Pornography: Studies And Activists Warn About Neglected Aspect of Violence Against Women


            “ As a result of our efforts violence against women was decreasing in villages here. But ever since this new menace of ashlilta on phone ( porn available on mobile phone) became easily accessible, problems have been increasing. In fact things have come to such a pass that even some new marriages are breaking down as a result of this.”

The speaker was an experienced woman activist. We –about 40 women and men—were sitting in a workshop on recent trends in violence against women in villages. This workshop had been organized in a village in Western Uttar Pradesh. Those present were mainly village based activists, mostly women, and a few media persons.

When the workshop ended I approached the speaker to ask her if she could explain a little more what she meant when she said that marriages were breaking down. She took me to her office and pointing to some files she said—I cannot divulge any names but in our dispute reconciliation efforts an increasing number of women have been coming up with some similar but new kinds of problems. The men who are much more exposed to phone porn want the brides to indulge in certain forms of sexual activity. The women who are from traditional background may often find this disgusting. This leads to discord, leading to a situation where the marriage may break down. In fact some men show certain things on phone and say this is what they want in their real life too.

This is just one indication of the unexpected impacts of sudden exposure of traditional societies to pornography. Perhaps an even more disturbing aspect relates to the brisk sale specifically of rape videos under the counter in many markets.

According to a widely quoted study by Seiya Morita in the context of Japan, a survey conducted  among  suspects hauled up for rape and indecent assault asked a question—when watching a porn video did  you feel  the urge to do the same in real life? 33 per cent replied in the affirmative. When juvenile offenders were asked, the number went up much more– 50 per cent said yes. This study also established a co-relationship between increase of access to porn and increase of sexual crimes in Japan.

A study of adolescents in the 10-15 year age-group conducted over a period of 3 years in the USA ( year 2011, authors Ybarra et al ) revealed that those adolescents who were accessing/consuming violent pornographies were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive, compared to both those who viewed nonviolent  pornographies and those who did not use pornography.

In a school survey in Sweden (2010, Kellerman et al) those boys who had perpetrated sexual aggression ( as well as those who had other conduct problems ) were more likely to use pornography frequently and had exposure to violent  porn.

Of course frequent consumption of pornography does not necessarily make any man sexually aggressive entirely on its own. Such an adverse impact is more likely to be seen in men who have some or all of several other negative behavior patterns including hostility towards women, domination, tendency for impersonal sex, anti-social tendencies and overall lower intelligence. As Malamuth and Huppin argue in their study (2005), “ the extent to which a person possesses certain combinations of risk factors determines how likely he is to be sexually aggressive following pornography exposure.” Such men are likely to be easily convinced in the course of watching violent porn that women derive pleasure from sexual violence ( the rape myth).  Such men in turn are more likely to seek violent pornography.

Kingston et al. have summarized this view in their 2006 study, “When examined in the context of multiple, interacting factors, the findings are highly consistent across experimental and non-experimental studies and across differing populations in showing that pornography use can be a risk factor for sexually aggressive outcomes, principally for men who are high on other risk factors and who use pornography frequently.”

According to a Swedish study, (Lofren-Martenson,2010), male youth fervently denied that they wanted to imitate pornographic practices in their own sexual relationships. However female respondents in the same study disagreed and said that their boyfriends insisted on activities, like anal sex, that they had seen in pornography.  An American study (Rothman et al.,2015 ) reported similar results.

A study (Vennier et al.,2014) has pointed out that in many  videos the girl who resists sexual advances initially is later seen to be not just submitting but also enjoying, thereby perpetuating the myth of only token resistance which is a motivating factor for sexually aggressive men.

Many porn videos promote unsafe sex. A study based on analysis of  many porn web-sites ( Gorman et al., 2010) found that condoms were used rarely, only in 2 per cent of scenes. Most porn films depict women primarily as sex objects, focusing too much on certain body parts, thereby dehumanizing them.

A study by the Australian Institute of Family affairs which has used these and other studies to draw conclusions on this issue for youth guidance and policy says, “ There is a range of intersecting risk factors that increase the likelihood that male consumers of pornography will perpetrate sexual aggression or have a predisposition towards sexual aggression.”

In recent times there has been an increasing tendency to consider porn as an acceptable part of routine life and questions regarding its actual impact are not considered the subject of serious discussion. On the contrary the available evidence indicates that this impact can be quite disruptive, even more so for traditional societies. While studies from developed countries also indicate serious harm, these cannot fully capture several more disruptive impacts on traditional societies. There is need to examine this, as  increasingly porn is also aimed at more traditional and rural societies in harmful ways, for example in terms of harming very close and sensitive relationships. Hence there is certainly need for giving more importance to avoiding and reducing social adverse impacts and in particular to avoiding any adverse impacts on the safety and well-being of women.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man over Machine and Protecting Earth for Children.



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