Pornography Can Be Good for Consumers

This piece appeared as part of the larger feature in the New York Times’ Opinion Pages section in November 2012. The debate was in response to the question “Does Pornography Deserve Its Bad Rap?”. The opinion piece also featured articles written by the other debaters below. 

Watching pornography is not inherently harmful to men or women. But I would offer some caveats. There are people who probably shouldn’t view porn, like those with poor body image or those who have been sexually victimized. Depending on your choice in viewing, you can develop unrealistic expectations about sex or what people like or how you’ll be expected to “perform.” And watching with someone requires true consent.

When none of these red flags are up, pornography can certainly have benefits. Counselors sometimes suggest it to help people become comfortable with a particular fantasy they or their partner may have. Pornography can reboot a couple’s sex life. It can give you ideas, or help you get in touch with what turns you on.

Pornography can reboot a couple’s sex life. It can give you ideas, or help you get in touch with what turns you on.

Porn can deliver you there at best, or disgust you at worst. It all depends on what you choose to watch. With the availability of porn online, it’s possible to sample enough porn quickly that you don’t have to find yourself watching wall-to-wall hard-core sex if it’s plot driven erotica that appeals to you. You’re only a victim of bad porn if you let yourself be.

And a word about sex or porn addiction. I don’t believe in it. Unlike a chemical substance, like opiates, you can’t become “addicted” to sex or porn; you can become a compulsive viewer. In this case, it’s not the porn that’s the problem; it’s the compulsive personality. If it weren’t porn being used to act out one’s compulsive nature, it might be food or some other behavior.

As for whether it’s harmful or beneficial to the performers, let’s take women first. There are some who choose to perform because they like sex a lot and they consider it a great way to earn a living. Then there are those who are drawn to porn as a way of acting out subconscious psychological issues – looking for daddy’s love or punishment for being a bad girl. For many, it’s probably a little of each. Even women with the best mental health will face some downsides from this work. Our culture consumes porn at record numbers, but the women who perform are still judged harshly.

I’m not sure the male performers get out completely unscathed either. While they may not be judged as harshly as the women, ultimately they’re viewed as freaks who make their living with their anatomy. John Holmes’s fate is the ultimate cautionary tale.

Perhaps if we weren’t still so consumed with guilt and shame about sex, neither watching nor performing in these films would carry the weight it does. But then, perhaps we wouldn’t be so interested in them, either. If the fruit were not forbidden, would anyone care to take a bite?