Porn and Violence: For the Children

Glenn Reynolds, writing at TCS, argues that there is anecdotal evidence that increased access to pornography and violent video games has made America’s youth safer and healthier.

Where twenty or thirty years ago teenagers had to go to some effort to see pictures of people having sex, now those things are as close as a Google query. (In fact, on the Internet it takes some small effort to avoid such pictures.) Meanwhile videogames have gotten more violent, with efforts to limit their content failing on First Amendment grounds. But — despite continued warnings from concerned mothers’ groups — teenagers are less violent, and they’re having less sex, notwithstanding the predictions of many concerned people that such exposure would have the opposite effect. More virtual sex and violence would seem to go along with less real sex and violence.


Maybe the porn, and the videogames, provided catharsis, serving as substitutes for the real thing. Maybe. And maybe there’s no connection at all. (Or maybe it’s a different one — research indicates that teenagers, though safer and healthier, are also fatter — so perhaps the other improvements are the result of teens sitting around looking at porn and videogames until they’re too out-of-shape and unattractive for the real thing…) Most likely, the lesson is that — once again — correlation isn’t causation, despite policy entrepreneurs’ efforts to claim otherwise.

But regardless, the fears of the doomsayers were proven wrong. People can continue to claim that psychological research suggests that videogames lead to violence and that porn leads to promiscuity, but in the real world the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. That’s an argument against regulating videogames — and it’s an argument for taking other claims of impending social doom with a grain of salt.


Plus, as I’ve often argued, these activities build useful skills. Googling for porn requires all the same research abilities as search for anything else (say, to find out if the name you’re about to use for your weblog has been taken). Video games, especially the shoot-’em-up kind, vastly improve hand-eye coordination, useful for all sorts of careers from the high tech sector to the military. Although going outside and getting some exercise might be a good idea every once in a while, too.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dodd says:

    I never could persuade my parents that they should just relax because all those quarters I was spending on Tron and Galaga were great for my hand-eye co-ordination. Despite the fact that I also read voraciously from age 8, they still though I spent way too much time playing video games, which they benightedly considered a debased form of entertainment.