Do soft-core images erode our view of women?

Forensic psychologists report that frequent viewers of soft-core pornography are unlikely to think positively about women and are likely to have become desensitized to the images common in newspapers, ads, and the media.

Research on viewing exposure to hard-core pornography has demonstrated that there are links to increases in sexual deviance, sexual offending, negative attitudes to intimate relationships, and acceptance of rape myths. But there is less research on viewing exposure to soft-core pornography.

The researchers say this is surprising because images of naked and semi-naked women are prevalent in advertising campaigns and social media and, therefore, there is more opportunity for most people to be exposed to soft-core rather than hard-core pornographic images of women.

One theory is that soft-core pornography has become such a regular feature of our daily lives that we have become desensitized to these images. However, the impact of these images on thinking and behavior is unknown, particularly among young people who are frequent users of social media and the targets of some advertising campaigns.

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Simon Duff and Sophie Daniels of the University of Nottingham presented these findings on June 15 at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Forensic Psychology.

They examined the relationship between frequency of exposure to soft-core pornographic images of women and attitudes towards women, rape myths, and level of sensitivity or desensitization to the images.

The study recruited 143 participants (46.2 percent male), specifically young people with an average age of 19. The survey measured:

  • Self-reported exposure to soft-core material across various media types
  • Sensitivity to soft-core material
  • Attitudes to women, using the Attitudes Towards Women Scale
  • Acceptance of rape myths using Assessing Subtle Rape Myths Scale

The results indicate that people who frequently viewed soft-core pornographic images were less likely to describe these as pornographic than people who had low levels of exposure to these images. People who were desensitized to these images were more likely than others to endorse rape myths. Furthermore, people who frequently viewed these images were less likely to have positive attitudes to women.

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“It’s difficult to unpick cause and effect with this type of research, so it’s not possible to say that soft-core pornography changes attitudes towards women,” says Duff. “For example, it might be that people who do not hold positive attitudes towards women then seek out soft-core pornography. However, there is a relationship between frequency of exposure to soft-core pornography and attitudes towards women and that warrants further exploration.”

The researchers state that “an argument could be made for greater media regulation and censorship” of soft-core pornographic images of women. They say further research in this area is required in order to understand the potential “threat to public health”, as frequent exposure to hard-core pornography has demonstrated.

Source: University of Nottingham