Contortions to rationalize the belief that pornography is not violent, from Psychology Today.

Michael Castleman, at Psychology Today, made the bizarre claim that pornography is not violent. Anyone who would make such a claim has clearly never watched mainstream pornography, or is a pornsick stooge. He is a journalist that specializes in sexual issues, so probably the latter. How can anyone make such a blatant lie and expect to get away with it?

Well, the first tactic he uses is to lie about the evidence, so his audience (who will generally be unfamiliar with anti-pornography research) will think he’s got the upper hand:

In her 2010 book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, author Gail Dines, Ph.D., asserts that 88 percent of porn videos contain violence against women…

Does 88 percent of porn really show violence against women? No way. But don’t take my word for it. Just browse any of the sampler sites that aggregate porn clips from thousands of sources ( is one example). The vast majority of porn videos, both professional and amateur, depict generally happy—or at least not visibly unhappy—people engaged in nonviolent, totally consensual sex.

First of all, Castleman clearly does not ever go on actual popular pornography sites on the Internet. He speaks from a position of pure ignorance. Secondly, this is a straightforward lie. Gail Dines does not say that 88% of all pornographic videos on the Internet contain violence against women. What her data says is that 88% of the most rented pornographic movies contain violence against women:

The data from the industry indicating that Gonzo is the most popular and profitable sub-genre of porn is backed up by a recent peer-reviewed study that conducted a large-scale content analysis of contemporary porn… Bridges (2010) and her team found that the majority of scenes from 50 of the top-rented porn movies contained both physical and verbal abuse targeted against the female performers. Physical aggression, which included spanking, open-hand slapping, and gagging, occurred in over 88% of scenes, while expressions of verbal aggression—calling the woman names such as “bitch” or “slut”—were found in 48% of the scenes. The researchers concluded that 90% of scenes contained at least one aggressive act if both physical and verbal aggression were combined.

Hell-bent on arguing against his own strawwomyn, Castleman then tries to explain why the results that he made up are wrong:

And how did the study’s authors—professors at four prestigious universities—come up with their figure? By totally misunderstanding one form of sexuality often depicted in porn—bondage, discipline, and sado-masochism (BDSM).

So this article is out to completely misrepresent both pornography and BDSM. He tries to prove his point, and wheezes, stumbles, and falls on his fucking face:

So, do people know violence when they see it? Not always. Consider this scenario: One man strikes another sharply between the shoulder blades. Most people would call that violence—hitting, assault. But if the two men are colleagues and they’re both smiling, the blow becomes a pat on the back for a job well done—not violence, but congratulations. In other words, violence must be judged not just by the action, but by the action in the context of the participants’ intentions.

Hitting someone in the back with an open hand is a ritual. To claim that this must be a violent act is to assume that one is ignorant of this fact. No one would confuse an act of congratulations with an act of violence. The participants’ intentions have nothing to do with this evaluation. If one person pats another on the back with murderous intent, we still would not see this as an act of violence. Likewise, someone punching another in the face with the very best of intentions is still committing a violent act. Intentions have no place in an ethical evaluation, such as the kind of impersonal judgment we make about acts committed by other people (moral evaluations are another thing entirely).

But most importantly, this is not the kind of violence perpetrated by BDSM advocates. Consider the following list: spanking, whipping, burning, cutting, strangulation, rape, torture. Do any of these acts sound anywhere remotely like the equivalent of a pat on the back? Do we have a common ritual of strangling people to congratulate them? Do people spank each other on the street as a routine greeting?

The argument is the result of a profoundly confused mind. There is generally no issue with identifying acts of violence. We may disagree on which are justified and which are not, but I don’t think identification is an issue.

He then goes on to describe the popularity of BDSM and BDSM-based literature, and offers another absurd whopper:

Porn critics rail against X-rated media, but oddly, don’t condemn romance fiction for the way the male characters dominate and threaten the female protagonists. Why? Because romance fiction is written to appeal to women’s erotic fantasies. Women understand that it’s fantasy. But the researchers who call X-rated media violent apparently don’t recognize that porn is also fantasy. They erroneously believe that porn represents men’s real-world sexual agenda. As anti-porn activist Robin Morgan once said, “Porn is the theory. Rape is the practice.”

Yes, it’s that old bromide again, “pornography is fantasy.” I don’t know how stupid you have to be to believe such nonsense, but pornography, like most filmed media, is not fantasy. It depicts real acts performed on real people. The only exception is special effects, but most pornographic videos, being produced extremely cheaply, do not use special effects beyond screen wipes.

To compare literature with film betrays a deep media illiteracy. Romance fiction does not involve real women performing real acts. Pornographic movies do. Novels are make-believe, filming people is not. Even if they are acting, you are still filming something that’s actually happening. Literature cannot show us things that are actually happening (at best, they are a recollection or a retelling of something that did happen, filtered through our conceptual understanding).

It’s hard to understand why a supposedly serious publication like Psychology Today would agree to publish such blatant lies and drivel, even if it’s only an online blog article. The only reason why anyone would even pretend to agree with it, I think, is because they are BDSM advocates and they wish to grab onto anyone and anything which attempts to justify or rationalize away the rape, violence, and cruelty in BDSM. But certainly they can do better than such pathetic nonsense.

6 thoughts on “Contortions to rationalize the belief that pornography is not violent, from Psychology Today.

  1. sbt42 April 18, 2017 at 05:08 Reply

    Not only does he support BDSM and call porn “fantasy and not real life,” he also states: “More Porn, Less Rape” as the heading of a section. There’s also the lame excuse for typical male behaviour: If guys didn’t watch porn as a “safety valve,” then they’d probably go out and rape somebody. And he doesn’t believe in “rape culture”?

    What’s the agenda behind publishing such a piece?

    • Francois Tremblay April 18, 2017 at 05:13 Reply

      I do not know enough about this person to say what their agenda is. A good first guess is that it’s a pornsick man trying to justify his obsession. But since he seems to have so little knowledge of what pornography actually is, that seems unlikely. My second guess is that his job relies on it in some way. As the quote goes (and I do not remember the exact quote), it is very difficult to show someone that a belief is false if they rely on that belief for their livelihood.

  2. unabashedcalabash April 19, 2017 at 17:21 Reply

    “If someone pats someone on the back with murderous intent, it is still not a violent act…”

    This made me laugh, ha ha ha. Thank you. :) (I am trying to imagine patting someone on the back with murderous intent. It’s a little hilarious).

    I completely agree with you w/r/t to the issue of “intent” and ethics. I think we get very confused about this when it comes to rape, because of…dun dun dun…patriarchy.

    I think I’ve mentioned to you a conversation with a certain unnamed someone about “degrees” of rape (which I brought up): first degree (planned in advance), second degree (opportunistic, such as entering a bedroom at a party looking for a coat and then assaulting a passed-out person on the bed in there), and the “manslaughter” of rape, which I could not clearly define (because “impulsive” rape would still be second-degree, right)? This unnamed person tellingly yelled that “men always know when they do that” and “that’s letting them off the hook.”

    However, I think there IS a manslaughter of rape, and THIS is where the courts get confused. They believe that showing “intent to rape” is very important (that if a man assaults a woman, but did not “intend” to, then it’s not rape; trying telling that to the victim).

    Actually, according to various (repeated) studies, there is a pretty high proportion of men who know what forced sex is, but do not believe that forced sex is rape (and also, in self-reporting it, seem completely oblivious they have done anything wrong). These men will say “no” to the question “Have you ever raped anyone?” and “yes” to the question “have you ever forced someone to have sex with you against their will, using either drug or alcohol-related incapacitation or physical force?” This is terrifying.

    So, if you were to try such men, and they REALLY DON’T BELIEVE THEY DID ANYTHING WRONG, does their “intention” matter here (because in much of rape law it’s important to prove intent, but unlike in the case of homicide, with rape the absence of intent means the rape did not occur, whereas with homicide the absence of intent makes it manslaughter–if the person was doing something that could reasonably result in death, but did not intend to actually kill the person who ends up dying)? So, I mean, if a man is doing something that could REASONABLY RESULT IN RAPE, such as using force, or having sex with a very drunk or drugged person, or having sex with a person who is not moving or responding in any way, without checking in, would this be the “manslaughter” of rape? And why do we NOT have this distinction in rape law (why does the assailant’s “intent” matter in determining whether a crime was committed in the case of sexual assault)? Is this not strange?

    Also, I suppose on a larger level, the man’s moral failing to realize he’s committing rape could be said to be the moral failing of the larger culture to care about women’s consent. Isn’t weird how bad cultural morals become unwitting people’s cultural morals as well, thus making them commit bad acts? (I guess not. I guess that’s basically most of society).

    Just a totally off-topic comment.

    Great post, by the way (did you submit this to Psychology Today)? Nice takedown (in fact, far too intelligent takedown) of an absolutely illogical and ridiculous article.

  3. sbt42 April 20, 2017 at 10:33 Reply

    If you would allow for someone to rape someone but go the “manslaughter” route as a charge, I think you would need to redefine the legal definition of rape.

    Otherwise, a prosecutor would have to disprove someone’s defense that “he was ignorant of the definition of rape when he did this.”

    I also think it smacks of privilege (or perhaps cultural relativism) to be able to put forth that kind of defense in the first place. For example, “I admit I forcibly groped someone, penetrated them, and ejaculated in or on them, but I didn’t know that wasn’t okay to do.” Maybe a three year old could have this defense, or perhaps a neanderthal or non-human animal, but otherwise I think the person knows they’re doing something against the others’ will and would attempt to conceal the fact they did it, at the very least for self-preservation.

  4. sellmaeth April 22, 2017 at 04:12 Reply

    Manslaughter law advantages men, and I think the law should be changed. It is mostly men who are, in the first place, able to commit murder without (provable!) planning. Thus, an abusive husband who kills his wife gets off easy with manslaughter, but if the wife knows he’ll kill her somewhen, as abusers are prone to, especially when their victim tries to leave, and she poisons him in self-defense, then that’s considered murder.
    (And why the hell should it even matter if someone didn’t plan a murder? The victim is just as dead, and someone who kills someone every time he is drunk and angry is just as much of a danger, perhaps even moreso, than someone who kills after thinking about it.)

    With rape, the thing to compare rape by men who don’t know they’re raping to is planned and deliberate murder that the murderer thought wasn’t “murder” but “heroically killing an enemy”. He knows exactly what he’s doing, the only thing he doesn’t know is that he might be punished for it.
    The action is the exact same, the difference is in who the victim is.

  5. unabashedcalabash April 23, 2017 at 07:56 Reply

    I think people are misunderstanding my comment (I am agreeing with Francois that intent does not really matter, when it comes to actions that cause harm that the perpetrator KNOWS or SHOULD REASONABLY KNOW could cause harm, regardless of how much he or she “really means it”). I think the distinction between first and second-degree murder and manslaughter is mostly stupid (as someone else said, it privileges men when it comes to “crimes of passion,” though usually those are considered second degree murder). I don’t think it matters much whether a murder is planned or impulsive–does it? It’s still a murder. And manslaughter is a person doing something which could reasonably result in murder, without really meaning to (like, say, get into a heated verbal dispute with someone and throw a punch that ends up killing the person). Again, the intent is irrelevant; the intent to HARM was there, that the intent to murder was not is irrelevant (in the case of, say, someone who points a gun he thinks is not loaded to someone else’s head and pulls the trigger as a joke, and the gun is loaded, well, first of all, even with video evidence that this is just a dumb “accident”–although even video evidence couldn’t quite prove that–it’s still a reckless, stupid act, and is a form of negligent homicide through reckless endangerment, not accidental homicide). Is there ANY form of manslaughter that could NOT be considered a culpable homicide? (Accidental homicide–say, you trip and bump into a friend, and your friend stumbles too and hits his head on a granite counter and dies, and everyone witnesses this–is not culpable homicide; self-defense homicide–killing someone in defense of your own life or another’s–is not culpable homicide either). Is there ANY case in which engaging in an activity that is not in self-defense in which you could conceivably kill someone else, and then killing them, is NOT culpable homicide? Why, then, does intent matter so much?

    The same is true for rape. If someone is stupid enough to not know that forced sex is rape, they are still guilty of rape, just as if someone is stupid enough not to know that putting a gun they think is unloaded to a friend’s head and pulling the trigger is a bad idea is still guilty of murder.

    I am not advocating for this defense at all. However, these repeated studies prove that, in anonymous surveys, around 20 percent of American college men (the percentage stayed the same when the study was repeated, same sample size, 20 years apart) will admit to “forced sex”–that is, using alcohol or drugs to incapacitate, or holding someone down to force a sexual act–but will not admit to rape. This is not a trial in which they are pretending; this is an anonymous survey (keep in mind 10-11 percent of men did admit to rape, and researchers, asking follow-up questions, determined that this had to do with the difference between “hostile” and so-called “benevolent” sexism, or ascribing to rape myths). So, does the fact that a guy is an entitled, narcissistic idiot, who believes that because he buys a woman dinner, or she consents to some sexual activity, or “women say no when they mean yes,” or “women really like to be forced,” etc., he has a right to force sex on her, and he knows this is “forced sex” but somehow does not think it constitutes “rape” mean he should get a lesser sentence? Absolutely not.

    Is it terrifying that so many men think this way? Absolutely.

    Conversely, the same study done on college women, asking if they had ever been forced to have sex, or been raped, had about the same results. Many more reported they had been forced to have sex (by being drugged, or forced while too drunk to consent, or physically forced) than reported that they had been raped (that is, they would say yes to one, no to the other).

    Women, as well as men, ascribe to these stupid rape myths about victim responsibility, these ridiculous cultural scripts of what “rape” should look like. That also doesn’t make their pain less real (in fact, in many cases, not being able to identify what happened to them magnifies it, and can put them at risk for further revictimization).

    What this means, of course, is a WHOLE LOT of activism surrounding dispelling these toxic rape myths (talking about partners’ sexual well-being and sexual mutuality with children as soon as they begin their sex education), but also that when a victim DOES know she’s been raped, it doesn’t fucking matter if her attacker “didn’t intend to,” even if he honestly thinks he “didn’t rape her” (just, you know, forced sex on her, but it wasn’t “rape-rape”).

    I am in no way advocating for this as a defense. But yes, according to the law, that WOULD be the “manslaughter” of rape, and would comprise the MAJORITY of rape cases. However, as it holds now, if a man “did not believe” he was committing rape, then he didn’t (a ridiculously misogynist notion). And the fact that we DON’T prosecute degrees of rape means that MOST rape goes unprosecuted (in fact, most rape goes unreported, either because victims don’t identify what happened to them as rape due to these very same rape myths, or because they know reporting is pointless and retraumatizing, and they are afraid of being blamed/shamed/retraumatized; same goes for a trial). Rape goes unpunished nearly one hundred percent of the time. Pretty much only the violent stranger rape (if the guy is caught, and can’t convince people the victim wanted it) or the really bad beat ’em up rape (if the guy doesn’t successfully claim she’s a spurned lover into BDSM) gets punished right now, and most rapists, even stranger rapists, don’t use violence (in fact the most violent rapes are usually partner rapes, and again, courts don’t really recognize partner rapes; at the most the guy, if he badly injures his partner, might be accused of domestic violence; prosecuted for rape? Unlikely).

    However, having a “manslaughter” category of rape would not prove helpful, as men who admit to forcing sex in anonymous surveys would not do so on the stand. This is why, I believe, first of all instead of dismissing women’s claims of partner or date or acquaintance rape out of hand detectives should do some, you know, detective work (look into the guy’s social network, ask around; usually there will be other victims, and then there is a case), and why more women should sue their rapists civilly in court (if men know they’re forcing sex, but don’t think it’s “rape,” oftentimes they will admit to having forced sex–if they didn’t think they did anything wrong–if the victim confronts them about it, even if they’ll deny rape; they might even admit it in writing). Civil suits don’t require the burden of evidence that criminal suits do, and considering the high cost of rape and post-traumatic stress to the victim, some damages are in order.

    Anyway, yes. I think people completely misunderstood my point.

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