Should pornography and obscenity be controlled in society, and, if so, what kind of control is desirable? This issue deeply concerns and excites the passions of people in many countries. Of course, many would think pornography to be one of the least pressing of the issues that face us in the late twentieth century. Indeed, some regard pornography as raising only trivial issues in itself, and as becoming important only as other people inflate its importance to the point where they are prepared to interfere with fundamental democratic freedoms. Nevertheless, many regard pornography as an affront to the dignity and self-respect of half of the human species, if not as creating the risk of serious harm to women through its effects on its users. Still others consider pornography to be an evil in itself, regardless of its possible effects on others, and think that its widespread use is symptomatic of a crisis of values in Western society. Anyone could perhaps agree at the outset that pornography is of interest and importance, if only because each of the various positions regarding it is held with such conviction, and because the issue of whether and how to control pornography is connected with fundamental issues such as the desirable scope of the rights of free speech and freedom of choice.
It is difficult to make a wise decision regarding the control of pornography, for the debate tends to be distorted by impassioned rhetoric and misinformation. A wise decision would require at least empirical information and philosophical clarity. In this respect, the issue of whether and how