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Study: Porn 'Superfans' Less Sexist Than Your Average Man

Illustration for article titled Study: Porn Superfans Less Sexist Than Your Average Man
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The first time I attended the Adult Entertainment Expo, a yearly gathering for devoted porn fans in Las Vegas, I was vaguely afraid of the kind of men I might find there. I was visiting as a journalist reporting on the adult industry and knew to expect an exhibit hall filled predominantly with women performers and the men who were their superfans. I pictured a frat party with leering, lechery, and sexual entitlement. Then I saw the reality: men patiently standing in long lines waiting for performers’ autographs, some carrying backpacks filled with memorabilia. It was more akin to Comic-Con than a collegiate rager.

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Now, a group of researchers are challenging similar stereotypes about these porn superfans. A study published in the journal Sociological Forum suggests that on some measures these men are no more sexist than your average man—and on others, they hold more progressive beliefs around gender.

In 2017, the researchers presented 294 men attending that year’s expo with a handful of statements relating to gender equality and asked them whether they agreed or disagreed. The results were then compared to those from a general population survey of 863 men. The agree-or-disagree statements touched on the issues of women in politics, women in the workplace, working mothers, and traditional gender roles in the family. On those first two subjects, they found that porn superfans “are no more sexist or misogynistic than the general U.S. public.” On the final two topics, the superfans “held more progressive gender‐role attitudes than the general public.”

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This week, the researchers elaborated in an editorial: “Over 90 percent of porn superfans—compared to just over 70 percent of the [general population]—agreed that working mothers can have just as warm and secure relationships with their children than non-working mothers.” Similarly, they write, “For the statement that men and women should hold traditional gender roles within a family, 80 percent of porn superfans disagreed.” That is compared to 73 percent of general respondents who disagreed.

These findings build on a 2016 study, which found that people who watch porn hold more gender egalitarian views—including around women occupying positions of power, women working outside the home, and reproductive rights—than those who do not. That said, the researchers offered several caveats and warned against interpreting any kind of cause and effect.

The researchers of this latest study argue that their findings “challenge what porn scholars call the ‘negative effects paradigm,’ which sees porn as an inherently bad thing that cultivates harmful attitudes.” However, they don’t go beyond the narrow scope of this survey and note that the unsatisfying answer to the popular question of whether “growth in porn consumption is good or bad for society” is “it depends.” (Indeed, a 2013 study suggested that watching porn was associated with an increase in sexist attitudes only among a sub-group of men with what they term low “agreeableness,” which is a nice science-y way of calling someone an asshole.) Instead, when it comes to the idea that porn broadly causes negative attitudes toward women, the researchers conclude: “The evidence just isn’t there, and much of today’s rhetoric about pornography seems to be more of a moral panic than public health crisis.”

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

I feel like there is a big issue with ascertainment bias in their sample. People who openly and enthusiastically participate in the adult entertainment industry are probably on sum more progressive in their views in comparison to a “general population”. Within the general population you are going to have a sub-set of people who avoid porn based on their “traditional” values. This would mostly be religiosity dictating opinion about sex and sexuality. These same folks would likely embrace traditional gender roles and ideas about what a woman should be and do (Madonna/Whore complex and all that). People who are spending their weekend at the porn conference probably have a much more relaxed idea of what is “OK” on average.