Frequently looking at "soft-porn" images, such as pictures of nude or semi-nude female models triggers negative views of women, potentially reinforcing the acceptance of rape myths, psychologists have said.

Previous studies have shown that regular exposure to hard-core increased the risk of sexual deviance and offending as well as negative attitudes to intimate relationship. However, the question of whether soft-core pornography can have a similar effect had not been studied to the same extent – even though people are much more often exposed to such images in tabloids, social media or even in some advertising campaigns.

Presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Forensic Psychology in Brighton, the latest research takes on the challenge, investigating the effects of soft-porn on individuals' views of women.

Desensitisation to soft-porn

The scientists from the University of Nottingham enrolled 143 adult men aged 19 years old on average. The participants were asked about their exposure to soft-core pornographic images, assessing how frequent their own exposure was.

They were then asked questions to test if they viewed these images as pornographic, what their attitudes to women were and to what extent they accepted a certain number of rape myths.

The researchers discovered that participants with frequent exposure were less likely to describe the images as pornographic, compared with participants who had lower exposure to soft-core pornography, demonstrating desensitisation to the image. They were also less likely to have positive attitudes towards women, and more likely to uphold rape myths.

Cause or effect?

The problem with these results is that it is difficult to know for sure if they prove cause and effect. "It's difficult to unpick cause and effect with this type of research, so it's not possible to say that soft-core pornography changes attitudes towards women", explains lead author Dr Simon Duff.

"For example, it might be that people who do not hold positive attitudes towards women then seek out soft-core pornography. However, there is a relationship between frequency of exposure to soft-core pornography and attitudes towards women and that warrants further exploration".