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Credit: Ari Stonberg

A Boston University professor discussed the possible benefits and pitfalls associated with the widespread consumption of pornography among young adults at an event on campus.

Emily Rothman, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, examined the influences of pornography in a talk for the Penn community. While Rothman discussed common concerns associated with watching pornographic videos, she contended that it is hard to make causal conclusions about pornography consumption based on the studies that have already been performed. 

One of Rothman's studies from 2013 found that one-third of teenagers in the sample had consumed pornography to learn about sex.

Based on a 2010 study by Ana Bridges, about 88 percent of pornography depicts some sort of physical aggression, with women being the targets of this aggression 94 percent of the time and men being the aggressors 70 percent of the time. 

This statistic is what Rothman said is “one of the things that gets people really concerned” when younger audiences consume pornography, and why many people ask, “Is porn dangerous? Is porn causing sexual violence?” 

Rothman, however, noted that there is "very little debate in the sexology community" that it is difficult to make causal conclusions about the negative effects of pornography. 

She said although there are several harmful trends, such as sexual violence, correlated with pornography consumption, sexology experts do not have evidence that these correlations are causal.

Credit: Ari Stonberg

Rothman noted that there have been some studies showing that pornography can have positive effects on the viewer. Adolescents in an additional study “report feeling better about their bodies,” as pornography was found to be “associated with increased self esteem,” Rothman added. 

She also acknowledged a sole study of adults, which found that people with "more egalitarian attitudes," who place greater value on equality between the sexes and disregard gender roles, were over-represented in porn consumers. 

She emphasized, however, that pornography is a complicated issue, noting that there can be positive and negative effects associated with porn in different situations. 

2018 Nursing graduate and attendee Katherine Ierardi said that “sexual health and porn go together, and it’s really important to put out education as well as just acceptance."

The Ortner Center on Violence & Abuse in Relationships, where the event was held, is an academic hub for researching societal changes that might affect violence against women and girls. The event was hosted in partnership with Penn Women's Center, Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, and Penn Violence Prevention. 

Regarding having these conversations with the Penn community, Ierardi said, “Everyone brings a different opinion or experience to the table. I think it’s important to always be engaging with your community and yourself with learning what's out there, what it means, and the implications in both a negative and positive way on both yourself and others.”

Correction: A previous version of this story wrote that Rothman indicated that pornography consumption had positive effects on the viewer, but in fact, she had said that there are no clear causal conclusions about the overall negative or positive effects of porn. The DP regrets the error.  

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