Call for Participants: Research on Experiences With Porn

Much of the writing about porn rests on the assumption that porn causes harm to the viewer, even though there isn’t actual research to support that claim. A new research project showed up in my in-box and I think it has the potential to finally answer some of the questions about porn.

Porn Research is a new project that wants to find out about people’s relationships with porn and how they feel about it, without assuming anything one way or another. It’s not the first time that someone has tried to find out about how viewers experience porn. For example, David Loftus’ book Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond to Pornography describes what his research came up with and it’s not what you usually hear in the media or in porn debates. But this project is open to people of all genders and since porn has changed quite a bit in the last few years, it’s definitely worthwhile to get updated research.

Here’s a snippet from their site. If you want to take the survey, click on the link and get started. They estimate that it’ll take 20-30 minutes to complete and it’s a mix of multiple choice and open ended questions.


Our project is concerned with the everyday uses of pornography, and how the people who use it feel it fits into their lives. Pornography is of course a highly topical issue, subject to many opposing views and ‘strong opinions’. And we are not saying that there are no moral or political issues.  But we are saying that the voices of users and enjoyers have been swamped.  In fact, there is very little research that engages with the users of pornography, asking how, when and why they turn to it.

We want to gather the thoughts and responses of people who have chosen to use pornography of their own accord.  We believe that there can be many different and complicated reasons for looking at pornography.  We also don’t believe that all the materials that go under that label, ‘pornography’, are the same – only to be distinguished by how ‘extreme’ or ‘explicit’ they are.

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4 Responses so far.

  1. I loved “Watching Sex”, and found that a lot of the self-reporting by the men in that book jibed with my own experiences with porn. Much more so than the kind of –shock–horror– “this is what men who use porn *really* think” nonsense I see coming from the anti-porn social sciences crowd.

    That said, the drawback of “Watching Sex” was that it was highly anecdotal in nature, and really did not have solid numbers to say how representative the views expressed were. It reminded me of Shere Hite’s work, in that had some valuable things to say, but overall was lacking in methodological validity. It would be good to see a porn study that asked the right questions, but at the same time was methodologically and statistically rigorous. Not sure this study meets that either, given the fact that with self-selected internet surveys, especially advertised through blogs like this one, sampling bias is inevitable.

  2. Charlie says:

    I do agree that the self-reported anecdotes in the book limit its generalizability and that, lacking specific numbers, doesn’t serve every purpose. And at the same time, I also think it’s important to recognize the value of qualitative research. Not every study needs to have “solid numbers” in order to be useful or have methodological validity. In my experience, the quest for hard data often prompts researchers to create quantitative measure that lack reliability or validity in order to crunch numbers and “prove” something. While this is something that I’ve seen in many fields, it’s especially common in sexological research, in part because there’s a tendency to deny the value of both sexuality research and qualitative research, so when someone does both together, it’s two justifications for ignoring it. It seems to me that a lot of folks generate reams of numbers and pages of calculations that don’t actually say anything in order to make it seem as if their topic is worth studying.

    Case studies and personal accounts are a great way to find out what questions need to be asked, rather than having a researcher pull them out of thin air or their own perceptions of what’s important (which introduces a different kind of selection bias). Qualitative studies are an excellent next step towards refining our understanding of the meanings people make of their experiences, but they don’t give us a sense of frequency or larger trends. Quantitative measures can do an excellent job of helping us determine how many people do what, but they’re not so good at uncovering why people do them or how they experience them. Different tools for different purposes.

    I don’t want to minimize the limits of “Watching Sex.” And I also don’t want to diminish the value of this particular approach to understanding sexuality, either.

  3. I hear you. Qualitative data, including anecdotes, is really essential to “flesh out” quantitative data, and you’re also right to point out its value in formation of new hypotheses that a researcher may not have thought of, especially given the a priori assumptions that are endemic around a topic like this. At the same time, its unfortunate when you have a really intriguing qualitative study, like “Watching Sex” or the original Hite Report, and there’s a dearth of methodologically solid data or followup studies that would indicate how representative the voices in the qualitative study actually are.

    And you’re particularly correct in pointing out that social researchers all too often go the route of creating poorly-designed quantitative studies to get strong-looking statistics that have little backing. I’ve been pointing out this problem with Melissa Farley’s work for years. The standard rhetorical conceit of her supporters is “at least its a statistic, where are yours?” Which is not the way to approach data, because biased, badly-generated numbers are actually worse in some ways than a collection of anecdotes. Using statistics this way give a veneer of scientific authenticity that really isn’t there.

  4. Charlie says:

    Yeah, a lot of people are either impressed by or scared by charts full of numbers. Farley’s not the only one who takes advantage of it. :-/

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