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Second-hand porn: the spreading circle of damage

Published: Monday, July 8 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In 88 percent of scenes, performers were slapped, spanked, gagged, choked, kicked or had their hair pulled. Insults and name-calling were present in almost half of the scenes.

Almost all (94 percent) of the violence was directed to women, who responded nearly overwhelmingly with pleasurable or neutral expressions.

"Viewers of pornography are learning that aggression during a sexual encounter is pleasure-enhancing for both men and women," Wosnitzer, Dr. Ana Bridges and their co-researchers wrote in their paper published in Violence Against Women in 2010. "What (is) the social implication for this type of learning?"

In college fraternities, that fusing is seen as men who consume pornography — specifically rape and sadomasochistic types — report higher levels of willingness to rape women if they wouldn't get caught or punished, and lower willingness and perceived ability to intervene in a sexual assault situation, according to research by Oklahoma State University education professor John Foubert.

Such results undermine the argument that pornography is a personal choice and what happens in private doesn’t affect anyone else, he says.

"Most of the culture today thinks that pornography is fine, that it's an acceptable part of human sexuality with no consequences beyond the individuals who are using it," Foubert said. "Users don’t think about … what scripts play out in the porn they're watching and how that might affect their attitudes toward others."

Foubert and others argue pornography is changing expectations of normal sexual behavior in non-coercive settings, meaning that even though women aren't being raped or assaulted as often, they're being asked and pressured by boyfriends to engage in pornographic-modeled behaviors.

Five Swedish studies of youths found that young men and women who frequently look at pornography are more likely to have had anal intercourse, and that boys who watch pornography are more likely to have experimented with acts they saw on screen, according to a review by Michael Flood at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.

But saying that someone who watches something in a movie will immediately behave that way is like saying that "if James Bond drives a car really fast, people will drive faster as a consequence," says Hugo Schwyzer, author and professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. "This is a fantasy you're dealing with in pornography. It's not the way the rest of the world works. As human beings, we're capable of distinguishing from what arouses us to what the world is supposed to be."

But it's hard to make those distinctions when so much of mainstream pornography is fixated on stereotypical themes of dominance, aggression and power, usually perpetrated by white males on an array of ethnically diverse women, says Wosnitzer.

"The mainstream industrially produced porn from San Fernando … allows a mostly white male audience to see itself with all of its power and privilege attached to it," he says, "and that women are objects, for (their) own pleasure."

Broken relationships

While polls show Americans are divided over whether pornography is bad for relationships, anecdotal evidence is beginning to pile up that it’s bad for marriages. In a 2002 survey of 350 members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 62 percent said the Internet was a "significant factor" in divorce cases they had handled the last year.

The most-cited problems included meeting a new love interest (68 percent) and obsessive interest in pornographic sites (56 percent).

In 2009, 79 percent of lawyers from the same group said that over the previous five years, Internet browser histories, which typically included visits to pornographic websites, were being entered as evidence in divorce cases.

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