Figuring out the risk-to-benefit ratio of watching pornography may just top the ranks of controversial topics scientists can’t seem to completely agree on. But one thing’s for sure: Americans like watching porn — and lots of it.
According to the website Paint Bottle, 30 percent of all data transferred online is porn. In a 2015 infographic, the porn site detailed that 70 percent of men consume the content compared to 30 percent of women. And the number of people consuming porn is rapidly increasing every week, according to the site.
After lawmakers in Virginia recently proposed legislation that aims to implement greater restrictions on watching porn, Fox News talked to three psychologists to learn more about what scientists know — and don’t know — about the potential health effects of its consumption.
How does porn affect the brain?
Studying porn and determining its health effects are tricky, experts say. That’s because several parties — neurobiologists, psychologists, sociologists, and others — are weighing in on the topic, and their methodologies and study cohorts can vary vastly.
“One big-picture question has to do with how confident one can be — scientifically — that pornography consumption is causally related to the various harms identified in the resolution,” Paul J. Wright, an associate psychology, socialization, and media use professor at Indiana University Bloomington, told Fox News in an email.
“To answer this question, one would have to identify a philosophy of cause that all agree to, standards for acceptable evidence, and then engage in systematic reviews of the literature associated with each hypothesized harm. In short, this would be a monumental effort, and likely would still lead to some disagreement among scientists, because although the promise of science is consensus, scientists rarely 100 percent agree on anything.”
In their proposed legislation, Virginia lawmakers claim pornography is “addictive,” promotes normalization of rape, may lessen the “desire to marry,” and “equates violence with sex,” encourages “group sex,” “risky sexual behavior” and infidelity, among other effects.
Dr. William Struthers, a psychology professor at Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts institution just west of Chicago, said while much of the legislation’s tenets “seem to be pretty reasonable,” another challenge that researchers face is technology is outpacing scientific studies.
“Any kind of pornography research is incredibly muddy water,” Struthers told Fox News. “A lot of the research being drawn on was published 20 to 25 years ago, and that is very different from the pornography that is being consumed by young people now. The unfortunate truth is we can’t keep up with the pornography that is being produced.”
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