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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Math of Pornography and Rape

In First Things today, Bishop James D. Conley tries to make the case that pornography is fueling a culture of rape, based in large part on an NPR article authored by someone named ANONYMOUS.

I understand his interest in doing this. Rape is a mortal sin, pornography use is a mortal sin. They both revolve around sex, so it would be pleasant if we could show a correlation, or, better yet, a causation in one or the other direction.

The problem, of course, is that the incidence of rape has fallen more than 60% since 1993. In fact, reported rapes hit a 20 year low in 2009. Meanwhile, porn addiction is INCREASING. And I don't even know why I bothered to link that last fact, since anyone familiar with the growth of the Internet over the last 20 years is also familiar with the fact that porn is a significant subset of that use, making up around 13% of Internet searches each year. In fact, male porn use is so common that one 2009 study which needed to find a control group of men in their 20s who had never seen an X-rated flick literally couldn't find any. Another group tried in 2013, and ran into exactly the same problem. Female porn stars themselves have about the same history of abuse as accountants, though they definitely use more drugs.

The bishop is assuming causality where there is, at best, only correlation, and not even much of that. This is a common logical fallacy. For instance, it is well-known that ice cream sales on the beach is correlated with increased drowning. Does eating ice cream make one more likely to drown?

Well, obviously not. Both increases are driven by a third factor - the hotter it is, the more people there are on the beach, and the more people engage in both eating ice cream and water sports that increase drowning risk.

So, even if we COULD prove a correlation between rape and porn (which we can't), how do we know that one causes the other? It could be an "ice cream/drowning" trick, where some unmentioned third factor is actually causing both.

And relying on the testimony of the near-drowning victims isn't going to help much. Some of them WOULD refer to their ice cream consumption after their near drownings. When you were growing up, didn't your parents tell you not to go swimming for an hour after you ate?

It's a common old wives' tale in the United States.
There's actually no correlation between eating and drowning.
But a lot of people THINK there is, so they blame one on the other.

The same is true with porn - a lot of people THINK there is a connection, so they'll make the connection consciously in their personal testimony, especially because it makes them feel innocent. "It wasn't may fault, it was the porn's fault." That's why we can't necessarily trust their testimony.

Given the abundant evidence to the contrary, we can certainly be concerned about the possibility that the single sociological study he refers to, like most published studies, is wrong. Some (female) sociologist wants there to be a correlation between rape and porn, so she "finds" one in her studies. Pornography is obviously a mortal sin, but there isn't much hard evidence linking it to other sexual mortal sins like rape.

As Catholics, we are supposed to witness the truth.
Bishop Conley's errors in quoting sociologists on the make are understandable, but they are errors.

1 comment:

Paul Stilwell said...

Indeed, "cause" and "correlation" in attempting to relate porn to other activities and/or crimes actually causes misunderstanding as to the exact nature of the evil of porn.

Suddenly we'll have people who use porn actually thinking themselves virtuous for viewing porn but not raping anyone.

My view is that porn makes such an objective void that it changes the way a person views other people, not simply, but through the primary change in which that person has been made to "relate" to himself. Viewing porn makes a person objectify himself via a past act of objectification.

This has not in itself either cause or correlation to other things, but it is in itself an acclimatization; an objective void which can go in many different ways - all of them bad; some of them can be really, really bad. And certainly not all of the bad ways the viewer of porn can go in all have to be sexual in nature.

If porn mutilates what is sexual, then the offspring of viewing porn could possibly be particularly asexual - could be something like outright murder, who knows?

And that is part of the point I guess.