Suppressing pornographic material has been a chief aim of censorship policies in the West over the past 100 years. The production and consumption of pornography was far less prevalent prior to the computer revolution in the 1990s because people had to actually leave the comfort of their homes in order to find it. Further, it has become more difficult for authorities to effectively censor pornography in the 21st century because technological advancements have created a more diverse and lucrative adult entertainment industry. “[I]n 2006 world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars, more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Ebay, Yahoo, Apple, and Netflix combined”(qtd. Hilton and Watts). In other words, pornography became more popular when it became more available and accessible.
Pornography has become a product that seems to seek out its consumer. Anyone with a private Internet connection should expect the porn industry to knock at the proverbial back door from time to time. Pop-up advertisements and arbitrary mass emails have become a convenient advertising tool for contemporary pornographers because its subtle temptation can catch potential consumers off guard in the privacy of their own homes. It’s also worth noting that a large amount of sexually explicit material can now be found on the Internet for free, which heightens the allures of consuming pornography.
How can pornography be effectively and efficiently mitigated in contemporary culture, if it can be at all? This is a highly volatile question that has vexed critics for over a century. Where should the line be drawn? Where are the boundaries? What separates the decent sexually provocative material from the indecent? Furthermore, questions concerning pornography and morality ultimately boil down to value judgments. It’s rather toilsome to formulate an all-encompassing definition of pornography because the notion is arguable and ambiguous. One person’s porn is another’s art. For example, some argue that erotica is porn; while others claim that it’s art. Surely films and photographs displaying nudity or fornication are classified as pornographic: but what about phone sex? Is phone sex auditory pornography, or is it auditory prostitution? Another common claim is that strip clubs are not pornographic in nature. This claim doesn’t hold weight. To elaborate, there are a plethora of pornographic photos currently available in magazines that do not depict fornication between two or more persons. Many Playboy and Penthouse “articles” would fall into this category. So how then, are strip clubs not pornographic in nature? The exotic naked dancers at these gentlemen’s clubs certainly create a type of sexual arousal in their viewers, which is not very different from the sexual arousal created by the types of soft core pornography stated prior. In short, pornography can present itself in various different forms, some much more subtle than others; at best, its interpretation is subjective and depends entirely upon the preferences and values of the individuals who choose to consume it.
Pornography may not be entirely illegal, but is it ethical? Moreover, pornography appears somewhat paradoxical because it seems to be both ethical and unethical; it is good and bad, helpful and hurtful, convenient and troublesome. Porn is unethical because some of the genres or “fetishes” that involve the abuse of children or animals are nefarious and illegal: yet it is ethical in the sense that it may defer some from prostitution. But is pornography really all that different from prostitution? The more I think about it, the more I think it’s not. The regions of the brain that are stimulated when one consumes pornography are likely to be the very same regions of the brain that are stimulated during sexual intercourse. Therefore, the consumption of pornography is more or less the consumption of virtual prostitution.
The influence of pornography may be more powerful than previously thought. Its influence may even go so far as to implicitly lead and shape its viewers’ sexual preferences. This is because pornography and other sexually provocative material influence the mind of its viewers on both a conscious and non-conscious level. Moreover, the consumers of pornography are often prone to imitate what they’ve seen in pornography, with other people, without directly intending to do so. Many of pornography’s advocates claim that consuming pornographic material is harmless. This is another fallacy. For one, pornography normalizes deviant sexual practices in society. An example of some of these dangerous sexual taboos, popularized by pornography, would be oral and anal sex. Furthermore, people who choose to practice anal sex have an increased risk of contracting Escherichia coli and various other bacterial infections. In addition, people who practice oral sex have an increased risk of developing throat cancer later in life. HPV is the most prevalent sexual transmitted disease in contemporary America, this disease is so common that researchers believe that every person who is sexually active will contract this disease at some point in their life. Chief medical editor for the Harvard Health blog, Howard LeWine, M.D., states:
[I]n the past, oropharyngeal cancers were mostly linked to smoking or alcohol abuse. Today, oropharyngeal cancers related to smoking and alcohol are on the decline while those caused by HPV are rising dramatically. Some experts predict that HPV-caused mouth and throat cancers will become more common than cervical cancer by 2020. (2013)
Pornography is also potentially harmful because it may create, or contribute toward the development of abnormal sexual paraphilias amongst its viewers. For example, the observer of pornography essentially views from the position of a voyeur; so, the prolonged consumption of pornography may lead to voyeurism. It’s no question that pornography is as addictive as any illicit substance. Porn addicts seem to develop a tolerance to their drug of choice, very similar to the way that drug addicts do. A chronic porn addict becomes so desensitized to typical types pornography, that he or she must consume atypical types of pornography in order to feel satiated.
Conservative moralists most often scrutinize the pornography industry. Author J.M. Coetzee writes the following in chapter 1 of his book, Giving Offense:
[O]n issues of pornography and in general of legal sanctions in the moral realm, there is a range of positions that can broadly be called conservative. The most extreme of these is that, morality being valuable in itself, whatever steps need to be taken against immorality in any of its manifestations are justified. (15)
Furthermore, in this particular case, an extreme conservative would argue that pornography should either be moderated by censors, or completely eradicated, because it’s a threat against society and morality. Whereas, a more moderate conservative would argue that pornography should only be censored if its consumption inadvertently harms someone. I think the moderate conservative position offers the most compelling argument in this particular case because I believe that the production of some types of pornography is inevitable in a capitalist society. However, I think the bizarre radical end of the pornography spectrum needs to be mitigated or eradicated entirely. Coetzee goes on to state that feminist, Catharine MacKinnon, does not exhibit a conservative nor a liberal opinion in chapter 4 of his book entitled, The Harms of Pornography: Catharine MacKinnon: “[o]n the general issue of censorship she is in fact circumspect to the point of vagueness. She seems reluctant to envisage a fully elaborated system of controls”(Giving Offense 63). MacKinnon asserts that men create pornography as a means to physically and politically oppress women. She believes that explicit pornography objectifies women and also increases the occurrences of violence against women by men. Although MacKinnon’s arguments may seem overly passionate and exaggerated, there may be a kernel of truth to be found in her projected contempt for pornography. Her argument that pornography objectifies women seems naive because some women, in the adult film industry, are rewarded from this objectification and are therefore not oppressed by it. Furthermore, MacKinnon’s argument would be have been much stronger, had she asserted that pornography objectifies sex in general, instead of just objectifying women.
Liberals argue that some pornography can be legitimately seen as aesthetically pleasing, expressive, and even liberating works of art. Liberals generally detest the censorship of pornography, claiming that doing so, in the U.S., would violate the first amendment of the constitution. Pornographers, porn stars, positivists, and the consumers of pornography undoubtedly formulate a significant percentage of the liberal camp for this issue. In my opinion, the liberal perspective seems ignorant. It’s rather obvious that pornography isn’t harmless, or just fantasy. One who assumes a liberal stance on this particular issue would be unwittingly advocating in favor of depraved sexual paraphilia’s like bestiality, necrophilia, and pedophilia.
To conclude, pornography has shown itself to be a highly controversial issue that appears to be almost impossible to suppress or eradicate in a free market economy. The lure of pornography can only be willfully ignored. This subject has fallen out of the limelight of popular culture, which is unfortunate because pornography is a problem that indirectly affects everyone.
Coetzee, J. M. “1 Taking Offense.” Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1996. Pp 1-33.
Coetzee, J. M. ” The Harms of Pornography: Catharine MacKinnon.” Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1996. Pp 61-82.
Hilton, Donald L., and Clark Watts. “Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective.” Surgical Neurology International. Medknow Publications, 21 Feb. 2011. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/>. Accessed 09 Mar 2015.
“HPV Transmission during Oral Sex a Growing Cause of Mouth and Throat Cancer.” Harvard Health Blog RSS. Ed. Howard LeWine. Harvard Health Publications, 04 June 2013. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/hpv-transmission-during-oral- sex-a-growing-cause-of-mouth-and-throat-cancer-201306046346>. Accessed 09 Mar 2015.