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Essay/Term paper: Pornography: sex or subordination?

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Pornography: Sex or Subordination?

In the late Seventies, America became shocked and outraged by the rape,
mutilation, and murder of over a dozen young, beautiful girls. The man who
committed these murders, Ted Bundy, was later apprehended and executed. During
his detention in various penitentiaries, he was mentally probed and prodded by
psychologist and psychoanalysts hoping to discover the root of his violent
actions and sexual frustrations. Many theories arose in attempts to explain the
motivational factors behind his murderous escapades. However, the strongest and
most feasible of these theories came not from the psychologists, but from the
man himself, "as a teenager, my buddies and I would all sneak around and watch
porn. As I grew older, I became more and more interested and involved in it,
(pornography) became and obsession. I got so involved in it, I wanted to
incorporate (porn) into my life, but I couldn't behave like that and maintain
the success I had worked so hard for. I generated an alter-ego to fulfill by
fantasies under-cover. Pornography was a means of unlocking the evil I had
buried inside myself" (Leidholdt 47). Is it possible that pornography is acting
as the key to unlocking the evil in more unstable minds?
According to Edward Donnerstein, a leading researcher in the pornography
field, "the relationship between sexually violent images in the media and
subsequent aggression and . . . callous attitudes towards women is mush stronger
statistically than the relationship between smoking and cancer" (Itzin 22).
After considering the increase in rape and molestation, sexual harassment, and
other sex crimes over the last few decades, and also the corresponding increase
of business in the pornography industry, the link between violence and
pornography needs considerable study and examination. Once the evidence you
will encounter in this paper is evaluated and quantified, it will be hard not to
come away with the realization that habitual use of pornographic material
promotes unrealistic and unattainable desires in men that can lead to violent
behavior toward women.
In order to properly discuss pornography, and be able to link it to
violence, we must first come to a basic and agreeable understanding of what the
word pornography means. The term pornography originates from two Greek words,
porn, which means harlot, and graphein, which means to write (Webster's 286).
My belief is that the describe, in literature, the sexual escapades of women of
pornography has grown to include any and all obscene literature and pictures.
At the present date, the term is basically a blanket which covers all types of
material such as explicit literature, photography, films, and video tapes with
varying degrees of sexual content.
Now that pornography has been defined in a fashion mirroring its content,
it is now possible to touch upon the more complex ways a community, as a society,
views or defines it. Some have said it is impossible for a group of individuals
to form a concrete opinion as to what pornography means. A U.S. Supreme Court
judge is quoted as saying, "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see
it" (Itzin 20). This statement can be heard at community meetings in every
state, city, and county across the nation. Community standards are hazy due to
the fact that when asked what pornography is to them, most individuals cannot
express or explain in words what pornography is, therefore creating confusion
among themselves.
Communities are left somewhat helpless in this matter since the federal
courts passed legislation to keep pornography available to adults. The courts
assess that to ban or censor the material would be infringing on the public's
First Amendment Right (Carol 28). Maureen O'Brien quotes critics of a
congressionally terminated bill, the pornography Victim's Compensation Act, as
saying "That if it had passed, it would have had severely chilling effects on
the First Amendment, allowing victims of sexual crimes to file suit against
producers and distributors of any work that was proven to have had 'caused' the
attack, such as graphic material in books, magazines, videos, films, and records"
(Carol 7). People in a community debating over pornography often have different
views as to whether or not it should even be made available period, and some
could even argue this point against the types of women used in pornography: "A
for greater variety of female types are shown as desirable in pornography than
mainstream films and network television have ever recognized: fat women, flat
women, hairy women, aggressive women, older women, you name it" (Carol 25). If
we could all decide on just exactly what pornography is and what is acceptable,
there wouldn't be so much debate over the issue of censoring it.
The bounds of community standards have been stretched by mainstreaming
movies, opening the way even further for the legalization of more explicit fare
(Jenish 53). In most contemporary communities explicit sex that is without
violent of dehumanizing acts is acceptable in American society today.
These community standards have not been around very long. When movies
were first brought out, they were heavily restricted and not protected by the
First Amendment, because films then were liked upon only as diversionary
entertainment and business. Even though sexual images were highly monitored,
the movie industry was hit so hard during the Great Depression that film-makers
found themselves smeaking in as much sexual content as possible, even then they
saw that 'sex sells' (Clark 1029). Films were highly restricted throughout the
30's, 40's, and 50's by the industry, but once independent films of the 60's
such as: "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Whose afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" (Clark 1029-
1030), both with explicit language, sexual innuendo, and violence started out-
performing the larger ''wholesome' production companies, many of the barriers
holding sex and violence back were torn down in the name of profit. Adult
content was put into movies long ago, we have become more immune and can't
expect it to get any better or to go way. Porn is here for good.
Pornography is a multi-million dollar international industry, ultimately
run y organized crime all over the world, and is produced by the respectable
mainstream publishing business companies (Itzin 21). Although the publishing
companies are thought to be "respectable", people generally stereotype buyers
and users of pornographic material as "dirty old men in trenchcoats", with
disposable income (Jenish 52). Porno movies provide adults of both genders with
activities they normally wouldn't get in everyday life, such as oral pleasures
or different types of fetishes. Ultimately adult entertainment is just a quick-
fix for grown-ups, as junk-food would be for small children.
Pornography's main purpose is to serve as masturbatory stimuli for males
and to provide a sexual bent. Although in the beginning, society was it as
perverted and sinful, it was still considered relatively harmless. Today there
is one case study, standing out from the rest, that tends to shatter this
The study done by Monica D. Weisz and Christopher M. Earls used "eighty-
seven males . . . that were randomly shown one of four films", by researchers
William Tooke and Martin Lalumiere: "Deliverance, Straw Dogs, Die Hard II, and
Days of Thunder", for a study on how they would react to questions about sexual
violence and offenders after watching. In the four films there is sexual
aggression against a male, sexual aggression against a female, physical
aggression, and neutrality-no explicit scenes of physical or sexual aggression.
Out of this study the males were more acceptable of interpersonal violence and
rape myths and also more attracted to sexual aggression. These same males were
less sympathetic to rape victims and were noted less likely to find a defendant
guilty of rape (Jenish 71). These four above mentioned movies are mainstreamed
R-rated films. If a mainstream movie can cause this kind of distortion of value
and morality, then it should become evident that continuous viewing/use of
pornographic films depicting violent sex and aggression could lead vulnerable
persons into performing or participating in sexual violence against their
partners or against a stranger.
Bill Marshall, psychology professor at Queen's University and director
of a sexual behavior clinic in Kingston, interviewed one-hundred and twenty men,
between the years 1980 and 1985, who had molested children or raped women. In
his conclusion he found that pornography appeared to be a significant factor in
the chain of events leading up to a deviant act in 25% of these cases (Nicols
Rape myth is a term pertaining to people's views on rape, rapists, and
sexual assaults, wherein it is assumed that the victim of a sexual crime is
either partially or completely to blame (Allen 6). To help understand the rape
myth a "Rape Myth Acceptance Scale" was established, which lists some of the
most prominent beliefs that a person accepting the rape myth has. They are as

1. A woman who goes to the home or apartment of a man on their first
date implies that she is willing to have sex.
2. One reason that women falsely report a rape is that they frequently
have a need to call attention to themselves.
3. Any healthy woman can successfully resist a rapist if she really
wants to.
4. When women go around braless or wearing short skirts and tight
tops, they are just asking for trouble (Burt 217).

Pauline Bart reports that studies held simultaneously at UCLA and St.
Xavier College on students, demonstrate that pornography does positively
reinforce the rape myth. Men and women were exposed to over for hours of exotic
video (of varying types; i.e. soft, hard core, etc.) and then asked to answer a
set of questions meant to gage their attitudes of sex crimes. All the men were
proven to be more accepting to rape myths, and surprisingly, over half of the
women were also (Burt 123). Once again, the women in these films were portrayed
as insatiable and in need of constant fulfillment. After so much exposure to
women in this light from films and books, it is generally taken for granted that
women should emulate this type of behavior in real life (Burt 125).
In regards to pornography perpetuating violent acts toward women,
pornography defenders claim that the use of pornographic material can act a s a
cathartic release, actual lessening the likelihood of males committing violent
acts. The reasoning is that the pornography can substitute for sex and that the
'want' to commit sexual crimes is acted out vicariously through the pornographic
material (Whicclair 327). This argument, however, does not explain the crimes
committed by serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacey, who regularly
viewed pornography during the lengths of their times between murders and rapes
(Nicols 70). By saying the pornography would reduce harm to women through
cathartic effects, pornography defenders display a large lack in reasoning
because through their argument the rise in the production of pornography would
have led to a decrease in sexual crimes, but as has been shown previously, that
simply is not true.
Pornographers and pornography defenders proclaim that the link between
pornography and violence is exaggerated and that the research linking
pornography to sexual crimes is inconclusive. They state that the fundamentals
of sex crimes are found inherently in the individuals and that the sexual
permissiveness of American society cannot be blamed on the increase of
pornography's availability (Jacobson 79). David Adams, a co-founder and
executive director of Emerge, a Boston counseling center for male batterers,
states, "that only a minority of his clients (perhaps 10 to 20 percent) use
hard-core pornography. He estimates that half my have substance abuse problems,
and adds that alcohol seems more directly involved in abuse the pornography"
(Kaminer 115). The statement made by Adams and the view that pornography does
not contribute to the act of sex crimes is heavily outweighed, however, by the
various studies connecting violence and pornography. Bill Marshall's
observations on his patients and the examples of individual crimes originating
from pornography, show this acclimation to be invalidated.
Some also say that attacks on pornography merely reflect the majority of
feminist's disdain for men, cynically stating that people who fear pornography
think of all men as potential abusers, whose violent impulses are bound to be
sparked by pornography (Kaminer 114). Researcher Catherine MacKinnon, says that
"pornography works as a behavioral conditioner, reinforcer, and stimulus, not as
idea or advocacy" (Kaminer 114). However, this idea is proven to be false by
the use of pornography in and by the Serbian military. This example shows that
pornography does advocate sex crimes and that ideas of sexual violence are able
to be stemmed from the viewing of pornography.
From its inception, in most cases, pornography is a media that links
sexual gratification and violence together. This fact can only lead a rational
mind to the conclusion that a chain of events will begin, combining sex and
violence further in the minds of those who watch pornography and will ensure and
unhealthy attitude towards women and their sexual identities. Only through
discussion and individual action can the perpetuation of the negative impacts
of pornography be swept from the closets and dark corners of the American

Works Cited

Allen, Mike. "Exposure to Pornography and Acceptance of Rape Myths." Journal
Communication. Winter, 1995: 5-21. Burt, M. "Cultural Myths and
Supports for Rape." Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology. 38 (1980): 217-230. Carol, Avedon. "Free Speech and the
Porn Wars." National Forum. 75.2 (1985): 25-28. Clark, Charles S. "Sex,
Violence, and the Media." CQ Researcher. 17 Nov. 1995:
1019-1033. Itzin, Catherine. "Pornography and Civil Liberties."
National Review. 75.2 (1985):
20-24. Jacobson, Daniel. "Freedom of Speech Acts? A Response to
Langton." Philosophy &
Public Affairs. Summer 1992: 65-79. Jenish, D'Arcy. "The King of
Porn." Maclean's. 11 Oct. 1993: 52-56. Kaminer, Wendy. "Feminists Against
the First Amendment." The Atlantic Monthly.
Nov. 1992: 111-118. Leidholdt, Margaret. "Take Back the Night: Women
on Pornography." New York:
William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1980. Nicols, Mark. "Viewers and
Victims." Newsweek. 10 Aug. 1983: 60. Webster's Dictionary. Miami, Florida.
P.S.I. & Associates. 1987: 286. Whicclair, Mark R. "Feminism, Pornography,
and Censorship." Contemporary Moral
Problems. ed. James White. Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: 1994.

Health and Hygiene 24 February, 1997


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