An Integration of the Research Findings

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

It is clear that the conclusion of "no negative effects" advanced by the 1970 Commission is no longer tenable. It is also clear that catharsis, as an explanatory model for the impact of pornography, is simply unwarranted by evidence in this area, nor has catharsis fared well in the general area of mass media effects and anti-social behavior.

This is not to say, however, that the evidence as a whole is comprehensive enough or definitive enough. While we have learned much more since 1970, even more areas remain to be explored.

What do we know at this point?

  • It is clear that many sexually explicit materials, particularly of the commercial variety, that are obviously designed to be arousing, are, in fact, arousing, both to offenders and nonoffenders.
  • Rapists appear to be aroused by both forced as well as consenting sex depictions while nonoffenders (our college males) are less aroused by depictions of sexual aggression. On the other hand, when these portrayals show the victim as "enjoying" the rape, these portrayals similarly elicit high arousal levels.
  • Arousal to rape depictions appears to correlate with attitudes of acceptance of rape myths and sexual violence and both these measures likewise correlate with laboratory observed aggressive behaviors.
  • Depictions of sexual violence also increase the likelihood that rape myths are accepted and sexual violence toward women condoned. Such attitudes have further been found to be correlated with laboratory aggression toward women. Finally, there is also some evidence that laboratory aggression toward women correlates with self-reported sexually aggressive behaviors.
  • What we know about the effects of nonviolent sexually explicit material is less clear. There are tentative indications that negative effects in the areas of attitudes might also occur, particularly from massive exposure. The mechanics of such effects need to be elaborated more fully, however, particularly in light of more recent findings that suggest that degrading themes might have effects that differ from non violent, non degrading sexually explicit materials. This is clearly an area that deserves further investigation.
  • There are suggestions that pornography availability may be one of a nexus of sociocultural factors that has some bearing on rape rates in this country. Other cross-cultural data, however, offer mixed results as well, so these findings have to be viewed as tentative at best.
  • We still know very little about the causes of deviancy and it is important to examine the developmental patterns of offenders, particularly patterns of early exposure. We do have some convergence on the data from some rapists and males in the general population in the areas of arousal and attitudes but again, this remains to be examined more closely.

Clearly, the need for more research remains as compelling as ever. The need for more research to also examine the efficacy of strategies for dealing with various effects is as compelling. If learning-both prosocial and antisocial-occurs from various depictions, and there certainly is clear evidence of both, the need for strategies that implicate the same learning principles must be evaluated. Educational and media strategies have been discussed elsewhere and found to be effective in such disparate areas as health and media violence (see Rubinstein and Brown, 1986; Johnston and Ettema, 1982; American Psychological Association, 1985). Researchers in the area of pornography have no less a responsibility.