Why Is Pornography So Widespread?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

LASCIVIOUS material designed to arouse sexual feelings dates back thousands of years. But during much of its history, pornography was difficult to produce and was therefore available primarily to the rich and the ruling classes. Mass printing and the invention of photography and moving pictures changed all that. Pornography became affordable and available to the less affluent.

The development of the videocassette recorder escalated this trend. Unlike cinema reels and old photographs, videocassettes were easy to store, copy, and distribute. They also allowed for private viewing at home. Recently, the proliferation of cable systems and the Internet has made pornography even more readily available. The consumer who is afraid that his neighbor will see him in the adult section of a video store can now "stay at home and order by pushing a button on his cable system, or his direct TV," says media analyst Dennis McAlpine. Easy access to this kind of programming has, according to McAlpine, contributed to "a lot more acceptability."
Pornography Becomes Mainstream

Many are ambivalent toward pornography because it has now entered the mainstream. "It is already a vastly bigger cultural presence than all our opera, ballet, theatre, music and fine art put together," says writer Germaine Greer. Modern attitudes toward pornography may be reflected by the 'prostitute-chic' fashions many celebrities sport, the music videos that increasingly flaunt sexual imagery, and the advertising media's adoption of a "porno aesthetic." McAlpine concludes: "Society is accepting what is being spoon-fed to it. . . . That's helping create the idea that all of this is good." As a result, "people don't seem to have a sense of outrage," laments author Andrea Dworkin. "They don't seem to care."
Computer, videocassette, DVD, television

Pornography has become more accessible
Pornography's Rationale

Echoing author Dworkin's comments, retired FBI agent Roger Young points out that many people "just don't see the big picture of obscenity and the problems that it causes." Some are swayed by those who defend pornography, claiming that there is no proof that pornographic images have a negative effect on people. "Pornography is fantasy after all," writes author F. M. Christensen, "a fact that its opponents seem to have difficulty keeping in focus." But if fantasy has no power, then upon what is the advertising industry based? Why would corporations spend millions of dollars producing commercials, videos, and printed ads if they have no lasting impact on people?

The fact is that like all successful advertising, pornography's main purpose is to create appetites where none existed before. "Pornography is about profits, pure and simple," write researchers Steven Hill and Nina Silver. "And in this marketplace gone amok, anything is considered an exploitable and expendable resource, particularly women's bodies and human sexual relations." Greer compares pornography to highly addictive fast food, devoid of nutrition and laced with taste-enhancing additives and chemicals. "Commercial fast sex," she says, "is fake sex . . . Food advertising sells fantasy food and sex advertising sells fantasy sex."

Some doctors claim that pornography can spark an addiction that is far more difficult to overcome than drug addiction. Treatment for drug addicts usually starts with detoxification to remove the substance from the body. But addiction to pornography, explains Dr. Mary Anne Layden of the University of Pennsylvania, "produces mental imagery which is permanently implanted in the mind of the user and is scaled in by brain chemistry." That is why individuals can vividly recall pornographic images from years past. She concludes: "This is the first addictive substance for which there is no hope for detoxification." But does that mean it is impossible to break free from pornography's influence? And what specific harm does pornography cause?

Internet Pornography Facts

* About 75 percent of Internet pornography originates in the United States. Close to 15 percent originates in Europe.
* It is estimated that some 70 million people a week visit pornographic Web sites. About 20 million of these users are in Canada and the United States.
* A study revealed that during a recent one-month period, Germany had the largest audience for on-line pornography in Europe, followed by Great Britain, France, Italy, and Spain.
* In Germany, Internet pornography users spend an average of 70 minutes each month viewing pornographic sites.
* Among European viewers of Internet pornography, those above 50 years of age spend the most time connected to adult Web sites.
* According to one source, 70 percent of Internet pornography traffic occurs during the day.
* It is estimated by some that 100,000 Internet sites include material on child pornography.
* About 80 percent of the Internet's commercial child pornography originates in Japan.

PORNOGRAPHY Harmless or Harmful?

It creates appetites that should not exist, it stimulates cravings that should never be satisfied."—Tony Parsons, columnist.

JOHN never intended to become addicted to 'Internet sex. Like many other people who are accidentally exposed to pornography and sex chat rooms, he was using the Internet one day when he stumbled upon a site offering such chat rooms. Soon, he was completely absorbed in cybersex. "I would wait for my wife to go to work," he remembers, "hop out of bed and spend hours in front of the computer." During marathon sessions, he would not even stop to eat or drink. "I had no awareness of [being] hungry," he says. He began to lie to his wife about his secret activities. It started to affect his concentration at work, and he became more and more paranoid. His marriage began to suffer, and when he finally arranged to meet one of his cybersex partners in real life, his wife became aware of it. Today John is being treated for his addiction.

Antipornography activists point to stories like this as proof of the degrading effects of pornography. It destroys relationships, they claim, demeans women, abuses children, and engenders a perverted and harmful view of sex. On the other hand, supporters defend pornography as free expression and view the detractors as prudish. "People should not be ashamed of their sexual orientation or desires," writes one proponent. "Pornography can be used to start and stimulate open discussions about sex." A few even suggest that the proliferation of pornography is the hallmark of an open, healthy society. "A society mature enough to cope with the explicit depiction of sex between consenting adults is likely to be one comfortable with sexual diversity and women's equality," says writer Brian McNair.

Does society's ambivalence make pornography acceptable? Why is it so widespread? Is pornography really a dangerous pursuit? The Next Article will consider these questions.

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