Does Restriction on Sexual Expression Deter Sexual Offenses?: Evidence of a Long-term Effect

36 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2017 Last revised: 6 Oct 2021

Date Written: September 13, 2021


Whether exposure to sexual expression stimulates or deters sexual offenses is a long-disputed issue. While some psychological studies argue that exposure to sexual expression exacerbates sexually aggressive tendencies and thus increases sexual offenses, recent empirical work suggests that such exposure rather deters sexual offenses, at least in the short term. However, the latter mainly focuses on the self-incarceration effect among potential criminals, which is unlikely in the longer term where constraint of time does not matter. In response, we provide novel evidence concerning the long-term effect of exposure to sexual expression.

We employ an exogenous variation on the adoption of a restriction on distribution of pornographic expressions to identify the causal effect of sexual expression regulations on various sexual offenses. We find that regulations increased the number of forcible indecencies (indecent assault) by 16%, but had no effect on rape. This difference is partly caused by the fact that the newly introduced restrictions focus on intermediate pornographic expressions and that the hard-core pornographic expressions are banned throughout the sample period. These findings imply that the catharsis effect of sexual expressions outweighs its arousal or imitation effect and cast doubt on the effectiveness of regulations in deterring sexual offenses in the long term.

Keywords: sexual expression, sexual offenses, crime deterrence, media regulation, freedom of expression

JEL Classification: C33, H89, K14, K38, R59

Suggested Citation

Morita, Hatsuru, Does Restriction on Sexual Expression Deter Sexual Offenses?: Evidence of a Long-term Effect (September 13, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Hatsuru Morita (Contact Author)

Tohoku University ( email )

27-1 Kawauchi Aoba-ku
Sendai, Miyagi 980-8576
+81-22-795-6224 (Phone)
+81-22-795-6250 (Fax)


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