Alexandra Cahanap, KLN '21, researches pornography for its scholarly value.
It's a form of mass media markedly influential on most people and mainstream popular culture, she argued in her honors media and society research paper presented at the Gender and Women's Studies Student Research Conference at Villanova University.
Her paper, "The Penetration of Pornography in Society," resulted from research with 109 participants aged 16 to 27 — most of them 18, the large majority of them heterosexual and slightly more than half of them male — answering questions about pornography, including when they first viewed pornography and what effects, if any, pornography has had on their sex life and attitudes toward women. She also presented her paper during the 2018 TURF-CreWS program.
Professor Dana Saewitz, who chairs the college's Department of Advertising and Public Relations, said she was impressed by Cahanap's research, and noted that the freshman's two presentations on the topic were "extraordinary" student achievements.
"I learned from her and I was really impressed by her thorough research and unique perspective," said Saewitz.
From her survey, Cahanap reached three main findings: More men than women have imitated the sex acts they've seen in pornography; most of the respondents said they had viewed pornography as some form of sexual education, even to see what sex looks like; and most were accepting of the use of pornography and its role in mass media and society.
A TED Talk from a woman who identifies as a "feminist pornographer" sparked the interest in the topic, said Cahanap, a film and advertising major from Williamstown, New Jersey.
"I hadn't heard someone before talk so casually about pornography," she recalled in an interview. "It is a taboo topic."
Most of her respondents also said women in porn were portrayed negatively. And Cahanap referenced past research that showed its depiction of women as hypersexualized yet inferior to men and victims of violence.
From her paper: "If men are imitating the behaviors they see in porn and the majority of those behaviors involve violence toward women, perhaps porn has a lot to do with the climate of rape culture our nation is currently facing," she asked rhetorically, acknowledging the #MeToo and #TimesUp social movements to end sexual violence and promote gender equality.
Additionally: "I believe it is time for porn to change and I believe our current society and culture has cultivated an environment for that change to occur."