A porn-again debate

A proliferation of pornography on the Internet has set up a debate about the impact on young women: is in-your-face sexuality empowering, allowing girls to act like boys, or does today's hyper-sexualized society lead to more mental-health disorders for girls?

The consumer Internet usage tracker, comScore Media Metrix, reports that more than one-third of American Internet users visited sites in the "adult" category in April 2007.

One of the Web's less admirable accomplishments is that it has allowed porn to propagate to a point once thought not imaginable. In the 1950s, could one in three Americans have visited a pornography shop?

Remember those photographs of men hiding their faces behind folded newspapers as they entered or exited such distinguished joints? Of course, it would have been unfeasible back then to have one-third of Americans routinely trafficking through them. But now pornography is accessible in your house, on your street, from the local Internet cafe, etc. To wit, it's wildly more accessible than it used to be. That doesn't mean it's good.

And porn abounds off the Net as well. I recall recently recoiling at a soft-porn scene in the Oscar-winning movie, "The Last King of Scotland," when I thought I had bought a ticket to see something more staid. Pornography and its softer sister (soft-core porn) abound in advertisements, on billboards and elsewhere. Critics say hyper-sexuality on and off the Internet has created a society obsessed with sexual exhibition and its attention-getting after-effect.

These after-effects, however, are anything but liberating for women, particularly for the young women claiming its mantra as something that empowers them. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, a visit to nakednews.com will explain all. The site was recently written up in USA Today. Some young women who take part in on-camera nudity and soft porn told the newspaper they find such behavior liberating and empowering. But a recent American Psychological Association study shows that sexualized images of women can lead to emotional and mental disorders in girls, including depression and eating disorders. Quelle surprise!!

I'm all for women's advancement, but I fail to see how pornography plays a role here. As to the argument that engaging in public sex acts and nudity "empowers" women, this is one woman who just doesn't get it.

Are male porn stars "liberated," or do they seem like pathetic souls willing to do anything for a buck? And since when did "acting like men" come to mean advancement for women? Women's advancement is about equal opportunity, particularly in the workplace. It is not about imitating disgraceful male behavior nor ever should it have been. Where do these young women get these ideas?

Feminism (a messy agglomeration of all manner of women activists) has represented a melange of views on pornography, with "Free Expression Feminists" opposing censorship and other types of feminists battling porn as harmful to women. But conservatives like to blame feminism and "women's liberation" for pornography's proliferation. Again, let me state for the record as I have in the past, I am not a feminist. I appreciate what feminist leaders have done for women's advancement, but I differ with all major political ideologies in some way, shape or form. I therefore eschew any ideological or partisan labels.

So is "women's liberation" (what an achingly archaic term) responsible for today's girls gone wild? No more so, I would argue, than conservative Christianity. Doesn't outright repression also provoke unnecessarily rebellious counter-behavior? Each is linked in a distinctive way with in-your-face hyper-sexuality.

Whatever your position on girls and porn, the reality is that what the Internet and a free society have unleashed is hardly about to be squeezed back into the bottle. The question is, how do we convince young women (and men) that pornography is disempowering, anything but empowering and damaging to one's psyche in the long run. Greater minds than mine will have to figure out that one.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)


  1. kanawah

    The problem is the up tight attitude of the American people.

    The attitude that ‘sex is dirty’ is the problem. As with the prohibition of alcohol, it creates and instant illicit market. In other parts of the world where the attitude is more realistic, it is far less of a problem, if at all.

    So to the up tight Americans: GET OVER YOUR SELF, and enjoy life.

    Do not knock it if you have not tried it.

  2. Access Of Evil

    How about —

    If we demystify it then it will lose the chimera of being some sort of forbidden fruit.

    And if you don’t like it, don’t tune in.

    I think mostly what I object to in this rant is that somehow pornography affects women but it doesn’t affect men.

    That’s a really stupid position to take.

  3. JoyfulC

    … long before it ever gets to the point of pornography affecting young women and girls, the rampant sexuality and misogyny of popular culture is more likely to have an adverse affect on them. But is banning and censoring the answer? I don’t think so. As a woman in the adult entertainment industry and the mother of a daughter who grew up to be a reasonably healthy young woman, I think we need to balance the hypersexuality that young women see all around them with emphasis on their other attributes. We need to crank up the focus on their intellectual, creative, athletic abilities.

    Too often, little girls are told from birth that they are cute, pretty, charming, etc. but often they’re not praised enough for being intellectually curious or creative or physically strong and coordinated. We dress them like little dolls. We treat them like eye candy. Well, the truth is, pretty little girls grow up to be pretty little porn queens. Child beauty pageant contestants are pefectly trained for stripping.

    I do applaud allowing women to own their own sexualities, to conduct themselves sexually as they please within responsible parameters. However, that alone does not empower a young woman. To be truly empowered, a young woman must have choices, and to have choices, her parents, family and community must encourage and reward her self-exploration and exploration of the world around her. It seems like it’s very easy for a young woman to choose to be a sl*t in our society today — she’ll look just like all the celebrities and the girls in the music videos — but I don’t think that we’ve caught up to making it easy enough for young women to make other choices. True, lots of progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go in order to achieve balance.

  4. www.nazilieskill.us

    Money and Media are a disaster. The porn business should be made non-profit and handled like the illicit drug business should be handled. As long as porn and drugs are profitable, we will be always blowing on the fire. Republicans make enormous amounts of money from these scams that feed on human weakness. (Democrats too.)

    John Hanks, Laramie, Wyoming

  5. Steve Horn

    Porn is fantasy – plain and simple – porn movies are exactly that – movies – no more genuine nor false than Laurel and Hardy films or epics like “out of Africa” –

    I’m not a fan of porn – but if you enjoy watching it I’m not going to try to stop you, as I wouldn’t try to deny the actors and actresses who make a living by making porn films. They are no more sad failures than any other film actors – they’ve found something they’re good at and they’re making a living doing it – who am I (or you) to complain?

    If you don’t like it, fine – don’t watch it. Then again, if you don’t watch it – how can you know what you’re complaining about?

    To me the ultimate pornography is fully endorsed by our current administration – it’s war. I find it far more offensive than I’d find any porn film – because the film is fantasy – the death in war – the destruction – the terror – is very, very real.


  6. Armyguy

    If humans are nothing more than animals then public nudity, even sex in public is fine…animals do it all the time.

    If we are not animals, then nudity and sex in public (or internet) is a denial of our humanity, and therefore also a denial of our human rights which animals do not have. It is a denial of the very concept of morality which also animals do not have. It is a denial of the wonders and beauty of sex, reducing it to merely physical copulation, when, in reality, we know it is so much more than that.

    So yes, a human who shows his or her body immodestly pretends he or she is just an animal, with no more rights than a turkey…pretending morality is just a personal opinion, when in reality, it’s not. Morality
    does not depend on opinions. It depends on truth, which is the same for everyone.

    Human sex is great. We should keep it human.