Pornography Doesn’t Cause Sexual Violence. Pornography IS Sexual Violence.

Recently, a pornographer on Twitter sent me an article entitled “The Sunny Side of Smut,” published in Scientific American. The entire article is stupid, and full of quite a few logical fallacies, but one particular argument caught my eye:

Rates of rapes and sexual assault in the U.S. are at their lowest levels since the 1960s,” says Christopher J. Ferguson, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University. The same goes for other countries: as access to pornography grew in once restrictive Japan, China and Denmark in the past 40 years, rape statistics plummeted. Within the U.S., the states with the least Internet access between 1980 and 2000 — and therefore the least access to Internet pornography — experienced a 53 percent increase in rape incidence, whereas the states with the most access experienced a 27 percent drop in the number of reported rapes, according to a paper published in 2006 by Anthony D’Amato, a law professor at Northwestern University.

Moral issues aside for the moment, these statistics are worthless. Rates of internet access obviously correlate extremely closely with relative economic prosperity, which has also been shown to correlate with reduced sex crime rates (or, more accurately, reduced rates of sex crime reporting).

For this study to mean anything, they would have to measure an equally wealthy Control Group without Internet to see if they committed more rapes. But because the greatest predictor of engagement with new technologies is personal wealth, no such group exists. The logic that links Internet access with a reduction in rapes would also link owning more sweaters with a reduction in gang violence, considering those two things also increase together along with economic growth.

(It’s also worth noting that if this study is in fact true, it’s done nothing but prove that many men who consume pornography are potential rapists, in that they only thing stopping them from sexually violating women is their ability to masturbate to porn. I’m not sure that’s a great victory for their side, but hey.)

Anyway, these comparisons completely misunderstand the link feminists draw between rape and pornography. Just like the classic misdirection “All sex is rape,” the idea that women are placing the blame for sexual violence solely at the feet of pornography is a facile reduction. In Pornography and Male Supremacy, Andrea Dworkin perfectly encapsulates the actual feminist position by offering an inversion of the strawman above:

Pornography can only develop in a society that is viciously male-supremacist, one in which rape and prostitution are not only well-established but systematically practiced and ideologically endorsed. Feminists are often asked whether pornography causes rape. The fact is that rape and prostitution caused and continue to cause pornography. Politically, culturally, socially, sexually, and economically, rape and prostitution generated pornography; and pornography depends for its continued existence on the rape and prostitution of women.

Pornography itself is sexual violence, driven by male sexual entitlement, misogyny, and socialization into violence. And when entitled, misogynistic, emotionally dead men engage with pornography and its constant narrative of man-as-dominating-penetrating-agent and woman-as-submissive-receptive-object, that socialization is reinforced, which creates the conditions for even more abuse. This oftentimes take the form of rape, sexual assault, incest, prostitution, and other atrocities that are themselves informed by the sexual sadism that pornography crafts. Pornography functions as the propaganda wing of patriarchy, created by the social conditions of male supremacy and devoted to reproducing them in increasingly powerful forms.

With this in mind, it becomes clear that the question, “Does pornography cause sexual violence?” is deliberately misleading at best and incomprehensible at worst. Because pornography is sexual violence, the answer would technically be a resounding Yes, with a perfect 1:1 correspondence.

But even that is a little shaky logically — after all, can a specific type of thing be a “cause” for the broader category of which it is a part? You’d sound ridiculous hypothesizing on a “correlation” between abnormal cell growth in someone’s liver and cancer, because one just is the other. Such a stupid tautology could only be blamed on the person in question being A) very stupid, or B) very invested in making sure that you don’t see the connection between the two. And that’s where these liberal dudes and their “correlation” arguments come in.

Pornography apologists out there who cite statistic after statistic about how pornography doesn’t “correlate” with sexual violence are either (intentionally) ignorant or (intentionally) dishonest. By cordoning off pornography from the category of “sexual violence” through the distancing measure of “correlation,” they think they’ve demonstrated that pornography can coexist with women’s freedom when all they’ve really demonstrated is that an oppressed group looks a lot more free once you take a massive part of their oppression and conveniently erase it.

It’s a clever trick, really: You identify a central component of your abuse, convince people to not see it as violent, and then use the new-found “reduction” in violence to prove that your original violation can’t possibly be bad because, hey, look how little violence there is!

Too bad it’s exactly that: A trick. Societies where pornography is tolerated don’t really have lower rates of sexual violence any more than a society where mass shootings were legal would really have a lower rates of murder. Porn cultures have the exact same amount of men willing to engage in the exact same amount of abuse as any other — the difference is that porn cultures provide those abusive men with the ability to enact that abuse in ways that don’t register as abusive to society at large.

Every patriarchal society has different tools to subjugate women, and every patriarchal society will go out of its way to pretend its favored method is not only acceptable, but positive. Men who mutilate the breasts of preteen girls in Cameroon justify their abuse by recasting it as a measure of protection against lustful suitors. Men who murder their own daughters for having sex will tell you they do so to protect women’s honor. And men who film women’s abuse for other men’s pleasure proudly announce they’re doing their part to end rape.

In every case, it’s nonsense — but I can’t imagine many of us would tolerate someone asking, “Does breast ironing correlate with child abuse?” Or “What is the link between honor killing and violence against women?” So why are so many men totally comfortable asking about the role sexualized violence done to women plays in encouraging…well, sexualized violence done to women?