Pornography is a sexually explicit form of adult entertainment – available in magazines, books, films, and photographs – that is intended to help stimulate sexual arousal. In its legal and widely available forms, it is created by adults and intended to be used/read/viewed by adults. While child exposure is possible, adults have the ability to prevent children from viewing pornographic material through television and internet “parental locks.” Most people acknowledge that porn is not something young children should view and although there are ways to prevent it, no method is infallible. Pornography caters to users with various sexual preferences and to some it can be helpful in stimulating arousal that leads to masturbation or intercourse. Pornography depicts sex acts that consenting adults frequently participate in and thus can present sex as being something common, natural, and enjoyable. While to others, it can present sex as being unnatural, repulsive, and sickening. Pornography fights against sexual repression and guarantees the freedom to sexual expression.
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The circumstances surrounding the debate on pornography cross ethical, social, religious, psychological, and cultural boundaries. It is argued that pornography decreases the desire and appeal for long-term traditional relationships. Judaism requires women to dress modestly while the ancient Hindu text, the Kama Sutra, depicts sexual behavior in ways considered today to be porn. Feminists argue that it is a violent exploitation of women and promotes chauvinism, and that it leads to abusive relationships and makes men more likely to rape women. This essay will discuss possible answers to the posed question by illustrating the arguments for and against pornography.
“Pornography is often defined pejoratively: words like ‘violent’, ‘degrading’, and ‘humiliating’ may be used with no acknowledgement that such descriptions are subjective and contextually relative” (Ciclitira 286). A common view is that pornography is degrading to women. This statement is an opinion. One’s perception of pornography’s depiction of sex is related to their own sexual experiences and their views on sex. Some women might say that porn is degrading if their own sexual experiences have left them feeling objectified or used or if they have been sexually assaulted. In this case, the idea of sex itself might be the issue and therefore the depiction of sex might remind that woman of her own negative experiences. Other women who have had positive sexual experiences and frequently enjoy sex might be excited by porn and see the depiction of sex as a reminder of their own positive and satisfying experiences.
Not all pornography portrays females as being passive participants or simple sex objects. In many cases, the woman is not just giving pleasure, she is receiving it. The presentation of women enjoying sex and orgasming shows sex to be natural, healthy, and pleasurable – not something to be ashamed of. Pornography can depict sex as something romantic and emotional or as an act between adults who love each other. The view that pornography is degrading to women disregards the views of women who create porn whether by writing it, producing it, or acting in it. It also disregards the pornography that illustrates a woman’s perspective of sex and porn that is aimed at female audiences. Many women willingly participate in the production of pornography whether for mass distribution or for private viewing. Many women also enjoy watching pornography – alone or with their partner(s).
Pornography is harmful to relationships is another view. The Flood article (393-394) states, “US studies find that a consistent minority of female partners of male regular pornography users find it damaging both for their relationships and themselves. They see their male partners’ pornography use as a kind of infidelity, feel betrayal and loss, feel less desirable, and describe other negative effects on their relationships, sex lives and themselves (Bridges et al., 2003).” First, this is a minority of females and the article does not state how low that minority is. The minority could be 10% of Latino or 3% of Caucasian females. A perception of porn use harming a relationship may point to fundamental flaws in the relationship that are only made more visible through porn use but do not exist because of the porn use. For example, the woman might believe her sex life is floundering because her partner is using porn rather than her to satisfy his sexual needs, but the man might be using porn because he is dissatisfied with the woman or disinterested in her. In this case, it is not the porn that is harming the relationship; it is the lack of communication between the partners: the man isn’t open about his dissatisfaction so the woman sees the porn as causing the man’s disinterest in her rather than being a result of the disinterest. On the other hand, the man may be interested and sexually attracted to the woman, but pornography offers a form of arousal that cannot be found elsewhere. A relationship could be sexually vibrant but the introduction of pornography may illicit unique sensations that overwhelms the male and makes the woman feel less valuable.
Pornography may benefit relationships, as sex can be a very important aspect of a relationship – establishing and maintaining closeness, giving each other pleasure, satisfying each other’s sexual desires, expressing affection, etc. A couple (married or dating) might watch porn in order to get aroused prior to engaging in intercourse. But one may argue why a healthy couple would need to watch something to illicit arousal. Pornography can be used to “spice things up” for the couple – giving them ideas of new positions to try or inspiring role-playing scenarios. The statement that porn harms relationships is too broad. The information available on the harmful effects of pornography on relationships seems to be focused on heterosexual relationships while ignoring homosexual relationships.
Another view is that pornography makes men more likely to rape women. The Flood article (393) talks about studies that show a correlation between teenage boys’ frequency of consumption of porn and their agreement with the idea that it is acceptable to hold down and force a girl to have sex. However, the ability of parents to block their children who are minors from viewing porn on the internet or TV while at home may diminish the frequency of porn. Even though minors can acquire pornography from outside the home (from friends, on a different computer, etc), if adults teach children starting from a young age about sex, its need to be consensual, its consequences, and the importance of respecting women and people in general, then young boys’ attitudes toward sex and females may very well be unaffected by pornography. Nevertheless, even if all young boys were taught in this way, they would not all absorb the important lesson. Other factors such as peer or media influences play large roles in young boys attitudes towards sex and the treatment of women and those would need to be controlled as well.
Flood (392) also states that men who frequently use violent or rape porn are more likely to report that they would rape a woman if they could get away with it. This does not necessarily mean that the porn is planting the desire to rape a woman. Perhaps the man who would rape a woman watches the porn in order to see a fantasy that he cannot realize. In this case might the porn be somewhat satisfying the man’s desire to rape and preventing him from doing so in reality. However, violent porn can give violent or sexual offenders venues to act out their fantasies. The watchers of violent porn may gain inspiration to go and act out their fantasies on innocent women.
Flood cites Malamuth’s writing that men at high risk for sexual aggression are more likely aroused by it and more likely influenced by it (392). But what percentage of men are at high risk for sexual aggression? Does the predisposition to sexual aggression guarantee that the man will rape or assault a woman ONLY if he watches porn? Or does watching porn create sexual aggression and violent feelings towards women?
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This view is also strewn forth in the media. Barongan and Hall conducted a study where males listened to neutral or misogynous rap music before viewing sexually violent and neutral vignettes (196). They would then choose a vignette to show to a female. Their reasoning for the study is that misogynous messages appear in the media and they can contribute to negative attitudes or behaviors towards women. And pornography has been defined, by some, as sexually explicit materials that can evoke sexually abusive and degrading treatment of women. Some men may believe that their own sexual aggression against women is justified because it is seen or heard in the media, and if so, their actions are not wrong because they are common. The study showed that of males that listened to misogynous rap music 30% showed the violent vignette to their female. Surprisingly only 7% of the males who listened to neutral rap music showed the assaultive vignette.
Viewing pornography that glorifies sexual coercion is particularly degrading and harmful. Is sexual coercion degrading to women? If you use random association with this statement, it can easily lead you to agree with the statement. Coercion is to force, compel, or persuade. If women are coerced into sex in pornography, it seems easy. Who is persuaded easily? Unintelligent people? Children? Therefore, women are stupid or as ignorant as a child for being coerced into sex. Non-normative sexual activities falling into the “sexual coercion” category such as BDSM (Bondage/Domination/Sadism/Masochism) are practiced by both women and men. To say that depiction of sexual coercion is degrading and harmful is to pass judgment on those people who participate in BDSM. Why shouldn’t people with non-normative (but still legal) sexual desires have pornography available to them that is suited to their desires? BDSM can be viewed as strange or weird. Why not judge them for being weird? If only a small majority of people participate in BDSM, why are their views of sex important to the rest of the population. Sexual coercion and even rape are common themes of sexual role-play among consenting sexual partners. To depict sexual coercion in pornography is to depict a real life scenario within consensual sex.
I believe that pornography has beneficial effects for some and harmful effects for others. Do I believe that pornography is degrading to women? Generally speaking, no. However, films that are violent or disturbing in nature, depicting women enjoying these acts that probably no one would enjoy taking part it, I feel is degrading to women. I think that sexually there are things that no woman would want to be involved in, and to show that some people would do so can humiliate and lessen the value of such person. Pornography that that simply depicts intimate and erotic acts, I do not think is degrading.
As for pornography creating a prevalence of violence in men or having influences that compel someone to commit rape, I think it is very possible, but it is a person to person issue. I think men who through watching porn think it is okay to force intercourse upon someone will eventually think that regardless of if they have viewed porn. Some people are predisposed to being violent towards women in many other ways than pornography, and although pornography is not the route cause, it can definitely attribute. Non-violent men who respect women and have had meaningful relationship will not have suddenly commit rape after seeing pornography. I think it could evoke thoughts or fantasies similar to acts depicted in the porn they watch, but they will not go out and rape or take a life.
I do believe that pornography can damage relationships, but once again, it can have the opposite effect depending on the individuals. I have heard of problems that pornography has caused in friends’ relationships. I have seen it stem from the fact that women in pornography have physical attributes that are exaggerated to increase sex appeal. I understand that women can feel subpar to the women in the films because they don’t look a certain way or compare to these women in society’s opinion. I believe the adult entertainment industry can be a contributor to self-esteem or image problems of young women today. Moreover, self-esteem and confidence issues play a huge role in the successfulness of a relationship. On the contrary, I have heard of pornography helping relationships by adding something new to a fading love life.
Pornography can spice up a love life, or ruin one. It can illicit arousal for intimacy or to commit a sexually violent crime. Pornography involves acts that are very instinctual to us and therefore can evoke strong judgment towards both ends of the spectrum. Similar to abortion or euthanasia, it is important to find middle ground, and to encourage imaginative thinking where people will not rush to say pornography destroys relationships or causes rape, but it can destroy relationships and may give someone the idea to rape.
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