A study has found that porn users are more likely to be feminists

Cue the sensationalist headlines

The science of porn is a mess. No matter what your opinions are, you’ll probably be able to find a scientific study that confirms your belief. There are hosts of experts claiming that porn is either destroying our minds or liberating us. Some will argue that porn is anti-feminist; others will strongly disagree, including feminists. Despite the confusion, every big study on porn always gets sensationalised as proof that porn is evil or good. The latest study is being described as proof that porn makes people into feminists.

The study in the The Journal of Sex Research used survey data from 25,000 Americans. They had been asked about their porn usage and views on gender equality and feminism. Although many people argue that porn is degrading to women, the study found that porn users were more likely than the others to hold feminist beliefs and even identify as feminists. The porn users held feminist views when it came to women’s abortion rights, women working in leadership positions, and women working away from home.

Ignoring the subtleties of the study and its context within the field, major publishers were quick to sensationalise the story to lead readers into thinking that porn turns people into feminists. Cosmopolitan’s headline was, “Turns out, watching porn is GOOD for gender equality”. The study itself makes no such claim. It simply found that porn users were more likely to be feminists. You can’t tell from these results that people become feminists because they watch porn. It’s also important to note that no study should be taken as gospel. For starters, they used American participants so it’s not necessarily informative of how the rest of the world feels. Other studies have found the exact opposite, although they usually have far fewer than 25,000 participants.

Different publications are throwing around sweeping statements that porn actually isn’t bad for women at all. Of course, the opposite generalisation is thrown around whenever a study is published that claims the opposite. Clearly we need a more nuanced understanding of porn. It’s difficult when each side of the argument has experts in its favour. There’s Gary Wilson of Your Brain On Porn who claims that porn is literally changing men’s brains for the worse and making them into misogynists. At the opposite extreme we have people like Cindy Gallop of Make Love Not Porn, who feels that the concept of porn is fine but the actual porn most of us watch is poor. She told us that with more women in the porn industry, it would be more creative and healthy for everyone.

So why do we see so many studies making entirely different conclusions about porn? Perhaps it’s because we’re not defining porn well enough. Not all porn is equal but most studies just ask participants if they watch porn or not. Some porn would absolutely leave any feminist angry. Women are often treated as objects; women in porn aren’t diverse; and most of it seems to be created for men. But it’s wrong to generalise and believe that all porn is like that. Although some people feel porn as an entire concept is evil, there’s clear evidence that porn can be done right and in such a way that doesn’t marginalise women.

The drastically different results from these studies might simply reflect the diverse nature of porn. It could be that there isn’t much to learn from thinking of porn as a whole. Moving forward we’re interested to see more studies on the effects of watching specific types of porn, particularly porn that has as many women as men in production.


Main image © iStock/Max Frost

Via Huffington Post