5.3 The Need for Further Research

Part: 
Two
Chapter: 
5

Although we have mentioned it throughout this report, it is appropriate here to emphasize especially the importance of further research by professionals into the potential and actual harms we have discussed in this Chapter. We are confident that the quality and quantity of research far surpasses that available in 1970, but we also believe that the research remains in many respects unsystematic and unfocused. There is still a great deal to be done. In many respects research is still at a fairly rudimentary stage, with few attempts to standardize categories of analysis, self-reporting questionnaires, types of stimulus materials, description of stimulus materials, measurement of effects, and related problems.

We recognize that the ethical problems discussed above will inevitably place some cap on the conclusions that can be drawn from the research in this area. But apart from this inherent and incurable limitation, much can still be done. The research that has led to further subdivision of the large category of sexually explicit materials has perhaps been the most important development in recent years, and we strongly encourage research that will deal more precisely with different varieties of materials. We also believe that many other specific questions are in need of further research. There needs to be more research, for example, about the effect of pornography on the marriage relationship, about the nature of appetites for pornographic material and how those appetites are developed, about the effect of depictions of particular sexual practices on the sexual preferences of those who view them, and about the effects of exposure to pornographic material on children. This list could be much longer, but the point is only to show that much more needs to be done.

Some of the professionals who have provided evidence to us have been quite outspoken in their views about what the government in general or the legal system in particular ought to do about pornography. This phenomenon has been about equally divided between those researchers who have advocated fewer legal controls and those who have advocated more. While we do not deny to citizens the right to speak out on matters of public concern, we ought to note that we have tended to rely mostly on evidence provided by those who seem less committed to a particular point of view beyond their scientific expertise. We deal in an area in which a great deal must be taken on faith, including description of stimulus materials, description of experimental environments, questionnaire design, and description of what may or may not have been told to subjects. At no time have we suspected any scientist of deliberately or even negligently designing an experiment or reporting its results, but it remains nevertheless the case that there is room for judgment and room for discretion. Where a researcher has taken on the role as active crusader, one way or another, on the issue of governmental control of pornography, we are forced to question more than we would otherwise have done, the way in which this judgment and discretion has been exercised. We will not suggest how any researcher should balance the issue of his or her own credibility against his or her own strong feelings about an issue of importance. But we will note that the more that is expected to be taken on trust, the more likely it is that active involvement with respect to what is to be done with the results of the research will decrease the amount of trust.