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Protection or Patriarchy? Gender Ideology and Support for Anti-pornography Legislation, 1988–2018



Though religious conservatives espousing patriarchal views have historically been on the forefront of anti-pornography efforts in the USA, the past few decades have witnessed an increasing secularization of the anti-pornography movement. This shift is characterized by greater rhetorical dependence on scientific studies, secular anti-pornography activist groups, and arguments surrounding the protection of women from exploitation or abuse.


Using both aggregated and disaggregated data from the 1988–2018 General Social Surveys, we estimate a series of binary logistic regression models in order to examine the potentially changing connection between espousing a more patriarchal ideology and support for anti-pornography legislation, net of relevant correlates.


Among Americans in general, embracing a more patriarchal ideology is positively associated with support for anti-pornography legislation across all survey years. Moreover, interactions indicate that Americans who adhere to a more egalitarian ideology, and particularly women, show a decline in their support for anti-pornography legislation over time.


Despite the prominence of feminist anti-porn groups and arguments in past decades, findings contradict the idea that support for strict anti-pornography legislation among the general public has ever been discernibly driven by egalitarianism. Rather, it has been and remains robustly connected to patriarchal beliefs and values prescribing traditionalist gender roles.

Policy Implications

Findings elucidate the dominant underlying gender ideology present in both historic and contemporary attitudes toward sweeping anti-pornography legislation and demand scholars and policy-makers disentangle rhetoric (of protection) from reality (patriarchy).

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Fig. 1

Data Availability

All data for replication are available from


  1. Most studies of the social antecedents of Americans’ attitudes about restricting pornography’s availability have focused on the role of religious or political conservatism (Droubay et al. 2018; Query Jelen 1986; Patterson & Price, 2012; Perry, 2019, 2020; Sherkat & Ellison, 1997; Wood & Hughes, 1984) or change over time (Lykke & Cohen, 2015; Perry, 2019; Price et al., 2016). Recent work by Kohut, Baer, and Watts (2016) Query showed that persons who reported viewing pornography held more gender egalitarian attitudes, but controls in their study were quite limited and they did not examine support for anti-pornography legislation.

  2. Because the original outcome variable included three possible values, ancillary models were also estimated using ordinal and multinomial logistic regression (see Appendix Tables 5 and 6; see also Fig. 2). While results were substantively similar, ordinal logistic regression violated the proportional odds assumption for all models. Multinomial logistic regression also provided results that were substantively similar to those presented here but were far more complicated to interpret once interactions were considered. Consequently, binary logistic regression provided a strategy that was both more consistent with the intention of the study and more parsimonious for interpretations.


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Correspondence to Samuel L. Perry.

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Informed consent is obtained by NORC.

Research Involving Human Subjects

General Social Survey data for this study are secondary, collected by NORC at the University of Chicago.

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Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Table 5 Coefficients from ordinal logistic regression models predicting desire to outlaw the distribution of pornography for all ages
Table 6 Coefficients from multinomial logistic regression models predicting Americans’ views on pornography laws, including controls for viewing pornography and biblical literalism
Fig. 2
figure 2

Comparison of different regression models using binary and full coding of outcome

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Perry, S.L., McElroy, E.E. Protection or Patriarchy? Gender Ideology and Support for Anti-pornography Legislation, 1988–2018. Sex Res Soc Policy 19, 233–247 (2022).

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  • Pornography
  • Law
  • Gender
  • Patriarchy
  • Feminism