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We have collected a number of articles which question many of the beliefs behind pornography by leading doctors and specialists in this field. Feel free to comment about them (or recommend other articles) in the forum section if you would like.

Is porn a huge business that is taking over the Internet?

Opponents of porn love to focus on the money: erotica is assumed to be a highly profitable business. This in and of itself is assumed, in some camps, to be sufficient justification to damn almost anything. However, implying that because something is profitable, it must be bad, is a strange claim to make. After all, food is also profitable. But when was the last time you ate something that was completely free? (I had a sorrel salad for lunch, for what it's worth. But the olive oil was by no means free.) Just because erotica can be a commodity, it does not make it at odds with real human desire. After all if it did not arouse, it would not sell.

Of course, the underlying assumption is that taking pictures of naked people is somehow without production and distribution costs which is no more true for erotica than it is for any other entertainment, but never mind.

So while I personally feel that going on about the money is a baseless argument to begin with, it's one that comes up often. Here's an alternative view of what's going on.

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‘Porn Block’ – a realistic proposal from the UK government?

Amidst stories about snow and the final of The Apprentice you may have noticed yesterday’s news claiming the government wants to persuade Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to online pornography.

The Sun – Porn Block on PCs

The Daily Mail – Porn, keep out! Parents to be allowed to block computers from receiving sexual material (not only do the Mail confuse the opt out/opt in system, but also seem unaware parents can already restrict access to adult content online)

The Guardian – Broadband firms urged to block sex websites to protect children (as with much other media coverage the Guardian stacks its story up with a problematic survey from Psychologies magazine, more on this later)

The Telegraph – Internet Pornography Curb By The Government

Where did this story come from?

It originated from a question asked by MP for Devizes (Cornwall) Claire Perry in a House of Commons debate on Internet Pornography on 23 November (summary here). From this Ed Vaizey (Minister for Communication, Culture and the Creative Industries) suggested a meeting with the major UK ISPs to talk about a potential blocking of access to porn and a sign up system (so those wanting to access sexual materials online would have to opt in to gain access).

You can see from the debate linked above and media coverage the focus is presenting this proposal in terms of child protection, and as a mental health issue.

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Life before Internet porn: the golden years?

I’ve noticed a strange tendency in recent discussions about pornography and its influence on young people – an increasing romanticization of the world before the Internet, and of relationships between the sexes in those innocent days.

Take the ‘Reality and risk’ project for example, which aims to ‘promote critical thinking among young people about pornography and the messages it conveys about women, men and sex’. Their report states:

Young people are exposed to porn at unprecedented rates … They are seeing it more frequently, through more media, and what they are seeing is harder and more aggressive. Young people are living in an era of new sexual expectations, acceptance and practices. And, significantly, porn is normalising sex acts that most women in the real world don’t enjoy, and may find degrading, painful or violating. There is evidence that many young people are enacting porn scripts … The young women we interviewed talked about young men trying things they’d seen in porn, sometimes without even asking.

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Humans Aren’t Rodents. Porn Isn’t Ruining Marriages

Humans are not prairie voles. We are not guinea pigs or mice. We’re humans.

Pop science loves to trot out research on rodents to confirm or challenge behavioral assumptions. But what the writers often miss is that our behaviors are shaped by far more than food, fights, flights and fucking. Humans are highly complex social primates and, because of this, our responses to the world can be difficult to explain with simple biology or neurotransmitters.

And yet, as a recent porn hysteria post at The Good Men Project demonstrates, we still love clinging to these simplistic notions. The writers cite our dopamine reward system as evidence that porn’s excitement is ruining marriages. Videos of sexual athletes fucking for the camera apparently overtake your reward system and make your (female) spouse unattractive. (If you’re gay, does this mean you get a free porn pass?)

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Good Men Project In Penthouse

The Good Men Project recently decided to run some excerpts in Penthouse Magazine. Some people are upset. Here’s the comment I posted on Tom Matlack’s defense of the decision.

As a female, I see not one thing wrong with pictures or videos made for sexual titillation. I probably have a bigger porn collection than most commenters here.
But I understand why some (ok, lots) of pornography bothers people. Some of our worst social inequalities and anxieties tend to be projected in porn. Racist porn? Check. Misogynistic porn? Check. There is nothing new about this and even a cursory glance at porn from the way back machine will demonstrate this phenomenon. I have a small collection of books with very graphic porn etchings from the 18th century and I started to notice the social theme of the time: religion. Nuns banging monks, young cloistered women greeting winged penises with hoisted skirts, and acts of religious penance (flagellation) being used sexually. I think this was one way for people to channel social anxieties about debates over secularism vs. church power.
What I want people to think about is that naked people sexing it up in front of a camera is not inherently evil or exploitative. However, it’s important to note that the only place where women consistently outrank men in pay is performing in porn or for sex work, industries usually controlled by men. That is what I find exploitative.


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A quarter of men worried about the amount of porn they watch online

There’s been a substantial amount of media attention today for a survey by BBC Radio One’s Newsbeat and the Portman Clinic. Suggesting porn ‘use’ among men is endemic and in many cases problematic.

It’s led to a slew of scary headlines including:

Men view two hours of porn a week – The Sun
Young men worried about the amount of porn they watch – Mirror
Men ‘worried’ about heavy online porn use

>What did this survey cover?

This survey heard from 1057 18-24 year old women and men (no information available about how many males and females made up the final sample). They completed an online survey via TNS Market Research Company between March 18-21 2011. It asked about their porn consumption and attitudes to porn and relationships.

What were the main findings?

8/10 men and 1/3 women had looked at porn online
The most popular place to access porn was free websites
The ‘average’ man in study (no figures given for this) looks at porn for 2 hours a week, the average woman around 15 minutes
4% of male respondents ‘used’ adult sites for more than 10 hours per week – these were reported as having a ‘problematic and potentially compulsive’ condition
¼ men said they were worried about the amount of time spent looking at porn
¼ men said they were worried about the content of porn
61% of respondents (gender unspecified) said porn could make you less interested in sex with a partner

Should we be concerned about these findings? Not until we’ve looked more closely at this survey. 

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Pornography: A filthy fruit

Throughout its history of some 200 years, the cultural status of pornography has been very much bound up with acts of policing and regulation. It can even be argued that the cultural status of porn has been dependent on the attraction of the forbidden fruit: As that which stands for the obscene, the filthy and the culturally worthless, porn has been cleared away and screened off from the public eye. At the same time, according to existing surveys, porn is popular in virtually all social groups and its popularity does not seem to increase in the course of filtering and regulation. Quite the contrary.

Concerns over pornography, and visual pornography in particular, tend to be based on its assumed power to impact its viewers directly. While porn does indeed regularly get under one’s skin, this viscerality may not be best understood as a corrupting force that people, and the young in particular are unable to resist. Porn is certainly visceral, as is horror, another popular genre. It does not, however, follow that porn holds some magical power to orient the drives and desires of those watching it. People do not simply repeat the acts shown on the screen in their everyday lives. The scenes and acts may resonate, titillate and interest but they are equally about distance and othering: for people also like to watch that which they would not themselves wish to do.

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Does porn make men see women differently?

There have been a lot of claims made around this myth, most of them unsubstantiated. For the most part this is because of poor research design in questionnaire-based and market 'research' studies, and inappropriate interpretation of results by the media in academic studies. However, no matter how poor and flimsy the results, it's an assumption that gets a lot of attention. And time and again, journalists reporting on these studies fail to ask the most basic questions about the integrity of the data.

For instance, a poll released by BBC Newsbeat and TNS in April 2011 focused on responses from young men who felt "worried" about their porn use, with a number of those concerned it is influencing their relationships.

The key here is the nature of the questions being asked: there's a vast difference between being worried something might happen, and that thing coming to pass. It's entirely likely that, because of the widespread disapproval of porn, that men might be concerned even without any reason to be. Therefore, such a questionnaire should be designed so that it also assesses actual attitudes and outcomes, not only fears about outcomes.

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Is there such a thing as feminist porn?

Nina Hartley. Annie Sprinkle. Anna Span. Candida Royalle. Tristan Taormino. Madison Young. Erika Lust. Jiz Lee. To fans of both feminism and porn films, these are simply a very few of the many women whose work demonstrates just how sex-positive people are changing the adult entertainment industry.

The internet has a hand in this as well. There are countless independent erotica providers - camgirls, models, and so on - who are running their own businesses, taking control of how their own images are produced and distributed. The support system among independent women in the industry grows and grows. I really can't think of anything much more feminist than that.

Really, this is less a question of whether something is 'feminist' or not, which I think is a bit of a misnomer, since there are plenty of people producing ethical erotic content who do not identify as feminists. Think of them instead as free range porn providers, if you will. And let's not forget the loads of people making excellent queer porn, and their audience, who are almost never addressed or acknowledged in this debate. The world of erotica is far, far bigger than just heteronormative mainstream stuff; a fact the anti-porn types like to gloss over.

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The Privilege of Pleasure: OSU and Tristan Taormino

A few weeks back I wrote about access to sexual information and how social privilege informs the sexual conversations we can access. The current controversy over OSU, Tristan Taormino and the Modern Sex Conference contains an excellent example of this dynamic in play.

You may have heard the hullabaloo over OSU’s decision to uninvite Tristan Taormino from delivering the Modern Sex Conference keynote speech. In response to public criticism OSU sent out a press release and today their spokesperson, Todd Simmons, commented on the situation in an Examiner article. In that article, part of his defense for the decision rests on the assumption that taxpayer dollars cannot be used to pay “somebody who describes herself as a pornographer”.

The thing is, pornography is not illegal and there is no statute I am aware of in Oregon state law that restricts the use of taxpayer fees in this way. He goes on to say that private universities such as Yale and Harvard had every right to book her because they are using private monies.

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