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Porn viewers more likely to see women as equals than non-viewers

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People who watch pornography hold views of women as more equal to men than people who do not watch pornography, and are no less likely to describe themselves as feminists, according the results of a study published in the Journal of Sex Research.

The role of pornography in shaping societal attitudes towards women has been a topic of longstanding debate. Some commentators argue that pornography is inherently demeaning to women, and that viewing it causes men to develop more hostile gender attitudes and causes women to internalize negative gender stereotypes. Others contend that pornography empowers women, and that viewing it promotes more equal gender attitudes among both men and women.

A study led by Taylor Kohut, of Western University, addressed this controversy using data from more than 28,000 people who participated in the General Social Survey, an annual study of attitudes in the US population, between 1975 and 2011. The survey asked participants if they had watched an X-rated movie in the last year. It also included several questions regarding their attitudes towards women.

These included attitudes towards women working outside the home, women holding positions of political power, traditional familial gender roles, and the legality of abortion. Respondents also indicated whether or not they thought of themselves as feminists.

In total, 23% of Americans told researchers that they had viewed pornography in the last year. Both male and female pornography viewers had better attitudes towards women working outside the home, and were more supportive of abortion rights, in comparison with those who had not watched pornography.

In addition, male pornography viewers had more positive attitudes about women holding positions of political power in comparison with male non-viewers. There were no differences between pornography viewers and non-viewers in terms of either feminist identification or attitudes towards traditional family gender roles.

The authors of the study conclude that their data contradict claims based on radical feminist theory that pornography use contributes to negative views of women. Rather than being prone to viewing women as subordinate or inferior to men, people who had viewed pornography saw them as more empowered in both politics and the workplace.

However, they also noted that the data did not support the claim made by some “pro-sex” feminists that pornography is a conduit for promoting feminism, especially among women. Instead, both pornography viewers and non-viewers had similar rates of feminist identification.

While debate about the relative merits of pornography use will undoubtedly continue, these findings will give some support to those who argue that at least some of the dangers attributed to it have been exaggerated.