Pornography has long been considered to be one of the main motivators of major technological inventions, from the camera to the worldwide Web. Its effects on human health and sexuality have also been, and likely will always be, hotly debated. (The pun is irresistible.)
But new research out of the University of Montreal suggests that pornography is so widely digested, and with such a seemingly low correlation to "pathological" behavior, that it is grossly over-demonized. The research is funded by the Interdisciplinary Research Center on Family Violence and Violence Against Women.
Simon Louis Lajeunesse, a postdoctoral student and professor at the School of Social Work, set out to examine the effects of pornography on men, which would involve studying men in their 20s who've never consumed pornography. "We couldn't find any," he says.
Still at an early stage of the study, Lajeunesse has so far recruited 20 heterosexual male university students who, as consumers of pornography, are representative of, well, heterosexual male university students. The objective of the study, he says, "is to observe the impact of pornography on the sexuality of men, and how it shapes their perception of men and women."
Subjects shared their sexual history, beginning with their first experience with pornography, which for most boys happens by the age of 10. The research so far shows that 90 percent of pornography is consumed online and 10 percent through video stores. On average, men who are single watch porn about three times a week for about 40 minutes, while men who are in relationships watch about 1.7 times a week for about 20 minutes.
All test subjects report that they support gender equality, and that they feel victimized by rhetoric that demonizes pornography.
"Pornography hasn't changed their perception of women or their relationship which they all want as harmonious and fulfilling as possible," Lajeunesse says. "Those who could not live out their fantasy in real life with their partner simply set aside the fantasy. The fantasy is broken in the real world and men don't want their partner to look like a porn star." (Naomi Wolf has famously argued the opposite.)
Even though he has only interviewed 20 men so far, Lajeunesse says his work is already refuting pornography's role in changing sexual behavior. "If pornography had the impact that many claim it has, you would just have to show heterosexual films to a homosexual to change his sexual orientation."
There are a few obvious problems with this study, beyond its sample population being 20. Lajeunesse is relying on his subjects to report honestly about behavior that, when actually perverse, might rarely be admitted to. Also, there is the question of what should be defined as perverse or deviant. And finally, measuring the effects of porn on sexual behavior before it became so widely available online compared to after seems downright impossible.
But still, if watching porn is so widespread, and I have every reason to believe it is, Lajeunesse may have a point about its effects being over-hyped, unless we are all closet basketcases. Whether he will ever be able to prove this definitively, though, is unlikely.
Also of note is that this study only sets out to investigate the effects of porn on men. The effect on women, their sexuality, and how they view their own bodies and the desires of their partners is another story altogether.