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Does porn actually help deter sexual violence?

Guess what: Traditional feminism has got it all wrong when it comes to porn.

It does not promote sexism. It does not promote sexual violence. In fact, it may make some porn consumers less likely to commit sexual crimes, says an article in the July 2011 edition of Scientific American Mind.

But before everyone goes off to celebrate by Googling some naughty images, let's delve deeper into the evidence.

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The article is a compilation of studies from the last few years that investigate the psychological effects of casually viewing pornography. The first question they address is whether or not porn is harmful to women.

"There's absolutely no evidence that pornography does anything negative," says Milton Diamond​, director of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The article then quotes a professor of psychology from Texas A&M International University who notes that rapes and sexual assaults are at their lowest levels since the 1960s. One of the studies referenced found that the U.S. states with the lowest levels of Internet access saw a 53-per-cent increase in rape over a 20 year period, while states with more Internet access saw a 27-per-cent drop in reported rapes.

The author then goes on to make the dubious correlation that violent pornography is behind these trends. You see, watching a woman get sexually abused and humiliated on a screen doesn't make you want to do it – it actually provides "a safe, private outlet for deviant sexual desires". (Clearly the author has not read Andrea Dworkin's work on feminism and pornography.)

But there a few factors out there that may upset the author's conclusions, such as how the production of aggressive, male-driven pornography normalizes sexual violence. So while it may not push a person to be violent, its easy access certainly makes the degrading actions seem okay.

And in terms of the negative effects of porn, there is no mention of the fact that it promotes damaging images of what a woman's body should look like, not to mention how men should measure up. Which is why you end up with numbers like this: "In a study of female partners of heavy porn users, 42 per cent said it made them feel insecure."

So it seems porn is not inherently bad. Misogynistic producers and directors make it bad.

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It's too bad the article didn't look at the growing number of female directors, such as Erika Lust, who are actually trying to make statements like "porn does not promote sexism" true.

How do you feel about porn?

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About the Author

Madeleine White is an online editor and reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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