Good morning, Chairperson, and honourable members of Parliament. Thank you for asking me to talk with you about the public health impact of online violent and degrading pornography.
I am a professor of psychology at Western University, and I have four decades of research experience, grant funding, and peer-reviewed publications in this area.
I'll very briefly describe scientific methods that have been used to study the impact of pornography. I'd like to outline what science can and cannot tell us about this subject.
Let me first describe experimental studies of pornography's impact. In experimental studies of pornography's impact, research participants view sexually explicit material or non-sexual material, and their responses are studied. In this fashion, experimental research seeks to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between exposure to pornography and subsequent behaviour.
Experimental studies of the effect of violent pornography on men's aggressive behaviour were initially said to show that violent pornography causes men to aggress against women.
Experimental studies that claimed a cause-and-effect relationship between violent pornography and aggression employed a variant of the following procedures.
First, a male participant, almost always a young university student, receives verbal abuse and direct physical aggression—nine painful electrical shocks delivered by a young woman. After the young man is verbally abused and physically attacked, he is shown five minutes or so of violent pornography. The young man is then instructed by the experimenter to send electrical shocks to the woman who attacked him. Young men who have seen violent pornography send stronger electrical shocks than do men who have seen non-violent material.
I note and emphasize that the men in this research have been told to send electrical shocks to the female, and they have no opportunity to respond in a non-aggressive manner.
It has been observed that these experimental studies are so artificial and constrained that they tell us essentially nothing about the impact of violent pornography in the real world.
In experimental research, men who have been verbally abused and physically attacked by a woman and who have seen violent pornography are not provided with any opportunity to respond in a non-aggressive fashion.
Follow-up research by me and my colleagues has shown that when such studies are repeated, with the added provision of an opportunity for the men who have been subject to aggression and have seen violent pornography to respond in a non-aggressive fashion, virtually no male participants were aggressive against the female.
Experimental research by Dr. Malamuth and his colleague J. Ceniti has also shown that even prolonged exposure to massive amounts of violent pornography over a four-week period had no effect on men's aggression against a woman when they were provided with an opportunity to be aggressive against a woman a week later.
Let's turn to correlational studies. Correlational studies of pornography involve collecting men's reports of their use of pornography and their sexually aggressive behaviour. Correlational studies assess the relationship of A and B, but they cannot establish cause and effect. When A and B are found to be related, A may cause B; B may cause A; or very often, C, an unmeasured variable, may cause both A and B.
Many correlational studies report a relationship between men's reports of exposure to pornography and their reports of their sexually aggressive behaviour.
Correlational findings for a relationship between pornography and sexual aggression are consistent with the possibility that pornography contributes to sexual aggression. Correlational findings for a relationship between pornography and sexual aggression are equally consistent with the possibility that men who are sexually aggressive like to use pornography. Correlational findings for a relationship between pornography and sexual aggression are also entirely consistent with the possibility that some unmeasured factor, say, men's sex drive or their pre-existing anti-social personality traits, cause both sexually aggressive behaviour and the choice to use pornography.
In fact, in our research lab, and in our publication on this subject, when we measured men's sex drive, their pre-existing anti-social personality traits, and their use of pornography, we found that men's sex drive and their anti-social personality traits predicted aggression against women and that, when taking these factors into account, pornography played no role.
A number of studies of sex offenders' use of pornography have been conducted. Three of these studies found that convicted sex offenders report less use of pornography than comparative samples do. Another study found that 1% out of a sample of 259 sex offenders were influenced by pornography in the commission of their offence.
A review of the sex offender and pornography literature concluded that “sex offenders typically do not have earlier or more unusual exposure to pornography in childhood or adolescence, compared to non-offenders”.
Comparisons of the rate of sex crime in the same country before and after legalization of pornography are also informative. Denmark legalized most forms of pornography in 1969. Rape offences reported to the police showed little change after legalization. The same pattern was reported in Sweden, which legalized pornography in 1970, and West Germany, which legalized pornography in 1973.
A critical issue is the impact of unlimited access to all forms of Internet pornography on rates of sexual assault in Canada and the U.S. since the inception of essentially unlimited access to it in the mid-1990s. Rates of sexual assault in the United States have been decreasing over time and have continued to decrease since Internet access to all forms of pornography began in the 1990s. Canadian rates of sexual assault showed no increase in 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014, across a decade and a half of unlimited access to all forms of Internet pornography by virtually anyone in Canada.
Findings concerning access to Internet pornography and sexual aggression in the U.S. and Canada do not support the view that online pornography contributes to sexual assault. We can also look at the relationship between a decade and a half of access to Internet pornography and rates of sexual activity in Canadian and American adolescents. Rates of teenage pregnancy and childbirth in Canada have been declining for decades. These declines have continued since the onset of widespread access to Internet pornography by Canadian adolescents. Canadian adolescents' rates of sexual intercourse, sexual intercourse with multiple partners, and condom use have also not changed with widespread use of Internet pornography.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also reported that the proportion of U.S. adolescents who have had sexual intercourse has decreased and the proportion of sexually active U.S. adolescents who use condoms has increased since the onset of availability of Internet pornography.
I have a final word or two concerning pornography users' attitudes towards women. Our research group, with SSHRC support, has analyzed nationally representative U.S. data from 1975 to 2010 and found that individuals who report using pornography in the preceding year have significantly more egalitarian attitudes towards women than do those who have not used pornography. These results are consistent with several other studies showing that men who frequently rent or view sexually explicit videos hold more egalitarian views of women.
I have a final few words about pornography's impact on couples' relationship. Our research group has conducted two studies involving approximately 700 men and women who are in couples in which one or both members use pornography. When asked the open-ended question, “What effect, if any, has pornography had on your couple relationship?”, the most common answer by a very wide margin was no effect, followed by reports of positive effects, and trailed by a minority of reports of negative effects.
Also relevant to the impact or lack of impact of Internet pornography on the couple relationship is that in both Canada and the U.S., rates of divorce per thousand marriages have continued their decline—and they've been in decline—since the inception of widespread access to Internet pornography.
How am I doing for time?