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Pornography: What it is. For purposes of discussion I will be using the term in 3 different contexts: 1, referring to the collection of visual depictions of erotic activity, usually but not always involving full contact sex; 2, as well as the production and transmittal of same; 3, the industry in general, its depiction, portrayal, and distribution. At every step I hope to make clear in context which I'm referring to.
What I won't be referring to is whether there is an intrinsically detrimental effect to the consumption of pornography. Research seems clear that when it comes to issues of linking porn to violent or sexually aberrant behavior, there are no causal relationships that can be established (Diamond, Jozifkova, Weiss, 2011, Math, et al., 2014).
Pornography: What it is not. Although there have been a number of cases throughout the 20th century (and, depressingly), still into the 21st, that attempt to cast one or another work of literature as being pornographic or against community standards, we won't be discussing Huck Finn or James Joyce's Ulysses here. A case could be made that sections of the latter are pornographic; they are certainly erotic.
Pornography as an industry, generates an estimated $100 billion per year. The questions that arise are: Are consumers obligated to know where and how products come to us to be consumed? Is the prod uction chain of any concern to us at all? Is there an immediate danger or concern to us personally? Is there a long term concern to us personally? Is there a danger to producers or workers in the short or long term? Are we supporting misery not just in the primary instance, but the secondary instance (at home) or tertiary (abroad)? In the 2009 preface to his book, How Good People Make Tough Choices, author Rushworth M. Kidder discusses how there has been a sea-change in the treatment of ethics in the workplace (Kidder, 2009).
In looking at the issue again, it is worthwhile to see if the assumptions regarding pornography stand up under scrutiny. In regard to the claim that every aspect of the production of pornography is rife with criminal involvement, the source of that claim is the infamous Meese Report, since discredited (Calidia, 1986). While there are credible reports of criminal involvement in the production of porn overseas, the involvement in the trade is concerned mostly with the acquisition, production and distribution of illegal materials (Diamond 1999, Diamond 2011).
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When it comes to the effect of pornography, there is much in the way of bombastic rhetoric and unprovable claims, but judging by the availability of pornography in countries where pornography had previously been unavailable, once it did become available, there was no corresponding increase in incidents of violence, rape, or aberrant sexual behavior (Diamond, Jozifkova, Weiss, 2011, Math, et al., 2014). Where there is some evidence, it seems to point to the age of exposure and the type of pornography that a person is exposed to. As author Collen Bryant puts it in her report, “Adolescence, Pornography, and Harm,” “The proliferation of pornographic materials and their ease of access are such that it is not a matter of whether a young person will be exposed to pornography but when,” whether inadvertent or intentional (Bryant, 2010, p. 18). Although the exact causal relationship overall is not determined, in her report Bryant makes note that “whereas exposure to nudity may actually decrease aggression, violent pornography is associated with increased risk of aggression” (Bryant, 2010, p. 21). A complementary report by Prof SA Coatzee of the University of South Africa released a report indicating that youth and adolescents who were exposed to pornography had a greater likelihood of producing and disseminating child pornography. Not in the sense that it is intended for commercial distribution, but the likelihood would be that a child would generate and/or distribute the material through social media, “sexting” or dissemination of related websites. And being that they were youths below the age of 18, any pornographic images created would by definition be considered child pornography. This would in turn produce a recurring cycle: as others become more exposed to the material, then the more likely they would be to do the same. Thus the aberrant behavior becomes the new norm (Coatzee, 2013, 99. 753-754).
Lastly, when it comes to the consumption of online pornography, there is the issue of physiological changes to the brain. A study published just a few days ago in the JAMA found that there was a significant shortfall in grey matter in the brain by those who consumed pornography on a regular basis (Kuhn & Gallinat, 2014).
While the effects of pornographic consumption do not, as some would claim, lead to greater incidences of violence against women, rape, or other deviant behavior intrinsically by those who consume it (with the exceptions noted in the text), the networks by which such material is produced is problematic and rife with abuse. It is not possible to separate the production and dissemination of the material, since as with most forms of crime, for every measure taken a countermeasure can be developed, and criminals have proven themselves to be adaptable. The question of legality enters into the picture, but there again even illegal forms of pornography, such as child pornography and bestiality, are widely distributed. There is the issue of government oversight, but given the vast amounts of internet traffic, and the nation-wide surveillance that that would entail, in the present post-Snowden era, the authority to give the government that much more of an ability to snoop into our daily online activities seems unlikely.
The question then becomes: are the measures that are in place sufficient to overcome the abuses to which the system of dissemination lends itself? The porn industry isn't going anywhere. It is a large part of the entertainment industry here in the States. Also, for every means that there might be in order to access pornography in all its forms, there are also that many means by which a person could report unsuitable/illegal material. While there might be some aspects of the industry that have criminal elements involved, at this point the international pornographic industry is big business. Billion Dollar business. So there aren't any guys in leather jackets or on the docks trying to rip off some items for a nickle a carton of cigarettes.
There may be some ways that can be tightened up in reportage, but mostly the goose that lay that golden egg is one this particular industry wants to see keep being laid, so this is one case where it is well within the industry's interest to make sure everything is working well and everything is above board. Not every industry that one should be able to say that about, CAN we say that about. The last items are the highly speculative possibility of loss of grey matter and other personality or temperament changes as a result of too much online porn consumption, it is still too early to determine all the variables. Should it prove to be a situation where new facts bring new things to consider, well, that's why we have such a good system where laws can be reviewed and supplemented after being implemented.
Adelstein, Jake. (2012). Global Vice: The Expanding Territory Of The Yakuza. Journal of International Affairs, 66(1), 155-161.
Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, Final Report. July 1986.
Bryant, Colleen (2010). Adolescence, Pornography, and Harm. Youth Studies Australia, 29(7), 18-26.
Califia, Pat (1986). The Obscene, Disgusting, and Vile Meese Commission Report. Cultronix. http://cultronix.eserver.org/califia/meese/
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