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The harm thought to be caused to minors by pornography and other "inappropriate content" is not supported by any properly controlled outcome studies or other scientific evidence. Morality and socialization of youth are instead the rationales given for policing this content. Throughout much of the professional literature, preventing minors from accessing this material is still assumed, ''a-priori'', to be a rightful and realistic goal. Many of the reports commissioned by governments and NGOs use correlational studies, which do not establish cause and effect, and are plagued with negative value judgments concerning "high risk behaviors" and "permissive attitudes". This lack of evidence casts doubt upon the use of imprecise and expensive internet filters by central governments, and the insistence of some governments upon [[Self-regulation of the internet|self-regulatory]] ISP models.  
The harm thought to be caused to minors by pornography and other "inappropriate content" is not supported by any properly controlled outcome studies or other scientific evidence. Morality and socialization of youth are instead the rationales given for policing this content. Throughout much of the professional literature, preventing minors from accessing this material is still assumed, ''a-priori'', to be a rightful and realistic goal. Many of the reports commissioned by governments and NGOs use correlational studies, which do not establish cause and effect, and are plagued with negative value judgments concerning "high risk behaviors" and "permissive attitudes". This lack of evidence casts doubt upon the use of imprecise and expensive internet filters by central governments, and the insistence of some governments upon [[Self-regulation of the internet|self-regulatory]] ISP models.
 
==Politics and Pornography: Historical Context==
 
In 1969, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Stanley v. Georgia that people could view whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes. In response, the United States Congress funded the [[Wikipedia:President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography|President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography]], set up by President Lyndon B. Johnson to study the topic. The report<ref>[https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001354117 President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (September 1970).]</ref> was firmly based in science, and recommended that all restrictions on access for ''adults'' should be lifted. It also found that there was '''"no evidence to date that exposure to explicit sexual materials plays a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior among youths"'''. In events reminiscent of the later [[Rind et al]], the report was widely criticized and rejected by Congress. The Senate rejected the Commission's findings and recommendations by a 60–5 vote, with 34 abstentions. President Nixon, who had succeeded Johnson in 1969, also emphatically rejected the report, and publishers William Hamling and Earl Kemp (who published an illustrated version) were sentenced to prison for "conspiracy to mail obscene material".
 
Reagan's Meese Commission (1986), said to be laden with conjecture and led by its conclusions, overturned the Commission's findings without any scientific evidence and laid the groundwork for an intensification of the [[Research: Child Pornography|CP]] witch-hunt. Meese was published in an increasingly censorious environment; as our [[Moral panic|timeline]] reveals, [[Wikipedia:Satanic Panic|Satanic Panic]] was already well underway. For example. [[Patrick Califia]] notes:
 
<blockquote>''Highly touted "new research" that was to show a link between pornography and violent crime simply doesn't exist. The Commission hired Canadian sociologist Edna F. Einsiedel to review and summarize existing studies that might have a bearing on their findings. She reported, "No evidence currently exists that actually links fantasies with specific sexual offenses; the relationship at this point remains an inference." She also noted that pornography has been of value to some therapists who use it to treat patients. For writing this report, Einsiedel was placed under a gag order obtained by Alan Sears, and her summation does not appear in the Commission's Final Report.''<ref>[https://web.archive.org/web/20110712160549/http://cultronix.eserver.org/califia/meese/ Califia - The Obscene, Disgusting, and Vile Meese Commission Report]</ref></blockquote>
 
==More recent evidence==
 
This topic is considered almost impossible to study by present-day authors. As Segal, in the papers below notes, "universities don't want their name on the front page of a newspaper for an unethical study exposing minors to porn."


*'''Researchers, Educators and Therapists in Support of Appellee in United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group (published March, 2003). [https://ncac.org/update/amici-curiae-in-usa-vs-playboy-entertainment-group-inc Brief Amici Curiae of Sexuality Scholars]. No. 98-1682 (Oct. Term 1998), p. 8.'''
*'''Researchers, Educators and Therapists in Support of Appellee in United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group (published March, 2003). [https://ncac.org/update/amici-curiae-in-usa-vs-playboy-entertainment-group-inc Brief Amici Curiae of Sexuality Scholars]. No. 98-1682 (Oct. Term 1998), p. 8.'''
Line 8: Line 20:
*'''UNICEF (2021). [http://c-fam.org/wp-content/uploads/Digital-Age-Assurance-Tools-and-Childrens-Rights-Online-across-the-Globe.pdf Digital Age Assurance Tools and Children’s Rights Online across the Globe.] A Discussion Paper.'''
*'''UNICEF (2021). [http://c-fam.org/wp-content/uploads/Digital-Age-Assurance-Tools-and-Childrens-Rights-Online-across-the-Globe.pdf Digital Age Assurance Tools and Children’s Rights Online across the Globe.] A Discussion Paper.'''
*:"There are several different kinds of risks and harms that have been linked to children’s exposure to pornography, but there is no consensus on the degree to which pornography is harmful to children. [...] As discussed above, the evidence is inconsistent, and there is currently no universal agreement on the nature and extent of the harm caused to children by viewing content classified as pornography. However, policymakers in several countries have deemed that children should not be able to access commercial pornography websites designed for users aged over 18."
*:"There are several different kinds of risks and harms that have been linked to children’s exposure to pornography, but there is no consensus on the degree to which pornography is harmful to children. [...] As discussed above, the evidence is inconsistent, and there is currently no universal agreement on the nature and extent of the harm caused to children by viewing content classified as pornography. However, policymakers in several countries have deemed that children should not be able to access commercial pornography websites designed for users aged over 18."
*'''Thornburgh, Dick; Lin, Herbert S., eds. (2002). [https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/10261/youth-pornography-and-the-internet Youth, pornography and the Internet.] Washington, D.C: National Academy Press. p. 155.'''
*:"Although some literature exists on traditional forms of media (e.g., television, radio, magazines), the empirical research that examines the impact on children of exposure to non-violent sexual material is extremely limited."


*'''Becker, J., & Stein, R. M. (1991). [https://sci-hub.se/10.1016/0160-2527(91)90026-j Is sexual erotica associated with sexual deviance in adolescent males?] ''International Journal of Law and Psychiatry'', 14(1-2), 85–95.'''
*'''Becker, J., & Stein, R. M. (1991). [https://sci-hub.se/10.1016/0160-2527(91)90026-j Is sexual erotica associated with sexual deviance in adolescent males?] ''International Journal of Law and Psychiatry'', 14(1-2), 85–95.'''
Line 14: Line 29:
*'''NCAC (March, 2001). "[https://ncac.org/resource/identifying-what-is-harmful-or-inappropriate-for-minors White Paper Submitted to the Committee on Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids From Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content].'''
*'''NCAC (March, 2001). "[https://ncac.org/resource/identifying-what-is-harmful-or-inappropriate-for-minors White Paper Submitted to the Committee on Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids From Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content].'''
*:"In 1986, the Surgeon General's Workshop on Pornography and Public Health concluded that there is no scientific basis to believe that minors are adversely affected by pornography. Indeed, it noted that many psychologists believe young children are unaffected by pornography because they lack "the cognitive or emotional capacities needed to comprehend it." In the end, these experts said, "it is really rather difficult to say much definitive about the possible effects of exposure to pornography on children." The more widely publicized majority report that same year of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (the Meese Commission) did not disagree. The Meese Commission acknowledged that its concerns about minors' access to pornography were based on morality, not science. In the Playboy Entertainment case, expert witnesses for both the government and Playboy testified at trial that there is no empirical body of evidence of harm to minors from exposure to pornography. [...] Dr. [[Richard Green]], founding president of the International Academy of Sex Research and author of Sexual Science and the Law, testified that none of the available literature—including comparisons of the amount of erotica available in different countries, studies of sex offenders, laboratory experiments on pornography and violence, clinical experience worldwide, and research on people who as children had witnessed the "primal scene" of sexual intercourse—supports the notion that exposure to sexual explicitness is psychologically harmful to youth. In 25 years of clinical practice, Dr. Green had not encountered psychological problems stemming from pornography. The government in Playboy Entertainment initially attempted to establish harm to minors by offering testimony from Dr. Diana Elliott, who operated a clinic for abused children in California. The three-judge trial court rejected Dr. Elliott's testimony as weak, anecdotal, and "possibly misleading."8 Later, the government presented a new expert witness, Dr. Elissa Benedek, who opined that sexually explicit television might produce an assortment of harmful effects but acknowledged that she knew of no scientific literature or clinical studies supporting her belief, and that in her 30 years of psychiatric practice, nobody had come to her with a complaint about sexual images. The judges were unimpressed with Benedek's testimony. "We are troubled," they wrote, "by the absence of harm presented both before Congress and before us that the viewing of signal bleed of sexually explicit programming causes harm to children.""
*:"In 1986, the Surgeon General's Workshop on Pornography and Public Health concluded that there is no scientific basis to believe that minors are adversely affected by pornography. Indeed, it noted that many psychologists believe young children are unaffected by pornography because they lack "the cognitive or emotional capacities needed to comprehend it." In the end, these experts said, "it is really rather difficult to say much definitive about the possible effects of exposure to pornography on children." The more widely publicized majority report that same year of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (the Meese Commission) did not disagree. The Meese Commission acknowledged that its concerns about minors' access to pornography were based on morality, not science. In the Playboy Entertainment case, expert witnesses for both the government and Playboy testified at trial that there is no empirical body of evidence of harm to minors from exposure to pornography. [...] Dr. [[Richard Green]], founding president of the International Academy of Sex Research and author of Sexual Science and the Law, testified that none of the available literature—including comparisons of the amount of erotica available in different countries, studies of sex offenders, laboratory experiments on pornography and violence, clinical experience worldwide, and research on people who as children had witnessed the "primal scene" of sexual intercourse—supports the notion that exposure to sexual explicitness is psychologically harmful to youth. In 25 years of clinical practice, Dr. Green had not encountered psychological problems stemming from pornography. The government in Playboy Entertainment initially attempted to establish harm to minors by offering testimony from Dr. Diana Elliott, who operated a clinic for abused children in California. The three-judge trial court rejected Dr. Elliott's testimony as weak, anecdotal, and "possibly misleading."8 Later, the government presented a new expert witness, Dr. Elissa Benedek, who opined that sexually explicit television might produce an assortment of harmful effects but acknowledged that she knew of no scientific literature or clinical studies supporting her belief, and that in her 30 years of psychiatric practice, nobody had come to her with a complaint about sexual images. The judges were unimpressed with Benedek's testimony. "We are troubled," they wrote, "by the absence of harm presented both before Congress and before us that the viewing of signal bleed of sexually explicit programming causes harm to children.""
*'''Segal, David (4 April 2014). [https://web.archive.org/web/20210414143602/https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2014/04/04/does-porn-harm-children/ "Does porn harm children?"] (Live version also available outside of Europe - September 2022) Dallas News.'''
*:"And here is where the topic starts to get very murky. It turns out that the research suggesting that teenagers and pornography are a hazardous mix is far from definitive. In fact, many of the most comprehensive reports on this subject come to conclusions that amount to “we can’t say for sure” shrugs. One of the most recent is surely known to Cameron because it was produced by the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England. In May, the commissioner released a report titled “Basically ... porn is everywhere,” which examined 276 research papers on teenagers and pornography."


*'''Diamond, M., & Uchiyama, A. (1999). [https://sci-hub.se/10.1016/s0160-2527(98)00035-1 Pornography, Rape, and Sex Crimes in Japan.] ''International Journal of Law and Psychiatry'', 22(1), 1–22.'''
*'''Diamond, M., & Uchiyama, A. (1999). [https://sci-hub.se/10.1016/s0160-2527(98)00035-1 Pornography, Rape, and Sex Crimes in Japan.] ''International Journal of Law and Psychiatry'', 22(1), 1–22.'''
Line 22: Line 40:
==Cause or Confound?==
==Cause or Confound?==


The relationship between pornography viewing and "subsequent" behavior is a classic chicken and egg situation, in that causative direction can never be established when observing events in an uncontrolled, real-life scenario. This is already widely known in relation to television viewing. For example, a 1991 study found that of 391 junior high school students, those who watched sexual TV shows were more likely to have become sexually active in the preceding year. The researchers were "unable to determine which came first—sexual intercourse or a proclivity for viewing sexual activity on television."<ref>Jane Brown & Susan Newcomer, [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1856474/ "Television Viewing and Adolescents' Sexual Behavior,"] J. of Homosexuality 77, 84, 88 (1991)</ref> Regarding pornography, it is ''even more'' likely that behaviors are correlated with viewing habits as a result of ''pre-existing'' character traits and ''ongoing'' socialization. This may be for a number of reasons:
The relationship between pornography viewing and "subsequent" behavior is a classic chicken and egg situation, in that causative direction can never be established when observing events in an uncontrolled, real-life scenario. This is already widely known in relation to television viewing. For example, a 1991 study found that of 391 junior high school students, those who watched sexual TV shows were more likely than those who viewed a smaller proportion of sexual content to have had sexual intercourse. The researchers were "unable to determine which came first—sexual intercourse or a proclivity for viewing sexual activity on television."<ref>Jane Brown & Susan Newcomer, [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1856474/ "Television Viewing and Adolescents' Sexual Behavior,"] J. of Homosexuality 77, 84, 88 (1991)</ref> Regarding pornography, it is ''even more'' likely that behaviors are correlated with viewing habits as a result of ''pre-existing'' character traits and ''ongoing'' socialization. This may be for a number of reasons:


*Exposure to pornography is typically a self-directed act that takes place in private. A young person's socialization consists of numerous experiences, of which pornography consumption is but one tiny part.
*Exposure to pornography is typically a self-directed act that takes place in private. A young person's socialization consists of numerous experiences, of which pornography consumption is but one tiny part.
Line 29: Line 47:
Jeffrey Arnett, documenting a similar correlation between adolescents' reckless behavior and preference for violent music, identified "sensation seeking" as the confound that explained both the preference and the behavior. Arnett added that "adolescents who like heavy metal music listen to it especially when they are angry and that the music has the effect of calming them down and dissipating their anger."<ref>Jeffrey Arnett, "The Soundtrack of Restlessness—Musical Preferences and Reckless Behavior Among Adolescents," 7 J. Adol. Rsrch 313, 328 (1992)</ref>
Jeffrey Arnett, documenting a similar correlation between adolescents' reckless behavior and preference for violent music, identified "sensation seeking" as the confound that explained both the preference and the behavior. Arnett added that "adolescents who like heavy metal music listen to it especially when they are angry and that the music has the effect of calming them down and dissipating their anger."<ref>Jeffrey Arnett, "The Soundtrack of Restlessness—Musical Preferences and Reckless Behavior Among Adolescents," 7 J. Adol. Rsrch 313, 328 (1992)</ref>


At the social scale, there is correlational evidence linking wider availability of pornography with reductions in sexual offending, for example in Denmark, as documented in [[Research: Child Pornography|our Youth Erotica]] article, and Japan.<ref>[https://sci-hub.se/10.1016/s0160-2527(98)00035-1 Diamond, M., & Uchiyama, A. (1999). Pornography, Rape, and Sex Crimes in Japan. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 22(1), 1–22.]</ref> This linkage between porn, sexual "responsibility" and celibacy is also supported by evidence following the advent of the internet.<ref>[https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/all-about-sex/200904/does-pornography-cause-social-harm Psychology Today: Does Pornography cause social harm?]</ref>
At the personal level, some studies have attempted to eliminate confounds, finding that if anything, pornography only has a very mild effect on subsequent behavior.<ref>[https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23621804/ Hald GM, Kuyper L, Adam PC, de Wit JB. Does viewing explain doing? Assessing the association between sexually explicit materials use and sexual behaviors in a large sample of Dutch adolescents and young adults. J Sex Med. 2013 Dec;10(12):2986-95.]</ref> On a social scale, there is widespread correlational evidence linking wider availability of pornography with reductions in sexual offending, for example in Denmark, as documented in [[Research: Child Pornography|our Youth Erotica]] article, and Japan.<ref>[https://sci-hub.se/10.1016/s0160-2527(98)00035-1 Diamond, M., & Uchiyama, A. (1999). Pornography, Rape, and Sex Crimes in Japan. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 22(1), 1–22.]</ref> This linkage between porn, sexual "responsibility" and celibacy is also supported by evidence following the advent of the internet.<ref>[https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/all-about-sex/200904/does-pornography-cause-social-harm Psychology Today: Does Pornography cause social harm?]</ref>


==Subjective reactions==
==Subjective reactions==


While subjective reactions of children to sexual content are likely biased by bad questionnaire design, novelty, fear of censure, and fear of giving the "wrong" answer, they are surprisingly diverse in their nature. Most minors, however, recall reacting positively or neutrally to such material.
Studies into subjective reactions of children to sexual content are few and far between, and likely biased by bad questionnaire design, unwarranted focus on first exposure, and the childrens' own fear of censure/giving the "wrong" answer. The results are still surprisingly diverse in their nature, with most minors recalling a positive or neutral reaction to such material.


*'''Smahel, D., H. Machackova, G. Mascheroni, L., Dedkova, E., Staksrud, K., Ólafsson, S. Livingstone and U. Hasebrink (2020). [https://www.lse.ac.uk/media-and-communications/assets/documents/research/eu-kids-online/reports/EU-Kids-Online-2020-10Feb2020.pdf EU Kids Online 2020: Survey results from 19 countries], ''EU Kids Online'', London School of Economics, London.'''
*'''Smahel, D., H. Machackova, G. Mascheroni, L., Dedkova, E., Staksrud, K., Ólafsson, S. Livingstone and U. Hasebrink (2020). [https://www.lse.ac.uk/media-and-communications/assets/documents/research/eu-kids-online/reports/EU-Kids-Online-2020-10Feb2020.pdf EU Kids Online 2020: Survey results from 19 countries], ''EU Kids Online'', London School of Economics, London.'''

Latest revision as of 00:30, 22 September 2022

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The harm thought to be caused to minors by pornography and other "inappropriate content" is not supported by any properly controlled outcome studies or other scientific evidence. Morality and socialization of youth are instead the rationales given for policing this content. Throughout much of the professional literature, preventing minors from accessing this material is still assumed, a-priori, to be a rightful and realistic goal. Many of the reports commissioned by governments and NGOs use correlational studies, which do not establish cause and effect, and are plagued with negative value judgments concerning "high risk behaviors" and "permissive attitudes". This lack of evidence casts doubt upon the use of imprecise and expensive internet filters by central governments, and the insistence of some governments upon self-regulatory ISP models.

Politics and Pornography: Historical Context

In 1969, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Stanley v. Georgia that people could view whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes. In response, the United States Congress funded the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, set up by President Lyndon B. Johnson to study the topic. The report[1] was firmly based in science, and recommended that all restrictions on access for adults should be lifted. It also found that there was "no evidence to date that exposure to explicit sexual materials plays a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior among youths". In events reminiscent of the later Rind et al, the report was widely criticized and rejected by Congress. The Senate rejected the Commission's findings and recommendations by a 60–5 vote, with 34 abstentions. President Nixon, who had succeeded Johnson in 1969, also emphatically rejected the report, and publishers William Hamling and Earl Kemp (who published an illustrated version) were sentenced to prison for "conspiracy to mail obscene material".

Reagan's Meese Commission (1986), said to be laden with conjecture and led by its conclusions, overturned the Commission's findings without any scientific evidence and laid the groundwork for an intensification of the CP witch-hunt. Meese was published in an increasingly censorious environment; as our timeline reveals, Satanic Panic was already well underway. For example. Patrick Califia notes:

Highly touted "new research" that was to show a link between pornography and violent crime simply doesn't exist. The Commission hired Canadian sociologist Edna F. Einsiedel to review and summarize existing studies that might have a bearing on their findings. She reported, "No evidence currently exists that actually links fantasies with specific sexual offenses; the relationship at this point remains an inference." She also noted that pornography has been of value to some therapists who use it to treat patients. For writing this report, Einsiedel was placed under a gag order obtained by Alan Sears, and her summation does not appear in the Commission's Final Report.[2]

More recent evidence

This topic is considered almost impossible to study by present-day authors. As Segal, in the papers below notes, "universities don't want their name on the front page of a newspaper for an unethical study exposing minors to porn."

  • Researchers, Educators and Therapists in Support of Appellee in United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group (published March, 2003). Brief Amici Curiae of Sexuality Scholars. No. 98-1682 (Oct. Term 1998), p. 8.
    "Most scholars in the field of sexuality agree that there is no basis to believe sexually explicit words or images … in and of themselves cause psychological harm to the great majority of young people."
  • UNICEF (2021). Digital Age Assurance Tools and Children’s Rights Online across the Globe. A Discussion Paper.
    "There are several different kinds of risks and harms that have been linked to children’s exposure to pornography, but there is no consensus on the degree to which pornography is harmful to children. [...] As discussed above, the evidence is inconsistent, and there is currently no universal agreement on the nature and extent of the harm caused to children by viewing content classified as pornography. However, policymakers in several countries have deemed that children should not be able to access commercial pornography websites designed for users aged over 18."
  • Thornburgh, Dick; Lin, Herbert S., eds. (2002). Youth, pornography and the Internet. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press. p. 155.
    "Although some literature exists on traditional forms of media (e.g., television, radio, magazines), the empirical research that examines the impact on children of exposure to non-violent sexual material is extremely limited."
  • Becker, J., & Stein, R. M. (1991). Is sexual erotica associated with sexual deviance in adolescent males? International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 14(1-2), 85–95.
    "This study did not demonstrate a relationship between sexually explicit material and number of victims. Furthermore, the majority of youngsters surveyed did not feel that using sexually explicit material played a part in the commission of a sexual offense."
  • NCAC (March, 2001). "White Paper Submitted to the Committee on Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids From Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content.
    "In 1986, the Surgeon General's Workshop on Pornography and Public Health concluded that there is no scientific basis to believe that minors are adversely affected by pornography. Indeed, it noted that many psychologists believe young children are unaffected by pornography because they lack "the cognitive or emotional capacities needed to comprehend it." In the end, these experts said, "it is really rather difficult to say much definitive about the possible effects of exposure to pornography on children." The more widely publicized majority report that same year of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (the Meese Commission) did not disagree. The Meese Commission acknowledged that its concerns about minors' access to pornography were based on morality, not science. In the Playboy Entertainment case, expert witnesses for both the government and Playboy testified at trial that there is no empirical body of evidence of harm to minors from exposure to pornography. [...] Dr. Richard Green, founding president of the International Academy of Sex Research and author of Sexual Science and the Law, testified that none of the available literature—including comparisons of the amount of erotica available in different countries, studies of sex offenders, laboratory experiments on pornography and violence, clinical experience worldwide, and research on people who as children had witnessed the "primal scene" of sexual intercourse—supports the notion that exposure to sexual explicitness is psychologically harmful to youth. In 25 years of clinical practice, Dr. Green had not encountered psychological problems stemming from pornography. The government in Playboy Entertainment initially attempted to establish harm to minors by offering testimony from Dr. Diana Elliott, who operated a clinic for abused children in California. The three-judge trial court rejected Dr. Elliott's testimony as weak, anecdotal, and "possibly misleading."8 Later, the government presented a new expert witness, Dr. Elissa Benedek, who opined that sexually explicit television might produce an assortment of harmful effects but acknowledged that she knew of no scientific literature or clinical studies supporting her belief, and that in her 30 years of psychiatric practice, nobody had come to her with a complaint about sexual images. The judges were unimpressed with Benedek's testimony. "We are troubled," they wrote, "by the absence of harm presented both before Congress and before us that the viewing of signal bleed of sexually explicit programming causes harm to children.""
  • Segal, David (4 April 2014). "Does porn harm children?" (Live version also available outside of Europe - September 2022) Dallas News.
    "And here is where the topic starts to get very murky. It turns out that the research suggesting that teenagers and pornography are a hazardous mix is far from definitive. In fact, many of the most comprehensive reports on this subject come to conclusions that amount to “we can’t say for sure” shrugs. One of the most recent is surely known to Cameron because it was produced by the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England. In May, the commissioner released a report titled “Basically ... porn is everywhere,” which examined 276 research papers on teenagers and pornography."
  • Diamond, M., & Uchiyama, A. (1999). Pornography, Rape, and Sex Crimes in Japan. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 22(1), 1–22.
    "Most frequently, as it was found in the 1960s before the influx of sexually explicit materials into the United States, those who committed sex crimes typically had less exposure to SEM in their background than others and the offenders generally were individuals deeply religious and socially and politically conservative (Gebhard, Gagnon, Pomeroy, & Christenson, 1965). Since then, most researchers have found similarly. The upbringing of sex offenders was usually sexually repressive, often they had an overtly religious background and held rigid conservative attitudes toward sexuality (Conyers & Harvey, 1996; Dougher, 1988); their upbringing had usually been ritualistically moralistic and conservative rather than permissive. During adolescence and adulthood, sex offenders were generally found not to have used erotic or pornographic materials any more than any other groups of individuals or even less so (Goldstein & Kant, 1973, Propper, 1972). Walker (1970) reported that sex criminals were several years older than non-criminals before they first saw pictures of intercourse
    [...]
    "However, there are no specific child pornography laws in Japan and SEM depicting minors are readily available and widely consumed. [...] The most dramatic decrease in sex crimes was seen when attention was focused on the number and age of rapists and victims among younger groups (Table 2). We hypothesized that the increase in pornography [in general], without age restriction and in comics, if it had any detrimental effect, would most negatively influence younger individuals. Just the opposite occurred. The number of juvenile offenders dramatically dropped every period reviewed from 1,803 perpetrators in 1972 to a low of 264 in 1995; a drop of some 85% (Table 1). The number of victims also decreased particularly among the females younger than 13 (Table 2). In 1972, 8.3% of the victims were younger than 13. In 1995 the percentage of victims younger than 13 years of age dropped to 4.0%."

Cause or Confound?

The relationship between pornography viewing and "subsequent" behavior is a classic chicken and egg situation, in that causative direction can never be established when observing events in an uncontrolled, real-life scenario. This is already widely known in relation to television viewing. For example, a 1991 study found that of 391 junior high school students, those who watched sexual TV shows were more likely than those who viewed a smaller proportion of sexual content to have had sexual intercourse. The researchers were "unable to determine which came first—sexual intercourse or a proclivity for viewing sexual activity on television."[3] Regarding pornography, it is even more likely that behaviors are correlated with viewing habits as a result of pre-existing character traits and ongoing socialization. This may be for a number of reasons:

  • Exposure to pornography is typically a self-directed act that takes place in private. A young person's socialization consists of numerous experiences, of which pornography consumption is but one tiny part.
  • In the modern world, free pornography is a highly categorized and subdivided medium, which can be immediately filtered by genre, fetish or other special interest. This, again, means that pornography exposure can be highly self-directed, and is likely to correlate with pre-existing interests and values, rather than influencing them.

Jeffrey Arnett, documenting a similar correlation between adolescents' reckless behavior and preference for violent music, identified "sensation seeking" as the confound that explained both the preference and the behavior. Arnett added that "adolescents who like heavy metal music listen to it especially when they are angry and that the music has the effect of calming them down and dissipating their anger."[4]

At the personal level, some studies have attempted to eliminate confounds, finding that if anything, pornography only has a very mild effect on subsequent behavior.[5] On a social scale, there is widespread correlational evidence linking wider availability of pornography with reductions in sexual offending, for example in Denmark, as documented in our Youth Erotica article, and Japan.[6] This linkage between porn, sexual "responsibility" and celibacy is also supported by evidence following the advent of the internet.[7]

Subjective reactions

Studies into subjective reactions of children to sexual content are few and far between, and likely biased by bad questionnaire design, unwarranted focus on first exposure, and the childrens' own fear of censure/giving the "wrong" answer. The results are still surprisingly diverse in their nature, with most minors recalling a positive or neutral reaction to such material.

  • Smahel, D., H. Machackova, G. Mascheroni, L., Dedkova, E., Staksrud, K., Ólafsson, S. Livingstone and U. Hasebrink (2020). EU Kids Online 2020: Survey results from 19 countries, EU Kids Online, London School of Economics, London.
    "being exposed to sexual images can be perceived both as a positive and a negative experience, depending on the context and the individual child. How sexual images are perceived can also be influenced by intentionality – the response to exposure due to seeking out sexual images could differ from unexpected exposure [...] in most of the countries, most of the children who saw some sexual image were neither upset nor happy (Ave = 44%), ranging between 27% (Switzerland) and 72% (Lithuania). In contrast, between 10% (Lithuania) and 40% (Switzerland) of the children were fairly or very upset (Ave = 22%), while feeling happy after seeing sexual images was reported by a similar number of children across the countries, ranging between 3% in Estonia and 39% in Spain."

Excerpt Graphic Library

The Excerpt Graphic Library on Youth Sexuality has some useful information related to this topic. These can be accessed, saved and uploaded into shortform social media debates where character limits are in force.

Competences are also somewhat related:

References