This essay will argue that pornography is not harmful to American society. However, there are some important reservations to be made: the acceptable form of pornography is legal adults engage in this activity with full consent. Obviously, there are some forms of exploitation that are harmful and dangerous, such as forcing subjects to take part in pornography production or involving minors in this process. However, this essay will not discuss these activities that are already illegal and prosecuted to relevant authorities. Instead, it will argue that pornography is a legitimate form of self-expression.
Furthermore, it will dispel many myths that are used by anti-pornography lobby (such as pornography leading to rape or being addictive) to appeal to public sentiment with a view of enacting a more restrictive regime regulating the field. At the first glance, banning of pornography pursues a plausible aim: protecting American citizens from the temptation of watching it. Giving this issue a second thought, it becomes evident that everything can go terribly wrong if such prohibition is instituted. Not only will it fail to achieve its goals, it will also harm the economy and society in the most dramatic fashion conceivable.
In a debate on pornography, ‘liberals defended the freedom of consenting adults to publish and consume pornography in private from moral and religious conservatives who wanted pornography banned for its obscenity, its corrupting impact on consumers and its corrosive effect on traditional family and religious values’ (West, 2004, para. 3). Weighting such an intangible and relative thing as decline in social morale against a far more serious development of restriction on freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by our Constitution, it is necessary to admit that human rights are more important for the functioning of society than morale.
Moral codes vary among different religious, ethnic and age groups; therefore, it would be unreasonable to base a federal policy on moral considerations only. In every debate on civil liberties, the discussion is often narrowed down to the traditional dilemma of decriminalization and control v. prohibition and black market. This argument is hard to run in a debate on, for instance, legalization of drugs, since governments of the world have proven to be sufficiently successful in combating illicit drug trafficking. However, it perfectly applies to restrictions on pornography.
The demand for pornography soaring, there will be abundant supply. The police will be incapable of preventing illegal pornography production. The sector might be heading towards wide-scale corruption. Moreover, lack of regulation in pornography production might result in exploitation, use of minors, or unacceptable working conditions. Thus, it is better to regulate this sector than to let black market overtake it. There is a lesson America should have learned: the 1920s were the time of alcohol prohibition, and the regulation provided for a huge black market in alcohol to flourish, giving rise to bootlegging business and speakeasies.
Many gangsters, including Al Capone and Bugs Moran, made fortunes selling alcohol illegally. Another hackneyed argument in a debate on civil liberties is that it’s better to tax than to let shadow economy grow. However, this argument should be taken seriously in the U. S. at the present moment of its history. The falling dollar and slowdown in the housing market has placed the U. S. economy on the verge of recession. At the same time, more government revenue is needed to support the national welfare and healthcare programs.
More money is needed in education and research. Large-scale foreign policy initiatives also require additional funding. Refusing another source of tax money is unacceptable for the time being. If the aforesaid is not enough to dismiss the feasibility of restrictions on pornography, another argument can be introduced into the debate. In general, civil liberties are in danger in the U. S. , and by clampdown on yet another one the government will send a very wrong message. In fact, the government should leave citizens the ability to think for themselves.
Individuals should be able to make decisions about their life careers themselves, and the government should be supportive of these decisions if they are deemed to be beneficial for the individual and society as a whole. Yet it is far beyond the jurisdiction of the government to protect an individual from the consequences of his/her conscious choices. In fact, it is the traditional dilemma of governmental regulation v. individual freedom. It may seem that restrictions on pornography would be in line with the theory of social contract.
The state, which is the product of social contract, has the function of setting the limits on individual rights and freedoms. Social contract implies that agents give away a part of their freedom in return for security delivered by state. John Locke (2004, p. 33) writes: ‘Men… by agreeing with other men, to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living, one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any that are not of it…make one community or government…and make one body politic. ’
The situation is fairly clear-cut when one individual’s activity results in the violation of another individual’s rights. When the realization of rights of one individual infringes on rights of another individual, the state should intervene to reestablish the balance between these rights of different individuals. However, in the case of pornography, the practice does not pose a danger to society. Feminists argue that pornography is dangerous because it perpetuates exploitation and oppression of women. However, this is not necessarily true. Men also star in pornography production, and women are not always featured in subordinate roles.
In the 1960s, a more liberal approach to sexuality was hailed as a major advancement of women’s right. Pornography means that both male and female sexuality is no longer a taboo but rather a subject for public discussion and business activity: ‘Pornography breaks cultural and political stereotypes, so that each woman can interpret sex for herself… Pornography tells them to accept and enjoy them. Pornography can be good therapy. Pornography provides a sexual outlet for those who – for whatever reason – have no sexual partner’ (McElroy, 2004, ‘A Pro-Sex Defense’).
For some females, pornography might be a pleasurable way of expressing themselves, given the popularity of home videos. Liberals ‘continue to maintain either that pornography does not cause harm to women (in the relevant, usually narrow, sense of ‘harm’), or they admit that pornography probably does cause some harm to women’s interests, but deny that this harm is sufficiently great to offset the dangers inherent in censorship and to justify the violation of the rights of pornographers and would-be consumers’ (West, 2004, ‘Recent debate: liberals and feminists’).
A riskier argument that feminists were running was that pornography increases the number of instances of rape in society. However, empirical evidence in support of their claim has been scarce and contested. It leads to an obvious conclusion that ‘[p]ornography will not cause otherwise normal, decent chaps with no propensity to rape suddenly to metamorphose into rapists,” (Feinberg, 1985. p. 153). Some researchers have gone as far as to argue that consumption of pornography might decrease rape rates (Landsburg, 2006).
Since citizens can satisfy their sexual fantasies by watching them on the screen, their urge to commit sexual assaults in real life is weaker. In fact, empirical evidence suggests that porn actually decreases rape: ‘The incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85% in the past 25 years while access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults’ (D’Amato, 2006, Abstract). While there are many critics contesting the actual correlation between the two variables, increase in accessibility of pornography would have led to skyrocketing rape rates, which is not happening.
There is another positive feature of pornography being pointed out by sexologists and family therapists. For some couples, watching pornography together might enhance their sexual relationship and make them freer in expressing their desires and fantasies. One more oft-cited danger of pornography is that it might cause an addiction. The government has long established itself as a body responsible for protecting its citizens against addictions, since they might foster compulsive behavior and lead to citizens harming themselves or other.
This might be true about physical addictions, like addiction to drugs. However, addiction to pornography, if it exists, is a psychological phenomenon. Psychologically, people can be addicted to anything, from computer games to chocolate, which does not provide grounds for the government to ban everything that is enjoying considerable popularity. Taking all those arguments into account, it is possible to conclude that pornography is not as dangerous as it is portrayed, and prohibition of pornography might have devastating consequences for the society.