What are the social benefits of pornography?
June 18, 2008 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Does porn benefit society? Over the years we've read a lot about the ills of pornography but the world doesn't seem to be falling apart any faster than it was before the internet came along. What's the latest thinking on this?

For example, does anyone know of any studies, stories or anecdotes where the use of pornography helped someone or solved some sort of societal problem? Does it help pacify or inspire potential rapists? Does it keep marriages together or break them apart? From personal experience, I remember when I first saw pornography it opened up a whole new world of experience and excitement for me. Nowadays most of it for me is just like pleasant oggling of the bikini-clad page three girl in newspapers in days gone by. What's going on?
posted by vizsla to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

There's this Slate article on the subject.
posted by whoaali at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2008

Just remembering from random class meetings I had in a few sociology classes over the past few years:

1 - Outlet for people who want things their partner can't/won't do. I can imagine anything, and nobody has to do it for me.

2 - Sex addicts can masturbate as opposed to going out and raping someone.

3 - Teaches about sex in a way that public education doesn't.
posted by theichibun at 6:47 PM on June 18, 2008

I remember when I first saw pornography it opened up a whole new world of experience and excitement for me.

Satisfying the curiosity of eager young youths in a way that won't give them an infection, a fetus, or an awkward story?
posted by phrontist at 6:52 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nadine Strossen, then-head of the ACLU, wrote a book called Defending Pornography a while back--it'd probably be up your alley.
posted by box at 6:57 PM on June 18, 2008

Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU, wrote a book called Defending Pornography that might interest you.
posted by mattbucher at 6:59 PM on June 18, 2008

The larger porn firms have also had a role in condom advocacy. And, though not explicit in pornography itself, STD testing might be a typical topic of discussion in a behind-the-scenes article or interview about porn stars. They are role models for responsible promiscuity.

Also, I imagine, homosexual pornography played/plays a role in giving isolated gay individuals validation to their desires and lifestyle. In other words, pornography can subvert public taboo (for good and bad).
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:11 PM on June 18, 2008

Sex addicts can masturbate as opposed to going out and raping someone.

If only rape were a problem caused by sex addiction. I don't think easy access to pornography has done anything at all to the number of rapes committed, primarily because rape has much more to do with control and violence than it does sex.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:19 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Plot these two variables:
On the X axis, the years from when dial-up internet access became very popular to the present time.
On the Y axis, the number of petty robberies and vandalism incidents committed by bored teenage males.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:32 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some of these answers seem to assume that internet = porn, and that porn only became popular with the rise of the internet.
posted by yclipse at 7:41 PM on June 18, 2008

DeeXtrovert- The only problem with that theory is that we never really know what's going through the mind of a rapist. Not saying that's wrong, but it's not the only "cause" of rape.

Also not for nothing, on some level, consensual sex has a lot to do with control and aggression...
posted by gjc at 7:48 PM on June 18, 2008

Does porn benefit society?

In situations like this, you will find one group pointing to rape, saying that pornography is responsible for it. You will find another group pointing to rape, saying, "If it weren't for this healthy outlet, we'd have more rape."

The only way you're going to get more than handwaving is to create a control group society without pornography, then come up with some kind of set of measurement standards. Violence? Masturbation? Sexual tension? Respect? Next figure out how to actually measure those.

In short - pick your side, then pick your explanations and studies. I think they do this in economics.
posted by adipocere at 8:01 PM on June 18, 2008

Adipocere: Or you could look at how these things change as a society with low use of pornography becomes a society with a greater use of pornography. Japan for example. As the authors conclude:
In sum, the concern that countries allowing pornography would show increased sex crime rates due to modeling or that adolescents in particular would be negatively vulnerable to and receptive to such models or the society would be otherwise adversely effected has not been vindicated. It is certainly clear from our data and analysis that a massive increase in available pornography in Japan has been correlated with a dramatic decrease in sexual crimes and most so among youngsters as perpetrators or victims.
Or you could look at the USA, Denmark, Sweden and West Germany(pdf) between 1964 and 1984
The aggregate data on rape and other violent or sexual offences from four countries where pornography, including aggressive varieties, has become widely and easily available during the period we have dealt with would seem to exclude, beyond any reasonable doubt, that this availability has had any detrimental effects in the form of increased sexual violence.
Or you could consider that most of the people saying pornography is responsible for sexual violence are politically motivated, while those saying that pornography isn't tend to have formed their arguments based on persuasive data.
posted by xchmp at 8:38 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can look at that, but you cannot separate out all of the other things going on with those societies. At the same time as pornography has increased, you could easily find a number of other things which have increased or decreased in that same time period: technology, income, influx of American culture, declining religious beliefs, and so on. Overused as it is, correlation is not causation.

You'd basically have to very closely monitor pornography (how?) with ups and downs, then track that against your target ... and then look at pretty much every other societal, economic, and scientific trend and make sure that those also didn't track against your target. Also, sunspots.

The availability of pornography, for example, has been highly correlated with my income. No kidding. I was making squat in college, and porn was hard to get. When I got my first "Real Job" around the time a friend showed me an actual motion image of pornography downloaded from the Internet. Now porn is everywhere and I'm making a much better living. Clearly, pornography is correlated with my income, right? Porn is good for my income. And the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that I'm in the business of producing, distributing, or selling porn.

Weirdly, porn has nothing to do with my job. Hence my comment.
posted by adipocere at 9:07 PM on June 18, 2008

Define "society."
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:19 PM on June 18, 2008

Without any actual facts to back me up... Without porn the internet would have evolved much more slowly during the dial up era. Even today the porn industry is still driving a lot of innovation on the web. It's up to you to judge whether or not speeding up innovation the web is a benefit to society.
posted by rdr at 10:23 PM on June 18, 2008

I have a "friend" who actually found porn useful in what it takes to pleasure a woman. No, not like crazy stuff like double penetration but things like g-spot stimulation, how to perform oral sex right, that sort of thing.

It's paid off.

Like the Internet and alcohol, porn is the cause and solution to many of life's problems.
posted by champthom at 10:42 PM on June 18, 2008

I remember when I first saw pornography it opened up a whole new world of experience and excitement for me. Nowadays most of it for me is just like pleasant oggling of the bikini-clad page three girl in newspapers in days gone by. What's going on?

You may just possibly be getting older, and have had more real sex. Just a theory. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:21 PM on June 18, 2008

Porn has been instrumental in the wider acceptance of new home-based entertainment technologies - not just the internet but also the VCR. Here's an interesting article.
posted by goo at 12:24 AM on June 19, 2008

Effects of pornography on marriage.
posted by davcoo at 5:15 AM on June 19, 2008

The porn industry is always at the forefront of new tech (DVD, the web, VHS) , and tends to push it forward into the mainstream.
posted by softlord at 5:25 AM on June 19, 2008

In reference to your question, "does porn benefit society?" you might find it interesting to check out the perspective of those who do not think that porn benefits society. Stop Porn Culture says their mission is one dedicated to challenging the pornography industry and an increasingly pornographic pop culture. Our work toward ending industries of sexual exploitation is grounded in a feminist analysis of sexist, racist, and economic oppression. We affirm sexuality that is rooted in equality and free of exploitation, coercion, and violence.

A similar perspective can be found in Robert Jensen's work, who has written about porn frequently and is the author of the recent book Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity.

Here's some reviews of Getting Off.

(please note: these are not my positions on porn, pro or con - just that an alternate perspective can be thought-provoking & can help one understand an issue more comprehensively)
posted by jammy at 5:50 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

To go along with the "thought provoking alternate perspective" idea, THIS article is pretty interesting. In my experience (and the experience of people I know, even though not all of them would acknowledge it) porn has done far more harm than good.
posted by jluce50 at 6:55 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

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