Through the years, scientific studies have been used by individuals, institutions and governments to support positions on both sides of sex war debates on pornography. Studies have produced seemingly opposite conclusions at times giving each camp ammunition for their own side, and leaving the curious individual to wonder if they can really be used to draw any conclusive evidence about pornography at all.
The second problem with the use of studies is the assumption that you can compare their results equally. Each study approaches its experiment or question in a particular way. With the question of pornography and violence, scientists have a number of factors to contend with when framing a study.
One: A situation in a lab is very different from a real life experience, so how do scientists get data that will most accurately translate to real life? Experiments vary in their ability to accurately assess real life data.
Two: Because of the nature of the study, (exposing men to varying degrees of sexual content and violence, and then measuring their aggression towards women, and measuring their change in arousal patterns) there are ethical concerns in what the men are exposed to, how to test their aggression to women, and the inability to test on adolescent youth who might be most responsive. These ethical issues inform the studies and limit the studies at the same time from getting the most accurate information. It takes careful thought and creativity to address these issues.
Three: The number of variables accounted for in a study is an indicator of the quality of the study. As shown earlier, the more cause and effect factors you are able to account for the more accuracy you are likely to have. Many of the differences between results in studies on pornography are simply a difference in number of variables. For example: A study linking pornography use to violence will result in high numbers if the sample population is taken from a group of prison inmates. Where as, a group of middleclass white college students might result in a low link between pornography and violence. The study in each case would be flawed and highly unreliable in its ability to give us a true picture of the effect of pornography because of the low number of variables.
There was too much material to include in this blog entry, but I will summarize some of the results of their meta-analysis. First of all, they found over 50 variables that were likely to contribute towards sexual aggression, coercion and violence against women. Pornography (whether it was soft, hard, rape/violent) by itself was the largest single variable contributing towards aggression against women (12%), but this could increase depending on the factor it was combined with: delinquency, sexual promiscuity, child abuse, social isolation, group dynamics etc. Each man has many factors influencing him and some of those combine to result in aggression towards women, while other men who use pornography while having a 12% increase in their likelihood of aggression towards women, never actually display this behavior because they do not have enough other contributing factors. Interestingly, nudity was found to be distinct from pornography, and had the effect of lowering aggression.