Let’s Have a Conversation About Pornography

I have never written about pornography before, let alone something of this sort of cultural caliber. Nevertheless, I’m going to try and see what I can do here so as to provide the proper conversation for why believing (perhaps on the basis of philosophical arguments and/or psychological evidence) pornography might actually be something that is not only devastating but also in some way destructive. As Roger Scruton once put it:

Psychologists, philosophers and social critics concur in the judgment that this addiction is immensely damaging, not merely in undermining family relations and exposing children and other vulnerable people to sexual predation, but in destroying the capacity for loving sexual relations. It is one of the great social diseases, and it is looked on with dismay by the majority – including a majority of those who are addicted to it. [1]

I am merely hoping so as to provide the means for you as the reader to come to Scruton’s conclusion for yourself. Moreover, that through Christian and non-Christian sources alike I do think that the conclusion can be founded upon religiously neutral grounds (i.e., whether or not you are religiously oriented there can be an agreement).

Understanding Pornography 

I can understand why defining pornography might seem like a tedious task, since, I am sure that we all know full well what pornography is. However, I rather wish to draw upon a proper understanding of pornography and really examine what the goal of the industry is so as to make the essence of it clear – and thus understand the extent of the situation. Of course, some may not know this, but pornography actually comes from the two Greek words porne and graphein which literally means the writing of prostitutes [2]. As said by psychologist William Struthers (Ph.D.), “The current porn industry has capitalized on the commercialization of human sexuality as a commodity just as prostitution does” [3].

The importance of being clear about the history and meaning of pornography is due to the fact of  its extensive history as a [rather] distinctive category. For instance, Lynn Hunt in her essay “Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800” once wrote:

If we take pornography to be the explicit depiction of sexual organs and sexual practices with the aim of arousing sexual feelings, then pornography was almost always an adjunct to something else until the middle or end of the eighteenth century. In early modern Europe, that is, between 1500 and 1800, pornography was most often a vehicle for using the shock of sex to criticize religious and political authorities. [4]

Furthermore, that even according to the 1986 Meese Commission report on pornography, “the history of pornography still remains to be written” [5]. So, in a lot of ways, finding books where some historian takes a serious approach to the history of pornography is actually rather hard to find [6].

Though I won’t go into great detail in respect to the history of modern pornography, it’s distinctive qualities are still nonetheless important to discuss in the sense of finding a definition. Since, as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon have defined pornography, “On the basis of its reality, Andrea Dworkin and I have proposed a law against pornography that defines it as graphic sexually explicit materials that subordinate women through pictures or words” [7]. What follows hereafter is that definitions attempt to list what could qualify for the words “subordination of women graphically depicted”:

(i) women are presented dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities; or (ii) women are presented as sexual objects who enjoy pain or humiliation; or (iii) women are presented as sexual objects who experience sexual pleasure in being raped; or (iv) women are presented as sexual objects tied up or cut up or mutilated or bruised or physically hurt; or (v) women are presented in postures or positions of sexual submission, servility, or display; or (vi) women’s body parts – including but not limited to, vaginas, breasts, or buttocks – are exhibited such that women are reduced to those parts; or (vii) women are presented as whores by nature; or (viii) women are presented as being penetrated by objects or animals; or (ix) women are presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual” [8].

As Drucilla Cornell (2007) accounts, “Mackinnon and Dworkin sought to change the legal definition of pornography from an obscenity standard, which appealed to the public morality, to that of the subordination of women” [9]. Of course, a lot of this is problematic. For, “[i]f pornography is defined as sexual slavery, should literature necessarily be excluded simply because no one is being paid for actually having sex in the author’s work? What about sex clubs in which sex acts are preformed? What about sex clubs where there is stripping, but no ‘sex’ acts? Must there be filmed, paid for sex acts in order for there to be pornography?” [10]

All these technicalities and more are not necessarily addressed under Dworkin and Mackinnon’s definition, since, even according The Adult Film Makers Association, lesbian movies are technically excluded under the conditions of what might be considered a “pornographic movie” [11].

The Cognitive Traps of Pornography

William Struthers in his book Wired for Intimacy (2009) lists 9 “cognitive traps” that take place “when dealing with those who confront them about it” [12]:

  • (1) Entitlement: “I’ve earned this.”
  • (2) Omniscience: “I know what you are thinking.”
  • (3) Altruism: “I am keeping it quiet to protect others.”
  • (4) Deception: “Nope, not me.”
  • (5) Blaming/Victimization: “It’s her fault.”
  • (6) Pride: “I am right, you are wrong.”
  • (7) Objectification: “They’re just models.”
  • (8) Distraction: “I’ve been really stressed lately.”
  • (9) Revenge: “This’ll show her/him.”

The best way I think (1) has been phrased is to say that “[Some] may feel that they should be given special permission to have this one outlet as their reward for their suffering” [13]. Thus, “[e]ntitlment is a significant problem with men who have a narcissistic need for affirmation at the core of their problems” (ibid.).

In respect to (2), “[a] man may feel that he knows the intentions or responses of others, and he questions the motives of those who are trying to help him” (ibid.). Thus, when the man thinks or believes that in some way he is being restricted by his activities, “he absolves himself of his inappropriate behavior” (ibid.). Although Struthers here is using distinctive “cognitive consequences” and goes on to explain them, the issue that’s important here is particularly that “[v]iewing pornography is not an emotionally or physiologically neutral experience” [14]. In other words,

[P]ornography has wide-reaching effects to energize a man toward intimacy. It is not a neutral stimulus. It draws us in. Porn is vicarious and voyeuristic at its core, but it is also something more. Porn is a widespread promise. It promises more sex, better sex, endless sex, sex on demand, more intense orgasms, experiences of transcendence. Time spent with porn prevents the user from engaging in real relationships with real people who can better meet their needs. [15]

Thus, we can suggest that proper and healthy sexuality functions as the following:

  • Caring
  • Sharing with someone
  • Honoring
  • Authentic
  • Enhances your identity
  • Emotional bonding
  • Morally saturated
  • Other-directed

Whereas, unhealthy sexuality functions as the following (as paralleled with the above):

  • Using
  • “Doing to” someone
  • Shameful
  • Deceitful
  • Compromises your identity
  • Emotional separateness
  • Free of moral convention
  • Has no limits


Of course, though we may be all too familiar the arguments that pornography isn’t “real,” there is something far more fundamental that needs to be addressed than that mere accusation. For, as Philip Roth once nicely put it:

It’s a representation, ordinary pornography. It’s a fallen art form. It’s not just make-believe, it’s patently insincere. You want the girl in the film, but you’re not jealous of whoever’s f***king her because he becomes your surrogate. Quite amazing, but that’s the power of fallen art. He becomes a stand-in, there in your service. [16]

The case has been made that “Pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate” [17]. Therefore, to conclude:

Men share with women the same basic needs of humanity. The need for humanity, to be known and to know, to be close, affirmed, loved; all are human needs. The need for intimacy requires that we understand who we are and share that with those we long to be known by. As we become more intimate, the other speaks into us things about ourselves that we could not possibly know from the inside. We allow the one we are intimate with to discover us in ways we could not do on our own, and we do so with them. It is a process that develops and deepens over time. We know ourselves more fully because we are known more fully. [18]



  • [1] Roger Scruton, “Pornography and the Courts” (Feb. 2009) at The Public Discourse. Article can be found at http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2009/02/90/
  • [2] William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy (IVP Academic: 2009) p. 19
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Lynn Hunt, “Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800” in Oxford Readings in Feminism and Pornography, ed. Drucilla Cornell (Oxford University Press: 2007) pp. 356-357
  • [5] U.S. Department of Justice, Attorney General’s; Commission on Pornography, Final Report, 2 vols. (Washington, DC: 1986), p. 233
  • [6] Although, it isn’t too far to recommend Robert Rosen’s Beaver Street: The History of Modern Pornography (2012) as a considerable read.
  • [7] Catherine Mackinnon, Only Words (Harvard University Press: 1993) p. 22
  • [8] Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon, Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day (Organizing Against Pornography: 1988)
  • [9] Drucilla Cornell, “Introduction” in Oxford Readings in Feminism and Pornography (2007) p. 4
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] According to this exclusion, “A film is not pornography unless it includes a ‘cum’ shot. Some lesbians who have sought to have their films distributed by the association have under this definition been excluded” (Cornell, p. 5).
  • [12] Struthers (2009), p. 70
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] Ibid., p. 68
  • [15] Ibid., p. 69
  • [16] Philip Roth, The Dying Animal (Vintage: 2002)
  • [17] Struthers (2009), p. 43
  • [18] Ibid.

3 responses to “Let’s Have a Conversation About Pornography

  1. This is a recent relevant article by Morgan Bennett in “Public Discourse”………..


    The best thing you can do for your friends and family is explain how they will ruin their life, their future relationships, and any prospect for a good marriage if they do open the door to one of Satan’s primary tools for the destruction of souls.

    I predicted in the early 1980’s, that what this article describes would be inevitable when everybody started buying their own personal computers. It seemed obvious, given the cultural revolution of the 1960’s, and the resultant general lack of discipline that we would produce a generation of porn addicts.

  2. I’m glad to read this. The only approaches our culture seems to take toward sex are “don’t talk about it” and “anything goes”. These are recognized as unhealthy in nearly every other area of life.

    So, I’m glad to see a more reasonable view.

  3. Pingback: A Study of Pornography | Hellenistic Christendom·

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