Internet Pornography: A Social Psychological Perspective on Internet Sexuality

Article excerpt

Spectacular growth in availability of sexually explicit material on the Internet has created an unprecedented opportunity for individuals to have anonymous, cost-free, and unfettered access to an essentially unlimited range of sexually explicit texts, still and moving images, and audio materials (Cheney, 2000; Elmer-Dewitt, 1995; Freeman-Longo, 2000; Harmon & Boeringer, 1996; Mehta & Plaza, 1998; Rimm, 1995; Wysocki, 1998). In a fashion never before imagined, men and women--and boys and girls--can acquire sexually explicit content on the Internet, effortlessly and privately, as a direct expression of their sexual and personal characteristics and inclinations. Sexually explicit materials so obtained, in turn, may act to alter, not at all or more or less profoundly, the sexual and personal dispositions that incline individuals to seek out Internet sexuality in the first place.

Growth in access to Internet sexually explicit material challenges sexual science to conceptualize antecedents and consequences of experience with such content. One view, based upon relevant theory and research (e.g., Bogaert, 1993, 2001; Eysenck, 1978; Malamuth, 1989a, 1989b; Malamuth, Addison, & Koss, 2001; Mosher, 1980, 1988; Rimm, 1995; Snyder & Ickes, 1985), suggests that antisocial personality characteristics will encourage some individuals to seek out antisocial sexually explicit materials from among those available on the Internet. The "goodness of fit" of antisocial personality characteristics with antisocial sexual content will, it is speculated, promote a tremendous depth of involvement in antisocial sexual stimuli. Individuals may lose awareness of the constraints of reality regarding enactment of antisocial sexual behavior, and uniquely strong negative effects of antisocial sexual content on the Internet may be seen among those predisposed to access such material.

A related view, also based upon relevant theory and research (e.g., Barak & Fisher, 1997; Barak, Fisher, Belfry, & Lashambe, 1999; Bogaert, 1993, 2001; Fisher & Barak, 1991; Malamuth et al., 2001; Mosher, 1980, 1988; Snyder & Ickes, 1985), suggests that normal range individuals will ordinarily choose sexually explicit Internet materials which are not antisocial in nature. The "poorness of fit" of normal range personality characteristics with antisocial sexual content will, in fact, provoke avoidance of antisocial sexual stimuli, termination of contact with such stimuli if encountered, and rejection of the antisocial sexual messages of such stimuli. According to this analysis, most individuals have a lifetime learning history and set of expectancies about acceptable and unacceptable sexual behavior that is sufficient to deter them from accessing or acting on antisocial sexual content on the Internet.

The current discussion attempts to provide a conceptual and empirical context for considering antecedents and consequences of experience with Internet sexually explicit materials. At present, research concerning experience with Internet sexuality is at an early stage of development, and focused discussion of these issues may prove particularly valuable as sexual science moves toward more intensive study of this area. We begin this paper with a summary of some of what has been learned from existing research concerning sexually explicit materials, in contexts other than the Internet, and consider lessons from this work that may inform the study of Internet sexuality. A social psychological theory, the Sexual Behavior Sequence (Byrne, 1977), is then applied as an heuristic guide in an initial effort to conceptualize a number of antecedents and consequences of experience with Internet sexuality. Our discussion closes with consideration of an agenda for future research concerning Internet sexually explicit materials. What follows, then, is a social psychological perspective--and certainly not the social psychological perspective--on aspects of Internet sexuality. …