Human behavior fascinates me to no end. Today, I was reading through yet another batch of research papers and studies and one of them made me do a double-take. Scientists in the United Kingdom wanted to research whether or not pornography degraded women by changing how men viewed them or treated them.
The first task was to create a control group of men who had never looked at porn – and the scientists could not find a single man in his 20s that qualified. As Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse put it, “We started our research seeking men who had never consumed pornography. We couldn’t find any.”
This intrigued me because I know from my investments that the pornography industry is roughly a $100 billion industry on a global scale, which is huge but understated since research shows a majority of men access only free porn. I also knew that pornography consumption per capita was directly tied to Internet speeds. In South Korea, for example, the average person spends $526.75 on pornography per year but the country enjoys the fastest, most advanced Internet infrastructure in existence. In the United States, that figure is much lower at $31.84 (for the average pornography user in the United States, though, they spend roughly $65 per month, or $780 per year).
Anyway, the scientists in the study decided that instead of throwing in the towel, they would tweak their research and study pornography consumption habits. Here is what they found:
- Single young men viewed such material on average for 40 minutes three times a week, compared with those in relationships, who watched it 1.7 times a week for 20 minutes (I’m guessing because they had less unmonitored free time and / or were having more regular sexual intercourse).
- The average age a boy first sought out pornography: 10 years old. (Given that up until a few centuries ago human life expectancy was 35 years old and sexual maturity set in at puberty, this would seem to have a biological basis and not be an indication of less strict parenting standards. Rather, the issue is increased availability and not human nature itself, which considers the highest biological function reproduction of the species.)
Does Increased Pornography Access Lead to Fewer Rapes?
When looking at several other research studies I’ve come across over the years, there seems to be considerable and … frankly, bizarre … evidence that increased pornography consumption in a nation drastically reduces rapes and sexual violence. The theory is that explicit materials act as a steam valve.
As Milton Diamond, professor of anatomy, biochemistry and physiology at the University of Hawaii puts it in The Scientist Magazine:
Despite the widespread and increasing availability of sexually explicit materials, according to national FBI Department of Justice statistics, the incidence of rape declined markedly from 1975 to 1995. This was particularly seen in the age categories 20–24 and 25–34, the people most likely to use the Internet. The best known of these national studies are those of Berl Kutchinsky, who studied Denmark, Sweden, West Germany, and the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. He showed that for the years from approximately 1964 to 1984, as the amount of pornography increasingly became available, the rate of rapes in these countries either decreased or remained relatively level. Later research has shown parallel findings in every other country examined, including Japan, Croatia, China, Poland, Finland, and the Czech Republic. In the United States there has been a consistent decline in rape over the last 2 decades, and in those countries that allowed for the possession of child pornography, child sex abuse has declined. Significantly, no community in the United States has ever voted to ban adult access to sexually explicit material. The only feature of a community standard that holds is an intolerance for materials in which minors are involved as participants or consumers.
In terms of the use of pornography by sex offenders, the police sometimes suggest that a high percentage of sex offenders are found to have used pornography. This is meaningless, since most men have at some time used pornography. Looking closer, Michael Goldstein and Harold Kant found that rapists were more likely than nonrapists in the prison population to have been punished for looking at pornography while a youngster, while other research has shown that incarcerated nonrapists had seen more pornography, and seen it at an earlier age, than rapists. What does correlate highly with sex offense is a strict, repressive religious upbringing.
Ryan Sager points out in his analysis, though that we would never allow sex offenders access to materials such as child pornography. As he put it, “I suppose the most controversial finding highlighted above would be the idea that allowing the possession of child pornography would reduce the incidence of child sex abuse. The utilitarian argument can never be enough to overcome the moral repugnance in this area (let alone the problem of child rape regarding any children abused in such a system). Though, it perhaps adds some weight to the permissive side of the “simulated child pornography” debate.” As outrageous as anyone might find the idea of simulated child pornography, think about just one child being saved from actual abuse (assuming the social science is right here). Is the trade-off worth it?
Frankly, I’m throwing that in the Charlie Munger “too hard” pile right now for several reasons: 1.) That is a big question, and 2.) I’m having a lovely afternoon of gourmet coffee, great music, reading, and video games. I’d rather not ruin it by thinking about ways to solve the child abuse problem because that is a weighty and depressing issue that I’m not in the mood to discuss.
Pornography Usage Increases With Religious Upbringing and Church Attendance
A nationwide study of anonymised credit-card receipts from major online pornography sites showed that pornography consumption is most heavily concentrated in religious and conservative states. The biggest consumer is Utah, which averaged 5.47 adult content subscriptions per 1,000 home broadband users. Put another way: 8 of the top 10 pornography consuming states per capita voted for John McCain in the last Presidential election.
Church-goers bought less online pornography on Sunday but made up for it by buying more in the rest of the week, bringing them up to average. The 27 states that had gay marriage bans consumed 11% more porn subscribers than liberal states that don’t ban gay marriage.
According to ABC news:
States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage,” bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behaviour.”
“One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you’re told you can’t have this, then you want it more,” Edelman says.
I’d probably agree with that assertion … people want forbidden fruit. If you are told something is wrong, you are going to want it. It’s the old: DON’T THINK ABOUT A PINK ELEPHANT trick. You’re thinking about a pink elephant, right? When you spend a lot of time surrounded by morality police who are talking about the dangers of sex and pornography, the repression might very well make you want it more, just like dieters binge on chocolate and pizza when they fall off the bandwagon.
Likewise, in a Pastors.com survey, 54% of pastors said they had viewed porn within the past year.
The Question: Is It a Problem or Is It a Lack of Communication Between Male and Females?
The interesting question that arises from the studies is this: Is pornography consumption a problem based on the evidence? Or is it a problem because the people who advocate against banning it are primarily 1.) women, 2.) men who have sexual addiction issues and are heavy consumers themselves?
Here is an anecdotal story that I’ll share (I’ll try to keep it as anonymous as possible so those of you who know me won’t realize who told me the story) that illustrates this point:
An acquaintance of mine is a teacher at an elementary school. One day, in the teacher’s lounge, several female teachers were talking about a student who was 10 or 11. This boy had brought pornography to class (presumably he had printed it off the Internet but I don’t recall).
The female teachers were absolutely convinced that he must have been molested. Ten years old was much too young for a boy to want to look at images of hardcore sex. They started to call social services to figure out who was molesting the boy and how they could get him out of his home.
The male teachers, who until this point had sat around silently, finally exploded. They did an impromptu survey of the age they all took an active interest in sex. The ages ranged from 8 to 12. Were any of them molested? They all said no. Puberty kicked in and it was off to the races.
The women didn’t believe it. This caused a lot of interesting conversations because they were absolutely dumbfounded that boys that young were thinking about sex. The men, on the other hand, basically called the women stupid. How could they not know that? It’s what consumed their entire childhood once their bodies “woke up”.
Like I said, I’m going to leave my personal opinions out of it entirely and just post the data and links for you all to read on your own.
Are the two genders really this far apart? The evidence would indicate virtually all men are consuming pornography and yet women are convinced their husbands aren’t because they are “different”. Yet, the research shows that pastors and priests, saints and sinners have the exact same online viewing habits.
In other words, the data indicates that women actually believe they are gateway keepers of their husband’s sexuality. Based on the men’s answers, though, it turns out they are merely “first refusers” to quote a researcher in the field.
That means a lot of spouses don’t really know each other or talk honestly. If that is the case, what is the point of being married? Sociologists have already asked: Is this setting up a huge disconnect between men and women? Roughly 1 in 3 13-14 year old boys are considered “heavy users” of porn and “[plan] social time around viewing porn with male friends.” So, a good percentage of young boys are getting together and watching hardcore smut with each other. This behavior in girls is drastically less prevalent; they have no idea what is going on in the lives, heads, and pants of their male classmates.
To be honest, the ubiquity of pornography consumption surprised me. I suppose I shouldn’t have been after the two largest Japanese telecommunication companies, DoCoMo and KDDI, found that pornography consumption was so extreme on 3G cell phones that their networks were virtually shut down.
So, the questions are:
- Is this a problem?
- If so, what is the solution?
- How will this play out in the future? Internet access is so ubiquitous that kids can look at anything from their PSP or Nintendo DS by walking past a Starbucks or Panera and hopping onto the Wi-Fi connection. It isn’t going to be possible to shield children from it anymore, especially if they have friends who will talk about it. Trying to act as gatekeeper is a delusional approach that worked in 1960 but not today.
- Is it likely that a majority of the male population will just continue to outright lie to the female population to avoid conflict?
This is the type of stuff that makes me a complete geek. I’d love to put on a white lab coat, grab a clipboard, and start researching answers. Science is amazing because it shows us how the world is and not how we think it should be.