The Erotic vs. The Pornographic

Week of: 
February 15, 2005
What is it: 

Erotic experience is a human good. Mature, consenting adults should be able to explore the erotic realm freely, without outside interference. Pornography is illicit and destructive. But what is the real difference between the erotic and the pornographic?  Is there a bright line? In our attempts to regulate pornography do we run the risk of infringing upon the erotic freedoms of consenting adults? John and Ken draw the line with Anne Ashbaugh from Colgate University.

Listening Notes: 

What's the difference between erotic art and pornography? Lots of people want to ban pornography but no one really talks about banning erotic art. Both are representations. How do we draw the line between "good" erotica and "bad" pornography? John gives a definition of both the erotic the pornographic. Why does pornography have the extremely negative connotation? Ken puts forth the idea that a lot of negative reaction to erotic art is out of fear for the power of the erotic.

Then, Ken introduces the guest, Professor Anne Ashbaugh from Colgate University. The erotic shapes our life in a very important way. People use sexuality to shape their identity. But, why are sexual desires any more important than, say, our desires for food? Couldn't being a vegetarian shape my life in a way that is just as important as my sexuality? Ashbaugh says that they are both important. All our desires are important and removing any of them negatively impacts the person. Does everything go in porn? Surely not. There are things everyone is or should be revolted by, such as child porn. Where does the line get drawn though? Ken, John, and Ashbaugh talk about several possible definitions for pornography, but which should be adopted?

Ken broaches the subject of objectification of women in porn. He thinks that porn objectifies women and strips them of their agency. An ex-porn actor calls in and points out that porn is basically pretend. But, our perception of the world, our view of the world, influences our actions in the world. So does saying that it is just pretend make it better? How does pornography relate to the limits of free speech? A completely free society would say, "Anything goes." A completely decent society would certainly implement restrictions. But it is not clear how or where modern American society should draw the line between the two. It is also important to consider to what extent pornography even is speech.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:38): Amy Standen interviews Carrol Lee, a sexual worker's rights activist and pornography film producer star. She says that she wants to keep ideas about sexuality healthy. She thinks that claiming to be pornographers reclaims the word from its negative connotations while claiming to be makers of erotic art divides the community into "good guys" and "bad guys." There is a connection between violence and sexuality.
  • Sixty Second Philosopher (Seek to 50:15): A brief biography of the Marquis de Sade. He points out that, rather than being a sadist, the marquis was more of a masochist.

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