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Why Should Pornography Be Strictly Regulated?

Is it possible for a government to ban citizens from creating and consuming pornography, or will this breach other people's fundamental freedoms? Is pornography detrimental to society, both in terms of consumer behavior and the representation of women in largely submissive roles? The controversy about whether or not pornography should be banned is described by the above questions. The above questions also pose a number of questions about how much and on what grounds a government should restrict people's right to create and consume pornographic content. In this paper, I argue that it is necessary to regulate pornography creation and consumption, owing to its denigrating effects on mainly women, in line with the arguments of conservatives such as Catherine MacKinnon. Although it may be a source of fun and entertainment for some members of society, and may be created and consumed as a form of personal expression, it more often than not portrays women in a bad light, with greater implications for women’s participation in other spheres of society.

Numerous scholars agree that pornography is sexually explicit and largely bad, but disagree on what makes it bad or what qualifies as pornographic. Some scholars, such as Catherine Mackinnon, have opted to define pornography majorly as an obscenity, which depicts immoral acts, with offensive and corrupting effects. According to Mackinnon and other conservatives, this is the basis for banning, or at least heavily regulating pornography. According to liberal scholars and commentators, however, the freedoms of the individual may not permit the state to ban pornography. According to the liberals, such as Ronald Dworkin, the authorities or conservatives may only have non-coercive mechanisms at their disposal if they feel that pornography should be controlled (Dworkin).

Pornography and Women Rights

Pornography is almost equivalent to systematic torture. Pornographic material display women as well as children in submissive and denigrating conditions. According to Mackinnon, when torture is meted on a person because of who they are, it is regarded as keeping a population in submission, acquiescent, terrorized, or compliant. Many people understand that it is possible to exploit women and children through pornography. For the perpetrators, it is just a simple aspect of biology or simply sex. Pornography may be disguised as a way of promoting equality, freedoms, or love, while it is more likely to achieve the opposite. Pornography, therefore, is another avenue through which men or people who discriminate or despise women, get to achieve their own ends. Most, if not all the sexual acts or so-called fetishes will depict a woman in a submissive or ‘bonded’ role. Pornography, is just one more avenue for men to ‘put women in their place.’

Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry. However, the likelihood of the women or subjects being exploited reaping from the proceeds is very minimal. The people who are more likely to benefit are the men who sell the results of production, and the men who get to participate in sexual acts with the women and children who may have been coerced to play roles out of desperation. In fact, the statement that the only industries in which women earn more than men is in prostitution puts the above claim into perspective. While it may be difficult to label pornography as a form of prostitution, there are so many parallels.

While prostitution is largely associated with the streets, those who enjoy pornography are safe in the confines of their houses, and behind the screens. However, both offerings will have to be paid for one way or another. Women or children may also be admitted into prostitution and pornography in the same manner. With the promise of a better life, good money, or even protection. Although there might be a few individuals or women who claim that it is their right to practice what they want, whether prostitution or pornography, we cannot escape from the fact that both are industries in which many reap huge amounts of money, with the least going to the women players. It is even plausible that if pornography had no monetary value, it would have not permeated the internet as is has today. Pornography, just like prostitution, exploits women. It assigns a value to women, based on their sexuality. A value that may only be exploited through violence, indecent acts, coercion, and cruelty.

Even in supposedly soft-core offerings, which may pretend to glorify and celebrate the ‘best’ of women or present them as art to be celebrated, social inequality and exploitation still emerge. It is still hard to escape the fact that women are being ‘used’ for the sake of another audience. Pornography consumers are mostly men. In addition, any photos or movies released are often retouched and some features accentuated in order to increase viewership, and inevitably, sales. Some producers will even go to great lengths to present children as adult women, out of the notion that most consumers would like younger looking actresses. All the above point to a situation where producers and creators will attempt to break and bend rules just to stay ahead of the pack. Indeed, if there are even a few who attempt to bend the rules, then we can be sure that there are many more who break the rules and go scot-free.

Most consumers of pornography partake of the vice from the comfort of their bedrooms or offices, in private. It is more often than not an urge to be scratched, and then they go back to their normal lives. However, for the actors and mostly actresses, it is a lifestyle defined by humiliation day in day out. Even if the players get in by choice, it may quickly turn into a vicious cycle with very limited options. There is no way for the consumers to determine whether the players have been coerced or threatened with violence, or even if they are under the influence of drugs. The consumers are more likely to be enjoying what is a source of agony for the players. Consequently, pornography consumption could be a sadistic activity, where consumers satisfy their curiosity and sexual urges while the actors and actresses suffer a great deal, with none left to come to their rescue.

The individuals who have the greatest capacity to rescue potential victims from their exploitation and misery and the same people to enjoy witnessing the misery. From the surface, therefore, it seems that individuals trapped in the industry are bound to continue suffering at the hands of producers, urged on by consumers demanding more novel productions every day. In addition, the proliferation of information technology tools implies that distribution and access are no longer challenges, but opportunities for growth and to come up with more tantalizing productions. Therefore, it is critical to undertake public information campaigns to educate the public and potential consumers on the effects of continued consumption of pornography. Policy-makers also need to step up to the plate and lead the way in protecting vulnerable members of society who are at risk of being trapped in a vicious cycle of torture and humiliation.

Pornography has the effect of increasing violent and discriminatory attitude towards women. Since pornography largely depicts women in submissive roles, consumers are likely to internalize the attitudes communicated and practice them in real life. Moreover, where pornographic material depicts women being subjected to violent acts, it is safe to say consumers are likely to interpret the implicit messages to mean that women can and enjoy such treatment. In addition, in subjecting women and children to certain violent sexual acts, some consumers may gain not only the urge, but also the confidence to re-enact such situations in real life. It seems that pornography, although instigated by a few, in pursuit of economic gains, gradually takes on a mind of its own, sustained by increasing demand from consumers for more tantalizing depictions to satisfy seemingly insatiable urges. Pornography production and consumption grips women, children, and all those afflicted in one way or the other, including consumers, into a vicious cycle that encourages violence and decadence, while constantly appealing to our basest morals.

Outlawing Pornography in the face of Personal Liberties

According to some scholars such as Dworkin, any attempts to outlaw or regulate pornography would be equivalent to curtailing free speech. They argue that policing pornography is akin to interfering with negative liberty, which is allowing people to do what they would wish to do, even if some people may be uncomfortable with it. For instance, speaking one’s mind or speeding on the highway. They argue that negative liberty complements positive liberty, so that all are entitled to positive liberty, where everyone has a say in how they are governed, with an equal voice. Therefore, they argue that pornography should be allowed. This is allegedly because controlling its production and consumption would be similar to curtailing people’s freedoms. In this case, the freedom to express themselves and consume what they wish to consume. However, the above argument hardly takes into account those whose rights are infringed on through the propagation of pornography, both online and offline.

Over the years, pornography has grown into a major industry, with even more complicated offerings to cater for growing niches. It even reflects and permeates racial and religious stereotypes. Most importantly, one’s liberties should not be at the expense of another’s. Since all would agree that it is impossible to verify whether those who are depicted in pornographic material are not being exploited, or under-age, wouldn’t it be instructive to control production and dissemination? The rights of a few, privileged and safe consumers and producers, to pleasure and profits, respectively, should not trump the rights of many vulnerable women and potentially children to dignity and safety. We should be more concerned with minimizing suffering and inequalities than offering avenues for sadistic pleasures.

Proponents of more liberal attitudes towards pornography have attempted to argue that pornography consumption has not led to an increase in rape or physical assault. They further point out that there are no studies demonstrating direct links between consuming obscene material and rape. However, they agree that pornography and its associated depictions could weaken individuals’ critical attitudes towards sexual violence and discrimination. The above is almost contradictory. If individuals become less critical of sexual violence, they are more likely to tolerate it. This implies that extended exposure or consumption will lead to an inability to intervene or raise a voice upon witnessing situations that could escalate into sexual violence or exploitation. While individuals who consume pornography may not necessarily begin re-enacting violent depictions, they will most likely turn a blind eye in the face of it. Therefore, the effects of pornography consumption transcend the individual and are multifaceted, and should be interrogated based on the complex interactions at play across society.

Some of the liberal scholars indeed agree that censorship, even of free speech, is necessary in some occasions, such as when one would ‘cry fire’ in a crowded theatre, or incite others to violence. Nevertheless, they insist that things must not be censored simply because the message put across is bad or the ideas presented are obscene or offensive. However, the comparison of pornography and free speech or hate speech is somewhat far-fetched. Pornography is often produced and consumed privately. It is effectively hidden. It seems that those who do not mind its dissemination believe that its effects are hidden as well. As much as pornography is consumed privately, its effects are dealt with on a societal scale. After people consume porn in the privacy of their dimly lit rooms in the wee hours of the night, they emerge during the day to work, having consumed material with one overriding message. That women are to be exploited and can be violated. Although pornography may be consumed in private, the effects still operate at a societal level.

In addition, pornography should be viewed from an entirely different lens, from that used to glean alcohol or cigarette consumption. Sex is both a biological and social act. Alcohol and cigarettes on the other hand are products to be picked from a shelf. Therefore, we cannot simply put pornography in a restricted section of the aisle and hope that minors will not access it. Pornography cuts across many aspects of society, including women and children. How it is produced and consumed is also more difficult to monitor and regulate, especially with the advent of information technology tools, ranging from video ready cellphones, and the ubiquitous internet. Besides, once a pornography video is uploaded on the internet, determining who views or accesses it in the end is practically impossible. However, tracking and regulating substance abuse is relative easy.

Considering the complex nature of pornography, including how it is at the heart of human biology and relations, it is critical to examine it from a special perspective, which does not equate it to a product on a shelf, or a freedom of expression. Pornography deserves greater and more critical appraisal. Moreover, the avenues through which it is disseminated make it necessary to subject it greater monitoring. Pornography created in one part of the world will quickly or instantly find its way in another part of the world, even if the acts depicted therein are outlawed on one end. Pornography is difficult to regulate. However, that should not be a reason to leave it uncontrolled, but a reason to work harder to find creative and ingenious ways to limit its creation and dissemination.


The debate over whether to strongly regulate pornography or whether it is a wild goose chase is almost similar to a prior long-drawn debate on how to deal with prostitution. On the one end, pornography promotes violence towards vulnerable members of society, especially women and children, through denigrating or discriminatory depictions. On the other hand, pornography is just another avenue for self-expression, whose regulation would be akin to curtailing free speech. I argue for tougher regulation of pornography, for the sake of those who may be under exploitation and bound in a vicious cycle of violence. I also argue for tighter regulation, even if it seems foolhardy, for the sake of a healthier and more cohesive society, which is not under the spell of the implicit messages propagated by pornography producers. For instance, that women are to be used, or propagating false narratives regarding perfect bodies and beauty.

Although people should have a right to consume what they want, which may include sadistic depictions of women, potentially under exploitation, the consumers, or policy makers should consider the potential effects on both ends of the supply chain. A consumer may be comfortable watching the product, or argue that it is their right to consume what they want, without harming any one. However, they should also be able to consider, and critically interrogate, whether the production process was above board, and whether the characters in the medium they derive pleasure from had the choice of participating in the clip, or if they were coerced or threatened with violence. Pornography is very complex, considering how it is produced, consumed, and the effects on both players and consumers. Therefore, it should not be reduced to a comparison with free speech.

Works Cited

Dworkin, Ronald. "Liberty and Pornography." New York Review of Books 38.14 (1991): 12-15. Print.

MacKinnon, Catharine A. "Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech." Harv. CR-CLL Rev. 20 (1985): 1. Print.

August 09, 2021


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