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Free Speech Pamphlet Series: Pornography
Feminism and Free speech: Pornography is
part of the Feminism and Free Speech series
produced by Feminists for Free Expression,
a national, not-for-profit anti-censorship
organization. FFE has prepared this publication
to aid in the understanding of pornography,
its uses and benefits, and its relation to
violence. Below is an overview of the scientific
and cross-cultural research, and legal and
historical data on sexually explicit material.
Popular beliefs are followed by research
1. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OBSCENITY
- Yes, there is. Obscenity is sexual words
and images which are not protected by Constitutional
guarantees of free speech. To be illegally
obscene, a work must appeal to the prurient
interests, depict sex in a patently offensive
way, and lack serious literary, artistic,
political or scientific value.
- Pornography is material designed to arouse
and has no legal or consistent definition.
Each person's definition depends on her
upbringing, sexual preference and viewing
context. One woman's "trash" may
be another's treasure or boredom.
2. SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL CAUSES VIOLENCE
- No research, including the Surgeon General's
report, finds a link between "kinky" or "degrading" images
and violence. Exposure to such material
does not cause people to change their sexual
preferences or commit acts against their
will. The derailed impulses of child abusers
and rapists are caused by childhood traumas.
''They are not," wrote leading researcher
John Money, "borrowed from movies,
books or other people."
- Studies on violent pornography are inconsistent.
Some find it increases aggression in the
lab; some find it does not. Research also
finds that aggression will be increased
by anything that agitates a subject (that
raises heart rate, adrenaline flow, etc.),
not only violent movies but riding exercise
bicycles. Agitation will boost whatever
follows it, aggression or generosity.
- Dr. Suzanne Ageton, measuring violence
out of the lab, found that membership in
a delinquent peer group accounted for 3/4
of sexual aggression.
- Studies in the U.S., Europe and Asia
find no link between the availability of
sexual material and sex crimes. The only
factor linked to rape rate is the number
of young men living in a given area. When
pornography became widely available in
Europe, sexually violent crimes decreased
or remained the same. Japan, with far more
violent pornography than the U.S., has
2.4 rapes per 100,000 people compared with
the U.S. 34.5 per 100,000.
3. MEN WATCH PORNOGRAPHY AND COPY IT OR
FORCE WOMEN TO DO WHAT THEY SEE
- Violence and intimidation existed for
thousands of years before commercial pornography,
and countries today with no pornography,
like Saudi Arabia and Iran, do not boast
strong women's rights records. Men have
forced women to do things -- sexual and
nonsexual -- for centuries. The problem
is not sex, it's force.
- People do not mimic what they read or
view in knee-jerk fashion. If they did,
the feminist books of the last 25 years
would have transformed this into a perfect
feminist world. If they did, advertisers
could run an ad and consumers would obey.
Instead, businesses spend millions of dollars
and still, the strongest motive for purchases
is price. People juggle words and images
-- good and bad -- with all the others
that they have seen or heard, and with
all their real life experiences. It is
experience that is the strongest teacher.
- Men do not learn coercion from pictures
of sex. They learn it from the violence
and contempt for women in their families
and communities where each generation passes
down what sorts of force are acceptable,
- Copycat theories are "porn made
me do it" excuses for rapists and
batterers. They relieve criminals of responsibility
for their acts.
4. PORNOGRAPHY DEGRADES WOMEN
- Sexism, not sex, degrades women. Though
sexism pervades our culture in many forms,
we will not eliminate it by banning sex.
Sexism and violence stem from long-standing
economic, political and emotional factors.
It is these that need addressing.
- Women interpret pornography in different
ways. Some find it sexist, some find it
a form of fantasy, like dreams and the
movies we run in our heads when we masturbate
or have sex. Opponents of sexual speech
misunderstand that it is in everyone's
interest to allow a variety of pleasurable
materials that enhance well-being and sexual
- The only work removed under Canada's
new obscenity standard (which claims to
outlaw the degradation of woman) is an
erotic magazine made by and for women.
5. PORNOGRAPHY IS ONLY FOR MEN
- Half the adult videos in the U.S. are
bought or rented by women alone or women
- Sexual health professionals recommend
pornography as entertainment and information
for women and men. It may enhance failing
marriages and help couples talk about and
experiment with sex.
- AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases
have made it a public health necessity
to encourage sexual fantasy material that
offers women and men safe alternatives
to unhealthy sexual contact.
6. THE WOMEN IN PORNOGRAPHY ARE EXPLOITED
- Women are exploited and harassed in all
fields; some are in pornography. Exploitation
will stop when it is vigorously prosecuted
everywhere it occurs.
- When the National Organization for Women
considered launching a campaign against
pornography, women in pornography protested
saying that a ban against it would create
a black market of exploitation. Some said
their work gave then independence and a
sense of accomplishment; banning it would
worsen their lives. NOW abandoned its proposed
7. AS AN AID TO MASTURBATION, PORNOGRAPHY
IS ACTION THAT IS NOT PROTECTED BY THE FIRST
- Pornography may lead to masturbation
much as a novel or film may lead to tears
or laughter. All are protected by the First
Amendment, including those that some find
offensive. "The government may not
prohibit," wrote the Supreme Court, "the
expression of an idea because society finds
the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."
- FFE does not believe that policing masturbation
is the proper business of government or
8. BANNING SEXUAL MATERIAL WILL PROTECT
OR HELP WOMEN
- Historically, censorship has hurt women.
Information about sex and reproduction
has been banned under the guise of "protecting" women
-- from the jailing of birth control advocate
Margaret Sanger to the "gag rule" against
abortion counseling in federally funded
clinics to the attacks against National
Endowment for the Arts grant recipient
Holly Hughes. It has never reduced sexism
- If one group may be censored because
some find it offensive, all groups may
be censored, including women. The best
protection for women's ideas and voices
is the Constitutional protection of free
- Sexual images that do not meet women's
needs should not be restricted. Better
images should be made. The answer to bad
pornography is good pornography, not no
© FFE This publication was developed
for FFE by Patti O. Britton, Ph.D.
Jennifer Maguire and Beth Nathanson, M.A.