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December 27, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

The Social Costs of Pornography

The neuroscience of pornography consumption is revealed by empirical studies. Some studies show that pornography use undermines marital and other intimate relationships of its users, can make men sexually incompetent with a real partner, and for some can lead to growing attractions to images and behaviors of a “hard-core” nature. Women not only face new expectations of sexual behavior, they also are confronted with increased chances of divorce, infidelity, and less happy marriages. Children, adolescent boys in particular, are more inclined to violence, aggression and sexual coercion of peers, are more susceptible to sexual coercion by peers and adults. Adolescent girls are more inclined to tolerate emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Finally, while much research needs to be done in this area, it appears that pornography continues to be a factor in human trafficking for sexual exploitation. In summary, pornography has social costs for these involved at the primary level (consumers and producers, be they men, women or children) and secondary level (usually women and children).
Mary Anne Layden, PhD

This “may be pornography’s most insidious influence; namely, the acceptance of the attitudes (some obvious, some more subtle) expressed in pornography. Pornographic depictions of the sexuality of women and children distort the truth about desires of women and children, and legitimize men’s sense of entitlement, and use of force, violence, and degrading acts by the male actors.” They give us permission to engage in a behavior we would like to engage in or are engaging in and tell us there is no need to stop, change, or reduce it—they tell us, for example, that what we are doing is normal, that it doesn’t hurt anyone, and that everybody is doing it.
Mary Anne Layden, PhD

Some of the messages of pornography teach beliefs and behaviors. Some of these behaviors are pathological, illegal, or both. The illegal behaviors are rape, child molestation, pedophilia, prostitution, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and some paraphilias (e.g., sexual deviances such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, and bestiality). Some of pornography’s messages about relationships, sexuality, and women may be damaging, even if the pornography is not illegal or pathological. This learning produces effects in attitudes toward sexual violence, relationships, the attractiveness of a partner, and women’s liberation, and in sexual violence behaviors, pedophilia, sexual harassment, domestic violence, prostitution, sexual deviance, drinking, and physically risky behavior.
Mary Anne Layden, PhD

Mary Anne Layden, PhD, is a psychotherapist and Director of Education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the Director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program and the Director of the Social Action Committee for Women’s Psychological Health.

You can read the full essay here in PDF form.

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