Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pornography Reduces Sex Crime

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to block Internet pornography and make it less accessible, especially to minors. But research shows that if he succeeds, sex crimes are likely to increase – especially those involving minors as victims or offenders.

Cameron is far from alone in this ambition. Plenty of debaters and organizations express moral indignation regarding Internet pornography and insist that it promotes sex crime as well as brutal sexual behavior. They have no proof at all. Instead, their far-fetched conclusions are simply based on the same old prejudice against sexuality, as if it's a sin to make love and lust is something disgusting.

The rabid war against pornography and any explicit sexuality only reflects the distorted view on sex upheld by those self-righteous warriors. They don't care about what research concludes and what the real effects on society may be – to them, sex is basically a crime, at least when enjoyed by others.

Research proves clearly that when pornography is increasingly accessible, sex crimes decrease. That's particularly true for sex crimes against minors or committed by minors – the ones that Cameron and like-minded agitators claim they want to protect. If they succeed in making pornography less accessible, minors in particular will suffer from the consequences.

That is the sad case also if pornography is made less accessible to minors. It may be hard for many adults to face, since they tend to regard sexuality as something from which they need to protect the young.

The adult world at large has a strange attitude towards our sexuality. It's often spoken about as something unnatural and perverted, especially if done outside of wedlock or at young age. But nature is indifferent to human civil institutions, as is our own biology, and our sexuality emerges at a younger age than that of consent in most countries.

Children start to explore their sexuality already before puberty, but most definitely their bodies shout at them to do so when puberty commences. Complete abstinence and denial are no options. If teenagers are hindered to explore this aspect of their lives, it leads to frustration and complication. Only a world that regards sexuality as something basically evil would demand it of them. And that's a world gone mad.

Another argument constantly repeated is that minors should not be introduced to their sexuality by pornography, because of its often malicious and vulgarized form of sex. That argument would be much more credible if the people expressing it also advocated sex education relevant to the needs of the teens. But they rarely do. Their alternative is mainly to “spare” minors from sex, possibly with the exception of warnings against sexually transmitted disease.

It would indeed be nice if pornography could incorporate all the finer aspects of our sexuality and the joy it can bring, and some of it definitely does. When pornography turns ugly, it's mostly a consequence of its expulsion from decent society, the taboo of it. That leaves it in the hands of a hardened minority and the whole business becomes overly indecent. Beauty leaves the room, as talented artists go elsewhere to express themselves.

The low standard of most pornography is a consequence of the lacking talent of its producers. Also, the fact that pornography is largely condemned by society makes its producers fall into the trap of making it condemnable, as if that is what's called for. Not to mention its proximity to the world of crime, again because of it being regarded as a social outcast. We have thrown pornography into the hands of people lacking business moral.

In spite of its quality deficiencies, pornography has a healthy influence on society, simply because we're all so fascinated by sex that we need to explore it more than just by marital coitus. It meets parts of our desires. Nothing harmful in that. The harm comes from condemning it.

Conclusive Research

Already in 1970, the Danish Professor of Criminology Berl Kutchinsky reported that increased pornography did not lead to an increase of sex crimes, but the contrary: most of those crimes decreased.

Denmark had recently legalized pornography, so he had the statistics of a whole country to analyze. Soon also Sweden and West Germany did it. His continued research showed that the effect was the same there. Here is a report of his from 1973: The Effect of Easy Availability of Pornography on the Incidence of Sex Crimes: The Danish Experience.

Later, Kutchinsky could include the USA is his studies, where the laws on pornography had also changed. Here is a study from 1991, dismissing the myth that pornography causes rape: Pornography and rape: theory and practice? Evidence from crime data in four countries where pornography is easily available.

Another nationwide example is Japan, which became increasingly lenient towards pornography over time. Statistics showed significant drops of sex crimes, in particular those with minors as either victims or perpetrators. Here is a 1999 report by the US Professor of Reproductive Biology Milton Diamond, where he also discusses previous research about the effects of pornography, and the drop in rape crimes in the USA: The Effects of Pornography: An International Perspective.

In the above report, Diamond also discusses the evidence that US statistics on sex offenders show them less exposed to sexually explicit material (SEM) than others, especially in young years, and their upbringing being more sexually restrictive:

This lack of early exposure to pornography seems to be a crucial consideration. Most frequently, as it was found in the 1960s before the influx of sexually explicit materials in 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 usually deeply religious and socially and politically conservative (Gebhard, Gagnon, Pomeroy, & Christenson, 1965). Since then, most researchers have found similarly (e.g., Ward & Kruttschnitt, 1983). 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). Among sex offenders, violent rapists had seen no more pornography than had sex peepers or flashers (Abel, Becker, Murphy & Flanagan, 1980). Walker (1970) reported that sex criminals were several years older than non-criminals before they first saw pictures of intercourse. Thirty-nine percent of convicts surveyed by Walker agreed that pornography "provides a safety valve for antisocial impulses." It thus seems that early exposure to sex, rather than late exposure, is socially more beneficial.

Permissive Is the Key

There is no evidence at all to the myth that pornography leads to sex crimes, but lots of proof to the contrary: wide access to pornography leads to a decline in sex crimes. Still, I seriously doubt that the access to pornography alone can explain significant drops in sex offenses. There are more things involved.

A society being more permissive regarding pornography is surely also a society with a more permissive attitude towards sexuality. Sex crimes are closely related to sexual oppression and prejudice, as indicated by the Diamond quote above. A liberal mentality in society diminishes that oppression and the frustration it causes, maybe not in every household but in most of them. And that's what lowers the sex crime rates.

Another closely related issue is that of education. A permissive society is not restrictive when it comes to sex education, whereas typically societies with less tolerance tend to minimize or completely ban it. That may very well have a greater effect on sex crime statistics than pornography. They just happen to coincide. So, what we really need to guard is a positive and permissive attitude towards sex in general, including pornography, and the rest will follow.

The Internet Boom

Since the mid-1990's, there has been a tremendous boom of worldwide accessible information of any kind on the Internet. Pornography, too, has become more easily accessible than ever before in history – also to minors. So, how has that influenced the frequency and nature of sex crimes?

From the previous research presented above, it makes sense to assume that increased pornography accessibility will continue to decrease sex crimes. Findings seem to be consistent with this. Here's a no-nonsense Slate article discussing it briefly: How the Web Prevents Rape. And here's the research by Todd Kendall quoted on the issue: Pornography, Rape, and the Internet.

A quick search on the Internet seems to confirm it, but what strikes me the most is that such research seems to be rare or marginalized, even on the Internet. Why so? Now we have the chance to do a worldwide study on the effect of pornography access – so why is this not already an established fact? Instead, there are lots of texts speculating with little facts to confirm it about how Internet pornography might change people's attitudes towards sex. But that's just speculation.

If rapes decline they decline, and they do so – especially among the young, who are the greatest consumers of anything Internet. This source specifies a 72% decrease of rape in the USA since 1993, right before the Internet boom started: Sexual Images and Sex Crimes. The US Justice Department confirms the sharp decline: Female Victims Of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010. So why not shout it out?

It doesn't fit with the conservative prejudiced attitude towards sexuality, which regards it primarily as something filthy and deplorable. But that's just prejudice. It should not be allowed to make the rules of our society.

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