by Peter Tatchell -
Special to the SGN
Porn gets a bum rap. Nearly every discussion focuses on the negatives, not the positives. In my view, it's time for a more balanced, nuanced response to pornography.
The issue is back as a hot topic after the controversial and disputed anti-porn researcher, Gary Wilson, author of Your Brain On Porn, recently claimed that pornography is re-wiring users brains to view sexual gratification as a passive, solitary and often addictive consumer experience that undermines relationships.
However, the impact of porn on our brains is far from clear and certainly not universal. Different people use and respond to porn in different ways.
Wilson's thesis, although it may have some merit and be true in some cases, echoes the anti-porn agenda of uptight religious fundamentalists, conservative politicians and right-wing feminists. They want to crackdown on pornography; arguing that it is immoral, dehumanising and exploitative.
In their view, all porn actors are victims. Many definitely are. But not all. Some are consenting adults who have freely chosen to be part of the sex industry. To them, it's a job like any other; only much better paid and with flexible hours.
It is hard to view these porno performers as being more exploited than people working in mind-numbing, routine, dead-end, low-paid employment. They do more interesting work and earn a damn sight more than the hapless exploited staff doing demeaning, boring, repetitive tasks in call centres, supermarkets and fast food outlets.
To justify their anti-porn crusade, the new puritans point to snuff movies, kiddie porn, rape videos, trafficked or coerced actors and degrading, humiliating images of women. Sure, this stuff is vile and wrong - and some of it should be criminalised to protect the vulnerable.
But in a bid to win support for more legal restrictions, these moralists go one step further. They often denounce all explicit sexual imagery as violent and abusive. Not so. Some is and some isn't.
For consumers, porn can be educative, liberating, empowering, fulfilling and socially beneficial. It all depends on how it is made, who makes it, what it depicts and why it is being used.
To begin with, there is nothing wrong with the naked human body. Consensual adult sex acts are entirely natural, healthy and lawful. So why should images of these acts be disparaged or banned? Censoring and demonising this pornography is neither necessary nor justified.
Porn magazines are condemned by self-appointed moral guardians as 'jerk off mags.' But what's wrong with jerking off? It's natural and healthy.
Indeed, masturbation, with the aid of porn, has positive virtues.
It is totally safe sex, with no risk of giving or receiving HIV or other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). Staying at home and wanking over a porn video is much safer than a random one-night stand, dogging or sex in a club or sauna.
If porn makes hand jobs an attractive alternative to casual sex, it can reduce a person's number of sexual partners and help cut the spread of HIV and other STI's. In which case, surely the government should promote pornography and masturbation as part of its HIV prevention strategy?
Already, pornography has been used successfully in HIV prevention campaigns to popularise safer sex; encouraging many Gay and Bisexual men to switch to less risky behaviour. By promoting safer sex as exciting and fun, socially-aware porn has helped glamorise and eroticise responsible sexual behaviour - debunking the idea that sex without risk is boring, dull and second best. My own raunchy explicit book, Safer Sexy (1994), is a good example. It won plaudits for making no-risk sexual behaviour appealing and exciting.
Regular good sex is an aid to well being. Studies show that people who are sexually fulfilled tend to have enhanced levels of mental and emotional health. If porn can help ensure sexual satisfaction and better psychological health then surely that's a positive benefit?
Medical researchers in Australia and the U.S. have found that men who ejaculate five or more times a week have a one-third lower incidence of prostate cancer.
So a man who doesn't cum regularly has a significantly higher chance of getting this often-deadly disease.
This means that if you're a man and you haven't got a regular partner, or if your partner has a low libido, jerking off is good for your health. Porno magazines and films that aid frequent masturbation are therefore indirectly helping save thousands of lives.
Sex mags and vids are also great sex education. Unlike the coy, euphemistic nonsense that passes for sex education in schools, porn shows young people about sex - the techniques and variations involved, and how to satisfy yourself and your partner. This gives porn users better knowledge and expertise in the art of sex. The result? Often better quality sex lives and couples who are more sexually and emotionally fulfilled.
Porn has another big social benefit. As an aid to masturbation, it may be the only means of regular erotic satisfaction for many single people and for people in sexually-dysfunctional relationships. In some cases, where the relationship may have fallen apart because of sexual incompatibility, porn might help keep it going.
Pornography is also a boon to people who are not young, beautiful, able-bodied and self-confident. Are these people supposed to forego sexual joy and fulfillment?
Not everyone measures up to the fitness and good looks that popular culture promotes as sexually desirable. It is cruel and inhuman to deny isolated, disabled, overweight, ugly and elderly people the erotic fulfillment that porn can provide.
We all grow old and lose our pulling power. But our sexual desire may remain strong. It needs and deserves an outlet. That's when sexy pictures and films can come to our rescue, helping people maintain pleasure and satisfaction during old age.
Far from being evil, pornography can be a cornerstone of sexual democracy. It gives everyone equal access to carnal pleasure and happiness, regardless of our age, looks, abilities or background. Bravo!
For more information about the Peter Tatchell Foundation's human rights work, to receive their email bulletins or to make a donation: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org
Courtesy of the Peter Tatchell Foundation
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