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What Do We Know About Antecedents and Consequences of Experience with Sexually Explicit Materials?
With respect to antecedents of self-directed experience with sexually explicit media, perhaps the most comprehensive study of personality factors that incline individuals to seek out such materials was conducted by Bogaert (1993). Bogaert assessed a range of relevant individual differences in a sample of undergraduate men, including aggression, altruism, delinquency, dominance, hypermasculinity, Machiavellianism, psychoticism, sensation seeking, erotophobia-erotophilia, and attraction to sexual aggression. Men's sexual experience, past sexual media exposure, history of sexual aggression, and current sexual behavior were assessed as well. The men were then asked to choose which of a number of videos they would like to view. The videos were presented to participants with rifles and descriptions which established them as involving common sexual acts, novel sexual acts, sexually insatiable females, sexual violence, and children engaging in sexual acts, or as nonviolent, nonsexual, or violent nonsexual video material. After statistically controlling for social desirability, none of the individual difference characteristics assessed were associated with men's tendencies to choose to see the sexually violent or common sexual acts videos. Choice of female sexual insatiability videos was associated with erotophilia; choice of child sexual videos, which was very rare (3% of all males chose to see this stimulus), was associated with history of exposure to sexual media and with the personality traits of aggression and dominance; and choice of novel sexual acts videos was associated with history of exposure to sexually explicit media. Attraction to sexual aggression (Malamuth, 1989a, 1989b) was not correlated with choices to view any of the categories of sexual media under study. (See Bogaert, 2001, for additional results).
A single study known to us is relevant to the question of the antecedents of self-regulated exposure to Internet sexuality. Barak et al. (1999) examined individual difference correlates of choosing to access sexually explicit Internet sites in a sample of university men. These investigators found no association of men's social desirability, sensation seeking, attitudes toward women, rape myth acceptance, hypermasculinity, or erotophobia-erotophilia with time spent surfing sexually explicit Internet sites. The only correlate of the time men spent surfing sexually explicit Internet sites was men's past experience with sexually explicit media.
Other research of some relevance to the question of the antecedents of consumption of sexually explicit materials tells us that convicted sex criminals are either less likely or at least not differentially likely to have experience with sexually explicit media (see Abel, Becker, & Mittleman, 1985; Becker & Stein, 1991; Gebhard, Gagnon, Pomeroy, & Christensen, 1965; Goldstein, 1973; Langevin, Lang, Wright, Hand, Frenzel, & Black, 1988; see Marshall, 1988, and Malamuth et al., 2001, for conflicting evidence) and that it is egalitarian and not sexist attitudes toward women which are correlated with viewing sexually explicit movies or videos in natural settings (Padgett, Brislen-Slutz, & Neal, 1989; Reis, 1986). Still other research indicates that in general, erotophilic individuals, who show dispositionally positive affective, evaluative, and approach responses to sexuality, are more likely than erotophobic individuals to choose to consume sexually explicit materials (Fisher, Byrne, Kelly, & White, 1988), and that male (vs. female) gender is associated with more frequent consumption of sexually explicit material (Kinsey, Pomery, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953; Fisher & Byrne, 1978).
With respect to research concerning the effects of exposure to sexually explicit media on individuals who have chosen to have contact with such material, research is limited. We do know that in two separate studies reported by Barak et al. (1999), amount of self-directed exposure to Internet sexually explicit sites had no significant effects on post-exposure measures of university men's rape myth acceptance, attitudes toward women, acceptance of women as managers, or on a measure of likelihood of sexual harassment. In another potentially relevant study, Malamuth et al. (2001) examined factors such as family violence, delinquency, attitudes supporting violence, sexual promiscuity, hostile masculinity, and pornography use--defined as amount of exposure to sexually explicit magazines--as correlates of sexual aggression against women, in a national sample of men enrolled in postsecondary education. The authors report that men who were highest in hostile masculinity, sexual promiscuity, and pornography use as defined in this research were most likely to report a history of sexual aggression against women. At the same time, however, the researchers note that"... we cannot conclude on the basis of these analyses that pornography use is a cause or an outcome of sexual aggressive tendencies...." (Malamuth et al., 2001, p. 79). Characteristics of this research, including its cross-sectional design and coding of sexually explicit magazine use as "pornography," seriously limit the ability of this study to address the question of effects of self-directed exposure to different types of sexually explicit materials, on or off the Internet. Findings that individuals who seek out sexually explicit movies or videos in natural settings have egalitarian and not sexist attitudes toward women (e.g., Padgett et al., 1989; Reis, 1986), and findings for a lack of association of sexual criminality with exposure to sexually explicit media (Abel, Becker, & Mittleman, 1985; Becker & Stein, 1991; Gebhard et al., 1965; Goldstein, 1973; Kutchinsky, 1973, 1985, 1991; Langevin et al., 1988; see Marshall, 1988 for contrasting evidence) are also not consistent with a view that self-directed exposure to sexually explicit materials results in antiwoman attitudinal shifts or antisocial sexual behavior.
Although there is an enormous amount of research concerning the effects of experimentally enforced exposure to sexually explicit materials on individuals who have not chosen to see such materials (see Davis & Bauserman, 1993; Donnerstein, Linz, & Penrod, 1987; Fisher & Barak, 1991; Fisher & Grenier, 1994; Malamuth et al., 2001; Malamuth & Donnerstein, 1984; Zillmann & Bryant, 1989, for reviews of this literature), extrapolating findings from such research is a risky proposition. Effects of Internet or other sexually explicit materials are almost certainly a joint function of the personality characteristics of the individual who seeks out such materials and of exposure to such materials per se (Bogaert, 1993; Check & Guloien, 1989; Fisher & Barak, 1991; Malamuth et al., 2001; Padgett et al., 1989; Reis, 1986). Experiments involving enforced exposure to sexually explicit materials ignore the influence of synergistic or buffering personality characteristics that might amplify or attenuate effects of exposure and which are correlated with the inclination to seek or to avoid sexually explicit material. Findings from enforced exposure experimental paradigms, therefore, cannot be generalized readily to assumptions about effects of self-directed, real world exposure to Internet sexually explicit materials.
What lessons can we carry forward from research concerning antecedents and consequences of exposure to sexually explicit materials to inform research concerning Internet sexuality?
Second, we note that research concerning effects of exposure to sexually explicit materials on those who choose to consume them is also rare, and existing findings by and large fail to confirm fears of strong antisocial effects of self-directed exposure to sexually explicit media. A significant lesson to carry forward for emerging research on Internet sexuality involves the importance of conducting ecologically valid research concerning effects of self-regulated exposure to Internet sexually explicit materials on individuals who choose to consume them. Such research will be able to capture compound effects of the personality characteristics of those inclined to access Internet sexuality and of Internet sexually explicit materials per se.
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