This Porn Study Is Super NSFW

Sep 23, 2013 | Updated Nov 23, 2013

Sometimes, it seems like the Internet exists specifically so porn can flourish, and there's no arguing that quite a bit of that porn is so very filthy and degrading that it basically requires you to shower after watching. It is the dark corner of the web for which novelty dildos were almost exclusively created, a misogynistic medium that may very well desensitize you to words like "pussy." But can porn actually make you sexist?

A recent study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly asserts that watching porn can reinforce negative stereotypes, making both men and women who watch porn less likely to support affirmative action for women. And a similar new finding, published in the Journal of Communication, found that porn has an extensive impact on the way men think about women, leading to sexist attitudes.

So, in short: Yep, porn can totally make you sexist!

Unfortunately, this might seem less than startling. The debate about the effects of porn is not new to feminist discourse, and it is easy to dismiss the finding as Jezebel did, filing under the title "Department of Duh Study Shows Watching Porn Makes People More Sexist." That said, author Erin Gloria Ryan went on to add a bit of slightly more thoughtful commentary on the Psychology of Women Quarterly study, saying, "that viewing certain types of porn causes people to subconsciously look down on women isn't surprising."

Isn't it, though?

No one is arguing that a realm in which a thing called a "money shot" exists is pushing anyone to "lean in." Porn as a manifestation of sexism is essentially treated as a fact at this point in the debate, but the idea that it has a direct effect on even women's attitudes about themselves cannot be dismissed to the "Department of Duh." There are both women and men who choose to watch porn but also support affirmative action for women and perhaps don't realize the effect that porn has on their understanding of women in the workplace (or in general).

Researchers Paul J. Wright and Michelle Funk concluded that their findings suggest that "sexual media activate[s] abstract social scripts, which may then be used to inform opinions about social issues." What the study further seems to imply (more dauntingly than the flippant "No sh*t, Sherlock -- it's called patriarchy" response) is that not just watching submissive porn, but submissive sexual preferences and sexual fantasies can affect the way a woman thinks about herself in the workplace... and her deservingness of a raise, or promotion, or equal paycheck.

As The Week noted, there are, of course, many different kinds of porn. There's feminist porn, and gay porn, and, as Ryan mentioned, "vintage porn where the robustly-bushed female stars are shown enjoying themselves rather than newer stuff that is basically a close up of a dick being shoved into a silicon-enhanced woman's bleached butthole like a soulless piston." But what if the latter type (of decidedly sexist porn) is a turn-on to an otherwise self-confident, soulful, feminist woman? Does that mean there is something wrong with the woman herself?

The fact that a woman who otherwise aligns with the feminist agenda may experience a reduction in the strength of her beliefs after watching sexist porn is especially upsetting. It allows for the concern that a feminist woman who prefers to take a submissive role in the bedroom might experience a subconscious subverting of her convictions as a direct result of her preferences. In other words, this study is troublesome, because it presents a conflict between the sexual preference for submission and conviction that women deserve preferential treatment in the office.

Ideally, the way a woman chooses to explore her sexuality should be distinct from the way she exists in any alternate capacity -- idealistically, professionally, socially or otherwise. Specifically speaking, a preference for submission should not be understood as a version of victimization. But what if your ideological convictions are incapable of conquering the automatic effects of your preference for watching sexist porn? Should our ideological convictions dictate what we find pleasure in? Unfortunately, the answer there is a resounding yes.

The patriarchal structure in which we reside has effects beyond the obvious things like getting raped "because of the hormone levels in nature" and vajazzling. The finding that porn can increase sexist attitudes even in women is truly daunting, because it reveals the intricacies with which our convictions might be subverted even in conjunction with the independent pursuit of sexual preferences.

It is not an obvious fact that watching porn could increase a woman's sexist attitudes. Wright and Funk personally hope that their work will lead to "increased public awareness of the misogyny in pornography." Perhaps being aware is all that we can do. It is much harder for something to have an unintended effect on our subconscious if we are mindful of the attitudes it can produce.

In the meantime, stop watching sexist porn, and go out and find some of that "robustly-bushed" stuff that Ryan was talking about. If porn can alter the way we conceptualize women's place in the office, that's more than one reason it's NSFW.


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