A Meta-Analysis of the Published Research on the Effects of Pornography (1997)

Printer-friendly version

ELIZABETH ODDONE PAOLUCCI, MARK GENUIS, AND CLAUDIO VIOLATO

NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR FAMILY RESEARCH AND EDUCATION, CALGARY, ALBERTA UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY, CALGARY, ALBERTA

Abstract

A meta-analysis of 46 published studies was undertaken to determine the effects of pornography on sexual deviancy, sexual perpetration, attitudes regarding intimate relationships, and attitudes regarding the rape myth. Most of the studies were done in the United States (39; 85%) and ranged in date from 1962 to 1995, with 35% (n=16) published between 1990 and 1995, and 33% (n=15) between 1978 and 1983. A total sample size of 12,323 people comprised the present meta-analysis. Effect sizes (d) were computed on each of the dependent variables for studies which were published in an academic journal, had a total sample size of 12 or greater, and included a contrast or comparison group. Average unweighted and weighted d's for sexual deviancy (.68 and .65 ), sexual perpetration (.67 and .46), intimate relationships (.83 and .40), and the rape myth (.74 and .64) provide clear evidence confirming the link between increased risk for negative development when exposed to pornography. These results suggest that the research in this area can move beyond the question of whether pornography has an influence on violence and family functioning. Various potentially moderating variables such as gender, socioeconomic status (SES), number of incidents of exposure, relationship of person who introduced pornography to the participant, degree of explicitness, subject of pornography, pornographic medium, and definition of pornography were assessed for each of the studies. The results are discussed in terms of the quality of the pornography research available and the subsequent limitations inherent in the present meta-analysis. A Meta-Analysis of the Published Research on the Effects of Pornography The issue of exposure to pornography has received a great deal of attention over the years. An overwhelming majority of adults in our society, both men and women, report having been exposed to very explicit sexual materials. In fact, Wilson and Abelson (1973) found that 84% of men and 69% of women reported exposure to one or more of pictorial or textual modes of pornography, with the majority of the group first being exposed to explicit materials before the age of 21 years. Coupled with more opportunities for people to access materials via a greater variety of media (e.g., magazines, television, video, world wide web), it is becoming increasingly important to investigate whether exposure to pornography has an effect on human behaviour. While the list of psychological sequelae that researchers have shown to be statistically common in persons exposed to pornography is immense, controversy and doubt are prevalent. Though the ongoing academic debate has relevant and significant socio-political implications, it is apparent that the issue of pornography has frequently been approached from a philosophical and moral stance rather than an empirical position. The present meta-analytic investigation attempts to redirect the focus of the question of pornography's potential effects to an empirical platform. The aim is to determine whether exposure to pornographic stimuli over the lifespan has any effect on sexual deviancy, sexual offending, intimate relationships, and attitudes regarding the rape myth. The results are expected to provide information which may assist families, educators, mental health professionals, and social policy directors in making

DISCUSSION

Consistent with previous meta-analyses (Allen, D'Alessio, & Brezgel, 1995) and single studies (Baron & Straus, 1987; Fisher & Barak, 1991; Garcia, 1986; Gray, 1982; Gunther, 1995; Hui, 1986; Lottes, Weinberg, & Weller, 1993), the results of the present meta-analysis suggest that exposure to pornography produces a variety of substantial negative outcomes. Using the social learning theory and imitation model, it may be argued that themes of aggression, impulse gratification, sexual flexibility and gymnastics, and objectification in pornography may reinforce and/or justify similar attitudes and behaviours in everyday human-life contacts. Persons viewing pornographic materials may believe that the way the characters perform sexually is a "normal" and appropriate portrayal of reality. Armed with these expectations, they may engage in activities which are not socially acceptable or even desirable at the individual level. While likely not a solitary influence, it appears that exposure to pornography is one important factor which contributes directly to the development of sexually dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours.

The results are clear and consistent; exposure to pornographic material puts one at increased risk for developing sexually deviant tendencies, committing sexual offenses, experiencing difficulties in one's intimate relationships, and accepting the rape myth. In order to promote a healthy and stable society, it is time that we attend to the culmination of sound empirical research.