondents construed the viewing of hardcover pornography as beneficial to their sex lives, their attitudes towards sex, their perceptions and attitudes towards members of the opposite sex, toward life in general, and over all. The obtained beneficial effects were statistically significant for all but one measure across both sexes," as Saad summarizes the results, going on to add: " Now here is the kicker: A positive correlation was obtained between the amount of hardcore pornography that was viewed and the impact of the benefits reaped. This positive correlation was found for both sexes. In other words, the more that one watched porn, the stronger the benefits (for both sexes)!"

Why is this study so important? Check out the authors. Neil Malmuth, who teaches at UCLA, is frequently cited by the anti-porn camp for his earlier studies that can be interpreted as indicating that viewing "aggressive pornography" may lead to some slight bump in aggressive ideation by the viewers. As Saad notes, "Neil Malamuth is a highly regarded scholar of pornography who has often argued for its supposed ill effects. Hence, if there exists a possibility of an a priori bias here, it would be in hoping to find that pornography yields negative consequences." But Malmuth, who is nothing if not a dedicated scientist, couldn't find those negative consequences.

Having been a guest speaker for professor Malmuth's classes and come in for some sharp questioning from the teacher, I'd say he's a lovely guy but by no means porn-friendly. He's spent years trying to establish a link between pornography consumption and anti-social behavior and now concedes to having found pretty much the opposite. I don't believe for a second that porn-bashers with an academic bent will quit invoking his prior work to prop up their arguments, but Malmuth, who doesn't much care to be dragged into political debates one way or the other, has now provided an effective rejoinder for the misappropriation of his previous research.

We're grateful to Dr. Saad for bringing these studies to the attention of the general public, not only because they tend to validate our own views, but because there is, in fact, so little good science of any kind regarding porn we can only be glad to see some wherever it shows up. It's not easy to get funding for non-political work in this field of study and those who have pursued it anyway to verifiable results that contradict their own expectations are to be applauded.

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