Ethics and Morals

Blast from the Past: Porn Positions

This was written for an ethics class. I don’t recall if I ever published it before. It ties into tomorrow’s post… 

Pornography is difficult to define, making it difficult to choose a position on it. Justice Potter Stewart, in his opinion on a Supreme Court case, famously said of pornography that “I know it when I see it.” Our textbook defines it at “obscene literature, art, film, or live display” but even the word obscene does not have a solid definition. Every group, culture, and individual has a different opinion on what is, and isn’t porn.

Many who hear the word pornography automatically think of films or certain adult magazines. However, a google search of the word returns over 84 million results, covering everything from images to written material to scholarly discussions of the ramifications of pornographic consumption. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement” The Greek root of the word is literally “writing about prostitutes.”

So why do people seek out pornography? For purposes of stimulation, but that varies from individual to individual as well. One picture might repulse one person and arouse another. Certain forms of hard-core porn may cause almost universal repugnance, while other forms may cause society at large to wonder why a minority objects to it.

In ancient societies erotic art was created and enjoyed by many, even becoming part of some religious texts. In Victorian England, in an era now viewed as one of the most prudish in history, pornographic novels were produced and read at a rate not rivaled until the last few years. Once movies and photography came onto the scene, so did the proliferation of pornography, leading to an ever-growing market for visual materials. With the creation of the internet, sometimes referred to as the world’s largest repository of porn, it became a global phenomenon.

So where is the line between erotic art and obscenity? What makes a book like Fifty Shades of Grey a bestseller and Michelangelo’s David a classic piece of art? I believe that we can all agree any pornography involving a child, the injury or death of a human or animal, or rape is completely immoral. But for everything else, if it is harming no one, what is wrong with it?

Like many other things, pornography varies from culture to culture. Here in the US, where we have very strong nudity mores, photos or films portraying partially undressed people are unacceptable. Just over the border in Canada, TV shows routinely show full rear nudity, and in Europe, commercials portraying a nudist family are non-controversial. Even within the US, one area (such as New York City) has a different idea of what is acceptable from another (perhaps Utah).

An argument against pornography that considers the slackening standards of what is obscene to be an avenue for smut that is sadistic or exploitative of children. However, like many other avenues, this is a fallacious argument. The criminal element doesn’t care if something is illegal or immoral, if it gives them power or money they will do it.

The argument that porn is degrading has much validity, but again it depends on the individual if this makes it immoral. An act one sector of society considers disgusting might be commonly accepted in another. Also, the argument that pornography destroys family values is backwards. it might be a symptom of a damaged family unit, but for a person to become obsessed with sexual material implies something was already abnormal. As for those who make the materials, their own morals will dictate whether the creation of it is degrading to them. Material made by free and consenting adults is not in itself destructive.

The laundry list of things that pornography is responsible for, according to its opponents, all depends on whether we choose to give the material itself morals, or whether we blame the persons who carry out the acts. While pornography is a symptom, it is not the cause, which needs to be dealt with in other ways. Banning porn or legislating it may be effective for the most vile forms, but for non-harmful erotic art, it is unnecessary. Each individual must examine his or her own morals and reasons for using pornography, and only when they find that it consumes and disrupts their regular life need they consider it abnormal.

As with most other sexual matters here in the United States, pornography ought to be, and usually is, considered a private matter. As long as it is harming no one, and that includes the consumer of the material, it ought to be permissible. I am in no favor of over legislation, or of standing in judgement of others for their personal tastes as long as they aren’t flaunting it in front of me or my family.

On the other hand, I am firmly in favor of punishment of anyone found in possession of, or creation of, pornography involving a child or minor. Anyone creating or watching “snuff” films, whether they are of a human or an animal, ought to face serious repercussions. Even if some forms of porn are tolerated, they may be morally unsound, and the industry that produces most commercial pornography is certainly immoral. A controversial topic, indeed, where even the definitions are clouded.

6 thoughts on “Blast from the Past: Porn Positions

  1. In films, so much can be faked, so the point at the end about “Snuff” films (Which probably exist, but are so rare as to be considered mythical), how can that stand in the wake of films like the SAW series or other horror movies of the “Torture porn” genre?

    (That term, “Torture porn” also suggests that the word Porn has been devalued. See also Gun Porn and Food Porn).

  2. When I saw the title “Porn Positions”, I was expecting a discussion of the various sexual positions, which I thought was a very strange subject for you to post about. 🙂

  3. My position is a bit different. I think porn is degrading across the board, and particularly results in damaged lives for those who are the actors in the porn flicks.
    On the other hand, I also think it is mostly none of my business, with the exceptions you mentioned: minors and snuff.
    I would add that I agree with laws limiting it to adult consumption, just like voting, firearms, alcohol, and tobacco, and the ability to enter into a contractual obligation.

    1. I believe that some forms are already limited to adult consumption. This paper was very broad, however, in the definition of what pornography is. Hence including 50 Shades of Grey, and that would include an awful lot of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, just to give a couple of examples. So I dunno on the degrading. Sure, some is. I’ve seen very little film porn, and what I have seen I found idiotic. I’m not a fan of Gov’t regulation, however. This is a social and family thing to be handled, and taught via morals at an early age.

      of course, it’s always a controversial topic… and it’s the connecting thread of the next two days of posts from me.

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