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Time to talk about porn: Majority of Irish believe pornography is causing serious harm to society, Women’s Aid study reveals

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CEO of Women's Aid Sarah Benson

CEO of Women's Aid Sarah Benson

CEO of Women's Aid Sarah Benson

A majority of Irish citizens believe pornography is causing serious harm to society – with 81pc of young people believing it leads to more demands for violent sex, a new study from Women’s Aid reveals.

The study entitled “Time to Talk About Porn” released today includes statistics from a recent RedC poll which reveals that a majority of Irish citizens polled believe porn is linked to gender inequality, unrealistic sexual expectations, sexism and normalisation of requests for sexual images as well as coercion and violence against women and girls.

Women’s Aid CEO Sarah Benson said the domestic abuse charity frequently hears from women accessing its services who believe that  pornography is implicated in the “verbal, sexual and physical abuse they are subjected to by their male partners.”

“The levels of physical aggression during sexual assaults are shocking, with women disclosing that they have been strangled to the point of unconsciousness during sex and have been called the most horrific names.,” she said.

"Women have disclosed that their abusers have forced them to watch and re-enact pornography. This includes disclosures where women have been raped and coerced into sexual acts, including with other men. Women have also disclosed that their partners have criticised and compared them with women featured in pornography,” she said, adding some have reported being recorded having sex against their will or through coercion and such images are circulated online as well as on porn sites.

"Women have been threatened by their partners or exes to have images shared with others unless they gave into their demands. That is why Women’s Aid conducted this research as an urgent priority,” she said.

The study, meanwhile, also found that there is a broad consensus across all age groups that both tech companies and the Irish government need to do more to protect children and young people from exposure to pornography and to do more to support victims of “image-based sexual abuse.”

“Pornography is seen by the vast majority of the Irish population (71pc) as harmful to society and pornography is believed to negatively impact healthy sexual/sexuality development, gender equality and consent. We have also found that almost two thirds of people (63pc) believe that pornography leads to increased sexual violence in society. One in two people (57pc) believe that pornography increases inequality between men and women,” Ms Benson said.

More than three-quarters of young people aged 18-25 who were surveyed said they are concerned about the harm to society due to the prevalence of pornography and that 81pc of young people believe that pornography is “contributing to more frequent demand by some young men for rough/violent sex and undermining consent.” 

She added that the survey also reveals a “statistically significant difference” between male and female attitudes towards pornography, with 82pc of females seeing it as being more harmful than males.

“The survey also found that there is a majority belief that pornography undermines men’s respect for women, but not that it reduces women’s respect for men. This is most likely explained because pornography consistently and disproportionately portrays women in extreme degrading, humiliating and dehumanised ways - and because the most negative impacts of pornography in Ireland are experienced directly by women and girls. They are bearing the brunt of the harm,” she added.

She said other research reveals that boys as young as eight are accessing pornography online and that one in every three porn videos depicts explicit sexual violence or aggression:

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“Pornography undermines the social, emotional, cognitive and sexual development of boys, and it is young girls who pay the price. It also harms young boys and men. The exposure to pornography at an early age is a traumatic and confusing experience. Evidence shows that the earlier you watch pornography the more likely you are to suffer with depression and anxiety and experience sexual dysfunction.”

Meanwhile, Women’s Aid is calling for more in-depth research into the scale and impact of the porn industry, as well as the impact it has on children and young people’ s sexual development, image-based sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation in Ireland.

Ms Benson said tech companies, especially social media platforms, “can do much more to create and make accessible supports to victims/survivors of image based sexual abuse.”

She said the Government should also be looking at ways to “target the business model of a wholly unregulated international industry with an appalling track record of exploiting vulnerable people, including children, for profit.”


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