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An Online Resource Library Supporting Professionals Ending Gender-Based Violence.

Pornography and Sexual Violence

NRCDV Publications
General Material
Published Date
July, 2004

Commercial pornography in the United States is at the same time increasingly more normalized and more denigrating to women. There is understandable interest in the question about the connection between pornography and sexual violence. Rather than asking "does pornography cause rape?" we would be better served by investigating whether pornography is ever a factor that contributes to rape. In other words, Is pornography implicated in sexual violence in this culture?

There are limits to what research can tell us about the complex interactions of mass media and human behavior. But from both laboratory research and the narratives of men and women, it is not controversial to argue that pornography can: (1) be an important factor in shaping a male-dominant view of sexuality; (2) be used to initiate victims and break down their resistance to unwanted sexual activity; (3) contribute to a user's difficulty in separating sexual fantasy and reality; and (4) provide a training manual for abusers.

These conclusions provide support for the feminist critique of pornography that emerged in the 1970s and '80s, which highlighted pornography's harms to the women and children: (1) used in the production of pornography; (2) who have pornography forced on them; (3) who are sexually assaulted by men who use pornography; and (4) living in a culture in which pornography reinforces and sexualizes women'ssubordinate status.

People who raise critical questions about pornography and the sex industry often are accused of being prudish, anti-sex, or repressive, but just the opposite is true. Such questions are crucial not only to the struggle to end sexual and domestic violence, but also to the task of building a healthy sexual culture. Activists in the anti-violence and anti-pornography movements have been at the forefront of that task.

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