Let's Put Pornography Back in the Closet: Discursive Essay

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Pornography is a controversial aspect of feminist debate. This essay strives to highlight the harm pornography causes women and whether restrictions or a ban on its production and consumption are necessary to protect and reduce inequality against women. The current debate in this area focuses on the extent to which the harm, caused by pornography, is rights-violating. Subsequently, if it is rights-violating, does the banning of pornography risk infringing others' rights in the process?

Using anti-pornography feminist theories and numerous clinical studies, this paper will show that there is a need to ban pornography because the harm caused by pornography violates women`s rights. A combination of clinical studies and victims' testimonies are used to prove this. Furthermore, the banning of pornography would not restrict other rights people have to things like sexual autonomy or equality. Hence, the research illustrates that there are consequences of high exposure to pornography which causes physical violence and increased inequality towards women. Therefore, by explaining the argument for the need to outlaw pornography, and consequently attesting to why pornography risks the safety of women, we can conclude that pornography both causes harm and should be outlawed.

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The extent to which pornography should be outlawed depends on whether the harm it causes overrides the right to access pornographic material. Hence, if pornography does cause harm, there is still a need to prove why this justifies it being outlawed. Consequently, the first part of the essay will focus on the argument for why pornography should be outlawed. Then, it will go on to prove that the assumption of pornography causes harm to women is a correct assumption to make. Finally, the essay will conclude why, given the risk to women`s equality and safety, banning pornography will reduce inequality between men and women.

The argument for why pornography should be outlawed

Pornography should be outlawed because the harm it causes to women violates their civil rights, specifically the right to equal protection (Brison, 2005, 242). The increasingly accessible nature of pornography because of the internet and the ranging forms of pornography becoming available because of it, mean that it is significantly easier to view humiliating and degrading images of women. The most popular pornography site, LiveJasmin.com, a webcam site, gets almost 2.5% of all internet users visiting it a month (Ruvolo, 2011).

The aim of pornography to degrade women leads to the acceptance of this behavior towards women in society in general and so, encourages both physical violence and the subordination of women in public. Langton (1999) proves that pornography should be classed as a speech act and viewed as an illocutionary force (303). This means that by proving producers of pornography intend to rank a group of people (in this case women) as being inferior, this legitimizes discrimination towards women and strips them of socially significant powers (ibid). Pornographers intentionally portray women from the male perspective in the context of reinforcing the concepts of male domination and female subordination. Therefore, they are intentionally perpetuating women as inferior thus, simulating gender inequality. Hence, pornography should be outlawed, because it is created with the intent to violate women`s right to equality.

Altman (2005) argues that the reason pornography cannot be outlawed is that there is a moral right to consume and produce it (225). Even in cases of violent pornography, and if it was proven to be the direct cause of sexual violence against women, it should not be restricted (ibid). This is because Altman (2005) believes the right to sexual autonomy is the same as the right to pornography and so, restricting the right to pornography is restricting people`s rights unfairly. Hence, he believes outlawing pornography is a draconian way of dealing with the harms of the pornography industry instead, alternative methods to diminish violence in the industry like unionization should be used (Altman, 2005, 232).

However, Altman (2005) is wrong to assume that the right to pornography is the same as the right to sexual autonomy. Firstly, Altman (2005) claims that there is both a legal right and a moral right to pornography (Brison, 2005, 245). The argument that pornography and violence are connected does not warrant the outlawing of pornography because non-pornographic films also have violence against women (Altman, 2005, 228) is farcical. Brison (2005) highlights that this is the equivalent of saying texting and driving are okay because it is not the only cause of car accidents (247). Pornography is one cause of many does not exclude it from adding to the problem.

Furthermore, limiting access to pornography would not restrict sexual autonomy because it is not included in the right to sexual autonomy. The right to sexual autonomy is personal and does not risk the safety of anyone else (assuming everyone is accepting of that right). Pornography, specifically violent pornography, can easily lead to changes in views and perceptions of women as well as physical violence towards them, whether they consent to its production or not. Hence, sexual autonomy and access to pornography do not need to be under the same umbrella, as Altman (2005) wrongly assumes these rights are equally harmless to others (Brison, 2005, 248). The harm pornography is causing, leads to the very things happening that sexual autonomy rights are meant to protect.

Therefore, restrictions against pornography only require evidence of a link between pornography and violence or harm against women in order to warrant the banning of it. Subsequently, there is a need to prove the harm pornography causes violates women`s rights.

Is pornography harmful to women?

Brison (2005) refers to indirect harm (240) as an example of the harm that is often dismissed. This form of harm centers around the idea that pornography reinforces sexist perceptions of women in consumers of pornography. This is because it endorses the degrading of women as it displays physical, verbal, and psychological abuse towards women; whether the woman has consented or not, this kind of behavior is still degrading (Langton, 1999, 110). Therefore, being subjected to these sorts of images will naturally lead to changing and normalizing discriminatory attitudes and behaviors toward women. This behavior is particularly concerning given the wide availability of pornography for young boys to access at an impressionable age (Brison, 2005, 240).

Brison (2005) argues that although pornography is a consequence of the patriarchy, the easy accessibility to it perpetuates and upholds the attitudes that allow gender inequality to continue (241). Experimental studies have suggested this. One study concluded that men having repeated exposure to slasher films containing violence against women led to the violence being viewed as significantly less degrading and even less violent the more they watched it (Linz et al., 1984, 130). By the last day of the study, men were significantly more likely to enjoy the films (ibid). Hence, implies that when viewing the degrading of women in pornography, specifically violent pornography, the same would occur.

Pornography contains incredibly high amounts of violence, one study looked at the 50 most popular porn films purchased or rented and 88% of the scenes contained physical violence with 49% containing physical aggression (Bridges, et al. 2010). Thus, it is natural for pornography users to become desensitized and view this behavior as normalized. This is backed up by a study exposing that those watching a significant amount of porn believed sex with animals and violent sex was twice as common as those not exposed to it (Zillman, 2000). Hence, the consumption of pornography clearly leads to normalized perceptions of what is considered acceptable in society. Therefore, this could lead to this sort of behavior being used against women in public as it would be viewed as acceptable.

The normalization of harmful behavior towards women could lead to physical violence against women. Eaton (2007) refers to multiple studies that suggest there is a correlation between the availability of pornography and rape rates (705). One study shows that there was an increase in rape reports as pornography increased (Court, 1984). Other research suggested a positive correlation between rape rates and the circulation of sex magazines (Eaton, 2007, 705). The studies heavily imply pornography plays a role in the physical harm to women.

Lori Watson (2010) uses victims' testimonies to add to the evidence in the clinical studies (543). Victims of rape have testified to pornography being used as an instruction manual (Watson, 2010, 543) and testimony from sex offenders found that there was a correlation between the consumption of pornography and sexual violence (ibid). Both studies and testimony call attention to a connection showing that the consumption of pornography can lead to direct physical harm against women. Therefore, the availability and exposure to pornography lead to the normalization and desensitizing attitudes towards what is acceptable, which causes physical harm and the increased use of misogynistic views.

Kaminer (1992) argues that this view is too simplistic; if pornography were to not exist then there would still be sexual violence against women. Consequently, you cannot know whether sex offenders would have sexually abused women anyway, regardless of their consumption of pornography.

Eaton (2007) highlights this as the same connection as smoking and cancer (704). Some people smoke and do not get cancer, others do not smoke and get cancer. However, we still know that smoking could cause cancer and we do not deny that(ibid). The method used to prove that smoking caused cancer was to look at finding a causal connection. This looked at an increase in smoking and how that was found to positively correlate with an increase in lung cancer cases. The same method used by anti-pornography feminists, as previously mentioned, had found there was a correlation between exposure to porn and rape reports (Court, 1984).

The combination of clinical data and anecdotal evidence found within pornography studies implies that further data would only back this up. Therefore, whilst pornography is not the only cause of sexual violence against women as Kaminer (1992) points out, the evidence proves it at least contributes to it. The issue is that it has the capability to change attitudes and corrupt people, particularly given the addictive nature of pornography. There is evidence that pornography consumers can become addicted to the dopamine rush gained from watching pornography (Park, et al. 2016). Many reported finding their choice of pornography becoming more violent as they become further addicted to consuming it and many users struggle to stop using it once they are addicted(ibid). Hence, this could lead to high exposure to violent films like the study into the impact of slasher films on attitudes towards violence (Altman, 2005, 228), which would cause the normalizing of beliefs that harm women.

Therefore, there is evidence of a connection between physical violence and pornography which has been clinically and anecdotally proven across a multitude of situations. There is a mutual belief from all perspectives that mass consumption and production of pornography have a cumulative impact on the treatment and perception of women in society. Consequently, whether the women in pornography have consented to the actions or not, the images still cause harm to women in general. Hence, pornography clearly leads to the risk of harm to women in forms of violence but also in maintaining and encouraging the social stigma against what a woman should be like and how she should be treated.

Why not outlaw pornography further inequality

The moral right to consume and produce pornography, as we have already discussed, centered on the extent to which harm is caused by the right to pornography. We have now established the connection between harm and pornography which consequently overrides any moral right to `get off` to images that degrade women. Therefore, the purpose of banning it would be to reduce sexual inequality in the way women are treated.

Critics argue that restricting access to pornography does not lead to the outcome that anti-pornography feminists hope and so, equality would not be achieved. Kaminer (1992) argues that it could lead to anti-pornographic laws being used against sex educators and advocates of choice and that pornography will still be available on the dark web. Thus, there is a risk of no change or even increased inequality in the long run.

However, these assumptions of the risks of anti-pornographic laws assume these laws to have alternate definitions of what pornography is compared to what anti-pornography feminists use. Longino (1980) defines pornography as specifically having a distinguishing characteristic, that the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography described as the degrading and demeaning portrayal of the role and status of the human female… as a mere sexual object to be exploited and manipulated sexually (154). Therefore, by having a narrow description of pornography, there is no risk of the laws being used to minimize the distribution of information on AIDs or condoms in schools because they do not fit into that definition. MacKinnon (1997) also includes images or words where women are presented as sexual objects who enjoy pain or humiliation (435). Hence, the removal of images like these would only prevent the normalizing and encouraging of viewing women by this nature from being easily accessible.

Pornography aims to sexually arouse for profit, so targeting audiences' non-rational mental states and so, risking non-rational reactions which harm women (Social, 1996). Hence, no restrictions mean pornography is easily accessible to non-rational and impressionable minds, particularly as pornography is the most addictive form of online entertainment (Meerkerk, et al. 2006). Therefore, by banning pornography it will be less accessible thus, preventing the opportunity to stumble across pornography or into an addiction. Accessing the black market is significantly more difficult than using google. Consequently, a ban would significantly reduce the risk of pornography changing attitudes and behavior toward women and so, reducing harm to women.

Longino (1980) remarks that men have a vested interest to maintain the consumption of pornography (157) as it allows them to continue to feel superior to women. Many critics against banning pornography will, perhaps unknowingly, have this bias and so it is possible their belief of a right to pornography is founded on the very reason why it should be outlawed. To allow the mass production of images degrading women in order to gain sexual arousal whilst, also encouraging physical violence and the continuing subordination of women in society is putting male pleasure and comfort before women`s safety.

Therefore, the principle of allowing pornography to exist, even before it has a chance to be consumed, is an example of people diminishing the seriousness of the harm caused to women for personal gain. Hence, the principle of pornography existing at all is harming women and why it should be outlawed.


To conclude, outlawing pornography would prevent the further risk to women`s safety and reduce the inequality women face in day-to-day life. The principle of pornography existing at all is putting sexual arousal before harm against women, and so violating women`s rights. The right to equal protection and safety has been forgotten in favor of getting off. Hence, pornography should be banned as it continues to hurts women daily.

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Let’s Put Pornography Back in the Closet: Discursive Essay. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/lets-put-pornography-back-in-the-closet-discursive-essay/
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