THE POWER OF THE PICTURE: HOW PORNOGRAPHY HARMS
By: Dr. Jerry R. Kirk
Hard-core pornography in the 1980s is a heated subject. Many intelligent and responsible people disagree about its place in a free society, and about the extent of its harm to the public safety. Why all the commotion?
Cutting Through the Confusion
To say that hard-core pornography and obscenity have no effect whatsoever on us, one must also say that books, TV commercials, magazine ads and movies have no influence on us. Yet we know that books and other media do have an impact on their consumers. That’s why we write them, and that’s why we read them. Consider that:
* Shrewd businessmen would not spend over $10 billion a year on TV advertising if it didn’t sell their products.
* Marriage counseling clinics would not show couples sexually explicit films if those movies didn’t help recondition and revitalize the couple’s sexual relationship.
Why, then, do many thoughtful people claim that hard-core pornography has no effects?
Many well-meaning people pretend not to know because they are worried about censorship and the possibility of losing their First Amendment rights. But the First Amendment does not protect (and never has) the violently perverse obscenity that is now so wide-spread.
Let’s examine the wide body of research that clearly demonstrates the risks and harms of repeated exposure to obscene, hard-core pornography.
The Hard Data on Hard-Core Pornography
The evidence we will present comes from numerous empirical studies, case and field studies, and the real-world findings of clinical psychologists and health care professionals. It is not a one-sided view of pornography’s harms, but a catalog of what a wide range of experts and laymen have learned over the past several years.
It is important to say a word about the nature of scientific research. When researchers study the link between pornography and violence, they must take into account a variety of unknown
environmental factors. So, it is extremely difficult to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a cause-effect relationship exists. But tell that to the parents of five young boys from Salt Lake City who were brutally murdered by Gary Bishop to conceal his sexual abuse of them.
Bishop, now a convicted pedophile, confessed that he would go into sex shops, view magazines and videos of nude boys, and fantasize about having sex with them. But soon, that wasn’t enough. He
desired more sexually arousing pictures, so he enticed boys into letting him take pictures of them naked. From the underground press, he acquired “kiddie porn” magazines. But again, that wasn’t
To satisfy his growing obsession, Bishop began abducting little boys, sexually abusing them and then killing them.
Fortunately, he is behind bars today. But his behavior, and the behavior of many others like him, has led to deep concern among responsible citizens, parents and grandparents. Such behavior has
prompted a number of theories to explain why-and how-it happens.
How Pornography Affects the User
One of the most respected researchers in the field of sexual abuse is Dr. Victor Cline, a clinical psychologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Dr. Cline has treated hundreds of sex
offenders who have had intensive exposure to hard-core pornography as a part of their criminal history. He has found a near-universal fourstep pattern that helps explain their pathology:
* First, there is an addictive effect. The man gets hooked on obscene materials, which seem to provide him with a powerful and exciting aphrodisiac. So he keeps coming back for more to get his
* Second, there is an escolation in his need for rougher and more sexually shocking material in order to get the same sexual stimulation as before. He prods his wife or partner into increasingly bizarre sexual activities. When the woman finally resists, the relationship crumbles.
* Third, there occurs, over time, a desensitization to the material’s effect. What was first gross, taboo, repulsive or immoral though still sexually arousing – in time becomes acceptable, commonplace and, in a sense, legitimized. The person begins to believe that everyone does it.
* And fourth, there is an increased tendency to start acting out the sexual activities seen in the pornography. What was first fantasy has become reality.
And so, if over a period of time a person views, fantasizes about and masturbates to materials showing child molestation, women orally copulating farm animals, men defecating on each other, and
other far worse acts, there’s an increased chance that he will go into the community seeking to perform these sexually deviant activities.
Why Pornography Can Be Addictive
Additional studies help to explain the findings of Dr. Cline. At the University of California, Irvine, Dr. James L. McGaugh has conducted research suggesting that memories of experiences which
occurred at times of emotional arousal (including sexual arousal) are difficult to erase.
Dr. McGaugh’s findings suggest that a person’s memories of sexually arousing experiences get locked into the brain by the chemical epinephrine. And once there, the memories are difficult
to forget. Thus, powerful sexual memories keep reappearing on his mind’s memory screen-stimulating and arousing him. Every time he masturbates to those fantasies, he is, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, rewarded by his orgasm, which reinforces the memory.
It’s easy to grasp the danger of men being exposed to the following 8mm film:
Two Girl Scouts in their green uniforms are selling cookies door-to-door, when they are invited in by a sexually aggressive adult male. The man proceeds to seduce the girls and subject them to a
number of unusual and extremely explicit sexual acts. The girls are shown to be eagerly enjoying this sexual orgy.
Such a film must be considered dangerous, because it conditions the viewer into having sexual fantasies about the girls, masturbating to these fantasies, then thinking about making sexual
advances toward young girls-especially girls in their Girl Scout uniforms.
Criminal statistics show that these men who view such pornography do carry out their fantasies.
Criminal Use of Pornography
The Michigan State Police found that in 38,000 cases of sexual assault on file, 41 percent involved the use of pornography just prior to the act or during the act.
According to a 1985 FBI study in which convicted serial killers in prison were interviewed, 81 percent of those killers reported that their biggest sexual interest was reading pornography.
A separate study corroborates these findings. Dr. W. Marshall, in a report prepared for the Canadian Department of Justice, found that almost half of the rapists he studied used “consenting sex”
pornography to arouse themselves before seeking out a victim to rape.
Considerable attention has, of late, been given to the findings of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, which clearly underscored these facts. But their findings are not new. A 1970
Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, while not taking the strong position that the Meese Commission took, did conclude that “exposure to pornography is the strongest predictor of sexual deviance.”
Pornography Is Destroying Our Children
There is little doubt that aggressive, hard-core pornography has the potential to increase aggressive behavior toward women. But there is another angle to the problem-one that often goes
When parents keep obscene materials in their homes, it is likely that their children will find the materials.
Three Tragic Examples
* A boy found a copy of Hustler magazine and read the article “Orgasm of Death.” Out of curiosity, the boy set up the sexual experiment just the way the magazine prescribed, followed the
instructions, and wound up dead. The Hustler August 1981 article was lying at his feet when his mother found his cold body.
* Two brothers, ages 9 and 10, stumbled across their parents’ X-rated video tapes and secretly watched them for many months while their mom and dad were at work. They later forced two younger siblings to view the tapes, stripped the two naked; jammed dirt, sticks and small rocks into their rectums; forced them to perform oral sex, and then threatened to shoot them with a BB gun if they told. This behavior continued for several years.
* In 1986, a witness before the U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography testified, “The incest started when I was 8. My dad would try to convince me that it was okay. He would find magazines with articles or pictures that would show father and daughter, mother and son or brother and sister, having sexual intercourse. He would say that if it was published in magazines, it had to be all right because magazines could not publish lies.”
The Effects of Non-Violent Pornography
Even greater controversy surrounds nonviolent pornography, such as incest, sex with animals and group sex. This type of material does not necessarily promote criminal violence, but it can have a
negative impact on many viewers because it:
* provides a model for unhealthy sexual behavior
* gives misinformation about human sexuality
Research conducted by Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant supports this position. In their six-week experiment, normal adult males were exposed to heavy doses of non-violent adult pornography, and they:
* developed an increased callousness toward women
* trivialized rape as a criminal offense
* exhibited distorted perceptions about sexuality
* revealed an appetite for more deviant, bizarre or violent types of pornography
* devalued monogamy and showed a lack of confidence in marriage as either a viable or lasting institution
* viewed non-monogamous relationships as moral and natural behavior.
A Common-Sense Position
Ultimately, many scientific studies proving or disproving “harm” are irrelevant and unnecessary. On the face of it, hard-core pornography is abusive and denigrating, especially to women, but
also to men. You do not have to do research to prove that.
As Susan Brownmiller writes in her book Against Our Will, “Pornography, like rape, is a male invention designed to dehumanize women, to reduce the female to an object of sexual access. The gut distaste a majority of women feel when we look at pornography comes from the gut knowledge that we and our bodies are being stripped, exposed and contorted for the purpose of ridicule, to bolster that ‘masculine esteem’ which gets its kicks and sense of power from viewing females as anonymous, panting playthings, adult toys, dehumanized objects to be used, abused, broken and discarded.”
A Concluding Note – From Dr. Victor Cline
“At the present time, even though pornography statutes exist in nearly every community in the nation, as well as at the federal level, prosecution has been feeble or, in some cases, non-existent
because of confusion over the harm issue, as well as concern by some that limiting or prohibiting pornography would lead to censorship of other materials.
“In my view – and I work with people daily who have major pathology because of their involvement with pornography – some limits need to be set. Laws need to be enforced or taken off the
“In a sense, our ‘drinking water’ is contaminated and we are getting a lot of casualties. And very few people are doing or saying anything about it. Our people and our country are too precious to look the other way and pretend not to know.”
More factual information on the harmful effects of pornography can be obtained by writing the National Coalition Against Pornography (NCAP), P.O. Box 7777, Cincinnati, OH 45231.
(The above material was published by Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO.)
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