The causes of the deterioration of society are attributed to many parts of human nature. Actions, feelings, and events have all been blamed for the rise in crime and violence. None of these, however, have created as much controversy as pornography. Anti-pornography groups have tried to make all forms of this entertainment illegal. These activists blame pornography for the increase in sexual violence, the degradation of women, and a blockade to the first amendment.
Truly a multi-media event, pornography can be seen in magazines, theaters, television programming, bars, clubs, telephone numbers, and the Internet. The term “pornography” is derived from the Greek word prone, which means “whore,” and graphing, which means, “to write.” So, literally, pornography translates to “the writings of harlots” or “depictions of acts of prostitutes.” The broad field of pornography is divided into two fields, hard-core and soft core. The difference between the two is that in hard-core porn, “genital manipulation and penetration are visible” (Media and Gender Monitor).
Hard-core pornography can only be bought in specialty, “adult only” stores. Other ways that this can be seen is through pay-per view and the Internet. Late night movies on ShowTime and other premium cable channels are good examples of soft-core pornography. These movies often show nudity and sexual situations. However, these shows never show the act of intercourse explicitly (Media and Gender Monitor). Magazines like Playboy and Penthouse are not exactly true pornography because there is no sex involved at all. Magazines, like these, are characterized as exotica (McElroy).
Even though hard-core pornography is harder to get than soft-core, many moral conservatives and radical feminists choose to blur the distinction. Most even include erotica in as pornography. This causes problems because these activist groups are trying to ban everything “pornographic.”
For example, conservatives and feminists are trying to link the increase in sexual violence with pornography. The increase in violence has never even been proven in relation to hard-core pornography. Most of the groups that conduct experiments in attempt to prove this theory must find no conclusive evidence. Both the pro-censorship Meese Commission Report and Metropolitan Toronto Task Force on Violence Against Women have admitted that none of the research has been consistent linking violence to pornography (McElroy). Obviously, if hard-core porn does not even evoke violence, imagining violence stemming from the harmless pictures in magazines, which are often tastefully done, is absurd.
Also, pornography is considered violent because “women are coerced into [sexual acts] (McElroy). However, the accounts of actual rape and abuse that occur as a direct result of porn are very few in regard to the amount of women in the industry. As mentioned earlier, the films and pictures themselves are not conducive to sexual violence either. Women in abusive consensual relationships or women often report the violence that is documented within the industry from abusive childhoods (Media and Gender Monitor).
In reality, an experiment conducted by Dr. Suzanne Ageton showed that membership in a delinquent peer group accounted for three-quarters of sexual aggression. Comparison of sex crimes by nation is interesting as well. Japan, whose pornography is extremely violent and unrestricted, has only 2.4 rapes per 100,000 people. On the other hand, the United States “boasts” a whopping 34.5 rapes per 100,000 (Feminism).
Anti-pornography advocates have made accusations concerning the degradation of women. “Pro-sex” feminists, however, vehemently deny this. These women feel that pornography liberates women to express themselves in roles that society has dubbed taboo. Wendy McElroy, author of the book XXX: A Woman’s Right to Pornography, writes, “Pro-sex feminists retain a consistent interpretation of the principle ‘a woman’s body, a woman’s right’ and insist that every peaceful choice a woman makes with her own body must be accorded full legal protection, if not respect” (McElroy). The president of the ACLU also defends the right to pornography with respect to women’s rights. Not only is she the ACLU’s president, but also Nadine Strossen has written a book entitled Defending Pornography. “Some sex industry workers affirm their occupational choice in explicitly feminist terms, stressing that they find it empowering as well as enjoyable” (Strossen 186). The one idea that all these pro-sex activists believe in is that porn benefits women, both politically and personally.
The “pro-sex defense” of pornography includes three tiers (McElroy). Porn can be very educational. Many women pass through adulthood never knowing how to pleasure themselves completely. In this way, pornography steps in as an extension of the proverbial “birds and bees” speech. Watching videos lets women safely experience sexual situations that may be otherwise dangerous. Polls show that the number one sexual fantasy of women is one that includes “being taken,” or more blatantly, rape (Cosmopolitan). Naturally, a woman cannot go out and look to fulfill such a fantasy safely. Pornography allows these feelings and urges to be released in a controlled atmosphere (McElroy). The third level of sexual benefits of porn says, “Pornography provides a sexual outlet for those who – for whatever reason – have no sexual partner. Perhaps they are away form home, recently widowed, or isolated because of infirmity” (McElroy).
Now that pornography has become closer to mainstream entertainment, many new genres and videos are being made with the intentions of woman audiences. Studies have shown that at least half of all sales and rentals of pornographic materials are purchased by either women who are alone or women who are with a significant other (Feminism).
Yet another argument about the degradation of women entails that women are exploited and victimized. All supporters of pornography simply challenge these nay Sayers to find a career where women are not exploited. The only way to change this problem is through severe advancements in our culture itself (Feminism).
Perhaps the most controversial part of the “degradation argument” ties in with interpretation and freedom of speech problems. Who is to say what is “degrading” to a woman? What is degrading to a conservative catholic woman will be completely different than what a rebellious teen of the millenium may find offensive. Pro-sex activists claim that porn does not degrade women; sexism is what degrades women. Again, to rid society of sexism is a task, which is not to be completed in the foreseeable future (Feminism).
The final point that is a main argument of pornography defenders is the right upheld by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Freedom of speech, press, and media covers all pornographic material. There is no way to restrict some speech, but not too much speech or wrong speech (Strossen).
The proposed solution offered by advocates of pornography is, “If you do not like to see it, do not look at it” (Media and gender Monitor). Pornography is already restricted in many ways in attempt to placate the moral conservatives and the radical feminists. The youngest legal age to purchase and possess pornographic material is eighteen years old. All stores that sell videos and magazines are required to check identifications when selling this material. All adult stores do not even admit minors to enter. On satellite and cable television, pornographic shows are only available through an optional pay-per-view service. Topless bars and strip joints, obviously, are not allowed to admit anyone who is underage in to see the shows. Most recently, pornography on the Internet is becoming heavily restricted. Many web sites have conceived clever plans that make Internet users prove appropriate age in order to view objectionable material (Media and Gender Monitor).
In light of the arguments made in defense of pornography, this specific type of erotic entertainment must remain legal. If the government curtails to the wishes of the anti-pornography groups, other protesters concerning other causes may use pornography as a precedent for their own case. By mistakenly banning porn, the government may open a “Pandora’s Box” of censorship. Who would have guessed that something as human and natural as sexual feelings and expressions would be harder to agree on as say a “real” controversy such as abortion?
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