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It’s important to note at the outset, a positive acceptance reached from an investigation into the effects of pornography usage (hereafter “porn“) need not be a whole-hearted pro porn stance. Much like the acceptance of the use of abortion, you may be pro freedom of choice (to use your body how you see fit), but not pro abortion (as in we can accept its usage, that others get a benefit from it, without using it ourselves, or even approving of it). We can have a discussion about harm, about consequence, about demonstrable reality, and accept those conclusions, without being pro porn.

I’m going to focus on using a utilitarian ethic to discuss this issue, partly because I think it is an appropriate ethic and support for such has been seen in practice here: “In 2003, a divided Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas (Supreme Court, 2003) declared that morality, absent third-party harm, is an insufficient basis for criminal legislation that restricts private, consensual sexual conduct. ” (Diamond 2009) Even parties that attempt to ban porn usage appeal to its harm and not to a religious or ideological ethic, which all people do not use,  which makes it impractical to adopt.

Definition of Pornography

The Google definition of pornography is as follows:


Noun: Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity.” (Google 2011)

Porn, use, addiction and harm

There is a normative,  “moral crusade” against the use of porn at the moment in the cultural zeitgeist, Voris 2009 has noted that there are certain (genrally conservative, re: Diamond 2009 below) cultural groups that are attempting to push their values and lifestyle choices on others, as well as attempting to define sexual pleasure as: “being “real, good, healthy, natural or sacred” where the use of pornographic images is excluded because it is “solitary” and “perverted”.” Anti-pornography laws have often been used for political reasons from one group at the expense of another as in these examples offered by Diamond 2009:

The Washington Post of September 2005 reported that the conservative Bush administration’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was to make “one of the top priorities” an FBI anti-pornography effort. This was supposedly an attempt to please conservatives and follow the lead started in the Reagan administration with Attorney General Edwin Meese (Gellman, 2005). Canada too has used such powers. In targeting gay and lesbian book stores in response to conservative blocks it even seized copies of two of Andrea Dworkin’s books considering them pornographic because they purportedly eroticized pain and bondage (Bennett, 2006).” (Diamond 2009)

Popular feminist (Naomi Wolf here) and religious (here, here , here and here) authors have made simple, sweeping statements about porn  usages inherent immorality, and/or destructive nature.  Terms like “porn addict“, are used to describe the porn user but are these merely appeals to emotion by those with an a priori bias against porn use based on ideological or religious assumptions to sway the majority to their position? We have to ask, is porn driving men crazy as Wolf says, is it on the rise as McDowell says? Is porn use really such a significant problem that is going out of control? If the evidence doesn’t support their conclusions, it might be reasonable to conclude they are wrong .

We should view the evidence in light of internet usage, as this is where the majority of porn is disseminated.

This issue of porn addiction is crucial in determining if porn should be banned,  as it is seemingly related to harm. As this is the thrust of most criticisms of porn usage, an analysis of the research regarding it is important in determining our response. Neuroscientists Hilton and Watts, 2011  had these remarks in regards to the very state of addiction studies: “… a Public Health profile of pornography might be useful. Any such profile by its nature will be somewhat primitive because of the current status of the knowledge of the addiction.” (Hilton and Watts, 2007)

It seems that instances correlating to porn and Internet addiction are in fact symptoms  of previous mental illness manifestation, not the causal problem, as Mitchell and Wells, 2007  found in their study:

Overall, clients who present in treatment with an Internet problem are more likely to have problems related to overuse of the Internet; use of adult pornography; use of child pornography; sexual exploitation perpetration; and gaming, gambling, or role-playing. Other Internet-related problems, such as isolative-avoidant use, sexual exploitation victimization, harassment perpetration, and online infidelity were equally likely to present in treatment as a primary problem or secondary to other mental health concerns.” (Mitchell and Wells 2007)

This presents the problem of correlation versus causation, in the above article,  addiction was correlated with mental illness, further study needs to be done to establish a causation, which there is a paucity of data on (but the evidence seems to suggest it is not porn use that causes it). Another study by Weaver et al. 2011, demonstrated a correlation between “sexually explicit media use behavior (SEMB; i.e., pornography consumption)..  associated with risky sexual health perceptions and behaviors, many that involve high risks of HIV/STD transmission.” but failed to find a causation, what was the mental status of the participants? These factors were not taken into account and represent a problem with self reporting. With a sample size of only 559 adults versus Mitchell and Wells’ 31,382 we see how the results of different sample sizes can seemingly influence outcomes in terms of statistical detail. (Weaver et al 2011)

We need to establish what is simply a desire to enjoy porn, with partner/s and by yourself as part of a healthy sexual expression, and what is the results of negative mental issues. The authors continue:

Other Internet-related problems appear to be secondary to more conventional mental health issues seen in clinical settings, such as relationship problems (e.g., marital conflict and divorce) and mental health problems (e.g., depression). For these clients, the Internet problem may be an extension of an existing condition or concern, and as such may not necessarily be the primary focus of that client’s treatment. For example, risky or inappropriate behavior on the Internet may be an extension of a pre-existing risky lifestyle where the Internet is yet another outlet for risky sexual behavior. Using the Internet in an isolative manner may be a result of pre-existing social phobias or having trouble-making friends.” (Mitchell and Wells 2007)

It seems finding mechanisms to separate previous mental history, coupled with the inherent problems of addiction studies make any blanket moral statements  about porn difficult. A review by Hilton and Watts, 2007 make a general argument that compulsive addictions are possible (while admitting it’s difficult to detect),  they also discuss their review in relation to “sex compulsion” and drug abuse as they state:

Growing evidence indicates that the VTA-NAc pathway and the other limbic regions …similarly mediate, at least in part, the acute positive emotional effects of natural rewards, such as food, sex and social interactions. These same regions have also been implicated in the so-called ‘natural addictions’ (that is, compulsive consumption for natural rewards) such as pathological overeating, pathological gambling, and sexual addictions. Preliminary findings suggest that shared pathways may be involved: (an example is) cross-sensitization that occurs between natural rewards and drugs of abuse.” (Hilton and Watts, 2007)

It seems based on this review, that some of us (according to above studies, those of us with prior mental illness) can become “addicted” to most things we enjoy.  Coupled with the above information from Voris 2009 about previous mental illness and addiction, and Doring 2009 (below) regarding the low numbers of internet users actually afflicted with internet and porn addiction it seems at the very least difficult to establish a causation from porn usage, or supposed porn addiction.

Doring 2009 who discusses McDowell’s so-called sexual immorality in relation to Internet addiction (and porn use/addiction) found:

In the United States, so-called Internet addiction afflicts approximately 8.5% of Internet users who go online for sexual pursuits (Cooper, Scherer, Boies, & Gordon, 1999), which is equivalent to approximately 2% of all Internet users (Albright, 2008), or less than 1% of the general population (Shaw & Black, 2008). These individuals most often engage in excessive use of online pornography, but also online chats, online games, etc.” (Doring 2009)

This data certainly contradicts the moral panic created by some academics and polemicists, even with such a small portion of the population suffering with so-called Internet and porn addiction, are these numbers something to worry about? Is the number increasing? Again, Doring, 2009 observed via systematic analysis of search engine data some interesting numbers in regards to the growth of porn usage over the past 14 years:

In 1997, 17% of all search requests were related to sex and pornography. In 2001 the figure was 9%, and fell to 4% in 2004 (Spink, Partridge, & Jansen, 2006). Among the 500 most popular websites worldwide according to the traffic ranking of www.alexa.com, pornography platforms first show up at 49th (Youporn) and 50th place (Pornhub).” (Doring 2009)

Critics may ask about deviant behaviour caused by the use of porn, is it possible,  having the availability to almost unlimited porn may nurture and develop unhealthy (even by liberal standards) sexual practices (such as child abuse/rape)? Doring, 2009 saw no correlation:

It seems unlikely, though, that mere exposure to deviant pornography is able to create sexual disorders or crimes, the influence of biopsychosocial background factors needs to be considered instead. Deviant fantasies are already a natural part of human sexuality, and interest in deviant pornography is often not connected to sexual offensive or criminal behavior against people (e.g., [Frei et al., 2005] and [Popovic, 2007]).” (Doring 2009)

We see here, when the issue is reviewed by clinicians, instead of the social aggregate; a more liberal, evidenced based view of sexuality, not the standard vilification of such. Doring 2009, continues:  “Determinants (e.g., sexual desires, curiosity, peer pressure) and emotional, cognitive and behavioral consequences (e.g., sexual arousal, but also shame, anger, disgust) of the wanted or unwanted exposure to different types of legal or illegal deviant online pornography (e.g., child, animal, violent, fetishist pornography) by clinicians, criminal and normal populations are not well understood“, thus far.  Diamond 2009 confirms this data, concluding that instead of there being a causal relationship between pornography and sexual violence there is actually an inverse relationship between an increase in pornography and sex crimes. (Diamond 2009)

It seems, to be more a matter of what the user brings psychologically to their use of  pornography as opposed to what is intrinsic to the porn itself. We can see from Doring, 2009, Diamond 2009  and other studies above, that the consumption of pornography, even violent pornography may increase the aggressiveness of a small sample set of already sexually aggressive men, but Doring and others have failed to find a correlation (let alone a causation) to the prevalence of porn and acts of sexual violence in society and have in fact found an inverse relationship. (Doring 2009)

Positive consequences of porn?

There are seeming neutral and positive positions to be gained from using  and by allowing porn usage as Diamond 2009 states:

… it has been seen to have positive effects in every country studied. And while it might have been accused of negatively affecting some individuals or families it has in no community or population been found to be generally harmful. And many have derived and continue to gain pleasure from it. No community has ever voted that adults should not have access to sexually explicit material. No evidence has documented that sexually explicit materials lead to any increase in sexual crimes or social disruption or detriment to women and there is indication that the availability of pornography is linked to a decrease in sex crimes ranging from rape to exhibitionism.

Sexually explicit materials certainly seem entertaining and pleasurable to a large segments of every society investigated. And while critics invoke charges of the dishonoring of women seen in SEM, others see it as empowering and liberating for them. It appears that without evidence of social harm from its availability, there is no reason to believe that pornography should not be legally available.” (Diamond 2009)

McElroy has also noted that pornography has in fact been positively related to women’s issues of sexual liberation, that instead of oppression (as seen by Atkins, 1994  here, and Witt 1997 here) McElroy argues pornography to women (and indeed to all involved) is a freedom of speech issue applied to the sexual realm. Pornography, according to McElroy gives women a window to look into their own sexual identity, to allow them to explore their tendencies (that due to social or political pressures they may feel the need to keep suppressed), without concern for STI or any of the dangers associated with the real world.  McElroy says that the result of women’s liberation is that all women need to discover what is right, what they wish to censor, he concludes: “a womans body, a womans right, also carries certain responsibilities.” (McElroy pg 154 2002)


It seems from this investigation that porn usage is common and that number may actually be decreasing. It seems likely from this review that people with pre-existing psychological conditions are more likely to have issues with addiction, be that drug, internet, food or porn. Porn seems incidental to issues of negativity, not causal, most people simply enjoy pornography as part of a healthy sexual expression, there is reason to think that the number of porn users in the world, compared to the infinitesimally small number of people who suffer with a compulsion to using it, indicates that porn is not a causal problem and that preexisting mechanisms are the issue. There is also evidence that porn has a positive effect, in the sense of women’s issue, liberation and sexual exploration, done in the safety of their own homes. Women are encouraged to explore their sexuality, as opposed to hide it, which can lead to negative psychological consequences.

There are issues of STI spreading in the porn industry itself which haven’t been explored here, as well as the effects of porn usage on youth (this may be a social issue as opposed to a health or addiction issue). It seems safe to conclude from this review however that any considerations of banning the use of porn would be based rather than on the evidence, but on the conservative sexual ideals of the religious or ideological proponents to freedom of sex issues. There appears to be no harm caused by porn use and there even seem to be some benefits, with this I conclude, tentatively, that porn use is healthy, natural and not something we need to shy away from, it is part of our cultural zeitgeist, it’s here to stay, and that makes me at least, pretty happy!

As Hilton and Watts, 2007 conclude:

Just as we consider food addiction as having a biologic basis, with no moral overlay or value-laden terminology, it is time we looked at pornography and other forms of sexual addiction with the same objective eye. Currently, social pressures relegate the management of pornography primarily to proceedings in civil or in criminal judicial venues.” (Hilton and Watts, 2007)


Diamond M. (2009). Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: A review.International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. Volume 32, Issue 5. Pages 304-314. Retrieved 25/07/2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/science/article/pii/S0160252709000715

Doring N. (2009). The Internet’s impact on sexuality: A critical review of 15 years of research.Computers in Human Behavior. Volume 25, Issue 5. Pages 1089-1101 . Retrieved 24/07/2011.

Hilton D., Watts C. (2007). Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective. Surgical Neurology International. Vol. 2, Iss. 1; pg. 19. rETRIEVED 25/07/2011. http://proquest.umi.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/pqdweb?index=0&did=2315272841&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1311662671&clientId=22212

Mitchell K.J., Wells M. (2007). Problematic Internet experiences: Primary or secondary presenting problems in persons seeking mental health care? Social Science & Medicine. Volume 65, Issue 6. Pages 1136-1141. Retrieved 27/07/2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/science/journal/02779536

McElroy W. (2002). Everything you know is wrong: the Disinformation guide to secrets and lies (Edited Russell Kick). Pg 154. Google books- Retrieved 29/07/2011. http://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=CxNEWiPoU4MC&oi=fnd&pg=PA153&dq=porn+benefits&ots=7rqLLj8wNM&sig=3mTkDflQu7pAFRTbkPTpasTuVjU#v=onepage&q=porn%20benefits&f=false

Voris F. (2009). The invention of addiction to pornography. Sexologies. Volume 18, Issue 4.  Pages 243-246. Retrieved 24/07/2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/science/article/pii/S1158136009001376

Weaver J.B., Weaver S.S., Mays D., Hopkins G.L., Kannenburg W., McBride D. (2011). Mental- and Physical-Health Indicators and Sexually Explicit Media Use Behavior by Adults. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Volume 8, Issue 3, pages 764–772. Retrieved 26/07/2011. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/doi/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.02030.x/full 

Further reading




The Ethics of Pornography (Part 1)

Naomi Wolf, porn and the misuse of dopamine


Categories: Ethics
  1. K
    August 17, 2011 at 3:23 am

    A quote I came across while doing research today from feminist Andrea Dworkin’s book Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981, 200): pornography is “the graphic depiction of vile whores… centrail to the male sexual system… [it] does not have another other meaning.”

  2. August 17, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Thanks for the comment angel bum xxx

    Ahhh those feminists, always sassin us boys! But then again, that’s not even really that nice toward women either: “whores”? sheesh! I think she’s right though, I really do appreciate whores (what-the?)…

    In all seriousness, my sass above contains a germ of my actual thoughts… This feminist, without actually reading her work of course, and knowing what her argument is, seems quick to label men and women with (harsh) perjorative labels and terms. Does she substantiate any of this? Or is it simply rhetoric?

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