It’s quite possible that this will be the last Porn Tuesday post. Ever. Or for a while. Or until something happens. Or at least the last by me. Because we’re very happy to host guest posts on the topic. But this is the last of the myths I want to deal with.
In the course of my life-time, one invention has done more than any other to increase the availability of pornography. It brought visual porn into the home in a way it never had been before. With it came moral panics, what’s been called the Golden Age of Censorship, and a real fear about what the effect of this permeation of sexually-explicit material into our society might be.
That invention was, of course, the video recorder.
Before that, if you wanted to see an X-rated movie, you had to go to the kind of theatre that showed them. Difficult for most men, socially impossible for women. (That is, unless you were one of the few people with grubby Super 8 in the basement.) Now you could discreetly rent a couple of movies, take them home and watch them in private.
Quite simply, every technology has been used for pornography pretty much right off the bat. There’s nothing special about the internet. The ballooning in the availability of porn isn’t a decade old, it’s a generation. It’s thirty years. That’s plenty of time for social catastrophe to rock along if it was going to.
What the internet has done for porn is what it’s done for music, really: it’s taken power away from the studios, made producing and distributing your own material cheaper and easier, and so broadened the selection of what’s available. Yes, it’s also increased availability and made it harder to police, age-wise, who’s watching what, but (IMO) not as profoundly as the VCR.
So, what’s been the effect? It’s really hard to tell with studies of individuals, because Causation. Basically, if someone is a sexist arsehole and watches a lot of porn, you can’t tell if A causes B, B causes A, or if the two things are completely unrelated.
There are population studies*, though, and what they show is something that shouldn’t be too surprising if you ponder these two questions in isolation.
Since, say, the 50s, has violence against women become more or less socially acceptable?
Since, say, the 50s, has pornography become more or less freely available?
Given the really obvious answers to those questions, can we really suggest that pornography causes (or even “fuels”) violence against women?
Please note I don’t wish to imply that pornography decreases violence against women. Some people do argue that, I’m not convinced. I think we’re in a “pirates and global warming” situation. What I am saying is that it’s… interesting to suggest a correlation between two lines trending in opposite directions.
This here is where the conclusions would go, if that was what this was about. I think it’s pretty clear where I’m coming from. You want to take away my porn, I do think you should have to be able to prove that it’s doing some concrete damage somewhere, and someHOW. Also, I think we’ve got ourselves in a real mess with censorship (illustrated most clearly by a case in the States where a teenage girl was charged, as an adult, with child pornography offensese, for taking a photograph OF HERSELF), while managing to convince ourselves that we live in a time of unprecidented sexual licence.
But feel free to disagree. This has all been about getting people thinking and talking.
*Somewhere, in the piles of links in my porn-columns folder, I have links to two individual studies and one meta-study, all of which concur. I just can’t fucking FIND them right now.