Thursday, July 26, 2012


“A little pornography may not only lead to child and spouse abuse, but it slowly sucks out the marrow of self-esteem”
--Neal A Maxwell (in LDS Conference Report, Oct. 1992, 91; or Ensign, Nov. 1992, 67 ).

A lot has changed since Mr. Maxwell made that comment in 1992. We have better cars and Google, not to mention earth-tones are more fashionable than neon. The wide spread use of violent video games has caused a bit of a stir, yet, no one but concerned housewives and politicians appealing to lobbyists seem to think it leads to street violence. In fact, the ever-widening acceptance and general use of such games makes research in this area very compelling. Violent games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto have become so widespread that if the claims had any bearing at all, we should expect to see much higher crime rates. But, in fact, crime rates are down!

A similar case has been made against the use of pornography. Social conservatives like Fundamentalist Christians and Mormons have claimed that viewing pornography leads one to sexual violence, including rape. Much of the early research on this was spurred by various criminals who claimed to view pornography, such as the case of Ted Bundy. Here is a report on Bundy's final interview where he claims pornography lead him to violence.

Very compelling, but it is true? Is it consistent with current research? Not really. Let me explain by using research from BYU's own research department.

Early research had mixed results in showing a connection between viewing violent pornography and sexual assault. An article published in 1988 stated, "It is hypothesized that the specific fusion of sex and violence in some pornographic stimuli and in certain belief systems may produce a propensity to engage in sexually aggressive behavior." Even the most convincing studies only showed a correlation between violent pornography and self-reported likelihood of rape. This seems intuitive: those who like violence will like violent porn. Similarly, other studies show a correlation between those who view child pornography and those who molest children. But again, these studies fail to conclusively show that people who sexually assault others do so because of viewing violent or child pornography. In other words, there seems to be some kind of relationship, but it is too early to tell exactly what that relationship means other than indicating one's inate sexual preferences. But let's say for a moment that it were true that viewing violent or child pornography leads to assault. That would mean that anyone who views it will be predisposed to offend. Does this happen? Well, BYU's website didn't have any studies on this specifically, but there are studies elsewhere which have tried this method on homosexuals in order to change their sexual orientation. And every single attempt failed. So, it seems that the claim that viewing particular forms of pornography will lead to like behaviors has no basis.

In fact, there seems to be evidence that the rate of rape decreases as circulation of pornography increases, as shown in this 1988 article. As well as in this article (the link seems to be broken, but BYU's website still has the abstract available): Kimmel, M.S.; Linders, A. (1996). Does Censorship Make a Difference? An Aggregate Empirical Analysis of Pornography and Rape. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality.

Interestingly, Utah has the highest use of pornography and one of the lowest rates of rape. But again, this relies mostly on corollary evidence; as Penn and Teller put it, "it could easily be a coincidence."

So, to recap, there is some evidence which suggests that viewers of violent pornography will act out violently, but there is no evidence that it is the pornography that causes the violence. And there is no evidence whatsoever that nonviolent pornography leads to violence of any kind. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case, especially with regards to violence against and general attitudes towards women. So, it seems that Mr. Maxwell is mistaken when he says that pornography leads to "child and spouse abuse." It is also noteworthy that many of the studies I referenced from BYU's own website were conducted several years prior to Maxwell's statement in 1992. Furthermore, Maxwell is championed by Mormons as a successful scientist and doctor, yet he failed to do his own scientific research before making a bald assertion concerning social behaviors over the pulpit.

The Mormon Church's attitude on pornography has changed somewhat since Mr. Maxwell's statement, as shown by Dallin H. Oaks' article on Oaks clarifies:

"Brethren, you have noticed that I am not discussing the effects of pornography on mental health or criminal behavior. I am discussing its effects on spirituality—on our ability to have the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and our capacity to exercise the power of the priesthood."

It seems that the Church is finally abandoning the claim that pornography is harmful in any real or tangible sense. This shift of focus seems to indicate that the only perceived harm caused by pornography is spiritual regression, which is not only immeasurable and, therefore, irrelevant to science, but would only apply to Mormons themselves. Although, many still advocate that pornography damages families and leads to divorce. I couldn't find anything conclusive on BYU's website on divorce rates and pornography, but we can imagine quite easily what would happen if a man were to be caught by a wife who believes pornography ruins families and leads to divorce... Besides, even if such a correlation were shown, we still wouldn't be able to say that divorces are caused by pornography, as opposed to, say, a difference of opinion in sexual kinks.

There are a lot of reasons why a married man might view pornography. Perhaps he really doesn't love his wife anymore. Maybe he is bored with their routine. Maybe his sex drive is greater than hers. Or maybe he just likes it and doesn't see any harm in it. All of these seem consistent with the data and could easily cause a rift in a marriage where the wife disagrees. At worst, pornography seems to be a symptom of a much deeper marital disease--conflicting values. As with violent video games, if pornography really did lead to divorce, then we should expect to see more divorces, since studies show that 70% of ALL MEN view pornography. Not to mention 31% of women.

I looked for information on BYU's website about porn addiction, but couldn't find anything. It seems that the evidence for such an addiction is about as substantiated as the claim that viewing pornography leads to rape. In order for something to be classified as an addiction it has to actually cause harm. Without any supporting evidence that pornography (or even masturbation) is harmful to anyone, in any way whatsoever, how can it be addictive? You can make a better case for the addictiveness of food than pornography, since over-eating leads to obesity which increases the risk of heart disease, among other things. Given that ACTUAL SCIENCE shows that pornography does not seem to be anymore addictive than sex itself (which is a natural drive, like sleeping, eating, and flexing in front of the mirror), it doesn't lead to violence, and it generally improves men's views on women's rights (all of which I have shown above through BYU's own website), why do people still post crap like this?

Lastly, here is a quote from Former Attorney General Joycelyn Elders, who said, "Masturbation never gave anyone an STD, it's never gotten any girl pregnant, and it's never made anybody go crazy. And you always know you are having sex with somebody you love." Mrs. Elders was removed from her post as Attorney General in 1994 when she spoke out against "Abstinence Only" education programs.


Here is an ex-Mormon couple discussing pornography (Episode 1):

 Episode 2:

Episode 3:

Episode 4:

Episode 5:

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