Is pornography an art form, or simply anything that depicts genitals in action? Where does mere eroticism end and pornography begin?
Posted by Rae Langton
John says, first, it's only fantasy, and second, outlawing is always 'a losing strategy'.
Well yes, it might be fantasy or pretend: someone is being paid to pretend to be bound, and paid to pretend to enjoy it. The viewer is joining in with the pretence.
But (i) note that even fictions are told and experienced against a backdrop of presupposed claims about the real world. For example, the Sherlock Holmes stories make claims about a fictional detective, against the backdrop of real world London. What does porn say or presuppose about the real world? That many real life women enjoy being bound and gagged, and that women who say no don't mean it. That's why, on the social science evidence, many consumers actually get their beliefs changed (see e.g. Donnerstein et al, the Question of Pornography).
And (ii) as 'one of many' points out, even if consent is there, the woman's pleasure may not be; and rehearsing even pretend violence can 'stay in that man's mind' to shape how he looks at other women later. There is a lot of psychological literature now about how our 'off-line' imaginings and pretendings can influence our 'on-line' behaviour. This can be a good thing when it means that rehearsing your tennis strokes, just in imagination, can actually help you play better! But bad when it's shaping your responses to real people.
Furthermore (iii) it's naive to assume that there is always consent, on the part of the actors, in the first place. Sara raises some excellent points about the real life conditions of many in the industry, for example in South East Asia, effectively the conditions of appalling sexual slavery. Consumers using pornography made in this way are effectively sex tourists, using virtual brothels in South East Asia. Possibly they are even the same consumers who would think twice about buying sneakers made with sweat shop labor.
Strategies: Why so pessimistic about the law? Most people think the law can and should be used to restrict or make actionable some sorts of pornography, for example, in the US, child porn; and in the UK now (legislation pending) 'extreme pornography', that eroticizes life threatening attitudes and behaviours such as necrophilia and asphyxiation. (This follows the porn-inspired murder of a school teacher by Graham Coutts, who was addicted to this sort of porn.)
I also agree with Michael that other strategies should be pursued—I would say, 'as well', not 'instead'. Yes, more and better sex education please! Otherwise porn will be the default sex educator of the next generation. But also: education for us all about porn itself: the conditions under which it's made (thanks again Sara!), and what it can do to people—to women, and to men too. It's naive, though, to think it will go away because it will just fail in the marketplace of ideas. People don't have their truth filtering brains switched on when they consume porn: they aim for pleasure, not knowledge. But it changes their minds all the same, just like effective advertising does.
And then in addition to education, a consumer boycott too. For the same reasons you might boycott sneakers made with sweat shop labour. Or for the same reason you might choose not to own a gun, even if you think you have a 'right to bear arms'. Why exercise that right, if it's more likely to damage you yourself—or those who are, or could be, closest to you?