Pornography has long been a hotly debated subject. To many, it is the evil of society, to others just another form of human expression. So, which one is it? Is it good or bad? Are there pros and cons on the use of pornography? There probably are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions, but they certainly stimulate some reflections. Let’s begin by defining pornography. WHAT IS PORNOGRAPHY? The word originates from Greek and it is a composite of pórnē (prostitute) and -graphos (written or drawn). When combined pornography means ‘writing about prostitutes’. It doesn’t sound that scary when presented like that, does it? In today’s collective understanding, however, pornography is the depiction of explicit, sexual material aimed at eliciting arousal. What may be so controversial about something that we humans have done for millennia? The depiction of sexually explicit human behaviour has existed for millennia. Probably the most famous, erotic archaeological find is a figurine dating back to 28,000 years ago. That’s right, 28,000. It’s called the Venus of Willendorf. Even in more recent history we find countless examples of explicit artefacts created by the ancient traditions of Rome, Greece, Egypt, China and India. Human erotic expression has been represented in paintings, pottery, sculptures, wood and metal carvings, as well as literature and architecture. Today’s most popular pornographic media are film and photography. The Internet made this possible. Long gone are the days when expensive magazines and VHS tapes (with relevant VCR equipment) needed to be purchased to consume pornography. Today millions of hours of video footage and billions of images can be accessed anywhere in the world at the click of a button. What could be the impact of such increase in access? Let us explore a few. PRO(s) ART and HISTORY If we pause and ponder on all erotic depictions since the Venus of Willendorf, we have a clear representation of the evolution of human sexuality. We put great effort into collecting and preserving all sorts of historical artefacts to keep a record of our humanity for our descendants. Why not treasure and preserve current pornographic materials with the same care and attention? SOCIAL IMPACT In a controversial 2010 study Milton Diamond, from the University of Hawaii, observed that the legalisation of pornography in the Czech Republic did not increase sex crimes rates. This was in line with similar findings in countries like Canada, USA, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Furthermore, the study observed that the incidence of child sexual abuse actually decreased since 1989, the year when child pornography became readily available. Again similar findings from studies conducted in Denmark and Japan. They argued that potential sexual offenders use pornography as a substitute for actual crime. The authors disapproved of the production of child pornography with real children, but intimated that the use of artificially produced materials may serve a purpose. However uncomfortable this may feel, if this were true, and assuming the use of artificially produced materials had similar effects, could pornography be a useful social tool to manage sexual crimes? I don’t know, but it certainly makes us think. ENTERTAINMENT For many people pornography is another tool in their sexual repertoire. For many, the consumption of pornography happens in total secrecy, with a heavy sprinkle of shame and guilt. For others, it provides intriguing explorations to add to an existing, satisfactory sexual relationship. Assuming the consumption of pornography to be a conscious one, it can add a new layer of connectedness and intimacy. CONS (?) ADDICTION…? The concept of addiction to pornography is a controversial one. It is accepted that the range of sexual desire changes from person to person and with time. Someone who consumes pornography 3 times at day is no better or worse than someone who never does. And so, when is pornography bad for us? It all depends on how we use it. The moment when pornography holds an uncontrollable power over us and we begin to become dysfunctional, is the time when approaching a specialist may help. Additionally, if we have become so desensitised to our bodies and our arousal that the only way for us to be aroused is through pornography, it may also raise some alarm bells. These could be examples of when pornography is bad for us, and it is because of the use we make of it, not pornography per se. “EDUCATION” In my opinion, probably the most indirect negative impact of pornography is that millions of people around the world see it as a tool for sexual education. Pornography is fantasy, it is entertainment, and it is a production, no more or less than a Hollywood production. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry; it’s produced for profits, and sometimes for educational purposes. Yes, the people acting in pornography are real people, but note the verb in this sentence… ACTING… they are performing for the purposes of the viewers’ enjoyment. When sexually uneducated teenagers (and plenty of adults) use pornography as their only source of information, the damage can be great. They set unrealistic expectations. They compare themselves - often unfavourably - to the bodies and performance of the actors and create unnecessary anxieties. They behave with their partners in ways they "learnt" for pornography, in favour of openly discussing sexual preferences. The list goes on, and once again I don't believe it is pornography itself that needs to be blamed. Most of us do not have access to people or resources with which we can openly discuss our sexuality. People are hungry for reliable, positive and constructive sources of information. When these are not available, or actively hidden from view, pornography becomes an easy substitute. There is much more to say about pornography and there is no doubt that the right answers will never exist. Only by having an honest debate can we find the common ground upon which we can build and provide open, positive and constructive sexual information, so to equip are fellow humans with the opportunity to live and enjoy their sexuality in the way that is most balanced, respectful and consensual.
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