Is pornography harmful to viewers? Yes. No. Yes and no. It depends on the person, not what’s on the screen.
Pornography is like alcohol: a substance that’s toxic for some, neutral to others and a harmless pleasure for still others.
Most of us first saw pornography as children and are none the worse for wear.
Of course pornography can have a harmful effect on some people; we’ve heard about them from the religious right and feminist left for decades.
But since the early 1990s, more voices of the feminist left — theorists like Linda Williams, Avedon Carol and Susie Bright — have addressed the flawed logic in the pornography critique, and noted that in many cases, men and women (and women and women, and men and men) enjoy porn, singly and together, with no untoward consequences.
In working on a book about how men respond to pornography, I also talked with many such men (and a few women, though their input was not the focus).
Based on my research into viewers’ responses, the men who have difficulties with pornography, much like many who cannot relate well to others and turn to crime, tend to come from dysfunctional backgrounds, where stringent rules, hypocrisy, unhappiness and even violence abounded. Statistically, sex criminals are more likely to come from strict, religious homes and less likely to use pornography.
The real “problem” with porn is that its iffy social reputation and legal status allow so many myths to linger. Activists, politicians and leering TV news reports use pornography as a handy demon, crying “We have to protect the children!” to get attention, votes and support for legislation.
But most of us first saw pornography as children and are none the worse for wear. The average age of first exposure for the men I talked to was less than 11.
We have to stop granting pornography such unwarranted power.