Domestic

Porn, Is It Causing Us Harm?

Angus Duncan examines the porn industry in Australia

Although not the most polite of conversation topics at the dinner table, pornography is something that everyone at some point and to some degree has seen, searched for or engages in on a regular basis. No one can deny that the global pornographic industry is massive. Every second an estimated $3.1 million is being spent on porn, 28,258 people are watching porn, and 372 users are trying adult search terms into search engines, while every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is being created in America. The porn industry in Australia earns around $2 billion dollars, meaning that each person in Australia spends $98.70 on porn. This makes up around 2% of the global revenue of the porn industry. Australia itself comes in the top 10 major porn producing nations thanks to the home grown porn producer Pistol Media. The fact is, now with the internet and its ease of accessibility, more and more Australians are becoming exposed to pornography. However, for many such exposure has become rather concerning, with a number of groups calling on the government to somehow limit, censor or reduce your chance to view pornography. But are such claims justified? The purpose here is to discuss claims made by certain groups about the harm caused by pornography and examine whether the reasons given justify pornography’s limitation.

The first group that claims pornography should be censored is society itself on the basis that pornography is morally wrong. For society this reason justifies limitation. However, many would argue that morality is not a sufficient reason. Firstly, moral majorities must not be allowed to use the law to suppress dissenting minority opinions or to force their own moral convictions on others. Secondly, the fact is that the majority of these people can avoid viewing such material: simply shut your eyes, close the book or don’t buy the stuff. A recent example where the moral majority succeeded in limiting highly sexual material was in 2010 when the Serbian film A Serbian Film was denied a rating because of its highly sexual content, which prevented it from being shown in cinemas. A highly censored version was accepted, but the film’s content was heavily cut down. Because such a material can be easily avoided I strongly believed it should not have been banned, as those who choose to view it would be aware of its content because of the highly controversial nature of the film within Australia.

Alternatively, some people are offended by porn simply because such material exists or is taking place. However, one analyst argues that, “Being offended by merely knowing that something exists or is taking place, is not as serious as being offended by something that one does not like and that one cannot escape. If we allow that films should be banned because some people are offended, even when they do not have to view them, logical consistency demands that we allow the possibility of prohibiting many forms of expression.” This a strong statement removing knowledge as an issue.  So far, moral majorities do not have a strong enough argument to censoring or limiting porn.

The largest group of people claiming that they are harmed by pornography are women. Essentially what women argue is that pornography is harmful as it infringes on their right to sexual equality. This view stems from a belief that pornography promotes certain views, in particular it eroticises social and physical inequalities between the genders, which causes viewers to commit acts of physical sexual violence towards women, thereby harming their sexual equality. Such an argument certainly demonstrates the potential power of pornography in communicating ideas, but it makes extreme claims. To claim that pornography is the root cause of almost all of women’s sexual inequality is absurd. For porn to be censored in this example a direct causal link between sexual violence and watching pornography needs to be demonstrated. Anything less is an insufficient justification. However, finding such a cause is problematic.

 

Conceptual issues about the notion of causality between pornography and sexual violence remain an issue. As Ronald Dworkin writes, “No reputable study has concluded that pornography is a significant cause of sexual crime; many of them conclude, on the contrary, that the cause of violent personality lies mainly in childhood, before exposure to pornography can have any effect.” This statement is supported by international studies, such as the British Report of the Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship, that holds there is no clear causal link between pornography and sexual violence. It would be right to say that if pornographic producers were inducing viewers and readers to commit acts of sexual violence, the case for limiting pornography would be much stronger. But the issue is that pornography doesn’t have that effect, much the same as films that depict murder do not actively incite the audience to mimic what they see on the screen. The lack of evidence finding a direct causal link makes many reluctant to support limiting pornography. As one person writes, it is almost certain that watching pornography will not suddenly cause ‘decent chaps….to metamorphose into rapists.” Such a causal approach could also apply to cases of homosexual or male inequality which largely goes ignored by society as a whole.

Overall, this argument seems to use pornography as a scapegoat for infringing on a woman’s right to sexual equality. Such arguments are ignorant of other factors that contribute to the unequal treatment of women and sexual violence. Focusing solely on limiting pornography will do little to improve the equality of women.

Although these groups thus far don’t have a strong claim for limiting pornography, what about those that participate in the creation of pornographic material? Many of us may agree that, provided a contract is made between free consenting adults and occurs within the framework of the law, the contract has validity and should not be criticised or overturned simply because the commodity in question is sex. This argument would also extend to those who participate in pornographic movies involving violence and sexual submission only so long as the consenting adults were always made fully aware of the actions and consequences of what they were partaking in. However, such an argument could not extend to pornography involving non-consenting adults, adults who are mentally disabled or who are coerced to participate through the actions of gangs, organised crime, recruiting agencies, direct purchase or kidnapping. The reason being is that participants are usually completely unaware of the harmful consequences of the actions they are partaking in, nor do they fully understand the choices they are making. For some participants it will result in mental and physical consequences. Pornography in these instances should undoubtedly have limits placed on it, or even better still, be banned.

Finally, in cases of child pornography almost all people will accept that such material should be banned. One only needs to look at the so called artistic shot taken by photographer Bill Henson of the naked 14 year old girl, to be sickened. The fact is, children are under the age of consent, and therefore need greater protection from abusive treatment as they are not competent enough to fully understand the nature of their choices or the impact of their decisions.  Australia already has heavy criminal sanctions for those who view child pornography, but more stringent global limitations need to be introduced to further protect children. On the other hand, pornography involving adults dressed as children, for example adults dressed as school girls, should not be censored. It may come as a shock to you, but this type of pornography in Australia is censored and has heavy criminal sanctions imposed against those who view or participate in it. However, I don’t think these limitations can be justified. Firstly, this material involves consenting adults, not children. Secondly, a causal connection approach, as was used for women, could similarly apply here. That is, if a causal connection can be found between viewing such material and causing harm to children, this would justify limiting it, but no connection exists. Until such a connection can be clearly demonstrated current limitations seem unreasonable.

Many of you who are reading this have probably never considered the impact that pornography is having. What is clear from the discussion here is that the issue of censoring pornography is complex. Although some examples clearly warrant some form of censorship, pornography should not be used as an easy mark to explain and account for sexualised violence or abuse. To do so is to ignore the actual root of the problem. I acknowledge that the examples used here are a small segment of a larger number of groups who argue that pornography should be further limited, but similar approaches as those applied here can be moulded and applied to other claims. Even though porn is very much a taboo topic for now, as more groups begin to claim being a victim of pornography and more people become exposed to porn, discussion about it needs to come out of the closet to be debated openly and fully around the dinner table.

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