Social Issues

The cost of pornography

It is estimated that the pornography industry generates three thousand dollars per second in income. But the real cost is how it is destroying people’s lives, believes Lucía Martínez Alcalde.

A few months ago, Spain’s Prosecutor’s Office warned of ‘an alarming 116% increase in sexual assaults committed by minors in the last five years’. There had been 451 cases in 2017, rising to 974 in 2022 (with 668 in 2021, marking a 45.8% increase in a year). 

According to the office’s report, the causes behind these figures are complex, and the section of Sevilla highlights ‘the lack of adequate training in ethical-sexual matters’ among minors, which leads them to ‘accessing inappropriate and premature viewing of violent pornographic material’. 

And the report continues: “This, coupled with the absence of educational guidance, leads to a trivialization of their concept of normal sexual relations.” 

The tragedy is that children know how to access this material to their great harm. But the adults who should be protecting them from it don’t know how to do this.

Here’s another statistic to ponder: gang rapes in Spain have grown by over 50% in the last five years.

And if only Spain were an isolated example. A 2018 study conducted by researchers from Canada found that over 80% of surveyed young people who consumed pornography had engaged in one or more behaviours that could be described as ‘rough sex’.

Another study, carried out in Boston, indicated that ‘pressure to make or to imitate pornography was an element of some unhealthy dating relationships’ and that ‘many individuals copied what they saw in pornography during their own sexual encounters’. 

On the Fight the New Drug website, various studies are cited showing that “porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others, more likely to express an intent to rape, less likely to intervene during a sexual assault, more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual assault, more likely to support violence against women, more likely to forward sexts without consent, and more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence.”

One in 12 teens in the United States reported being forced to have sex, and more than one in 10 had experienced sexual violence by someone, in 2021, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The trend in both cases has been increasing in recent years.

In 2021, worldwide searches for pornographic material reached 140 million daily visits; this content comprises a third of internet searches. 

It’s not just an issue for adults. 90% of minors between eight and 16 years old have visited a porn website. In Spain, the average age of starting pornography consumption is 11, although some studies warn that it sometimes begins at eight. 

Typically, younger children aren’t actively seeking it, but they encounter it inadvertently – whether through a pop-up window on a computer while doing homework or on an older sibling’s phone. The consumption becomes widespread around the age of 14. 

According to a Save the Children report, seven out of 10 teenagers engage in habitual consumption. This figure is similar globally: over 80% of teenagers regularly view pornographic images, as emphasized in the documentary How does porn affect our lives?.

Professor Miguel Ángel Martínez-González, author of the book Salmones, hormonas y pantallas. El disfrute del amor auténtico, visto desde la salud pública [Salmons, hormones and screens. The enjoyment of authentic love, as seen from a public health perspective], asserts that various studies have demonstrated that ‘young people who watched pornography were at a higher risk of exhibiting aggressive sexual behaviours and greater acceptance of violence in relationships’. 

Sexologist Andrés Suro points to other consequences, such as the normalization of group sexual assaults, the recording of sexual encounters, and their dissemination without consent.

According to data collected by Fundación de Ayuda contra la Drogadicción (Foundation for Assistance against Drug Addiction), 88% of porn scenes depict violence, and 94% of it is inflicted on women. Even in the case of non-violent porn, pornography eroticizes male domination over women, and it’s not something that can be solved with ‘feminist pornography’. 

An article by Dale una Vuelta explains that pornography consumption can also lead to a lack of impulse control, ‘resulting in the performance of violent sexual sequences, regardless of the violence consumed, even if the pornographic content itself is not inherently violent’.

Not everyone who watches porn becomes a rapist, and the issue of sexual assaults, with the increasingly shocking cases coming to light, is complex enough not to attribute it to a single cause. 

However, as Blanca Elía, psycho-pedagogist and expert in early childhood education, says:

while it may not be the sole reason, ‘we have no doubt that porn is like gasoline, encouraging and creating behavioural patterns, and providing ideas’. 

An article from Fight the New Drug mentions a survey from the United Kingdom of over 22,000 adult women, in which ‘16% reported having been forced or coerced to perform sex acts the other person had seen in porn’.

This article in The Conversation mentioned various recent studies analysing the profile of adolescent sexual offenders. The main characteristics include an inadequate development of sexuality in 96% of the cases studied, with early exposure to pornography being related to this in 70% of instances. 

A portion of the minor sexual offenders in the study (26%) experienced socialisation in a sexually charged family environment. To a lesser extent, but equally noteworthy, sexual victimization during childhood (i.e., being a victim of sexual abuse or assault) was detected in 22% of the cases.

A significant finding from the Save the Children report is that those who consume pornography less frequently are more emphatic in confirming the presence of violence in such content. On the other hand, frequent consumers become desensitised and fail to recognise the violence.

This, in turn, is related to what Jorge Gutiérrez Berlinches, director of Dale Una Vuelta, emphasizes: “the Epidemiology and Public Health study, conducted by the Biomedical Research Center with individuals aged 18 to 35, warned that the probability of committing a sexual assault is 2.4 times higher in men who consume pornography than those who do not.” 

The study also added that women who watch pornography are more likely to become sexual assault victims. Once again: desensitisation, an inability to recognize violence, and normalisation of abnormal behaviours…

In The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, Louise Perry recounts the case published in the Sunday Times in January 2020 of a young woman who reported that she started seeing strangulation material on Tumblr from the age of 14: “I felt that choking was normalised as sexual behaviour. It’s shown as an expression of passion and it’s something that girls are kind of groomed into doing, but it’s only recently that I see that being critiqued as something criminal.”

Despite the scientific evidence and data, there is still no consensus among experts and there are still voices which completely deny the relationship between pornography consumption and sexual assaults. 

Why? What do they hope to achieve with their denial? What are they defending (or whom)? 

In an industry generating three thousand dollars per second, it’s not unreasonable to consider economic interests at play when discussing societal acceptance of pornography.

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Lucía Martínez Alcalde studied Philosophy and Journalism. She works at Nuestro Tiempo, the cultural magazine of the University of Navarra. She also writes for other media outlets and regularly on her blog, where she talks about affectivity, relationships, sexual integrity, marriage, and family.

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