Pornography For The Greater Good

Thanks to the internet, porn is no longer associated with seedy, sticky-floored shops where respectable folks wouldn't dare be seen. As porn goes more and more mainstream, is our society deciding that porn is not evil? And, taking things one step further: Is pornography helpful?

These are the issues raised by Melinda Wenner Moyer in a Scientific American piece called "The Sunny Side Of Smut." She writes:

The most common concern about pornography is that it indirectly hurts women by encouraging sexism, raising sexual expectations and thereby harming relationships. Some people worry that it might even incite violence against women. The data, however, do not support these claims. "There's absolutely no evidence that pornography does anything negative," says Milton Diamond, director of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "It's a moral issue, not a factual issue."

Pornography For The Greater Good

Some would argue otherwise, of course. Some may see the mainstreaming of women waxing pubic hair and getting breast implants as negative, or a change in sexual expectations. (And let's face it. If you plug the word "porn" into a search engine, you're much more likely to see a naked woman than a naked man.) Even if you cannot make the statement that all porn is sexist, certainly you could agree that some porn is sexist.

Moyer also touches on rape and aggression, noting:

Perhaps the most serious accusation against pornography is that it incites sexual aggression. But not only do rape statistics suggest otherwise, some experts believe the consumption of pornography may actually reduce the desire to rape by offering a safe, private outlet for deviant sexual desires.

And:

Within the U.S., the states with the least Internet access between 1980 and 2000 — and therefore the least access to Internet pornography — experienced a 53 percent increase in rape incidence, whereas the states with the most access experienced a 27 percent drop in the number of reported rapes, according to a paper published in 2006 by Anthony D'Amato, a law professor at Northwestern University.

Moyer warns, "It is important to note that these associations are just that-associations. They do not prove that pornography is the cause of the observed crime reductions."

Still, her general point remains: Perhaps we are better off now that we are more open and less repressed, and porn is a part of that. She cites psychologist Michael P. Twohig, who feels the impact of porn depends on "personal views and personal values." "In other words," Moyer writes, "the effects of pornography — positive or negative — have little to do with the medium itself and everything to do with the person viewing it."

But not all agree; one commenter scolds Moyer for her "scientific reductionism and arrogance gone awry" and warns that her piece "shows an incomplete picture on the true impact of internet porn: The secretive and deceptive nature of porn viewing, its impact on marriage and family, the risk of exposure to children, and its impact on workplace productivity, to name only a few."

Still, if you look back at the days of "dirty magazines," you could argue that compared to then, we've come a long way: Our society is not as repressed about sex, women are not quite as oppressed, and hell, gay people can get married in New York. Then again, who knows? In fifty more years we may think, "Wow, back in 2011, there was porn on the internet. How barbaric."

The Sunny Side of Smut [Scientific American]