The Ethics of Porn: Is It Really The Demon?

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Pornography, to many, seems like a dirty word; something that we wouldn’t dare use, or talk about. But recent studies have shown that at least 69% of UK young adult men watch porn at least once a month, and the number may even be higher. Take, for example, the University of Montreal Study, which aimed to understand the sex-habits of non-porn watching adults, that was abandoned because they could not find a large enough sample.

People aren’t just doing it at home. There were as many as 300,000 attempts made to access pornography within the Houses of Parliament in 2013, and over 4,000 OFCOM workers decided to view it while at work in the same year. Their Director of Technology, Stephen George-Hilley, responded by saying that: ‘clearly Ofcom needs to get to grips with this problem to ensure staff know not to try and access explicit content online’. I’m sure there staff already know this, it just doesn’t stop them!

So, clearly, the UK has a porn habit – perhaps even obsession. So why has it remained a ‘dirty word’? Is it actually really all that ‘dirty’ anyway? There are two ways to remove the stigma of pornography; by challenging its social status, and by removing the apparent philosophical or ethical arguments against its usage and creation. As a philosopher, the second is rather appealing, but I will demonstrate both here.

So why does philosophy say no to porn? There are several reasons. The first is that it apparently demeans a women’s body, but this seems backwards. If a woman has a right over her own body and a right to make her own decisions, then why does she not have the right to use her body within the porn industry? Are we only going to give women the rights we see fit for them to have? This all seems rather hypocritical and male-centric. Furthermore, the idea that porn ‘demeans’ women has been shown as unfounded by studies, completed at the university of Hawaii, that could find no direct link between pornography and male image of women. We’re making out that there are negative links – which simply don’t exist – in an unfair attempt to demean pornography.

The second most popular argument comes in the famous utilitarian form:

  1. People only have a right to do something if it does not cause harm to others
  2. Pornography causes harm to others
  3. Thus, pornography is ethically wrong.

It is this style of argument you see in most social arguments against pornography too, followed by figures of porn usage under the age of 16, or the amount of ‘porn addicts’ that have arose. However, such an argument is not convincing. Does pornography really cause harm? We have a choice whether to watch it! Can I say that using a knife is wrong because it could cause harm? No, because it’s about how we use it! We can’t just focus on the negative effects of porn, and then say porn must be wrong. Arguments based on harm can only apply to non-consenting acts, like rape or murder. Ethicists have made an amateur mistake.

Even if you grant this flawed argument, does pornography really do more harm than good? It seems that it provides a form of sex-education that many 16-year old would otherwise not get (even if it does create temporarily flawed views that women are always shaved or happy not to use a condom). Furthermore, it is has been shown by Professor Milton Diamond that viewing pornography directly correlates to a reduction in sex-crime. This is backed up by Clemenson Professor Thomas Kendall who showed that the states within the US that adopted internet pornography saw clear reductions in sex-crime. Even just a 10% increase in pornography viewing reduces sex-crimes by 7%. These positive studies cause for the ethical arguments against porn to come crumbling down.

The social arguments are perhaps a little more widely known. Many people worry that 83% of children under the age of 13 have viewed pornography. Whilst this is clearly problematic, is it really the fault of porn itself? Without a doubt, pornography is readily available on the internet. Estimates suggest that 14% of internet searches, and 4% of websites, are pornographic (and note these are not the scare-mongering figures that anti-porn activists use). ISPs, however, are blocked from showing porn randomly, unless such websites have already been viewed on that computer’s internet history. The reality is not, as it is in Ted 2 that explicit pictures pop up on the internet, regardless of what innocent search you may enter in to Google. Therefore, it is down to parents to control access, and for schools to actually teach young people about porn. It’s our ignorance that holds us back; surveys showed that 64% of parents believed their children have never watched porn. Clearly they need to get their head out of the sand! After all, if large numbers of kids are viewing porn, is it better to ignore it and moan about it, or to actually teach them about pornography; the problems with it as well as the positives?

So what does this all mean? Well, it’s time to break the stigma – it’s time to talk about porn. For many, watching porn is as frequent an activity as eating and sleeping – and we sure talk about those a lot! Once we talk about porn, the social barriers start to fall down; pornography stops being that naughty 10-mins of your day! When we talk about it, we will see that the apparent ethical conundrums of porn are unfounded, and that the social implications of it can be addressed. We need to embrace pornography as a part of sex. It’s clear that pornography plays a major role in teaching children about sex, so we should address that and work with it, rather than moan about it. Pornography is not some great demon, and you’re unnecessarily making yourself feel guilty if you believe it is.

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  7. What Is Really Wrong With Adultery?
  8. Corrupted Sex? The Morality of Prostitution
  9. The Ethics of Porn: Is It Really The Demon?
  10. “No Sex Please, We’re British”
  11. Consent Lessons – Yes or No?
  12. A Is For Asexuality
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I'm a third-year Philosophy and History student whose interests (outside my love for Tudor history) pertain to issues on equality, sex and moral ethics and education. I'm also Philosophy Academic President 2016-17. @russb005

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