There's a Surprising Link Between Watching Porn and Being a Feminist

There's a Surprising Link Between Watching Porn and Being a Feminist

Porn: Good for getting off, but not so good for feminism. At least, that's long been the core critique of pornography among many feminists, who have suggested that the widespread availability of free online porn contributes to women's oppression. 

New evidence suggests, however, that might not be the case. In fact, watching porn might actually be linked to more positive attitudes toward gender equality.

According to a recent article in the Journal of Sex Research, viewing pornography doesn't seem to make people more likely to endorse gender non-egalitarianism (i.e., the patriarchy). In fact, contrary to popular belief, people who watch porn are more likely to express support for women in the workforce, nontraditional gender roles and reproductive rights. In short, all those dudes clicking away on Pornhub might actually be bona fide liberal feminists. 

The study: Using results from the General Social Survey, which includes results for more than 10,000 men and over 14,000 women, researchers from Western University in Ontario looked at whether participants had viewed porn in the past year and whether they self-identified as feminists. The study also compared porn consumption with people's views on women in the workforce, working outside the home, abortion and the "traditional" family, to determine whether porn viewing was correlated with greater support for the status quo.

But contrary to popular opinion that watching porn encourages men to treat women like sex objects, the researchers found that those who watched porn within the last year actually tended to hold more egalitarian views on gender. They also reported having more positive attitudes toward women in positions of power as well as less negative attitudes toward abortion. 

Of course, the study's results don't necessarily mean that men are learning to be more feminist from porn, nor does it counteract existing research that has determined that men's views on sex are negatively influenced by excessive porn consumption. A 2013 study in the Journal of Communication, for instance, found that watching porn increases sexist attitudes among some heterosexual men.  

But as the Western University study's lead researcher, Taylor Kohut, told Mic, the results of the study do call into question views put forth by anti-pornography activists. "[Anti-porn activist] Gail Dines once said that 'porn is the most succinct and crisp deliverer of a woman-hating ideology,'" he said. "Not only did our study fail to find strong effects that are consistent with her rhetoric, it actually found weak effects to contrary." 

It might not matter what kind of porn we watch. While the study's results are encouraging to sex-positive pro-porn activists, it's worth noting that there might be an element of self-selection at play here. After all, people who watch porn (and who are OK with admitting they watch porn in a survey) might already be more likely to hold more progressive views on gender and sexuality in the first place. 

According to Kohut, that makes it difficult to determine whether or not porn is causing people to adopt more egalitarian views. "Correlation does not — and in this case, should not — imply causation," he told Mic. Kohut also added that the study's findings might in part be skewed by the inclusion of religious and social conservatives in the sample, who in the survey tended to eschew porn and liberal political values. 

Furthermore, as anyone who's spent a few minutes on Pornhub knows, porn isn't exactly a monolith: There are many different types of porn, some of which promote more progressive social values than others. So while someone who favors, say, the feminist erotic of filmmaker Candida Royalle might be more likely to support gender equality, the same might not be said of someone who prefers watching hardcore gang bangs. 

"We actually have surprisingly little actual data about how different types of sexual content, such as feminist pornography, influence evaluations of women," Kohut said. "There are strong theoretical reasons to expect that certain types of content could influence devaluation of women (and men too) more than others, but there is still a lot we don't know." 

For these reasons, Kohut cautions against using the study as a way to make blanket generalizations about whether porn is "good" or "bad" for men and women. But if nothing else, the study proves that the conversation surrounding feminism and porn is a lot more complicated than many of us would like to think.