Warning: This piece contains some content related to sexual assault.
The ethical debate of if pornography is good or bad has been around for a little while, but now it’s shifting towards how viewing may cause unrealistic expectations of of people’s sexual identities and activities.
Professor of Mass Communications Gary Hicks said he majority of those who study the impact of pornography on society would say it is not beneficial to humans.
“Typically, from a cultural, critical perspective, [ethicists] are opposed to it because they see that it is in fact part of the dominant patriarchy,” Hicks said. “If you were to see some of the more extreme forms of [porn], it goes into areas where people say it’s simply unhealthy to the people who are participating in it and it is unhealthy to those who are viewing it.”
Today’s pornography details the heteronormative view on couples by showing a high amount of content between a man and a woman, although this does not reflect the population. Right now, Hicks said the role and impact of the media is changing.
“We have become one society that is very much against public nudity,” Hicks said. “Right now [media] is actually more important, not in terms of value, but it is a stronger influence on our lives, including our sexual lives.”
Pornhub, a highly visited pornography website, brought in 135 million views per day during the pandemic. The increase in traffic led some viewers to notice content which contained images of sexual assault and rape. Hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition for Pornhub to take down the content as some underaged people were featured on the site, according to an article published by Independent.
Instructor of Philosophy Meredith Verrochi said pornography itself isn’t always negative and bad, but if consent of the persons involved within the pornography hasn’t been expressed, then that is where the issues arise.
“Autonomy [is] the idea that if I own anything I own my body,” Verrochi said. “That means if I want to be a sex worker then that’s my choice to do. Some women are really empowered by doing sex work and, for better or worse, it seems to be a particularly lucrative profession for women.”
Junior business major Derek Ogle, of East Alton, Illinois, said pornography shouldn’t exclude consent from all parties. Certain pornography websites, such as OnlyFans, give their users more freedom and consent happens when they choose to post.
“As long as there is consent and someone isn’t being forced into making content for things like OnlyFans, I don’t see a problem with it, as they can set their prices and even choose who they let see their content,” Ogle said.
As development within the porn industry evolves, Hicks said fetishization may occur with the explicitness of certain content out there.
“The end of the road for [fetishization] is actually snuff films, where women are actually killed in the production of these films,” Hicks said. “People become resistant to [pornography] just like they do with anything else. They need more to get their fix, like any other kind of drugs.”
From a philosophical standpoint, the main roadblock occurring is whether or not people can express their sexuality without it keeping the cycle of oversexualization going. Verrochi said learning about one’s sexuality through pornography can be damaging.
“It’s mostly damaging to women, it’s obviously damaging to men too, and to relationships,” Verrochi said. “[Pornography] skews towards objectifying women. Making them seem like they are only meant for [sexual] gratification. What we find sexy is culturally located.”
Along with oversexualization, the expectations gathered from pornography may not always benefit those watching it. Ogle said most porn is intended for entertainment — not educational — purposes.
“They try to make it look as appealing as possible when sex really just isn’t like that,” Ogle said. “Obviously people are still going to watch it, but I don’t believe it should be watched until you can understand that it’s made for viewing and it’s not some sort of guideline.”
With gender fluidity becoming more visible, Verrochi said certain groups have been misrepresented or not presented well.
“An important part of our lives is our intimate relationships with people,” Verrochi said. “To have your ideas about what it means to be in a sexual relationship with somebody or having a sexual experience, if that is built by pornography as it’s currently available, that’s not good.”
Representations of people in the media have long been looked at as a source of information to explore about people’s likes and dislikes. Ogle said misrepresentation of certain relationships outside of the gender binary can directly harm those who are exploring their preferences.
“Especially in people’s younger years as they are starting to explore being themselves ... it could lead to misunderstanding in how to have a sexual relationship with someone,” Ogle said.
Hicks said another aspect of the porn industry is the economic side. He said the ever-changing business has been heavily molded from how much money each site can make.
“The way it has developed into an industry, I would say, presents remarkable challenges,” Hicks said. “[Porn] can play a healthy role in, not only for kids who are going through puberty and experiencing sexual feelings for the first time, but also for all people who may have some interest in other expressions of sexuality. The problem is, if the media we are consuming is pornography, [then] it is really giving a distorted and uneducated perspective on what sexuality is.”