Is porn wrong?

Is  pornography wrong, and if so, is its wrongfulness sufficient to justify legal restriction?

That anyone finds it disgusting is not sufficient to justify restriction. Some people find transition or gay sex disgusting, and even if a majority agreed- they probably did in 1967- that would still not be a justification. So to justify restriction we need to show that it causes harm significant enough to merit the interest of the law. Such harm could be done to those involved in making it, those who use it, or the wider society.

Even if it is associated with harm to those who make it- sex trafficking or abuse- the abuse or trafficking should be tackled, not the porn. Only if the very act of making porn harms the subjects should that be a reason for restriction.

It may harm users, but here it is like marijuana: if hash or skunk makes psychosis more likely, we should not prevent people undertaking a risky activity they find pleasurable unless the risk is extreme. Possibly it is. Or it may harm the wider society.

Bearing all this in mind, I did some research googling. I first looked at Your brain on Porn, which is secular and for information rather than legal restriction, and gives information to primarily male users why their self-interest is to avoid porn. It says that the sex drive and addiction changes in the brain cause the user to seek greater stimulus without a greater response, and that users suffer erectile dysfunction with real partners. Social anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, brain fog and withdrawal symptoms are common in all addictions. The solution it advocates is greater knowledge for users, who might then make informed choices about their actions, and be motivated to resist the primitive reward circuits of the brain pushing them to porn use. This essay describes physiological and psychological effects. The neurotransmitter dopamine causes desire, not pleasure, and so users feel compulsion to watch porn without any enjoyment. Users treat women like animals, capable of emotional but not complex reasoning.

Then I found in Psychology Today an article from 2009. It claimed that 42% of “kids” between 10 and 17 had viewed internet porn, but that since 1990 rape, teen sex and sexual irresponsibility had declined. It concluded that men were at home masturbating rather than out raping.

This Catholic article gives the first harm as harm to your soul: use is a sin, which may harm your eternal salvation. It also harms your personal morality: act immorally in this way, and you will not resist unrelated immoral acts. The article cites a psychotherapist who has treated three hundred sufferers from “sexual illnesses” and makes observations similar to Your Brain on Porn. In 1985 the US Attorney General’s Commission found a link between porn use and sexual violence, contrary to Psychology Today.

Finally, here is Andrea Dworkin on how porn is used to oppress women.

19 thoughts on “Is porn wrong?

  1. Hm, porn is what you want it to be, I guess. It’s like a product on supermarket shelves: you can pick it up or you can decide you don’t want that either permanently or from time to time…days are long gone when porn was “porn” I think, however, with the young one would expect that a good deal of sex education and possible “warnings” have occurred prior to letting loose on porn internet 🙂

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  2. I don’t know if we can say if it’s right or wrong. It’s simply inevitable. Unfortunately it also has many negative effects on individuals and society generally. But no amount of legal restrictions will restrict it, so the best action might be simply to educate children better about sex and relationships (not sure what that entails though!)

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  3. Pornography, given its effects on relationships and the very nature of the industry, is obviously evil.
    But before you go making things illegal you have to stop and ask “How can we enforce it? How can we investigate it? How many people are we willing to to throw into jail over this? If someone resists arrest, are we willing to use violence to subdue him?” The evils resulting from overbearing laws often do more damage to the common good than the evil being suppressed.

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    • British law censors it. “Of particular concern in terms of loss of freedom is the underlying intent to allow undesirable foreign websites to be blocked under UK ISP’s filtering systems. This has immeasurable implications on freedom of information and net neutrality.

      “Pornography is the canary in the coalmine of free speech: it is the first freedom to die. If this assault on liberty is allowed to go unchallenged, other freedoms will fall as a consequence.”

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      • Except I’d draw a distinction:
        In a healthy culture everyone would agree that pornography does not constitute political or intellectual speech, nor should it be qualified as art. (The only grey area would be whether some works of art are to be considered pornographic, which is a subject fraught with subjectivity. Not all porn is art, but is some art porn?)
        In such a culture we might tolerate porn because we don’t want to throw people in jail over it, but we do not celebrate it as rights and freedoms.
        In an unhealthy culture, where 51% of citizens vote to have the other 49% subsidize them with their tax dollars and nobody can agree on a common definition of right and wrong, yes, porn might be considered a “canary”: I will agree to let someone jerk off to images of exploited young women so he doesn’t mess with my real freedom of political speech. The government that can filter porn can also filter dissent.

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        • I don’t think it is as neat as 49/51: I feel we all benefit from doing some things, such as health, education and social care, as well as policing, defence, and the administration of justice, together. The developed country is not the one where the poor have cars, but where the rich use public transport. But then my interest is that the Department of Work and Pensions, after a medical report, has decided that I am unfit for work and entitled to benefits on that ground.

          Of course art can have an erotic charge. Art has to do with all human life. I find the US preoccupation with whether porn is speech is a peculiarity arising from the written constitution’s protection of free speech. Other places restrict free speech clearly, and so need not tie themselves in knots over whether a pornographic picture is “speech” or not. Here is Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition in the US Supreme Court. In England child pornography is illegal even if it is CGI not involving any children at all.

          obscene under the Miller standard, which requires the Government to prove that the work in question, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, is patently offensive in light of community standards, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

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  4. First of all I’d ask the question “What constitutes pornography?” I had this discussion with an ex-partner once, and she stated that pornography serves no artistic function. Really? What then of the depictions of ancient Greece? What of priapic statues? What of the sex scenes outside of Hindu temples? Are they art? Or are they pornography?

    I will fess up right here and now that I view pornography, both male and female, and I love it. I won’t be a hypocrite. But then, my famale partner likewise loves male and female porn, and used to run a bar with pole dancers. Is that wrong? We certainly don’t think so, and neither of us believe that anyone has the right to pontificate to us what we view, so long as it is legal.

    The Reboot Nation site may well claim to be secular and science-based. It is also however extremely biased, and they seem to be claiming that if you view internet porn, you WILL become addicted and men WILL suffer erectile dysfunction. Sorry, but that’s bollocks. Viewing porn no sooner causes addiction and medical problems than being a regular drinker is going to make you an alcoholic and give you liver failure. “This site will help you understand exactly how today’s extreme Internet porn can alter the brain. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll realize that some primitive circuitry in your brain is just trying to do its job when it pushes you toward porn.” states Reboot Nation. That is an opinion, and a heavily biased one at that. And if that “primitive circuitry” is indeed pushing you toward porn, that does not necessarily make porn harmful, no more so than any other of our primitive urges.

    42% of kids have seen internet porn – and just how many have seen killings and gratuitous acts of violence online? A damned lot more, I’ll bet. So what is offensive? Two people involved in sexual acts, or someone being beheaded? I know which I’d be more concerned about 10 to 17 year olds seeing – particularly as while rape has dropped, other violent crimes are on the increase.

    As to this “objectifying women” claptrap, do the women involved in porn feel “objectified”, particularly when they receive their pay cheques? And if women in porn are objectified, then the same must follow for men. That apart, I recall Dispatches on Channel 4 once airing a documentary about the amateur women who send pics to the Reader’s Wives pages in Fiesta magazine. These women voluntarily submitted these pics and £25 per pic published apart, some stated that it made them feel glamorous, and one said it got her hot thinking of total strangers masturbating over naked pics of her. Is that wrong? If that is her choice, how can it possibly be wrong?

    And the same goes for every person, of whatever sexuality or gender, who willingly enters into pornography. If they choose to do so, no-one should have the right to tell them they cannot. Just as it pertains to the viewer – our choice, and nobody’s right to say we can’t view it.

    Whether pornography is wrong, therefore, is a personal opinion of each and every person, and what may be right for some is certainly not right for others.

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    • Darling! You have all the answers!

      The homicide rate halved between 2003 and 2013, and the UK Peace Index, defining violent crime as “aggravated assault, rape and robbery”, found (p9) that in the previous five years “Total homicides have fallen by 28%, Violent crime has fallen by 21%, Weapons crime has fallen by 34%, Public disorder offences have fallen by 29%, The number of police officers has fallen by 5.5%”.

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      • Clare Sweetie, I don’t and never have pretended to have all the answers, and if I am mistaken about crime statistics, then I stand corrected.

        However, as I say, I don’t claim to have all the answers – I’m not Reboot Nation, who clearly do claim to have all the answers, and put their opinions – not facts – forward in a frankly elitist way and make wild claims about pornography which they cannot substantiate. As I said before, pornography may damage some, but that is not the case for all viewers, which Reboot Nation appear to be claimng.

        As to violence, the point I am making is what constitutes that which is dangerous for others to view? What is obscenity? Is it the naked human body? Is it sexual acts? Is it someone being beheaded? Is it Palestinian children being shot and bombed? Is it army veterans who have become homeless? Is it the elderly choosing between heating and eating? It seems to me that obscenity is very much in the eyes of the viewer.

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          • No, I am stating that homelessness alone, particularly in the richest countries in the world, is obscene. There are many things much more obscene than that which is considered as pornography.

            News reporting of youth, or any other, homelessness could indeed be considered “obscenely prurient and offensive”. Certainly, having once been in a job helping the homeless, I am well aware that many object to intrusive reporting. So no, that’s not what was I was asking, and when such reporting does happen, it is generally against the wishes of the homeless people involved. While there may well be some people who enjoy reading such reports, you cannot compare that to pornography where those who take part are willing participants.

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            • I’m not sure where you are going with this but if anyone was daft enough to state that homelessness is anything but obscene, then obviously one would state the facts about it to them.

              And if you are trying to tie that to stating the facts about pornography, then they have to be facts. Not opinions or spurious claims.

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