Pornography and Censorship

By David Copp; Susan Wendell | Go to book overview
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SOME REMARKS ON OTHER SORTS OF PORNOGRAPHY

As I mentioned before, there is material we would call pornography that is not included in any of the categories I have been discussing. Much of it depicts women as passive objects for men's sexual desire, and the message it conveys to me is that both women and sex exist for men's pleasure. It seems probable that the prevalence of this sort of pornography has bad effects on women's self-images, on women's and men's repertoires of sexual enjoyment, and on our abilities to interact with responsibility and mutual care. Some of its effects are being studied now;13 but even if social scientists prove that non-coercive pornography is harmful to us in these ways (and possibly others), we should not restrict it. To do so would open the door to unlimited efforts to eliminate by law the influences in society that tend toward results we do not want. If we restricted pornography because of its bad effects on our sexuality and relationships, think what we would have to do to television, to non-pornographic magazines and books, and to some sorts of religious teaching, if we were to be consistent.

If we value freedom of expression at all, we must not allow expression to be restricted unless the harm it does outweighs the harm of restriction and cannot be prevented by other acceptable means (see p. 169). In the case of non-coercive pornography, the harm that restriction would cause includes infringing on the freedom of people who want to have access to pornography, infringing on the freedom of those who want to sell or distribute pornography, creating a repressive enforcement apparatus that would inevitably infringe upon other freedoms and catch harmless expressions of sexuality in its net, and setting a precedent for restriction of all forms of expression which could be shown to cause similar harms. In addition, we have other acceptable means of preventing, or at least mitigating, the harm caused by non-coercive pornography. We can present people with more images, stories, and descriptions of people enjoying sex together as equals, more material that depicts the full range of non-coercive sexual pleasures for women as well as men and presents the possibility of combining intense pleasure with mutual respect and caring. 14 In other words, if non-coercive pornography is harming us, then we need better erotic material to compete with it.


NOTES

I thank David Copp, Don Brown, Lorenne Clark, and Bob Hadley for their very helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

1.
Other feminists have been responsible for changing the focus of the debate over pornography to concern with its portrayal of violence and coercion. See, for example, SusanBrownmiller

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