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White Paper Submitted to the Committee on Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids From Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content

Marjorie Heins, Director
Free Expression Policy Project
National Coalition Against Censorship

March 5, 2001



A. The Lack of Scientific Evidence
B. The Irrelevance and Inconclusiveness of Research on Media Violence
C. Difficulties Identifying "Pornography" and "Other Inappropriate Internet Content"
D. Morality and Socialization of Youth

A. Acceptable Use Policies
B. Media Literacy
C. Comprehensive Sexuality Education




The National Research Council has recognized that "the subject of controlling children's Internet access to pornography is charged politically and emotionally in the national debate." It wisely states as its goal "to provide a foundation for a more coherent and objective local and national debate on the subject of Internet pornography."1 This White Paper is an effort to contribute to that more coherent and objective national debate.

Coherence and objectivity require, at the outset, an assessment of the harm that is thought to be caused to minors by pornography and "other inappropriate Internet content." Have adverse effects from pornography been scientifically identified? Or is the issue essentially one of morality and socialization of youth? It is incumbent upon the Committee on Tools and Strategies (hereafter, "the Committee") to address this question, for it is impossible to evaluate "tools and strategies for protecting kids" until it is determined what they are to be protected from. Moreover, because technological tools such as Internet filters are notoriously imprecise, the Committee must assess the nature and gravity of the harm to minors that Congress seeks to address before it can determine whether such imprecise tools are worth the cost, or whether affirmative educational strategies might be a more effective response to society's concerns.


A. The Lack of Scientific Evidence

Experts in human sexuality agree that there is no body of scientific evidence establishing that minors are harmed by reading or viewing pornography. As 16 noted researchers and educators said in an amici curiae brief to the Supreme Court in the recent case of United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, "most scholars in the field of sexuality agree that there is no basis to believe sexually explicit words or images ... in and of themselves cause psychological harm to the great majority of young people."2 Jeffrey McIntyre of the American Psychological Association likewise acknowledges that "the state of psychological research in the area of children and exposure to pornography is limited."3

In 1986, the Surgeon General's Workshop on Pornography and Public Health concluded that there is no scientific basis to believe that minors are adversely affected by pornography. Indeed, it noted that many psychologists believe young children are unaffected by pornography because they lack "the cognitive or emotional capacities needed to comprehend it." In the end, these experts said, "it is really rather difficult to say much definitive about the possible effects of exposure to pornography on children."4 The more widely publicized majority report that same year of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (the Meese Commission) did not disagree. The Meese Commission acknowledged that its concerns about minors' access to pornography were based on morality, not science.5

In the Playboy Entertainment case, expert witnesses for both the government and Playboy testified at trial that there is no empirical body of evidence of harm to minors from exposure to pornography. (The case involved a challenge to a statute restricting sexually explicit or "indecent" signal bleed on cable television.) Dr. Richard Green, founding president of the International Academy of Sex Research and author of Sexual Science and the Law,6 testified that none of the available literature – including comparisons of the amount of erotica available in different countries, studies of sex offenders, laboratory experiments on pornography and violence, clinical experience worldwide, and research on people who as children had witnessed the "primal scene" of sexual intercourse – supports the notion that exposure to sexual explicitness is psychologically harmful to youth. In 25 years of clinical practice, Dr. Green had not encountered psychological problems stemming from pornography.7

The government in Playboy Entertainment initially attempted to establish harm to minors by offering testimony from Dr. Diana Elliott, who operated a clinic for abused children in California. The three-judge trial court rejected Dr. Elliott's testimony as weak, anecdotal, and "possibly misleading."8 Later, the government presented a new expert witness, Dr. Elissa Benedek, who opined that sexually explicit television might produce an assortment of harmful effects but acknowledged that she knew of no scientific literature or clinical studies supporting her belief, and that in her 30 years of psychiatric practice, nobody had come to her with a complaint about sexual images.9 The judges were unimpressed with Benedek's testimony. "We are troubled," they wrote, "by the absence of harm presented both before Congress and before us that the viewing of signal bleed of sexually explicit programming causes harm to children."10

Although there is no body of empirical research demonstrating harm to minors from reading or viewing pornography, some studies have explored relationships between youngsters' sexual attitudes or behavior and their viewing of mainstream media. These studies have limited relevance to pornography, which is a markedly different genre from mainstream entertainment, with different imagery, messages, and purposes. Moreover, these studies have not generally demonstrated harmful effects.

For example, an experiment in 1980 asked 75 adolescent girls, half of them pregnant, about their television viewing habits. Overall, the pregnant ones watched more TV soap operas and were somewhat less likely to think that their favorite characters would use contraceptives. But as the authors said, it is "difficult to know if television portrayals are encouraging adolescents to be unrealistic about sexual relationships [that is, not using contraceptives], or if unrealistic adolescents identify with the glamorized TV portrayals."11 Similarly, a 1991 study found that of 391 junior high school students, those who watched sexier TV shows were more likely to have become sexually active in the preceding year. Although "having had intercourse appeared to be related to seeking sexual content on television," the researchers were "unable to determine which came first – sexual intercourse or a proclivity for viewing sexual activity on television."12

Indeed, it is likely that in both studies, a third variable accounted for the correlation between sexual activity and viewing of sexually oriented mainstream programming. Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, documenting a correlation between adolescents' reckless behavior and preference for violent music, found just such an independent factor – "sensation seeking" – to account for both the preference and the behavior. Arnett added that "adolescents who like heavy metal music listen to it especially when they are angry and that the music has the effect of calming them down and dissipating their anger."13

Experts presenting testimony to the Committee did not always clearly differentiate between correlational studies and laboratory experiments that actually attempt to show causation. Professor Jane Brown, for example, noted the "‘effects' of mainstream sexual content" on young people, but three of the four propositions that followed in her written testimony appear to be based only on correlational studies.14 The fourth proposition, that "[m]usic video viewing increases acceptance of premarital sex, interpersonal violence," is based on a 1986 experiment involving 7th and 10th graders who were shown music videos and then given an attitude questionnaire. Of several attitudes that the researchers considered "deleterious," they found a significant effect from the racier video for one – tolerance for premarital sex. But they phrased their conclusions cautiously, noting that "[i]t is unclear how long lasting the results obtained in the present study may be."15 Indeed, scholars generally recognize that lab experiments producing short-term effects have limited relevance to formation of sexual attitudes and behavior over the long term, where a wide range of social and cultural influences interact.

In short, the evidence on music videos is both sparse and ambiguous. And it has no meaningful application to pornography.

Correlations do not establish causation, but they can be suggestive. Studies have found, for example, an inverse correlation between youthful exposure to pornography and sex offending among adolescents and adults. That is, sex offenders generally have less, not more, exposure to pornography as youths.16 One possible inference is that sex offending is causally related not to youthful exposure to sexually explicit material but to its opposite: youthful repression, conflict, and guilt.

A recent study by Professor Joanne Cantor and her colleagues tried to assess the effects of minors' exposure to sexual material by asking college students for their memories of TV shows or movies "depicting sex or sexual issues" that they had seen as children or adolescents. The researchers found no clear, consistent effects. About half of the subjects who viewed "sexual content" as adolescents or earlier "evaluated the experience as both positive and negative ... Younger children's responses were significantly more likely to be characterized by interest or confusion; those of older children were significantly more likely to be characterized by disgust or anger."17 None of these results suggests serious or permanent psychological harm.

By contrast, Cantor's 1988 book, Mommy, I'm Scared, documented widespread anxiety reactions among children exposed to such nonsexual (and relatively nonviolent) TV fare as Little House on the Prairie, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland.18 Thus, it is not always easy to predict what literature or entertainment will actually distress children. Certainly, pornography has not been a scientifically documented culprit.

B. The Irrelevance and Inconclusiveness of Research on Media Violence

Conclusions about harm to minors from pornography cannot be extrapolated from research on media violence. Although art, literature, and entertainment affect youngsters in many ways, determining what specific content produces what specific effects is an extremely difficult undertaking, and must depend on empirical studies that focus on the particular content at issue. The trial court in Playboy Entertainment properly rejected opinions about the effects of pornography that Dr. Benedek offered based on extrapolations from a sampling of research on media violence.19 Jeffrey McIntyre's testimony before the Committee suffers from the same fallacy. Simply positing that "media does influence children's behavior, attitudes, and lives"20 does not tell us anything about what that influence is with respect to any particular subject matter.

Moreover, research on media violence is itself inconclusive. Approximately 200-250 empirical studies or experiments have been done (not "well over 1000 studies," as five professional groups recently asserted).21 Of these, fewer than half found support for the hypothesis that media violence causes imitation.22 Many of the "successful" studies, moreover, involved questionable proxies for aggressive behavior, such as hitting Bobo dolls, delivering noise blasts in a laboratory, or answering "attitude" questionnaires.23

Researchers who believe in adverse media effects have sometimes represented their findings to be more conclusive than they really are. A 22-year longitudinal study by Professors Leonard Eron, L. Rowell Huesmann, and their colleagues, which is frequently cited for proof of imitative effects, in fact found a positive correlation between violence-viewing and aggressive behavior on only one of six measures after ten years. Huesmann's later assertion of a causal relation between violence viewing at age 8 and criminal behavior at age 30 turned out to be based on only 3 individuals – not a large enough sample to be meaningful.24 Huesmann had previously acknowledged that his sample was "very small" and "must be treated very cautiously."25 In another longitudinal study, Huesmann and Eron strained to interpret cross-national data to show that their harmful-effects hypothesis had been proved when the overall results actually indicated null or insignificant effects.26

Communications scholars have increasingly come to understand that cultural expression – including pornography – affects different individuals in different ways, depending upon a multitude of variables.27 As Professor Kevin Durkin explains, broad generalizations about simple, direct effects of art or entertainment "do not carry us very far"; as much depends "upon what the child brings to TV viewing as upon what it extracts."28 The National Research Council has also noted that media effects theories are simplistic because they fail to consider how different individuals respond to identical stimuli, or how different psychosocial, neurological, and hormonal characteristics interact to produce behavior.29

C. Difficulties Identifying "Pornography" and "Other Inappropriate Internet Content"

Part of the problem in identifying harm to minors is that "pornography" has no fixed meaning. Whatever it connotes for different individuals, pornography is not a legal term like constitutionally unprotected obscenity, and it may have serious artistic, political, or literary value.30 Moreover, much of the testimony before the Committee concerned mainstream art and entertainment rather than material commonly understood as pornographic. Professor Dolf Zillman's argument for an expansion of "the definition of erotica and pornography" to include R- and PG-13 rated films only underlines the fact that there is no consensus on what sexual information or entertainment is harmful to minors.31

Sexually explicit Internet content that many would consider pornographic can be found in listservs, chatrooms, safer sex sites, gay, lesbian, and feminist sites, and academic archives, not to mention museums and libraries. Examples include explicit nudes or sexual scenes in classic artworks by Titian, Courbet, Balthus, or Schiele; novels like Lady Chatterley's Lover and Ulysses; ancient Roman frescoes; and contemporary mass-market films. Phyllis Schlafly has termed sex education questionnaires to be "pornographic in their explicitness,"32 and others who share her political persuasion would agree. In short, since definitions vary, it is difficult to identify what minors should be shielded from. Needless to say, the problem is even more acute in identifying "other inappropriate Internet content."

D. Morality and Socialization of Youth

As the foregoing discussion suggests, "harm to minors" is at bottom not a scientific, but a moral and ideological concept. The Supreme Court recognized this in its first harm-to-minors case, Ginsberg v. New York, in 1968. The Court in Ginsberg acknowledged the absence of an empirical basis to believe that exposure to pornography is harmful, but said such a showing was unnecessary because the "girlie" magazines at issue in the case were constitutionally unprotected as to minors, so that the legislature needed only a rational basis to ban their distribution. That rational basis was satisfied by the government's asserted interest in "the ethical and moral development of our youth."33

After Ginsberg, the Supreme Court occasionally stated that the government has a compelling interest in shielding minors from exposure to "patently offensive" sex-related material,34 but it did not explain why, or rely upon empirical evidence. In FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, Justice Stevens's plurality opinion and Justice Powell's concurrence both assumed that hearing vulgar words would be harmful to youth – Powell said it was a "verbal shock treatment," with language "as potentially degrading and harmful to children as representations of many erotic acts"– but neither justice cited empirical research.35

More recently, the issue of harm was raised, as noted, in Playboy Entertainment, and also in Reno v. ACLU ("Reno II"), a challenge to the 1997 Child Online Protection Act (COPA).36 In both cases, the Justice Department abandoned claims of objective or scientifically established harm to minors. In Reno II, it argued that COPA was necessary to socialize youth lest pornography "distort their views of sexuality." In Playboy, the government argued that establishing harm from pornography did not require proof because concerns about youthful "exposure to such material are based on commonly held moral views about the upbringing of children."37

The 1986 Meese Commission probably had the best explanation for the nature of the harm that is thought to flow from minors' exposure to pornography. "To a number of us," the commission's majority report said, "the most important harms must be seen in moral terms. ... [F]or children to be taught by these materials that sex is public, that sex is commercial, and that sex can be divorced from any degree of affection, love, commitment, or marriage is for us the wrong message at the wrong time."38 Whatever the validity of these judgments about the messages conveyed by pornography, it is clear that the harm at issue is a matter of morality and ideology, not science.


Morality and socialization of youth are important concerns, but they are better addressed by education than by censorial technologies. With more than a billion Web sites on the Internet, no filtering product can distinguish "good" sites from "bad" ones, and all products block large amounts of valuable expression that minors, especially older ones, have a constitutional right to see and read. Moreover, no technological device can possibly block all of the mainstream entertainment that many people feel is dangerous because it promotes permissive sexual attitudes. Most important, no technological tool can teach sexual health, sexual responsibility, or moral values.

There are at least three educational approaches that advance society's interest in the sexual education and socialization of youth. These are Internet acceptable use policies; media literacy training; and comprehensive sexuality education.

A. Acceptable Use Policies

Acceptable use policies, combined with Internet training, can enable youngsters to navigate the Web more safely than can ratings or filters. As Nancy Willard of Responsible Netizen told the Committee, "inevitably, young people will have unsupervised access to the Internet. We cannot prepare them for this eventuality by trying to keep them in a ‘safe place' using technology tools until they are 18. ... We must focus our efforts on strategies that will empower young people with the values, knowledge, skills, and motivation to make the right choices." Schools that have "good policies and planning," Willard reported, do not have problems "with students accessing inappropriate material."39

Other witnesses echoed this view. Julie Underwood of the National School Boards Association testified that filters "do not work," but that acceptable use agreements have proven successful in local schools and libraries. Carrie Gardner of the Milton Hershey School reminded the Committee that the ability to navigate the Internet "is not generic or acquired by osmosis"; it must be taught, just as children "must be taught how to deal with the racism, violence, [and] sexually explicit information." Carol Lynn Roddy of the Ohio Public Library Information Network emphasized that we must teach children "how to recognize good information from bad, good decision-making, and self-protective behavior." Judith Krug of the American Library Association described the training and support that libraries provide to enable children "to become responsible Internet users."40

Not all acceptable use policies, of course, are free of First Amendment problems. Prohibitions are sometimes vaguely worded, and leave students to guess at what such terms as "profane" or "discrimination"41 mean in the context of particular Internet sites. But the great advantage of acceptable use policies is that they enable youngsters to think about the issues, with the help of parents, teachers, and librarians, and in the process learn how to recognize and evaluate inaccurate information and pernicious ideas.

B. Media Literacy

Media literacy is a burgeoning field in education today. A variety of organizations provide curricular materials and model pedagogies. Books, articles, conferences, and teacher training events abound. Many school districts have developed comprehensive curricula; others incorporate media literacy into their language arts, social studies, science, and health programs.

The basic goal is to educate youngsters to understand and think critically about media images and ideas. Thus, the Center for Media Literacy offers teaching materials for every age group on topics ranging from "race and gender" to "news and politics," "television culture," "media violence," and "tobacco, alcohol, sexuality, and body image issues."42 One typical program for 7th and 8th graders in Yakima, Washington covers media myths, film techniques, ethics of advertising, journalistic bias, and the effects of TV violence on real-life behavior.43

Although media literacy experts have differing views on many questions of politics and pedagogy (including the issue of media violence), the value of this approach is that it teaches critical thinking, thus enabling young people to protect themselves from possible ill effects of pornography and "other inappropriate Internet content."

C. Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Comprehensive sexuality education includes discussion of sexual health, sexual values, and the sometimes "inaccurate and unrealistic" sexual messages conveyed by the media.44 It is thus more likely to protect youngsters from what are thought to be pornography's pernicious effects than are the more superficial sex education programs that do not deal with media messages, or the narrowly ideological "abstinence-only-unless-married" curricula that have become increasingly common.45 The comprehensive approach has also been shown to foster more responsible sexual behavior and to delay, rather than encourage, sexual activity.46

Ironically, many excellent sexuality education sites on the Internet are blocked by filters, thus preventing minors from gaining information vital to their sexual health. Given the political quagmire that has impeded comprehensive sexuality education in public schools, education online should be promoted, not restricted, for youngsters of all ages.47


With the vast range of art, information, and ideas available online, there is urgent need for coherent, objective, and clear-sighted exploration of the best "tools and strategies" for addressing concerns about minors' access to pornography and "other inappropriate Internet content." In the final analysis, affirmative educational approaches are more likely to be effective than technological "fixes."

Respectfully submitted,

Marjorie Heins
Free Expression Policy Project
National Coalition Against Censorship


1. "A National Research Council Project on Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids From Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content,"

2. Brief Amici Curiae of Sexuality Scholars, Researchers, Educators and Therapists in Support of Appellee in United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, No. 98-1682 (Oct. Term 1998), p. 8.

3. Testimony of Jeffrey McIntyre Before the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, Committee to Study Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids From Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content (hereafter, "the Committee") (Oct. 18, 2000); see also Joanne Cantor, Abstract - "Autobiographical Memories of Exposure to Sexual Media Content" (to be presented at the Society for Research in Child Development Conference, Minneapolis, Apr. 20, 2001) ("largely because of the difficulty of obtaining permission to exposure children to sexual images, relatively few studies have been conducted in this area").

4. Edward Mulvey & Jeffrey Haugaard, Surgeon General's Workshop on Pornography and Public Health (Washington, DC: Dep't of HHS, June 22-24, 1986) (manuscript ed.), pp. 61-62.

5. Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, Final Report (Washington, DC: Gov't Printing Office, 1986), pp. 303, 344; Marjorie Heins, Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth (New York: Hill & Wang, forthcoming, May 2001), pp. 109-12.

6. Richard Green, Sexual Science and the Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 1992).

7. Transcript, Playboy Entertainment Group v. U.S., No. 96-94 (D. Del. Mar. 5, 1998), pp. 361, 365-67, 397.

8. Playboy Entertainment Group v. U.S., 945 F. Supp. 772, 786 n. 25 (D. Del. 1996), aff'd mem., 520 U.S. 1141 (1997).

9. Playboy Transcript, pp. 445-81 (Mar. 5, 1998); see Playboy Entertainment Group v. U.S., 30 F. Supp.2d 702, 710-11 (D.Del. 1998), aff'd, 529 U.S. 803 (2000).

10. Playboy Entertainment Group, 30 F. Supp.2d at 716. In striking down the signal bleed law, neither the lower court nor the Supreme Court relied on the lack of evidence of harm. Instead, both courts invalidated the law based on the existence of other, less burdensome ways of enabling parents to block their children's access to sexually explicit signal bleed if they wished to do so.

11. Charles Corder-Bolz, "Television and Adolescents' Sexual Behavior," 3 Sex Educ. Coalition News 3, 5 (1981).

12. Jane Brown & Susan Newcomer, "Television Viewing and Adolescents' Sexual Behavior," 21 J. of Homosexuality 77, 84, 88 (1991); see also Risking the Future – Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy, and Child-bearing (Cheryl Haynes, ed.) (Washington DC: Nat'l Academy Press, 1987), p. 249 (noting that no study "has convincingly linked program content and exposure to adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior"); American Academy of Pediatrics, "Children, Adolescents, and Television," 96 Pediatrics 786 (1995) ("there is no clear documentation" that the relationship between TV viewing and sexual activity "is causal").

13. Jeffrey Arnett, "The Soundtrack of Restlessness Musical Preferences and Reckless Behavior Among Adolescents," 7 J. Adol. Rsrch 313, 328 (1992); see also Jeffrey Arnett, "Adolescents and heavy metal music: From the mouths of metalheads," 23 Youth & Society 76 (1991); Lawrence Kurdek, "Gender differences in the psychological symptomatology and coping strategies of young adolescents," 7 J. Early Adol. 395 (1987) ("heavy metal music, with its angry and aggressive sound, is especially useful to adolescents in purging anger").

14. Written testimony of Jane Brown (Dec. 13, 2000), p. 2; see also Jane Brown & Susannah Stern, "Sex and the Media," (Background Paper to the Committee, June 20, 2000), p. 10 (chart listing "effects" of sexual content in mainstream media, with some citations to studies that are merely correlational).

15. Larry Greeson & Rose Ann Williams, "Social Implications of Music Videos for Youth: An Analysis of the Contents and Effects of MTV," 18 Youth & Society 177 (1986). The researchers' assumption that "acceptance of premarital sex" is "deleterious" may be questioned: very few Americans today refrain from sexual activity unless or until married. See Robert Michael et al., Sex in America – A Definitive Survey (Boston: Little Brown, 1994), pp. 90-96; Malcolm Potts & Roger Short, Ever Since Adam and Eve – The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U. Press, 1999), p. 77 (only 3% of Americans now delay first intercourse until marriage). Another experiment with music videos, performed on 44 college students (not minors), found that a program with "stereotyped sexual imagery" produced a statistically significant short-term increase in beliefs about "adversarial sexual relationships," but no effect on sex role stereotyping, acceptance of rape myths, or acceptance of interpersonal violence. Linda Kalof, "The Effects of Gender and Music Video Imagery on Sexual Attitudes," 130 J. Social Psych. 378 (1999).

16. Judith Becker & Robert Stein, "Is Sexual Erotica Associated with Sexual Deviance in Adolescent Males?" 14 Int'l J. Law & Psychiatry 85 (1991); Milton Diamond & Ayako Uchiyama, "Pornography, Rape, and Sex Crimes in Japan," 22 Int'l J. Law and Psychiatry 1, 15-19 (1999); Paul Gebhard et al., Sex Offenders (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 670-78; Ira Reiss & Harriet Reiss, Solving America's Sexual Crisis (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997), chs. 3 & 6; Kathryn Kelley et al., "Three Faces of Sexual Explicitness the Good, the Bad, and the Useful," in Pornography – Research Advances and Policy Considerations (Dolf Zillmann & Jennings Bryant, eds.) (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1989), p. 67.

17. Cantor, supra n. 3.

18. Joanne Cantor, Mommy, I'm Scared (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1988).

19. Playboy, 30 F. Supp.2d at 716.

20. McIntyre Testimony, supra n. 3, p. 1.

21. American Academy of Pediatrics et al., Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children (July 26, 2000). The confusion arises from failing to distinguish between the total commentary on media violence, or on television generally, and the smaller number of empirical studies or experiments. See John Murray, "Studying Television Violence: A Research Agenda for the 21st Century," in Research Paradigms, Television, and Social Behavior (Joy Keiko Asamen & Gordon Berry, eds.) (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998), pp. 378, 381 (reporting almost 3,000 publications on "the impact of television" by 1980; and about 1,000 reports "over the past half century" on "the issue of television violence" – of which "only a small percentage ... represent original studies or research reports"); Haejung Paik & George Comstock, "The Effects of Television Violence on Antisocial Behavior: A Meta-analysis," 21 Comm. Rsrch 516 (1994) (analyzing a total field of 217 studies); Edward Donnerstein, "Mass Media Violence: Thoughts on the Debate," 22 Hofstra L. Rev. 827, 828 (1994) (reporting "perhaps" 3,000 studies on television, with probably 200-250 "directly related to violence in the media"); Jonathan Freedman, Villain or Scapegoat: Media Violence and Aggression (manuscript; under contract with U. of Texas Press, 2001) (about 200 studies).

22. Villain or Scapegoat, supra n. 21. Evidence is even sparser to support the hypothesis that media depictions of violence cause widespread "desensitization." Id., pp. 186-201.

23. Villain or Scapegoat. Freedman's review includes all of the surveys, laboratory experiments, field experiments, longitudinal studies, and other empirical studies that he was able to locate. He found that, of the laboratory experiments, 37% supported a causal connection, and 44% did not. When he eliminated studies that used questionable measures of aggression, only 27% supported the causal hypothesis. Of the field experiments, 3 out of 11 "obtained even slightly supportive results," or 3 out of 24 if separate experiments within one study were counted. Id., pp. 208-11. For other critiques of claims that violent entertainment has proven adverse effects, see William McGuire, "The Myth of Massive Media Impact: Savagings and Salvagings," in Public Comm. & and Behav., Vol. 1 (George Comstock, ed.) (New York: Academic Press, 1986), p. 174; Joyce Sprafkin et al., "Effects of Viewing Aggressive Cartoons on the Behavior of Learning Disabled Children," 28 J. Child Psych. & Psychiatry 387 (1987); Kenneth Gadow & Joyce Sprafkin, "Field Experiments of Television Violence with Children: Evidence for an Environmental Hazard?" 83 Pediatrics 399 (1989); Thomas Cook et al., "The Implicit Assumptions of Television Research: An Analysis of the 1982 NIMH Report on Television and Behavior," 47 Pub. Opin. Q. 161 (1983).

24. See Richard Rhodes, "The Media-Violence Myth," Rolling Stone, Nov. 23, 2000, p. 55; Jonathan Freedman, "Effect of Television Violence on Aggressiveness," 96 Psych. Bulletin 227 (1984) (analyzing the first ten years of the study).

25. L. Rowell Huesmann & Laurie Miller, "Long-Term Effects of Repeated Exposure to Media Violence in Childhood," in Aggressive Behavior: Current Perspectives (L. Rowell Huesmann, ed.) (New York: Plenum Press, 1994), p. 169.

26. Jonathan Freedman, "Viewing Television Violence Does Not Make People More Aggressive," 22 Hofstra L. Rev. 833, 849-51 (1994); Jonathan Freedman, "Television Violence and Aggression: What Psychologists Should Tell the Public," in Psychology and Social Policy (Peter Suedfeld & Philip Tetlock, eds.) (New York: Hemisphere, 1991), pp. 182-84. The book resulting from the cross-national study was Television and the Aggressive Child: A Cross-national Comparison (L. Rowell Huesmann & Leonard Eron, eds.) (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1986). Dutch researchers participating in the study refused to go along with Eron and Huesmann's conclusions; see Oene Wiegman et al., "A Longitudinal Study of the Effects of Television Viewing on Aggressive and Prosocial Behaviors," 31 Brit. J. Social Psych. 147 (1992).

27. See, e.g., Debra Niehoff, The Biology of Violence (New York: The Free Press, 1999) (describing sources of aggression in brain chemistry, which in turn is shaped by the environment); Jonathan Kellerman, Savage Spawn – Reflections on Violent Children (New York: Ballantine, 1999) (positing that aggression, like other behaviors, results from the interaction of inborn traits with environmental influences, with media having little direct impact).

28. Kevin Durkin, Television, Sex Roles and Children: A developmental social psychological account (Milton Keynes, UK: Open U. Press, 1985), p.3; see also Henry Jenkins, "Professor Jenkins Goes to Washington," Harper's, July 1999, p. 19 (because of young people's different responses to "the media landscape," "universalizing claims are fundamentally inadequate in accounting for media's social and cultural impact").

29. National Research Council, Understanding and Preventing Violence (Albert Reiss, Jr. & Jeffrey Roth, eds.) (Washington, DC: Nat'l Academy Press,1993), pp. 101-02.

30. See Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 24 (1973).

31. Dolf Zillman, "Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents' and Young Adults' Dispositions Toward Sexuality," 27S J. Adol. Health 41, 43 (2000).

32. Phyllis Schlafly, "Classes in Sex, Nuclear War Harm Students," Conserv. Digest, May 1984, p. 38.

33. Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629, 639-42 (1968).

34. Sable Communications v. FCC, 492 U.S. 115, 126, 131 (1989); Denver Area Educational Telecomm'ns Consortium v. FCC, 518 U.S. 727, 732 (1996) (Breyer, J.); id. at 805-06 (Kennedy & Ginsberg, JJ.).

35. FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726, 749 (1978) (Stevens, J.); id. at 757-58, 761 (Powell, J.). The Pacifica Court did not address arguments by the ACLU and the Association of American Publishers as amici curiae that there was no evidence of harm to minors from vulgar words. Brief of the American Civil Liberties Union et al. in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, No. 77-528 (Oct. Term, 1977), pp. 24-25.

36. ACLU v. Reno ("Reno II"), 217 F.3d 162 (3d Cir. 2000), petition for cert. filed, Feb. 12, 2001. The issue was also raised in Reno v. ACLU ("Reno I"), 521 U.S. 844 (1997), where the plaintiffs introduced testimony from sexuality scholar and therapist William Stayton that experts in the field agree exposure to pornography does not in itself harm children, see Heins, supra n. 5, pp. 170-72. The Supreme Court in Reno I did not directly address the issue of harm, apart from ruling that "indecency" was too broad a censorship standard even for minors, because it could restrict their access to artworks, safer sex information, and even "the card catalogue of the Carnegie Library." 521 U.S. at 878.

37. Brief for Appellant in ACLU v. Reno, No. 99-1324 (3rd Cir. July 26, 1999), p. 7 (quoting S. Rep. No. 105-225 [1998], p. 11); Brief for Appellants in U.S. v. Playboy Entertainment Group, No. 98-1682 (Oct. Term, 1998), pp. 35 n.21, 38-40.

38. Final Report, supra n. 5, pp. 303, 344.

39. Nancy Willard, "Choosing Not To Go Down the Not-so-good Cyberstreets," Background Paper to the Committee (Dec. 13, 2000).

40. Memo from Julie Underwood to the Committee re: Filtering Update (Oct. 19, 2000); Testimony of Carrie Gardner to the Committee (July 18, 2000); Testimony of Carol Lynn Roddy (July 18, 2000); Testimony of Judith Krug (July 18, 2000). See also Commission on Child Online Protection (COPA), Report to Congress (Washington DC: COPA Comm'n, Oct. 20, 2000), pp. 19, 30, 36 (filters can interfere with older minors' rights to access "potentially informative and appropriate material," but acceptable use policies can teach "awareness and behavior" without censorship).

41. Terms used in Responsible Netizen's model policy; see Willard, supra n. 39, n. 2; Responsible Netizen, "District Internet Policy and Regulations,"

42. See, which contains information on the Center and links to other media literacy sites; Association for Media Literacy Web site,; Dorothy Singer & Jerome Singer, "Developing Critical Viewing Skills and Media Literacy in Children," 557 Annals AAPSS 164 (1998); Jane Brown & Sarah Keller, "Can the Mass Media be Healthy Sex Educators?" 32 Fam. Planning Persp. 255, 256 (2000) (in Canada and Australia, media literacy "is taught at all grade levels and throughout the curriculum").

43. Molly Berger, Media Class 7th-8th Grade Twelve Week Elective,

44. National Guidelines Task Force, Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (New York: SIECUS, 1996), pp. 47-52; see also William Fisher & Azy Barak, "Sex Education as a Corrective: Immunizing Against Possible Effects of Pornography," in Zillmann & Bryant, supra n. 16, pp. 289-362.

45. A 1996 law grants federal funds for sexuality education programs only if they teach that "sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects," and avoid any but negative discussion of contraceptive and safer sex techniques. Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, PL 104-193, 104th Cong., 2d Sess. (1996). On the effects of the law, see Daniel Daley & Vivian Wong, Between the Lines: States' Implementation of the Federal Government's Section 510(b) Abstinence Education Program (New York: SIECUS, 1999); Jodie Levin-Epstein, Abstinence Unless Married Education (Washington, DC: Center for Law & Social Policy, 1998).

46. See Anne Grunseit et al. "Sexuality Education and Young People's Sexual Behavior: A Review of Studies," 12 J. Adoles. Rsrch 421 (1997); Douglas Kirby, No Easy Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy (Washington, DC: Nat'l Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 1997); Douglas Kirby et al., "School-Based Programs to Reduce Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Review of Effectiveness," 109 Pub. Health Rep. 339 (1994); Jennifer Frost & Jacqueline Forrest, "Understanding the Impact of Effective Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Programs," 27 Fam. Planning Persp. 188 (1995).

47. Brown & Keller, supra n. 42.


The Free Expression Policy Project is supported by grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Open Society Institute.

The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The FEPP website is now hosted by the National Coalition Against Censorship. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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