In the not-too-distant past, purveyors of pornography were mailed such publications in "plain brown wrappers." When they arrived at their intended destination, they were hidden away. Going to an adult bookstore or a theater that showed X-rated movies entailed the risk of being caught in a compromising situation. In other words, there was a sense of shame about viewing or possessing pornography.
Now, it is readily available over the Internet or as pay-per-view movies in hotels. As the access has expanded, there has been, sadly, a greater acceptance of pornography. In fact, a new Brigham Young University study shows that nearly half of today's college women consider pornography acceptable. Meanwhile, only 37 percent of their fathers concurred. The survey of 813 college students at six American colleges and universities showed that about 67 percent of college age men say pornography is acceptable. BYU students were not part of the study.
The permissive attitudes of young men and women may be due to this generation's extensive access to pornography and the ability to anonymously view it over the Internet, largely free of charge. BYU researchers found that 86 percent of college men and 31 percent of college women had viewed pornographic material in the previous year. Nearly half of young men surveyed said they viewed it weekly, as did 3 percent of young women.
Aside from the availability of pornography, today's college students have also grown up at a time when popular culture has become increasingly sexualized. Perhaps young peoples' sense of "normal" has been altered. Whatever the case, one thing has not changed about pornography. It objectifies women. It debases sex, marginalizing what is supposed to be a sacred connection in marriage to meaningless sex acts intended only for fleeting gratification.
Social scientists do not yet know what will be the long-term consequences of the vast proliferation of pornography on those who consume it. But in the short term, the research showed that young people who perceive that pornography is an acceptable way to express one's sexuality are also more likely to binge drink, engage in risky sexual behaviors and have multiple sexual partners. This is not a causality argument but an observation that young people who view pornography are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Considering that one fourth of all Internet searches are for pornography and it is doubtful that the genie can be put back in the bottle there is an ongoing need to research how pornography impacts relationships, children and families. The BYU study, published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Research, provides a solid launching point for further research.
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