Internet Safety 101 reports:

Youth who look at violent x-rated material are six times more likely to report forcing someone to do something sexual online or in-person versus youth not exposed to x-rated material.

Obviously correlation does not equate to causation, but I find this hard to believe. Can this claim be justified?

Many of the highly suspect claims on this site correlating pornography to poor behavior use ill-defined terms which make evaluating their accuracy difficult. For the sake of this question, let's give them the benefit of the doubt by interpreting any ambiguous claim generously. For instance, I would say that "violent x-rated material" should be interpreted as pornography with themes of violence, rape, S&M, or harm to another (on the presumption that would make the claim more likely to be accurate), and that "youths who look at" would mean youths who regularly view this material, rather than viewing it only once.

1 Answer 1


Following the references, it appears that the factoid derives from the following study:

In this study they followed over 1,000 representative US youths (initially 10-15 year olds, male and female) for 36 months, and asked them three times about whether and how they watched x-rated material and whether they had partaken in sexually aggressive behaviour.

Sexually aggressive behaviour spanned a wide range, including down to unwanted kissing, unwanted sex-related text messages or pictures, or trying to get others to talk about sex when they didn't want to.

After compensating for some confounding factors, such as substance abuse or being victims of sexual aggression, they found:

intentional exposure to violent x-rated material over time predicted an almost 6-fold increase in the odds of self-reported sexually aggressive behavior [...] whereas exposure to nonviolent x-rated material was not statistically significantly related

A single study is, by itself, insufficient evidence. There may be other confounding variables that the authors did not consider. The authors are careful in their conclusion to note the limited strength of the finding.

Our findings need to be replicated. Nonetheless, the data suggest that further examination of associations between sexually aggressive behavior and consumption of violent x-rated material among children and adolescents is warranted.

In short, the factoid is based on genuine science, but drawing a firm conclusion would require further evidence.

Two minor points: (1) The study found the Odds Ratio (OR) was 5.8, not 6, as reported in the snippet. (2) After reading the author list I really wanted to meet the researcher with the spectacular name Merle Hamburger. Alas, he passed away in 2011.

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    I think the keyword here is "intentional". There is no link of causality whatsoever. Actually if I were to make a guess, it would sound more likely that people who have a tendency to force others sexually are also more likely to watch violent X-rated material (which is of much more easy access and is less "problematic").
    – nico
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 9:36
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    They looked at unintentional viewing as well, but I don't think they found any significant differences; I suspect there isn't a large sample.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 9:37
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    I also think that the fact they had to use self-reporting is going to be a problem with drawing conclusions on this data set. Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 17:29
  • I second what nico said, but I already stated there was a major issue with correlation vs causation. In addition there is the 'admitting' to forcing someone. Some of the people that regularly view porn will lie about it, but anyone willing to admit to forcing themselves sexually will likely admit to viewing porn, so there is another inherent bias. I don't exactly trust the site's reasoning :) but thank you for the answers
    – dsollen
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 1:35
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    Self-reporting may be a limitation to the accuracy, but it is pretty much one we have to live with in the real world. The alternatives are unethical.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 1:51

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