Anti-Pornography VS Anti-Censorship

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Pornography can be defined as “sexually explicit material intended to cause sexual arousal” (Macionis, 2018). Pornography is extremely popular in the United States and throughout the world, and thanks to the internet it is more readily available than ever before. Sexually explicit videos, movies, and magazines, telephone “sex lines,” are now supplemented by an estimated 800 million pages of pornographic material on the internet, and the popular website PornHub reports 100 million visitors each day (Macionis,2018).

Pornography is a topic that has been divisive among feminist groups for a long time. Most notably, they can be divided into two polarizing perspectives, the anti-pornography feminist perspective and the anti-censorship feminist perspective. Anti-pornography feminists claim that pornography “reifies the traditional gender order and causes harm to women”, and that pornography is “a concrete, discriminatory social practice that institutionalizes the inferiority and subordination of women to men” (Wyatt & Bunton, 2009). Central to the anti-pornography feminist perspective is the belief that pornography is a “male discourse that helps naturalize hegemony, which is characteristic of women’s oppression” (Wyatt & Bunton, 2009). They view women as victims of pornography, and the “the “objects” of a cycle of abuse that has pornography at its center”. They see pornography as a misogynistic system of sexual exploitation. Central to a majority of the anti-pornography feminist arguments are that pornography is a proponent of violence against women. Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, two of the largest figures in the anti-pornography feminist movement maintained that “somehow pornography itself is discrimination and violence against women; that its mere existence hurts women, even if it cannot be shown to cause some tangible harm” (Strossen, 2000).

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Not all feminists agreed with the anti-pornography perspectives, and a seed for the anti-censorship feminism movement was planted. Anti-censorship feminist have ultimately developed views and opinions concerning pornography that are virtually polar opposite of the anti-pornography feminist perspective. Anti-censorship feminist believe pornography is not the problem; in fact, they believe that censoring sexual expression would actually do more damage than good in the fight for women’s rights and safety. They “adamantly oppose any effort to restrict sexual speech not only because it would violate our cherished First Amendment freedoms-our freedoms to read, think, speak, sing, write, paint, dance, dream, photograph, film, and fantasize as we wish-but also because it would undermine our equality, our status, our dignity, and our autonomy” (Strossen, 2000). Anti-censorship feminists believe that women should not have to choose between freedom of expression and safety, between speech and equality, or between dignity and sexuality. They feel that women’s rights are “far more endangered by censoring sexual images than they are by the sexual images themselves” (Strossen, 2000). Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, has gone so far as to suggest that “feminists have a special obligation to reject censorship of pornography” (Wyatt & Bunton, 2009). Anti-censorship feminists also directly refute the claims of anti-porngraphy feminists that pornography not only perpetuates violence/ sexual violence against women, it in and of itself is violence against women. On the contrary, according to the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Over the past two decades, as pornography has become much more easily accessible over the Internet, the rate of rape and sexual assault has declined by about 60 percent” (Bailey, 2013).

The problem is that sexually expressive women have come to be seen as victims of male propaganda and male violence. If women enjoy sex – and they don’t hide it – they are viewed as expressing men’s sexuality. Anti-censorship feminists are, therefore, fighting for women’s freedom of sexual investigation and expression. What’s more, anti-censorship feminists argue, simply removing words and images does nothing to change the larger culture. Questions ought to be asked about the roots of a culture that is so hostile to women. How, for example, did men achieve their symbolic power over women, and how can this be changed? (Wyatt & Bunton, 2009).

Simply put, Porn is not the problem. For anti-censorship feminists, pornography is not violence and does not perpetuate violence; instead, that violence is a symptom rather than a source of women’s oppression. Censorship can be seen as a metaphorical band-aid, attempting to shield sexually expressive words and images, instead of examining the root of a culture that is so hostile to women. Until we are all willing to peel back the curtains and dissect the root causes of violence against women, as well as examine how men achieved their symbolic power over women and how that can be changed, this argument will likely never be settled, among feminists and society as a whole.


  1. Bailey, R. (2013, August-September). Seven surprising truths about the world: a lot of the bad news you think you know is wrong. Reason, 45(4), 36+.
  2. McElroy, W. (1997). A feminist defense of pornography. FREE INQUIRY-BUFFALO THEN AMHERST-, 17, 14-17.
  3. Macionis, J. J. (2018). Society. [VitalSource Bookshelf]. Retrieved from
  4. Strossen, N. (2000). Defending pornography: Free speech, sex, and the fight for women's rights. NYU Press.
  5. Wyatt, W. N., & Bunton, K. (2009). Perspectives on Pornography Demand Ethical Critique. The Routledge Handbook of Mass Media Ethics, 221.
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Anti-Pornography VS Anti-Censorship. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
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