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Pornography and Sexual Violence

This document summarizes the current research on the connection between pornography and sexual violence, and looks at how we define pornography, the consumption and effects of pornography, and the implications this has on policies and practices.

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VAWnet Summary:

Pornography and Sexual Violence by Robert Jensen (July 2004).

In Brief:

Commercial pornography in the United States is at the same time increasingly more normalized and more denigrating to women. There is understandable interest in the question about the connection between pornography and sexual violence. Rather than asking "does pornography cause rape?" we would be better served by investigating whether pornography is ever a factor that contributes to rape. In other words, Is pornography implicated in sexual violence in this culture?

There are limits to what research can tell us about the complex interactions of mass media and human behavior. But from both laboratory research and the narratives of men and women, it is not controversial to argue that pornography can: (1) be an important factor in shaping a male-dominant view of sexuality; (2) be used to initiate victims and break down their resistance to unwanted sexual activity; (3) contribute to a user's difficulty in separating sexual fantasy and reality; and (4) provide a training manual for abusers.

These conclusions provide support for the feminist critique of pornography that emerged in the 1970s and '80s, which highlighted pornography's harms to the women and children: (1) used in the production of pornography; (2) who have pornography forced on them; (3) who are sexually assaulted by men who use pornography; and (4) living in a culture in which pornography reinforces and sexualizes women'ssubordinate status.

People who raise critical questions about pornography and the sex industry often are accused of being prudish, anti-sex, or repressive, but just the opposite is true. Such questions are crucial not only to the struggle to end sexual and domestic violence, but also to the task of building a healthy sexual culture. Activists in the anti-violence and anti-pornography movements have been at the forefront of that task.

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The production and dissemination of this publication was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number U1V/CCU324010-02 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC, VAWnet, or the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.