Walter Dekeseredy, Ph.D.: Researcher & Activist
Did you know that porn can actually deeply affect the way we view and treat those around us? Just ask Walter DeKeseredy, an academic researcher and author who’s been studying violence against women for over 30 years. In addition to the 25 books, 83 scholarly book chapters, and over 100 scientific journal articles he’s published on sexual violence and other related social problems, Dr. DeKeseredy has received so many awards for his work that it’s almost difficult to keep track of. His extensive knowledge and passion for the cause can be clearly heard throughout this episode of Consider Before Consuming. Listen in as Dr. Dekeseredy and podcast host Garrett Jonsson discuss the correlation between pornography and sexual violence, how pornography has changed over the years, and how pornography can affect our relationships to those around us. To learn more about Dr. DeKeseredy and his work, you can visit his faculty page at West Virginia University, where he is the Director of the Research Center on Violence and a Professor of Sociology.
FROM THIS EPISODE
Garrett: What’s up people? I’m Garrett Johnson and you’re listening to Consider Before Consuming a podcast by Fight the New Drug. Before we jump into this conversation, we want to let you know that this episode contains graphic descriptions of pornography and sex. Listen to discretion is advised. Today’s conversation is with Walter Dekeseredy, PhD. He’s authored 25 books, 100 scientific journal articles, 83 chapters on issues related to violence against women and as one major awards for his research. With all that being said, we hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming.
Well, we want to welcome to the podcast, Walter Dekeseredy. Did I pronounce your name right, Walter?
Walter: Yes, you did. Yes.
Garrett: Dekeseredy. Okay. I love the last name. Where does it come from? Do you know?
Garrett: Hungry. Wow. Yeah, I can tell it’s from somewhere. Cool. Um, yeah. Well Walter, we’re excited to have you on the podcast. The name of our podcast is Considered Before Consuming and the goal of this podcast is to give people things to consider before they consume pornography. And so we’re excited to have you on, because I was looking at your, uh, some of your credentials and your resume and Walter, and it says you’ve been working in this industry for 32 years.
Walter: Yes, I have. Yeah.
Garrett: So I’m 32 years old, so, uh, [laughter] looks like it looks like you’ve got quite a lot of experience. And so we’re fortunate and have you on the podcast today.
Walter: Well, it’s an honor to be here. Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts and my research.
Garrett: Yeah, absolutely. And the way that we came to know you, Walter, is because you were at the coalition to end sexual exploitation and they listed off some of your credentials and we, uh, I just stood there thinking, “Wow.”, like, “What does this guy do except for work?” [laughter] Because, because you’ve, uh, published at 25, and correct me if I get in any of these stats wrong, you’ve published 25 books, a hundred scientific journals, journal articles, 83 book chapters on issues related to violence against women. Um, and my, what am I missing?
Walter: Uh, no and well at the risk of sounding self-serving. I’ve won some major awards for my research on violence against women and um, I work with people around the world on this topic
Garrett: and 32 years, once again, 32 years of experience. So we are very excited to talk to you. Um, how do we start this, Walter? I mean you, you, you have so much to provide. I guess what would be the number one thing you would want people to consider before consuming?
Walter: Well, there are a number of things, but what’s really troubling me is that there we are now gathering data showing a very strong correlation between pornography consumption and violence against women, different types of violence against limit. And the research is coming from different disciplines, sociology, psychology, medicine, um, neuroscience. Um, now I am not saying that it is a direct cause it is a correlate, it definitely is a contributing factor to different types of violence against women, both online and offline.
Walter: And so, you know, maybe I should talk a bit about the early studies, uh, because they were dismissed. Most of the early work showing a relationship between pornography consumption and aggression, what’s done in laboratories. And so the environment was controlled by the researchers. It wasn’t a real life setting. And then starting around the 1990s, early 1990s, people started conducting survey research, uh, using representative samples. In other words, the data that they gathered from the surveys could be generalized to a much larger population. And what we uncovered is that many women who reported being physically and sexually and psychologically abused by their current or former intimate male partners, um, they reported that their PR, these men consumed pornography. Now that’s fast forward to today because we live in what my colleague Robert Jensen refers to as opposed to Playboy world in which the bulk of today’s pornography is violent and racist. What, um, the industry as well as, um, leading experts in the field such as my colleague Gail Dines, referred to as Gonzo, which females are characterized as subordinate to men. “And the main role of actresses is to provide sex to men.” And Gonzo depicts hardcore body punishing sex. And I’m quoting Gail Dines right now in which women are demeaned and debased and a routine features of guns are painful, anal sex, brutal gang rape and men slapping and choking women are pulling their hair while having sex. And of course there’s the racist element in there too. I mean the titles of some of these websites are, are very, very racist, which is interesting how many people consume that? And we’re having a national discussion on racism right now as you know, in of certain recent events.
Garrett: Right. And that’s a very hot topic right now. And it’s interesting that that people, those same people who are not okay with racism, some of them are going in and participating in fueling an industry that kind of thrives on racism. Is that a correct statement?
Walter: Yes. I think many people would, would say, “Well, you know, I’m not a racist.” And they obviously don’t engage in public racist practices or say racist things publicly, but they aren’t going to sites like [inaudible] and [inaudible] and other such sites in which, women from different ethnic minority groups are degraded and debased. And I should also mention that these sites also stereotype in hurtful ways, men of color, Latino men and other men from different ethnic cultural groups. So it’s hurting both men and women. And you know, black men have historically been portrayed in racist media as being hyper-sexualized and violent. So pornography certainly fuels much of the racism that exists today especially. And I feel very confident saying this because you know as well as anyone Garrett, I mean you’ve been involved in the movement, excuse me. You know that the breadth of the consumption in this country, I mean it’s just absolutely incredible how many people consume porn. What we’re discovering is that Americans consume it more than people in other countries.
Garrett: Yes, you are correct. Yes, that is very true. Um, you mentioned that back in the 1990s this the, a lot of the studies being performed were like survey or research gathering samples. That can be…
Garrett: … and then my question is, fast forward to today and what are some recent more recent researcher studies performed as showing that same correlation?
Walter: Surveys, surveys enrich in depth interviews with both men and women. Uh, for example, in rural Southeast Ohio, I interviewed 43 women who were at great risk of being killed. Uh, they wanted to leave, were trying to leave or who have left their, their partners who were abusive and controlling. And, um, we did rich, rich in depth interviews and pornography stood out. It came out very, very clearly. I didn’t even have to ask that question. Um, it was truly incredible. Um, 65% of the women we interviewed talked about how their partners, um, consumed pornography.
Garrett: Okay. Um, and one thing you’ve mentioned because you’ve, because you’ve been in this industry for so long in this movement for so long, for 32 years, you’ve seen, I mean, that pushes us back to the, yeah, to about the late eighties. Is this when you got into your career?
Walter: Yeah, that’s when I started.
Garrett: So you’ve seen quite a transition of pornography, um, because you went from VHS basically, magazine of VHS, fast forward to mid nineties where the internet came out. Fast forward to, uh, like 2007 first version of the smart phones come out and fast forward to today and where we’ve celebrated about 10 years of having smart phones in our pockets. And so I think you’re in a very unique position doing not only doing a lot of research, but you’re one of the people who have been doing research for so long that you’ve personally seen this transition.
Walter: Yes, I have. And it’s getting worse. And I’m not saying this for moralistic reasons, but we’re not, pornography has become more violent and more available, very easily available. In fact, uh, we, we know about PornHub and other such sites in which it can be consumed freely. But what, what, what is going on is that people are consuming also at a much younger age because it’s easily accessible. You go back to, you know, even before the 80s to access porn, which was basically a magazine, magazines or literature. Uh, there were theaters of course, but you had to be of a particular age unless you got access through, you know, your father’s collection of porn or, or somewhere else.
Walter: But now the age of which it’s regularly consumed as much lower, there’s really no strict regulation, if you will. And you could talk about all, you know, the safety mechanisms you want to put in place in smartphones and computers and other electronic devices. But today’s youth are so sophisticated, it’s incredible. They get around it very easily and they’re starting at a very young age, nine, the average age was about 11 or 12, but it’s getting younger now. And this is their first exposure to sex. And back in the seventies and eighties, most of the pornography did not involve the level of violence that we see today in the level of racism that we see today. So, and I’m not saying that yesterday’s porn was, is good. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying it because yesterday’s porn also objectified and degraded women. But, but you know, the, the level of consumption is very disturbing. And also the rates of violence, put aside pornography for a minute. The rates of violence are increasing. They’re not decreasing in this country. Consider sexual assault on the college campus. We know that at least one out of every four female undergraduates has experienced at least one type of sexual assault during their college career. Well, this rate is increased. Uh, there’s one school in which I did a large scale study and the rate was 34%.
Garrett: So one in three.
Walter: One in three in Bucknell University for the last, Oh, at least five years has a one in three figure two.
Garrett: So just to get the numbers, just to get the numbers correct, you said in the 80s, it was one in four about.
Garrett: and fast forward to today and that number’s dropped to one in three? Or I guess increased to one in three.
Walter: Yeah. In many places it has increased.
Garrett: I was just looking at the, um, the stats… you mentioned porn hub and I was looking at their stats from 2018 and it says that they, uh, there’s 4,791,799 new videos uploaded last year.
Walter: Yeah. And if you take a look at what are the most popular, they’re also very violent and, and you know, several of us have spoken to pornographers and they tell us that they don’t know how much further they can take it. Um, it’s getting more and more violent all the time and it’s becoming more mainstreamed. Uh, in the sense, you know, mainstream media is becoming more, uh, sexually aggressive, sexually violent. I mean, the popular television series, game of Thrones, uh, frequently has rape and it’s justified. Well, that’s, you know, what it was like then or you know, no, because I think people become more accepting of it. Same with 50 shades of gray.
Garrett: Right. One of the challenges we face at fight the new drug is kind of getting adults and youth on the same page because oftentimes they’re using one word to describe two entirely different things. They’re using the word pornography. Describe. Well, if you ask the adult, they might say “That pornography, the definition basically is Playboy.” Um, but if you ask a kid like, “That’s very soft pornography.”
Walter: Yeah. Well, you may recall that Playboy was going to go out of business, it was going to shut down altogether and it’s changed its mind.
Garrett: Can you remind us why it was going to shut down?
Walter: Well, Playboy was objectifying women. There’s no doubt, but it did not involve violence. And so there was no market for Playboy anymore, which is, which is rather terrifying if you think about it, right? If it’s, it’s, you know, people are happy, those of us who were anti pornography, we’re happy to see Playboy go. But when, you know, on the other hand, when you start hearing, well there’s no market for it, but there’s a huge market for violent and racist pornography that tells you about a shift in our culture.
Garrett: Right. And I imagine that another reason why they struggled and why they considered closing doors is because of everything’s free now. So it’s not only the, there wasn’t enough supernormal stimulus there, but also everything’s free.
Walter: Yeah, we need to think culturally. One of the things that troubles me is that a lot of people individualize this problem. It’s a sociological problem. It’s a cultural problem. We’re not talking about a handful of, you know, people who suffer from some type of pathology. Given the widespread consumption, the worldwide spread consumption, this tells you about what’s going on socially. Also, when you take a look at the rates of violence against women in this country and other countries, they’re very high. It’s not 2% it’s, lets take marital and common law relationships, at least 11% of women, uh, each year experience at least one type of violence. That’s, that’s a lot. And then when you think about campus sexual assault, at least one in four, that’s a lot. I mean, that’s a definite sociological problem there. Nobody can deny that. And then there’s, we have even more evidence that porn is strongly correlated with violence against women. There’s more than, right now I’d say 150 studies out there that show that porn is strongly correlated with a broad range of violent behaviors and there’s close to 80 studies now that have uncovered a strong correlation between porn and sexual violence. So the research is coming out very quickly right now and there’s significant themes that are related to men’s porn consumption and they’re abusive women. Starting it with a young age, men learn about sex through pornography. That’s their first introduction to sex. That’s their first introduction. And you know, if you think about that, that’s, that’s actually absolutely terrifying. If some young man or young woman goes on their smart phone, goes to a site and sees a woman being gang raped by eight men and you know, how it’s depicted as it is, as if she’s enjoying it. And then there’s imitation and comparison in our Southeast Ohio study. Women talked about how their partners tried to get them to do things that they had seen in porn, things that made them feel very uncomfortable, things that were violent, things that were degrading. Another theme is introducing other sexual partners. Uh, you know, that we often see these videos with threesomes and foursomes and so on. And this, there’s something going on too, in the literature we’re seeing very high and in the research community too, when I’m referred to the literature, I’m talking about the scientific literature. Um, we see very high rates of violence against bisexual women. This is an emerging trend. There’s a growing body of research and, uh, 85% to 90% of the perpetrators of sexual violence against bisexual women are heterosexual males. Okay. Now what is happening is that if we bring porn into the equation, when you’re routinely exposed to threesomes involving two women and one guy, so a man meets a bisexual woman, she tells him that, look, you know, I like you, but I also have an interest in women and I will occasionally be with a woman. So at first, for many men, this is highly intoxicating. This is exciting. But then when the reality sets in, uh, they feel threatened, their masculinity feels threatened and they resort to violence.
Garrett: Oh, interesting.
Walter: Because they’re jealous. There’s this sense of possessiveness. They feel threatened by a woman having sexual relations alone with another woman.
Garrett: Interesting. This is the first time I’m hearing about this correlation.
Walter: Yeah. Um, well, we’ve published, uh, data on this in the journal of gender based violence in 2017. And this is, um, this is something to consider. I mean, you’d have to ask, why do bisexual women experienced such high rates of sexual violence by heterosexual men? Very high rates. 85% of the perpetrators are heterosexual men.
Garrett: So what’s next, Walter? We’ve talked a little bit about where pornography started. Um, we’ve talked how it’s progressed. According to your expertise, here are we headed?
Walter: Well, that’s a good question because many of us are very worried as are you and the organization that you’re involved with because sometimes it feels like the boss has left. Um, we have to think about progressive ways of challenging porn. Um, I like to talk about issues related to first amendment and I want to share something with the audience and with you. I’ve heard people say to me, “Well, you know, this is a juggernaut industry and it’s lobbies and you know, on top of that this is our, you know, first amendment. This is our right in the United States for freedom of speech.” What I think is an important strategy is to respond to this by saying, well, wait a minute. What would be the societal reaction if there was a movie that depicted the Holocaust in an approving manner?
Garrett: Oh, wow.
Walter: There, there would be that there would be no discussion of freedom of speech, that there would be anger, there would be moral outrage. What would, what would happen if there was a film that showed slavery and lynching in an approving manner, there’d be widespread outrage, anger, demands of action taken. And with animals, whenever there’s a movie that features animals, you have people from animal protection agencies on the set to ensure that the animals aren’t harmed. And then at the end of the movie and the captions or the credits, I should say, it will make explicit that no animal was harmed during the filming of this movie. So why is there so much approval for the brutality of women slapping, raping? I mean, I don’t want to get into all the grizzly details, but when we say that this is problematic and hurtful, people scream censorship. It’s an interesting argument, isn’t it?
Garrett: One thing that I was thinking about as you were explaining this, um, argument, um, on the first amendment is that if someone were to put out a movie depicting the Holocaust as acceptable, I think that the free market would decide that that was unacceptable. And I think that people who produce that would want to go hide in a dark room because they wouldn’t want all of the negative attention. So how do we get the information out there, Walter? Like, I guess the goal is getting and getting the information out there because we need the free market to see the correlation between pornography and sexual violence. Right? So the, the free market decides like basic, we’re just lowering the demand.
Walter: Yeah. Well, one of the problems, I’m a Canadian, um, that’s not a problem, [laughter] but one of the problems I find in this country is that there’s a conspicuous absence of sex education. And I hear people say to me, “I don’t want my children getting a sex education.” And my responses, “They are, it’s called pornography.”
Garrett: Right, oh, that’s very true. Wow.
Walter: And if you look at other countries, Australia, um, the province of Ontario, which is not far from where I live in Morgan town, they educate students, young students about a healthy sexuality. They’re not saying “Go out and have sex.”, but they talk about, you know, a healthy relationship and they talk about the harms of pornography and the distorted imagery and so on. So students are exposed to this
Walter: … and the education, it’s very important to start at a young age.
Garrett: And what’s interesting too is we’re talking about ways the society as a whole can kind of educate on sexuality. But also I think many caregivers aren’t doing it, they’re not talking about healthy sexuality. I dunno, we’re in a predicament here.
Walter: Yeah. We are in a particular, and when you talked about hiding, so you have the producer of a pro Holocaust film.
Walter: Let’s go back to 2003 are you familiar with Rob black?
Garrett: No. I don’t think so.
Walter: And his partner, Lizzie Borden, or actually Robert Zicari and Janet Romano, they had a company called Extreme Associates and they were indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh, which is an hour away from me on 10 counts of the production and distribution by mail and the internet of obscene pornographic materials. Zicari and Romano faced a maximum total sentence of 50 years in prison, a fine of 2,500,000 or both. And uh, anyway, they did not, um, they did not end up as such a sentence. Um, the, the, they had a much lighter sentence, uh, but they were blacklisted, uh, by the industry, the pornography industry. They were sentenced to one year and one day in prison.
Walter: Uh, but what happened was Rob Black was interviewed a few years later and Extreme Associates didn’t actually, they, they showed violence, but the women were not being beaten or whipped or whatever. Um, and he said, “Let’s fast forward to now, and this is actually going on.” So this is something that, uh, this is why I wanted to come back to your point because it seems when it comes to the degradation of women, um, what happened to Zicari and his partner, it didn’t affect the marketplace. In fact, the market place became more accepting of more violence. So an industry that wants shun these two is now producing some of the most violent material that we’ve ever seen.
And the women who are being whipped and tied up and so on, they’re actually being hurt. It’s not simulated at all. So it seems, my point is I think the tolerance in a patriarchal society, and we live in one, there’s such a tolerance for the abuse of women in many ways. We’ve never had a female President. How many female CEOs of corporations do we see? The list goes on and on and on. So I think we not only have to talk about pornography, which we do, but we also have to talk about how do we value and respect women? How do we come to a situation, a major cultural shift in which women are treated with total equality? Because pornography to me is a powerful indicator of how we think about women. It’s symbolic of how we think about women.
Don’t forget the oldest form of oppression around the world is patriarchy because they’re men of different ethnic cultural groups who oppress women, right? It has no ethnic boundaries. And so, you know, I mean, think about our history. When were women given the right to vote in this country
Garrett: Just recently relatively speaking,
Walter: right? Yes. From my historian standpoint, you know, historians think a hundred years is a short period of time. So these are things we need to think about. We need to, to ask about the type of society we want to live in. And so to curb patriarchy to, I mean, to curb pornography, you also have to occur other forms of inequality.
Garrett: Right. What would you say to a proponent of pornography that says that it’s empowering to women?
Walter: In what way? I mean, I get this all the time, you know, and there are people who claim to be feminist pornographers, I don’t see anything that’s such as feminist porn. And I don’t see, I’m not anti-sex this is one of the things that people who are anti-porn get labeled to get labeled as moralistic or anti-sex. I’m all for sex. Uh, it has to be consensual and respectful and so on. Not, not the type of sex we see. Um, I, I don’t understand how, um, being ejaculate it on by eight men is empowering. Uh, there this, this is not empowerment at all. Um, in fact, many young women I’ve talked to who have watched pornography because of pressure by their partners feel very uncomfortable. They feel emotionally detached and they’re wondering what’s going on with their partners.
Um, I think this liberatory thesis that that’s bounced around, it comes from pornography producers. Um, there are some academics I know I must say who are pro porn and would fundamentally disagree with me, but, um, I, I can’t see anything liberating in it at all. But my definition of pornography is what I’ve mentioned before. It’s gone. So, um, and I think that’s important to talk. What do we mean by pornography? How do we define, find pornography? I think that’s important too because I think we close many people’s minds if we, you know, come across as being totally anti-sex of course. And I think that’s how the anti-porn movement is seen by many people. So that’s where I think this liberatory argument comes from. And I think it’s important when we dialogue that we say, no, we’re not against sex. No, we’re not, you know, these, these people who are, you know, want to oppress women’s sexuality and control their reproductive rights and so on. And I think we often get acquainted with that. So it’s how we present our message. So when we talk about porn, I think it’s very important to have an explicit definition. Cause I, I’m not sure everyone understands what we’re talking about.
Garrett: In regards to Gonzo?
Walter: Yeah. I think when they hear us use the word pornography, when we talk people like you and me and, and others in the movement, we know what we’re talking about. But you know, others don’t necessarily see porn that way.
Garrett: Right. Well, one thing that might be interesting is listing off some of these different types of pornography. Can you list off a couple that are most concerning to you?
Walter: Um, what, what I mean by “Gonzo” and what others do is when there’s no mutual respect and care and a sense of emotion, um, because you know, when the, these, these images, and I don’t want to describe them, I’m not here for and nor are you for shock theater, but the, there is no pleasure given to the woman at all. The everything is very, very one sided. It’s all designed to please the man.
Garrett: Yeah, much of pornography is that way. Correct.
Walter: Right. And the women are characterized as “sluts” and they’re characterized as “whores” and “cum dumpsters” and so on. You know, pardon me for using that language, but that’s common in the porn genre. But I think we need to have a meaningful dialogue. You just can’t say, look, you people are bad because you watch porn. In my classes, I do have sections on pornography and you know, the women, they, they, they talk, and many of them have told me that they’ve yet to meet a man who has not consumed pornography. The men get often very defensive. And so I don’t shut down the conversation or, or tried to target them. And of course there are female students who are pro porn, I must say that. But a lot of them feel pressured and they’ve been groomed. There’s like a type of genre, Gail Dines talks about it, where boys groom female partners to watch porn.
And then, you know, of course with young people there’s such peer pressure. I mean, I’ve talked to people, I work with young people all the time and some men have told me, “Look, I don’t like watching this. I feel uncomfortable, but you know, I don’t want to be shunned by my peers if I don’t.” There’s a lot of men watch it in groups as you know, um, frat houses and, and other places at parties. And there are many women who don’t want to be marginalized in the interpersonal marketplace. You know, they’re worried about being viewed as proves and so on. So, you know, we also have to target social norms.
Walter: That’s why this has to be a multi- pronged approach. There’s no single solution, but we also have to have our eyes on our society as well as what’s going on in our broader society. That contributes to pornography consumption. I think we’re going to fail if we just target individual. We have to question why we have a society that you know, enables a such a lucrative industry to exist.
Garrett: Right. One of those inconsistencies that I’ve always thought of is the conviction of bill Cosby. Bill Cosby was convicted of drug facilitated sexual assault and now he’s condemned by much of society, and with good reason. But then the inconsistency happens because many of those same people who condemn bill Cosby for drug facilitated sexual assault engage in the behavior of consuming mainstream pornography and mainstream pornography oftentimes thrives on drug facilitated sexual assault.
Walter: Oh, it does? Yeah, for sure. But I think, you know, we have to have some meaningful dialogue among groups that may not necessarily agree with everything that each other has to say, but are committed to, you know, ending, um, this problem.
Garrett: Yeah. Well that’s part of being in this movement is yes, we want discussions, we want to, we respect your point of view. We ask that you kind of respect ours and hear us out as well and we appreciate you doing your part, Walter. And thank you so much for taking the time to make this happen and uh, all the research and, and uh, things you’ve done over the years are really making a difference.
Walter: Yeah. And let me know when the blog comes out and uh, I look forward to talking to you again.
Garrett: Yeah, it was our pleasure, Walter. Um, we would love to talk with you again. Also would love to have you back on the podcast at some point.
Walter: Yeah, that’d be wonderful.
Garrett: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Considered Before Consuming, considered before consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug. Fight the New Drug is a nonreligious and non legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on a term full effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts. We’ll definitely have to have Walter on the podcast again and tell then you can learn more about Walter and his work by checking out the links attached to this episode. If you enjoyed this conversation, please rate and review. As you go about your day, we invite you to increase your self awareness. Look both ways, check your blind spots, and consider before consuming.