sex

The general consensus among single people on the dating circuit these days is that porn has greatly affected the way humans interact with each other, sexually speaking. Anecdotally, sexual interaction in 2013 seems to be rife with the sort of bedroom activity it once took partners months to build up to sheepishly asking each other about.

Concrete evidence on the matter, on the other hand, tends to be harder to come by (as it were), as airtime is usually split between anti-porn rhetoric and “sex positive” campaigning, with precious little objective material in the middle. Is it a harmless marital aid, or contributing to the inevitable downfall of human relationships?

Two new studies seem to be leaning heavily towards the latter.

The first, conducted by Indiana University researchers Michelle Funk and Paul Wright and published in Psychology Of Women Quarterly, found that “people who admitted to watching pornography were less likely to support affirmative action for women in a subsequent interview”. Yes, people: the interviewees included women, and the downtick in support for affirmative action was recorded in responses from both genders.

As the researchers noted of the results, they “suggest that pornography may be a social influence that undermines support for affirmative action programs for women”.

In an otherwise dismissive piece about the “Department of Duh study”, Jezebel’s Erin Ryan wonders whether the sort of porn watched in turn affects the viewer’s stance on gender politics, citing old-fashioned ‘70s porn and feminist erotica as potentially producing a different result to the bleaker and more hardcore fare on offer today - and whether there is something else at play entirely. “If all porn affects audiences equally, then maybe overarching cultural attitudes about gender in the context of sex are to blame for the results of this study — maybe it's not porn's fault; maybe it's inescapable cultural prudery.”

However, in another study released this past week, it was less prudery that could be at play than plain old fashioned sexism. Research undertaken at the University of Copenhagen found that repeated exposure to pornography did in fact make heterosexual men more sexist, but only when they were “low in agreeableness” (or, to use the Daily Mail’s more convenient parlance, “mean”; the Times went with “unpleasant”) to begin with.

In the researchers own words, “personality (agreeableness) was found to influence the relationship between pornography and sexist attitudes so that it was only among participants low in agreeableness that pornography was found to increase sexist attitudes”.

Therefore, one takeaway from these studies is that pornography can have a place in a healthy relationship among adults who are not complete dropkicks about gender politics, which isn’t really telling us much that we didn’t already know. What the studies instead seem to be able to agree on, somewhat more sadly, is that continued exposure to porn reinforces the sexist attitudes of men who could probably benefit from being removed from those kinds of thought patterns.

So, in other words, we’re no closer to being able to agree on exactly where pornography will fall, in terms of its cultural impact, in the annals of history. Maybe it’s time to do a comprehensive study of people on the dating circuit. I’m sure ButtLover69 will provide some truly illuminating statistical data.