A study into how pornography is as old as human sexuality itself, and why it is just as harmless.
One of the most contentious issues surrounding the internet today is that of pornography. Depictions of nudity and sexual acts, be they in photographs or video, have both their detractors and their supporters. There are few, if any, who sit on the fence on the issue of what is classed as pornography.
And I do say “classed as”, as there is and has always been, a thin line to what is considered pornography, and what is art. Indeed, one could go further and state that there is third, in-between, category of erotica. The distinction is not and never has been clear and the lines often blur between the three. There is one thing for sure, depictions of nudity and sexual acts with us ever since we became sapient creatures. And I would argue that, contrary to claims from it’s detractors, it is harmless.
Around 37,000 years ago one of our early ancestors in what is now Spain dug a carving (above right) into the wall of a cave which depicted coitus between a man and a woman, with the man depicted having a huge phallus (thereby proving that men lying about dick size is nothing new). Since then sex and sexuality have commonly been depicted in carvings, drawings, paintings, and sculpture. And today we refer to this as “art”. Many of this folk art of course was done for religious reasons, but that does not deflect one iota from the explicit nature of some of the pieces. The fact remains that for centuries paintings and sculptures of nude and sexual scenes were the pornography of their time, for the simple reason there were no cameras. There is nobody is ever going to convince me that some bishop alone in his office below a portrait of Diana or Aphrodite never had a quick knuckle-shuffle when nobody was looking.
Even when photography did arrive, nude photography followed – immediately. In 1839 Louis Daguerre perfected his first practical camera, and having experimented with some landscape shots, the next thing he did was to drag a prostitute off the street whom he paid to pose for him. And so it was the first nude pictures were taken on the very first day of the advent of the media of photography, and they have been with us ever since. Once photography got going, it wasn’t too long before nude and sexual pics were changing hands for vast sums of money, “What the Butler Saw” machines appeared, and men were buying black market postcards of women showing, gasp, their legs, or even in, shock horror, swimsuits or their underwear. Brazen hussies!
“Pin up” shots started with the drawings of Alberto Vargas and others of “idealised” women in erotic poses, and eventually were supplemented by photographs of scantily-clad women. Some women, actress Betty Grable among them, happily posed for these photographs, believing they were doing their bit for lonely American servicemen away at war. I personally find that a very kind, touching and beautiful gesture.
The dam finally broke in December 1953, when Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy, which had a centrefold of Marilyn Monroe in the nude. While her genitals were covered, her breasts were on full display, and having seen the photograph, I can personally attest that Marilyn had a truly beautiful body. Once Playboy took off (Hefner never thought it would get further than issue 1), it wasn’t too long before other titles appeared, and within time the market was flooded with a plethora of titles which the puritanical backlash (no dears, that’s not a BDSM reference – I should be so lucky) of the 1950s seems to have been powerless to stop the prevalence of such “girlie” magazines. The “permissive society” of the 1960s and thereafter saw magazines become much more explicit and magazines started appearing for specific tastes, including those with nude men aimed at the female and gay markets.
Even the feminist heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, when some wanted porn mags either covered up in shops or removed altogether, was powerless to stop the number of titles increasing, and increasingly explicit content within them. The only thing which did eventually see falls in sales was not through puritanical ideas or feminist philosophy, but simply because porn became freely available with the advent of the World Wide Web and digital technology in photography and video. Which brings us up to the present day when anyone, whatever their sexuality or sexual tastes, can view nude images and / or sexual acts, from tasteful nude shots right through to extremely explicit pics and videos, at a few keystrokes.
It is apparently internet pornography which is a problem for some. I have seen it referred to as “sad” and “evil”, that it objectifies women, that it is exploitative of women, that it damages society as a whole, and that viewing (and obviously masturbating to) internet porn can cause sexual problems in some individuals.
Whether nudity or depictions of sexual acts are “sad” or “evil” are opinions, not facts. That’s fine; those who believe that are entitled to their opinions, so long as they do not try to enforce those opinions upon those who do not happen to share them. If those stating that pornography is “evil” say so from a religious point of view, then that is even worse, as they are trying to force their faith upon others, and that is something I shall always rail against. Besides which, anyone with any modicum of sense knows that it is the religious suppression of natural sexual urges which causes problems.
If pornography objectifies women then where men are involved, it logically follows that it must objectify them as well. Objectification means that the viewer ceases to see the participants as people and treats them as objects. So no-one can claim that if objectification exists then it pertains only to one gender and not the other. Indeed, I have seen many a video in which all you see of the men are their penises, rarely and sometimes never their faces. Could that not be considered the epitome of objectification?
Similarly if pornography is exploitative of women, it logically follows that it must be equally exploitative of men. And if it is exploitative, then there is scant evidence to support that. Models and actors in pornography make a pretty penny for what they do, and strangely enough, it’s not them I hear complaining when they receive payment for their services.
Yet this goes further still. In 1971 one of the oldest and most popular soft porn magazines in the UK, Fiesta, launched a new phenomenon into the market which has since been copied and emulated by a host of other titles; Readers Wives, which all started when a women – not her male partner – sent in some nude polaroid pics of herself, which the magazine duly published in one issue, and suddenly found themselves inundated with similar pics from women all over the UK and further afield. Fiesta Readers Wives remains the oldest (and I would say best) section of it’s type, they even publish Readers Wives Specials, and Channel 4 Television once aired a documentary following some of the women who contribute photographs to them. Some women said that apart from the money they receive, they enjoyed the thrill and ‘naughtiness’ of exposing themselves. Some said that it made them feel glamorous. One woman admitted that it made her hot to think of hundreds of men masturbating over pics of her naked body.
The vast majority of women who send nude pictures to Readers Wives are no spring chickens, and they are not what would be considered “model material” either. And in my opinion, with their natural curves, even the more mature ones, and presented in unretouched photographs, they are all the more beautiful for it. There was actually one woman in the documentary who actually was in her mid-20s, had a fantastic body, beautiful facial features – and just so happened to be paralysed from the waist down. Notice that all of these women have one thing in common – there is not one of them feels in any way exploited by having their nude photographs published in a magazine. They feel confident about their bodies; confident enough to show them off to the world. They enjoy doing it, there are those who enjoy seeing them, and as nobody is hurt by it, just exactly what harm is that doing? And exactly the same goes for the nude men who send their pics into Fiesta’s “One for the Ladies” column.
Of course, I am not for one moment suggesting that there is not exploitation in pornography. Only a fool would say that it does not exist. People trafficked and forced into pornography is of course a constant worry, and one I would no sooner sanction than I would child porn or zoophilia. When I tried to research this online however, I found it extremely difficult to find well-informed and scholarly articles, or one which did not have their own agenda, be it religious or hyper-feminist, upon the subject. Of those I did find, what they actually state is that the majority of those forced into porn are either children or underage teenagers. So I am not about to go watching that in any case. It seems to me that where adults at least are concerned, the incidence of human trafficking and pornography has been grossly overstated. Certainly, unproven and generalised blanket statements such as one I found in Huffington Post, “You support trafficking when you watch porn” are deeply unhelpful, and precisely the sort of sensationalist guff I am more likely to ignore than take any notice of. Huff Po (which has really gone downhill in recent years) also claims – without offering a shred of evidence – that even where it claims those involved are over 18 and have consented, that they may be younger and made up to look older. Well, no worries with me there, as I prefer to view those in their mid-20s at the youngest, but prefer more mature men and women.
If pornography damages society as a whole, I want to see the empirical evidence to support that claim. For as I have pointed out above, pornography has been with us always, and far from damaging society it seems to me that it is the suppression of perfectly natural sexual desires which is far more likely to cause that. And should not we in the LGBTQI community be more wary of that than anyone? It is not too long ago that it was similarly claimed that homosexuality damaged society. And some religious detractors or pornography also tend to be homophobic and transphobic. In the 1960s, some religious moralists were stating “sex on the streets by 1970”. In actuality sexual liberation has enhanced society and strangely enough, we don’t have sex on the streets, 45 years after the predicted date.
Some come out with the shock statement that some children are viewing porn as young as 11 years old. Ermm, yes, around the same age I discovered my father’s stash of girlie mags. That was down to not hiding them well enough on his part, just as modern-day kids accessing porn is down to similar lack of parental controls, which in this day of explicit porn being freely available should be paramount to every parent. But know what, there’s always going to be that one kid who is determined to view porn, or that one parent whom frankly any sane person would not entrust with the responsibility of a whelk. That does not mean that every child of 11 is viewing pornography. Neither does it mean that the producers (or viewers) of porn are at fault.
Let me use an analogy here. According to the Child Accident Protection Trust, 25,000 under 5 every year are admitted to hospital with suspected or actual poisoning, the vast majority from products found in most households. Now, if wee Johnny finds a bottle of detergent on a lower shelf and manages to open it (“childproof” caps are never truly childproof – I used to ask my nephew to open my tablets) and drink it, who is to blame? Wee Johnny, who does not know any better? The parent? The manufacturer? Other users of that detergent? Should responsible users then be denied that detergent all because wee Johnny’s mum and dad were either forgetful, or are a pair of irresponsible jackasses who are ill-qualified to be parents?
Some claim that pornography leads to sexual assaults. Others state figures which suggest that the incidence of sexual assaults has dropped in line with increased access to pornography. As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I personally think either is a false dichotomy, or at least an unknown quantity. I have yet to be convinced that sexual abuse is actually driven by sexual urges. As a way of attempting to come to terms with the things which were done to me when I was a little boy, and to help me transition from victim to survivor, I researched sexual abuse deeply, and my understanding of it is as well-informed as it is painful, believe you me. I firmly believe that sexual abuse, like all abuse, is primarily about control by inadequate people seeking power over those weaker than them. The abuser – whether they use verbal, psychological, physical or sexual abuse – is a bully, and in the true nature of the bully, a coward at heart. I would suggest that if this is the case, then pornography is unlikely to have any affect either way upon the incidence of sexual abuse.
There is one thing for sure; pornography is already heavily regulated, and while I tend not to trust governments, I am fully aware that they take advice from highly qualified people over the matter; people who are much better qualified that religious busy-bodies and paranoid hyper-feminists who see a male plot at every turn. It is based on this advice that governments gauge any potential harm pornography may pose. Therefore if pornography did present any serious risk to society in general, then far from the explicit content found on the internet and in magazines today, there would be stringent moves to control, suppress and censor it. That we do not have oppressive control and censorship tells it’s own story on whether pornography endangers society or not.
Pornography may cause sexual problems with some viewers – and the little birdies go tweet. Yes, and “social” drinking may lead to alcoholism and health problems for some drinkers, having a flutter on the horses may lead to gambling addiction for some punters, Munro bagging may lead to a broken leg, and eating pies may lead to some people having heart attacks. Adverse and negative things can and do happen to a small number of people in a great many activities, but that is never the case for the overwhelming majority who take part. As with so many things, it is all about moderation. Those treating internet porn addiction have found that those suffering it are sitting in front of it almost constantly, and that obviously does become a problem. As Catherine Salmon, associate professor of psychology at Redlands University, states “Porn in moderation is the same as everything else – no harm, no foul. If you spend your whole day whacking off, your sex drive the next day will be down.”
Yet groups talking a load of heavily-loaded, opinionated, pseudo-scientific claptrap, with Reboot Nation being the biggest culprit, would have you believe that if you view porn, then you are automatically going to become addicted to internet porn, suffer mental problems and / or erectile dysfunction and / or lack of desire. Strangely enough such groups rarely, if ever, mention any adverse effects pornography may have upon girls and women. Can we take it then that females viewing porn suffer no ill effects? Or could it be much more likely that Reboot Nation et al are talking bullshit, and misandric bullshit at that? Frankly I find those who talk about the dangers of pornography being as believable – and laughable – as Samuel-Auguste Tissot, whose 1760 work L’Onanisme claimed that masturbation could lead to “a perceptible reduction of strength, of memory and even of reason; blurred vision, all the nervous disorders, all types of gout and rheumatism, weakening of the organs of generation, blood in the urine, disturbance of the appetite, headaches and a great number of other disorders.” Today we know this is nonsense and that masturbation, for both males and females, is both natural and healthy. It seems to me that Reboot Nation, like Tissot before them, just want to stop men wanking to suit their own agenda, and are as equally guilty of unscientific fairy tales.
With equal strangeness one never finds the detractors of pornography mentioning the positive effects it can have. Yes, they do indeed exist, which is why some therapists will use pornography as an aid to sexual dysfunction. Far from reducing desire, pornography can actually increase it, just as it has done for millennia – well there’s a surprise. In 2007 a study of 600 Danish men and women aged 18-30, conducted by Martin Hald and Neil M. Malamuth found that viewing hardcore pornography had a positive effect upon their lives. In 2009 a study by Michael Twohig at the University of Utah found that the mental state of students viewing porn only suffered when they tried to control their viewing habits. Some others argue that the sort of porn someone views may tell their partner a great deal about them, and can lead to greater understanding, as well as more fulfilling sex lives.
I would also mention other personal positives I have taken from pornography in my life. Far from me viewing people, particularly women, as objects, it has led me to have greater respect for them. I learned much, much more about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV, from articles in porn magazines than I ever did from official channels. Fiesta has to be congratulated for continually emphasising the importance of condoms and safe sex, and being one of the pioneering magazines to teach that AIDS was not solely a danger for gay men and drug users. And most of all, it helped me come to terms with my own sexuality, because strangely enough, the producers of, and most readers of porn mags, tend to be a lot less judgemental than others. Crossdressers and bisexuals writing in to those magazines helped me realise I was not alone, and that I had nothing to be ashamed of.
In conclusion, I would therefore suggest that pornography has been with us always, that it will always be with us, that it does not objectify, exploit, harm society (and never has done), or most individuals, and if anything can actually have positive effects. The bottom line (no pun intended) is that pornography is about personal choice, about who we are as people and no-one has the right to judge or castigate another concerning that.
I make no bones about the fact that I view pornography and no, I am not ashamed of that. Far from it I will proudly proudly state that I like to look at vanilla pics of beautiful male and female bodies, as well as viewing photographs and videos of straight, gay, lesbian, and bi sex, be they solo, couples, or groups, involved in all sorts of sexual acts. Human beings are born sexual creatures and we deny that and our urges to our own detriment. I myself admit to being highly sexed, but hey, that’s just who I am. I don’t have a problem with being highly sexed, and nor should I. Just as I do not have a problem with viewing pornography, and neither does my partner, who views it herself. Just recently we both enjoyed a vanilla pic of four very tasty nude guys washing a car.
Pornography is not for everyone, and if anyone has a personal dislike of it, then that’s fine; that’s your life and I’m cool with that. I’d never try to force porn on you or change your mind about it. If any of you have a problem with me viewing pornography however, that is your problem, and I suggest that you go and sort that out yourself. But if you are thinking for one moment of attempting to try and enforce your views and opinions on my lifestyle, don’t even go there, because I’m not interested in hearing them. Talk to the hand, sister, cos the face ain’t listening.