MANOA, Hawaii—Milton Diamond, a professor of anatomy and reproductive biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, has authored a study titled “Pornography, Public Acceptance and Sex Related Crime: A Review.” Published in 2009 in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, the study takes a comprehensive, cross-cultural look at research conducted over the years on the subject of porn’s influence on individuals as well as societies.
Diamond’s conclusion, which he readily admits flies in the face of common assumptions held by many today, is that there is no objective, verifiable evidence that exposure to pornography causes any of the societal ills ascribed to it—including sex crimes, the abuse or disempowerment of women, and a host of negative effects on individuals or families—and that it may in fact help.
“With these data from a wide variety of communities, cultures and countries we can better evaluate the thesis that an abundance of sexual explicit material invariably leads to an increase of illegal sexual activity and eventually rape,” writes Diamond. “Similarly we can now better reconsider the conclusion of the Meese Commission and others that there exists ‘a causal relationship to antisocial acts of sexual violence and … unlawful acts of sexual violence’ (Meese, 1986, page 326). Indeed, the data reported and reviewed suggests that the thesis is myth and, if anything, there is an inverse causal relationship between an increase in pornography and sex crimes.
“Further,” he continues, “considering the findings of studies of community standards and wide spread usage of SEM (sexually explicit material), it is obvious that in local communities as nationally and internationally, porn is available, widely used and felt appropriate for voluntary adult consumption. If there is a consensus against pornography it is in regard to any SEM that involves children or minors in its production or consumption.
“Lastly,” he concludes, “we see that objections to erotic materials are often made on the basis of supposed actual, social or moral harm to women. No such cause and effect has been demonstrated with any negative consequence. It is relevant to mention here that a temporal correlation between pornography and any effect is a necessary condition before one can rationally entertain the idea that there is a positive statistical correlation between pornography and any negative effect. Nowhere has such a temporal association been found.”
The timeliness of this study cannot be stressed enough, considering the profusion of news articles and media pronouncements by associations such as the Family Research Council and Morality in Media that disseminate the “fact” that pornography is inherently corrosive to individuals and families and leads to an increase in sex crimes. Without a doubt, those groups will respond to Diamond’s research by insisting that there is research that proves their thesis. However, the full study by Diamond suggests that he has taken into account most (if not all) of the serious research available on the subject, without parsing the parts that support his conclusion, which is something those who already believe that pornography is harmful cannot claim. Indeed, his findings are a severe blow to those who claim that porn leads to crime.
“In every region investigated,” he writes, “researchers have found that as pornography has increased in availability, sex crimes have either decreased or not increased.”
Diamond is not saying that the use of pornography has not led to situations in which people sincerely believe that they, or others, have been adversely impacted by the stuff. To suggest othewise would be ludicrous (and would have negated the need for such research in the first place!) He just hasn't seen any empirical evidence to prove it—something the professional researcher in him stubbornly insists upon.
“There is no doubt that some people have claimed to suffer adverse effects from exposure to pornography—just look at testimony from women’s shelters, divorce courts and other venues,” he wrote in a corollary article posted to TheScientist.com. “But there is no evidence it was the cause of the claimed abuse or harm.”
Neither, he says, is there any basis for the claim by anti-porn feminists and others that the eradication or censorship of pornography will reduce sexism or violence against women.
“If there were any evidence that this [was] true, anti-censorship feminists—myself included—would be compelled at least to reexamine our opposition to censorship,” he writes. “But there is no such evidence to be found.”
What Diamond did find with respect to violence perpetrated against women is sure to create a firestorm of outrage within the ranks of the religious right.
A study by Michael Goldstein and Harold Kant, he wrote, found that "...rapists were more likely than nonrapists in the prison population to have been punished for looking at pornography while a youngster, while other research has shown that incarcerated nonrapists had seen more pornography, and seen it at an earlier age, than rapists. What does correlate highly with sex offense is a strict, repressive religious upbringing. Richard Green too has reported that both rapists and child molesters use less pornography than a control group of 'normal' males." (Emphasis added)
Diamond’s examination of studies on the effects of pornography from around the world yields results that are sure to inflame child protection advocates, as well, including some in the adult industry who believe that the possession of child pornography alone leads to an increase in sex crimes against children. According to the data, says Diamond, this simply is not so.
“The best known of these national studies are those of Berl Kutchinsky, who studied Denmark, Sweden, West Germany, and the United States in the 1970s and 1980s,” he writes. “He showed that for the years from approximately 1964 to 1984, as the amount of pornography increasingly became available, the rate of rapes in these countries either decreased or remained relatively level. Later research has shown parallel findings in every other country examined, including Japan, Croatia, China, Poland, Finland, and the Czech Republic. In the United States there has been a consistent decline in rape over the last 2 decades, and in those countries that allowed for the possession of child pornography, child sex abuse has declined.” (Emphasis added)
Some controversial conclusions, to be sure, but as a United States senator recently pointed out, "You're entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts."
The complete study can be found here.