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All-aboard the porn express

By Robert Lewis - posted Thursday, 18 November 2004

If porn can be loosely described as the organisation of sexually explicit materials designed to whet sexual appetite, never before in our history has so much of it been so available, and we, mostly men that is, available for it.

As a commodity subject to laws of the marketplace, its prolific supply is guaranteed by virtual universal accessibility, while demand is assured by a tantalising user-confidentiality clause that says: no-one ever need know.

In inverse proportion to the enormous profits going to the producers and purveyors of porn is the conspicuous absence of meaningful dialogue on its psychological effects - if any. Adducing the all-purpose, freedom of choice clause with mantra-like monotony, the individual drones on that porn is a person's (always someone else's) private affair and no one else's business. This widely held view conceals the presumption that the effects of porn are as short-lived as a scene from an X-rated movie.


That porn might be a mine-field where a step in the wrong direction is to risk losing a limb is a possibility that begs closer examination.

The growing use of porn raises a number of disconcerting questions. Does repeated exposure inhibit or maim the healthy sexual response? Is porn psychologically addictive? What should we teach the young about it as they mark their years of passage from adolescence to adulthood? Is there a single, correct response to porn? What constitutes an informed choice concerning the use of porn? And how does this bear on the always tenuous relationship between freedom and responsibility?

Like many things in our culture that seduce, porn is popular because we enjoy it and its use requires minimum effort and commitment. Reduced to its lowest common denominator, porn is a self-contained universe of one person and his fantasy where deity and duty are subsumed by the ethos of self-gratification.

If, outside marriage, conventional sexual gratification means getting out there and meeting people, dating, courtship and seduction, porn is easy - perhaps too easy. With the flick of the remote, it anonymously enters our homes and entertains us for the price of a cocktail, or Internet subscription. At our beck and call 24 hours a day, it is non judgmental. Desire and gratification meet in the winners' circle on every occasion.

In porn's field of dreams that are packed into adult films and magazines, the performers are provocatively inanimate and unreal; response and arousal are a one-way street. When we indulge in porn, nothing can go wrong except getting caught at it.

On the other hand, (which for the purposes of this article is also figure of speech), when we engage in “mature” sex, a minimum of one other real person is required - and lots of things can go wrong. Always to be considered “in varying degrees” is the response of the sexual partner, even in the most brutal and mechanical acts of sex.


Given our manifestly uneasy relationship with porn, (we don't like to talk about what we probably have all done - and enjoyed), we have learned to shape our social discourse so that it emerges politically correct. In public, we scorn porn, or effect indifference, or joke about it in order to mask our abiding fascination with it. But the sales figures belie our words. Are we still closet Puritans collectively waxing guilty over all but the most conservative sexual conduct. Or, is our muteness a confession, of the shame we experience watching others do what we should be doing? After all, doesn't porn turn us all into Peeping Toms while encouraging us to do more than peep? If, for the love of porn, we betray our sexual partners, or the desire to even find one, aren't we all infidels?

To be filed in the category of lies and deceits are the public pronouncements bemoaning the invasion (by invitation) of porn. Best intentions aside, the true meaning we assign to anything we value in life is always and irrevocably measured by the time we spend with it. I can shout to the world that I value Dostoievsky more than porn, but if I use porn everyday and rarely or never read Dostoievsky, nothing I say can change the fact that I am always and inescapably that person who is what he is doing. For some, this is reason enough never to touch porn.

Like the ubiquitous Golden Arches of McDonalds, porn is now a pervasive aspect of our culture. If some of us have found good reason not to eat the things we enjoy at McDonalds, are there equally compelling reasons not to indulge in porn? Is there a judicious use of porn?

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About the Author

Robert Lewis is a writer from Montreal. He has been published in The Spectator.

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