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Debating Pornography$
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Andrew Altman and Lori Watson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780199358700

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199358700.001.0001

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Evidence and Harm

Evidence and Harm

(p.80) 3 Evidence and Harm
Debating Pornography

Andrew Altman

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the evidence for the central contention of anti-pornography feminism, namely, that pornography causes harm to women. The chapter examines experimental and population-level studies and argues that the evidence for the relevant sort of causality is weak. The experimental studies suffer from serious methodological flaws, including the failure to have their male subjects masturbate with the pornographic materials to which the studies expose them. Population-level studies are crucial to establishing the relevant causal claim about harm to women, but the existing studies are sparse and fail to control for potentially relevant variables. The weakness of the body of evidence regarding a link between pornography and harm to women is highlighted by contrasting the case of pornography with that of alcohol consumption and social harm, where the links have been scientifically established. Moreover, even though alcohol consumption is not an exercise of any basic liberty and the link to extensive social harm is strongly supported by scientific studies, legal suppression of such consumption is a morally objectionable infringement on the liberty of adults. Pornography consumption is the exercise of a basic liberty, and, in light of the comparatively weak evidence of pornography’s social harm, legal suppression of such material amounts to a much clearer instance of the objectionable curtailment of individual liberty. The chapter concludes with an examination of materials that are not sexually explicit but depict violence against women.

Keywords:   pornography, harm, equality, sexual violence, causality, alcohol

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