Perceptions of Pornography's Effects

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

Respondents are just as likely in 1985 as in 1970 to perceive both positive and negative effects from exposure to or use of sexually explicit materials (Table 8). However, there is a significant increase in the numbers who perceive negative effects from 1970 to 1985. 1970 and 1985 data in this case were directly comparable since the same categories of effects were used.

Table 8

Perceptions of Effects of Pornography-1970 and 1985
(Percent Saying "True")

1970

1985

They provide information about sex

61%

52%

They lead some people to commit rape or sexual violence

49

73

They provide a safe outlet for people with sexual problems

27

34

They lead some people to lose respect for women

43

76

They can help improve the sex lives of some couples

47

47

They provide entertainment

48

61

They lead to a breakdown of morals

56

67

(Base)

(2486)

(1020)

 

 

Question for 1985: "Thinking of sexually explicit magazines, movies, video cassettes, and books, tell me if you believe the following are true or not true:"

Question for 1970: "On this card are some opinions about the effects of looking at or reading sexual materials. As I read the letter of each one, please tell me if you think sexual materials do or do not have these effects." Item choices provided the 1970 respondents were worded in the same way or were reasonably similar: "Sexual materials provide information about sex;" ". . . lead people to commit rape; ". . . give relief to people who have sex problems;" ". . . improve sex relations of some married couples;" . . . provide entertainment;" ". . . lead to a breakdown of morals." The 1970 survey had five additional items not included here since these were not utilized by the 1985 Newsweek poll.

The most significant changes were in the areas of violence toward women, with the number of respondents indicating these materials could lead some people to lose respect for women increasing from forty-three percent to seventy-six percent and those believing they lead some people to commit rape or sexual violence increasing from forty-nine percent to seventy-three percent in 1985. Whether this reflects greater sensitivity toward women or greater consciousness of sexually violent material available or both is unclear. A slightly greater number in 1985 than in 1970 were also likely to think that sexually explicit materials provide a safe "outlet for people with sexual problems" (34% to 27%) while the number of people who agreed that these could help improve the sex lives of some married couples remained the same (47%).