Pornography and Censorship

Many people wake up each morning and feel hungry. The urge to eat breakfast is a common one, and people throughout the country have a variety of ways to respond to that urge. Some throw pop-tarts in the toaster and slam a glass of orange juice, some fry eggs and bacon and have a few slices of toast with butter, and some put it off until lunch, deciding that it’s more important to get through their busy morning than deal with the desire for sustenance. Similarly, many people throughout the world occasionally feel frisky. By that, I mean they yearn to sow their wild oats. By that, I mean that they long for sexual gratification. And so they, too, go about their ways of satisfying their hunger, some by planning a romantic evening with their significant other that would likely be concluded with mutual gratification, some spend sometimes by themselves with pictures of a suggestive or explicit sexual nature, and finally some attend to other business, allowing their friskiness to pass without gratification. Should laws play a role in how people decide which course they will take, or shouldn’t they? And if laws should be in place, to what extent should they restrict pornography? Of the three main sources that I have researched, two argue that laws should not restrict pornography while one argues that commercial pornography ought to be outlawed completely.

Both of the papers written in opposition to legal restrictions placed on pornography can be found at “libertus.net,” a website about “censorship and freedom of expression.” Kath Albury has written an article that deals primarily with an argument against legislation that discriminates against “a sexual minority.” These laws restrict all but non-violent erotica and are known as “NVE.” According to Albury, human sexuality might be imagined as a sort of target, with a bull’s eye consisting of what she calls the “charmed circle.” Sexuality within this circle “can be heterosexual, gay or lesbian, as long as it’s performed by committed, monogamous couples. As long as it’s Non Violent and Erotic” (1). Albury argues that to restrict legal pornography to that which falls inside the charmed circle is to discriminate, as not all peoples’ tastes can be accommodated by that selection. “By making certain kinds of sex ‘unrepresentable,’ the Australian government is dis-enfranchising a sexual minority who are not breaking any laws” (id). Patricia Peterson, on the other hand, argues, “no pornography should be outlawed provided that fully consenting adult actors are employed in its production” (3). The basis of her argument is that all persons who willfully involve themselves in the production of pornography have every right to do with their own bodies as they please, so long as they do not impinge upon anyone else’s ability to do the same. She claims that pornography does not incite or promote in its audience “negative attitudes towards women.” On the contrary, in fact, she claims that persons with “appropriate attitudes towards women” patronize certain soft pornographic publications (id). Both of these papers argue against legislation that would censor pornography with the primary reason being that the people involved are doing what they want to do without hurting others, or at least without hurting anyone who does not willfully volunteer to be hurt.

Paul Mero argues that commercial pornography ought to be illegal. One of the most important aspects of his argument is that the issue at hand should have nothing to do with censorship, but rather should involve the legal issues inherent in the exchange of sex for money. Mero claims “there is no substantive social or commercial difference between the sale of sex for money and the sale of a picture of sex for money. In both cases sex is sold for money” (2). Prostitution is illegal in our society as a result of the fact that in our society, “we legally subordinate personal sexual desires to public virtue” (id). To make commercial pornography illegal would not prevent people from dealing with their sexual desires in their own way, rather it would simply remove sexual gratification from the open public and let it remain a personal issue for those parties concerned. “Money drives the sex industry and its legion of attorneys, not the evils of censorship or the beauty of the naked form” (id). The industry that produces pornography has nothing to do with providing its audience with much-needed gratification; it has to do with separating the audience from their money in the most effective manner possible, regardless the cost of the dignity of the persons involved or of the general decency of the commercial market (id). Mero does not advocate in this article legislation against pornography, but rather legislation against pornography as commercial enterprise. People are free to resolve their sexual desires as they please, but sex should not be sold in a society that values human dignity or public decency over money.

With these three sources, we are able to see what an intricate and complex controversy pornography is in terms of legislation. We must take into account so many various issues, such as people’s desires, preferences, and rights, as well as societal values and the need to define and determine harmfulness in a reasonable and realistic manner. Just as the person who wakes up hungry must determine how he/she will deal with his/her hunger, a person who longs for sexual gratification must determine how he/she will go about finding just that. We must ask ourselves a number of questions when determining whether or not pornography should be a legal commercial enterprise. If persons willingly subject themselves to undignified treatment, is that what they deserve? If they deserve that, should we take advantage of the opportunity to entertain ourselves with it? And do we really value the ideas of decency and discretion when it comes to the public domain, or are those values subordinate to the value of the dollar? The fact of the matter is that the commercial pornography industry, for the love of money, sacrifices the dignity of those who lack the self-respect or even the wherewithal to refrain from involving themselves with it. What good reason could we have for buying sex when we can achieve gratification ourselves painlessly in the comfort of our own homes without spending one red cent?

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