Lets Talk About: Porn

Pornography is only as harmful as the society that it is produced in

In line with the Digital Economy Act (2017), new regulations regarding age checks for viewing pornography online are being brought into force by the UK government. These checks are meant to ensure that under 18s will not be able to access online pornography, by making users validate their age.

This begs the question, if the government are taking these stringent step, how far is pornography harmful to our society? One clear misnomer is the narrow definition of pornography we are often presented with by the mainstream media. In reality, we have to understand pornography within the wider context of the society responsible for producing it. Perhaps a better question is not to wonder what impact pornography is having on society, but what impact society is having on pornography.

The word was originally used to reference the recording of prostitutes in words or drawings; but since the Victorian era, pornography has expanded and evolved in its definition.. The boundaries between pornography and the closely-related erotica have become  blurred – what distinguishes one from the other, when both are designed to incite sexual arousal?

I believe the distinction relies on the negative connotations which the word pornography encompasses. Two things which are without question harmful to society are child pornography, and the prevalence of children viewing pornography. Indecent images of children and their distribution have been illegal since the passing of the Protection of Children Act (1978). Nevertheless, this has not stopped these despicable acts against children, nor the self-distribution of nudes and images by Under 18s amongst their peers. Both of these issues are known to have an impact on the mental health and psychological wellbeing of children. It is obvious that we need to protect children from the negative impact of pornography.

We must also not ignore the very recent problem of ‘revenge porn’. This is where a sexual image or video sent in private may be distributed to people it wasn’t intended for, and in worst case scenarios, uploaded to pornographic websites for the gratification of strangers. This cannot be seen as anything but detrimental for both children and adults. Indeed, in 2016 an Italian woman killed herself over sex tapes which went viral after an ex-boyfriend uploaded them to the internet.

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The distribution of such images and videos clearly indicates a problem in society more broadly with sex and sex related issues. It seems to me that sexting and revenge pornography reflect the way in which sex and relationships are handled in society.

Its hard not to ignore the gender differences within pornography and how women and men are stereotyped within pornographic imagery. Pornography reflects and engenders stereotypes and perceptions already present in society; whilst it may enforce these, they do not originate with pornography itself.

I would argue that the production of pornographic images and video need not be seen as harmful; but we must scrutinise the ways in which its produced and how it is presented to society as a whole. Indecent images of children are clearly morally wrong as they violate those who are unable to protect themselves. However, an adult’s choice and desire to view sexual images of other consenting adults should not be prohibited or banned.

We should instead address the issues which make pornography a contentious topic. We have to make sure that it is subject to stricter codes of conduct. It should not exist as something which takes advantage of vulnerable people, either those who are portrayed or those who view it. It should not pop up unwanted and unrequested on browsers, whether to children or to adults, and it should not be used as a method in which to hurt other people. Pornography should not be used to degrade women, violate trust in the case of revenge pornography, or to indoctrinate children with unrealistic understandings of sex and sexual activity.

I would argue that the harm which pornography has the power to cause, is based its ability to reflect and magnify societal issues that already exist. Therefore, only if it can be produced, used, and monitored responsibly, can it be seen as a valid medium of creative and sexual expression.