Introduction

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

The Commission has examined social and behavioral science research in recognition of the role it plays in determining legal standards and social policy. This role, while notable, is not, nor should it be, the sole basis for developing standards or policy. The lack of funding and the inability under the mandate of the Charter to conduct original research has resulted in the need to rely on existing information. The amount of research conducted in the last fifteen years provides a reasonably sufficient base to reevaluate answers to old questions. Some might argue that given the controversy and heated debate that inevitably surrounds any discussion about pornography, in some ways, we might be better off relying on studies initiated, funded, and presented outside the context of such a milieu.

The major question which frames this research review is: what are the effects of exposure to pornography and under what conditions and in what kinds of individuals are these effects manifested? We also have structured this review with the following considerations in mind: (1) that it provides some input into the policy-making process; (2) that it provides social science information for public consumption and understanding; and (3) that it provides the research community with further questions for investigation.

While the nature of effects is the focus of this section, we have also examined public opinion on pornography to systematically describe the nature of public perceptions of and experiences with such material as well as policy preferences. In terms of effects, correlational as well as experimental studies on sexual offenders as well as on nonoffender populations were examined. For background purposes, we have also presented brief summaries of what some predecessor Commissions have concluded about the social science evidence before them.

Some observations on terminology and on the character of social science evidence are appropriate at this point as guidelines to reading through the rest of this chapter.

We will simply avoid the usual definitional morass by using the term "pornography" to refer to the range of sexually explicit materials used in the various studies reviewed here. In a number of studies, these materials have included sex education materials. In describing specific studies, we also will use the researcher's terminology of choice, but making sure that the stimulus materials are adequately described for the reader.

We also are sensitive to the limitations and strengths of specific research approaches and we have taken special efforts to review these briefly in each major section of this Chapter, if only to underscore the fact that our evaluation of the research recognizes these limitations and indeed proceeds from the assumption that any conclusions must be drawn on the basis of complementary or convergent data.