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Sexed Up: The Pros and Cons of Porn

Far from leading to violence, studies show that the availability of hard core porn leads to a reduction in sex crimes. And besides, perfectly normal people enjoy it.

Anne Sexton, 29 Jun 2004

Thursday night. I’m home alone with Conor. He’s washing the dishes and I’m scanning his porn collection.

“Pornography makes men see women as nothing but sexual objects,” he tells me with a lascivious grin. Sexual object? Well, in that case, it’s a good thing I shaved my legs.

Every day millions of people go about their business, working, coming home to their families, paying their taxes, generally acting as responsible members of society and using porn. Pornography’s detractors would have us believe that watching consenting adults indulging in sexual behaviour will lead to violence, rape, child abuse, loss of family values and the destruction of society.

Those people who enjoy porn – that’s me and almost certainly you – are not simply adults engaging in harmless amusement, we are the very bane of modern life. However, it’s good to know that I ever feel the urge to indulge in a little grievous bodily harm, I can blame it on something other than Marilyn Manson.

Is pornography dangerous? According to the research, no. In the mid-1980s the fundamentalist conservative government of Ronald Reagan decided to investigate the effects of pornography. In 1986, the Final Report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography was published and concluded that there was a link between pornography and violence.

However, scientific analysis of this report, commonly called the Meese Commission Report, showed that it was based on assumptions, skewed personal experiences, flawed logic and did not adhere to the basic principals of research methodology. Social scientists have not been able to prove a link between porn and violence, because in fact it appears that the reverse is true.

Studies carried out in Japan, Germany, Denmark and Sweden all concluded that the availability of hard-core porn led to a decrease in sex crimes. Interestingly, most studies on the effects of pornography have come to the same remarkable conclusion: pornography leads to masturbation! Perhaps pornography’s opponents should object to it on the grounds that billions of horny men will soon cover our cities in sticky white goo, creating an ecological disaster of untold proportions. Just a suggestion…

So pornography may not be dangerous, but does it degrade women? Scanning the shelves of woman’s magazines at my local newsagent I see articles on essential summer fashions, hair and beauty tips, diets – and a guide promising to get my body “bikini-ready” within 4 weeks. The subtle message is that if I am not dressed, groomed, tanned, toned and waxed to within an inch my life, nobody will want to have a summer romance, or even a drunken shag on the beach, with me.

Most women’s magazines manipulate our insecurities about our looks. Porn doesn’t. The great thing that porn has taught me is that if I get old, fat, hairy or lose a limb, somebody will still want to have sex with me. Repeatedly. For the average woman this is a very reassuring realisation.

There is a branch of feminism that believes that porn exploits women by depicting scenes in which women are abused sexually. The loudest proponent of this view is Andrea Dworkin. In her book, Woman Hating, Dworkin criticises pornography that she feels makes men believe that women long for the male penis and to be sexually dominated.

There are several problems with this view. First, it suggests that men are incapable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Except for overstating their favourite team’s chances at Euro 2004, this is not true. Secondly, it assumes that the woman depicted has somehow been coerced. And finally it ignores the fact that many women enjoy penetrative sex and being sexually dominated. Given the choice between being dominated by Conor or an evening curled up in bed with one of Dworkin’s books, I’d take the domination every time.

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