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Pornography in the Media


It started by way of messengers and scribes, evolved through 
the presentation of newspapers and radio, brought us together with 
television, and now serves us world-wide via the ever-popular 
Internet. It is the mass media, and even from the earliest days of 
its existence, it has contributed greatly in ways that both enlighten 
and enrich society, and ways that deteriorate and perplex it. It is 
not a surprise to learn, then, that the mass media is the most 
powerful source of information we have, and nothing else in today's 
world influences public perception quite as heavily. 

 Unfortunately, however, most of what is broadcast or 
transmitted in the news today is with reference to the chaotic 
condition of our planet, or something else that society as a whole 
sees as detrimental or damaging. But the news on television is not 
the only type of media taking the criticism of society. Other forms 
of mass media, specifically movies and television programs containing 
pornography and violence have been heavily criticized. The underlining
concept to be debated here is that society is negatively influenced, 
specifically, by these images of pornography and the result is 
increased violence against women. This assumption, and it is indeed 
only an assumption, is completely fallacious, however, as no concrete 
and completely conclusive evidence has ever been formulated in 
support of the theory. The key premise here is that the mass media 
does not cause undesirable social behaviour and in actuality, the 
media people should not be dubbed as the "bad guys". They simply use 
their power in the most constructive ways possible in order to promote 
their ratings and popularity. One way to do that is to concentrate on 
what sells: sex, violence and disaster.

 Having said this, why is it then, that many in society still 
believe otherwise; why do they continue to believe that pornography is 
"evil" and is a major cause for violence against women, specifically 
rape? There are many reasons for this misinterpretation and through 
the following few points, an attempt will be made to show that 
pornography has very little to almost no correlation with violence 
against women (of course nothing is "absolute" in society). In order 
to demonstrate this, it must be made evident that pornography is not 
"evil" and does not cause undesirable social behaviour by displaying 
nude women in sexually explicit circumstances. Thus, it is important 
to indicate that women are not treated only as sexual objects through 
the media. This is done in an attempt to quash any traces of "evil" 
in pornography. Subsequently, a second point, that some may consider 
to be completely bizarre, can be addressed; that pornography actually 
reduces the amount of violence against women.

 For thousands of years, sex itself has been considered "evil" 
and revolting. This is exactly why the concealment of the sex organs 
and teaching feelings of shame toward human sexuality is so common 
worldwide (Christensen 1990:4). These same feelings of shame are the 
chief reasons that sex is considered a personal and private matter. 
Contrary to the beliefs of many, the mass media did not create these 
settings; society creates this image. In some societies, women have 
no reservations with regard to living their entire lives completely 
naked, while in other societies, females cover themselves from head to 
toe, only revealing their eyes. The media has been bombarded with 
criticism, overwhelmingly from the female community, relative to the 
amount of sexually explicit material that is published in magazines 
and that appears on television and in the cinemas. A common argument 
against pornography is that the media portrays women as being nothing 
more than sexual playthings and objects to satisfy male sexual 
desires. As before, the media once again, is not to be held 
responsible for creating this image; these views are products of 

 It would be downright absurd to assume that women in this 
society are treated as sexual objects only because the media releases 
or broadcasts pornographic material. A magazine associated with 
make-up and skin care, for example, will quite obviously not be 
concentrating on much else. Such a magazine would not display 
pictures of women who mountain-climb or women who water-ski; only 
images of make-up and text referring to skin care would be relevant. 
Clearly, society does not consider women to be beings who's only 
purpose in life is to worry about make-up and skin care; but why are 
the complaints only directed towards pornographic media then? The 
answer to this question may be more complicated, however, what remains 
obvious is that the media does not portray women as only being able to 
fill male sexual desires. To say that pictures featuring nudity, etc, 
are making objects out of women is foolish. One should consider 
females who pin-up posters of male rock stars or children who collect
hockey or baseball cards. Society, however, does not say that objects 
are being made out of these rock stars and sports heroes; pictures of 
clothed people are no less objects than pictures of naked people.

 Many complaints are also made to the effect that pornography 
only offers a one-dimensional view to life; that women are seen as 
nymphomaniacs who are hysterically addicted to sex. It should be 
pointed out that events such as hockey games, boxing matches, horse 
races and operas all offer a one-dimensional view of life. One does 
not attend an opera hoping to see a horse race. The underlying 
problem here is that the above mentioned events are socially 
acceptable; media displaying pornography is not. It is also said that 
the media reduces women to a collection of body parts through 
pornography (Christensen 1990:74). But why then are their no 
complaints of advertisements in magazines displaying only ears, for 
example, or a nose, or feet? The reason is a simple one; society 
considers certain body parts to be "shameful" or disgusting and once 
again, the media can be "let off the hook".

 Realistically, the only way to prevent women from being seen 
as sex objects is for them to be seen as other things as well; but to 
say that women are not sexual beings would be misleading because both 
men and women are very much sexual (Christensen 1990:42). Similarly, 
to say that women are singled out in the media is fallacious due to 
the many examples of media where men are seen catering to the needs of 
women; something known as chivralic sexism (Christensen 1990:42).
Take, for instance, a recent television ad portraying young men 
groveling at the feet of supermodel Cindy Crawford, almost begging to 
be the "one" to cater to her needs. There were no lineups of men 
aching to announce their displeasure with the sexist ad; and this is 
precisely why male stereotyping in the media often goes unnoticed. 
Similarly, it is pornography in the media that is noticed and shunned 
by anti-pornographic and censorship organizations because it seemingly 
singles out females for their bodies. It should be well noted, 
however, that paperback romance novels, which make up an incredible 
40% of total paperback sales (Gerbner 1988:15), depicts males as 
sexual objects, performing what is called "Sweet Savagery" (rape), 
just as pornography depicts females as sexual objects. But once 
again, this goes unnoticed.

 It is fundamentally important to realize that the media does 
not deliberately create images of hate or disagreement (Howitt, 
Cumberbatch 1975:80). They just influence the more appealing things in 
society (thus directly increasing their ratings). Although it is 
obvious that pornography is largely a male interest, a noted 
increase in female interest would certainly cause an increase in the 
amount of pornographic material geared for women; this relates to the 
laws of the business world (Christensen 1990:50).

 Having discussed the untruthfulness of the claims against 
pornography and showing that pornography is not "evil", it is now 
possible to consider the violence issue. Are men who are exposed to 
pornography likely to commit violent acts, such as rape against women, 
more so than men who are not exposed to pornography? It is tempting 
to believe that media influences males and overstimulates them through 
pornography to the point that they become aggressive towards females. 
 But this is completely baseless; just as pornography arouses or 
stimulates, it also satisfies. The American Commission on Obscenity 
and Pornography performed a study in which several college students 
were asked to spend one and a half hours in an isolated room with a 
large volume of pornographic media, as well as a large volume of 
non-explicit media such as Reader's Digest (Howitt, Cumberbatch 
1975:80). The study was conducted over a three week period over which 
time it was discovered that the males involved in the experiment began 
to lose interest, or become desensitized to the erotic media nearing 
the end of the experiment, even if new material was added. To address 
the argument that males are pushed over the "brink" into committing 
rape because of pornography, one may point to the evidence above; to 
cover the female body would theoretically only increase male sexual 
desires. Four more separate experiments were conducted of which the 
above was one. Three other experiments came to the conclusions that 
pornography does not cause violence against women and reported that 
the number of sex offenders that had been exposed to pornographic 
material were smaller in number than the amount of sex-offenders that 
had not been exposed to pornography (Christensen 1990:130; Harmon, 
Check 1988:28-30). These results can be offered as evidence against 
the claim that males become overstimulated and thus dangerous when 
exposed to pornography. Other experiments conducted in the early 
1980s by the Williams Committee in England, reported that as the 
availability and abundance of sexually explicit material increased, 
the number of violent sex crimes such as rape did not increase, but in 
fact decreased in many areas (Christensen 1990:128-129).

 So what is it about pornography that women and 
anti-pornography organizations do not like? Violence! One of the 
greatest myths about pornography is that it contains an excess of 
violence against women inevitably resulting in real-life violence 
against women. Anti-pornography groups release propaganda that
the media approves of violence against women through pornography. In
actuality, however, the total amount of violence in sex-related movies 
was found to be approximately 6% in a study by T. Palys in the early 
1980s in Vancouver, Canada. Even this material was almost entirely 
composed of verbal threats and spanking (Christensen 1990:59). In 
addition to the above, studies in Ohio also found that the amount of 
violence in "G"-Rated movies was a staggering two times more than
in "X"-Rated movies. In fact, major films such as Die Hard: With A 
Vengeance and Terminator 2, contain extreme violence 85-90% of which 
is directed solely at men. There are, however, exceptions; the slasher 
genre of movies contain much more violence towards women, possibly due 
to the desensitization to violence in other genres of films. Because 
women are involved, violence against them could create a true sense of 
horror. However, this does not suggest that men should go into 
society and rape a woman any more than it suggests that men should go
out and kill other men. Horror movie fans choose to watch these 
movies because they enjoy portrayed violence. Needless to say, no 
sane individual would wish for this violence to become a real-life 
conception. Similarly, sex also excites people and because these two 
elements offer the most thrills in movies, they are often combined.

 It should be pointed out that women, and not just men, also 
enjoy these thrills based on numerous studies. When discussing 
pornography, it is scarcely noted that men are not the only ones who 
enjoy fantasizing about sex. Women also enjoy pondering sex; just not 
through pornography. In fact, most of these fantasies involve some 
degree of violence or force and are largely driven by the romance 
novels discussed earlier (once again supporting the evidence that 
romance novels prove to be the female equivalent to male-geared 
pornography). Recent reports published by Nancy Friday, show that the 
number of female fantasies involving rape far outweigh the number of 
male fantasies involving rape. What comes as a surprise to many is 
that in male fantasies, the woman rapes the man and conversely, in 
female fantasies, the man rapes ("Sweet Savagery"), the woman! 
(Christensen 1990:66). Friday's reports also provided some 
interesting reasoning for the female fantasies. Her reports find that 
females fantasize about rape to show that they are not acting in 
accordance with such "sinful" actions; to show that sex is being 
"forced" upon them. Any other feelings towards the fantasized
rape would prove to be "undesirable social behaviour" and amazingly, 
the media is not even involved! Actual laboratory experiments 
(Hawkins, Zimring 1988:103) have shown that when groups of women were 
shown erotic scenes involving rape, their reactions to the scenes were 
as or even more stimulating than less violent consensual lovemaking 
scenes. This is not to say that all women want to be raped; far from 
it. This is to say that if women can fantasize about rape but not 
wish to experience it, then men, too, can fantasize about rape and not 
wish to commit it. In addition to the many other accusations against 
pornography, many in society believe that there is definite connection 
between organized crime and pornography. Although this may be true, 
the idea is largely over-exaggerated. The reasoning behind this 
theory is very simple, yet very shallow. Consider, that pornography is 
created by organizations and contains sexually explicit material that 
may be thought to be legally obscene in some areas. To make the 
connection, these anti-pornography organizations assume that the
organizations (hence organized) that produce the legally obscene 
(hence crime) material, are operating illegally. It is obvious why 
pornography is attractive to criminals; just as anything that is 
banned or is made illegal, there is always someone who will pay 
the high black-market price for it.

 Having considered the issues at hand, it can be said that 
since there is no concrete evidence to support otherwise, pornography 
in the media does not cause undesirable social behaviour. As 
mentioned before, sexually explicit movies and magazines do not just 
arouse, but also satisfy. It is an undisputed fact that feelings of 
love and happiness cancel out violent feelings (Zillman, Connections 
Between Sex and Aggression) and to say that pornography endorse 
violent feelings fails to make sense; if it did, why would men want to 
be exposed to it. To suggest that pornography causes men to "go over 
the edge" and commit rape is as ludicrous as suggesting that pictures 
of food cause the hungry to steal more food. It has even been said by 
some women that rape is the fault of women who dress provocatively; 
"they ask for it". According to this logic, in the event that 
pornography is banned, then an attempt should be made to force women 
to cover their skin and wear clothing that completely hides the shapes 
of their bodies so as not to provoke rape. Absurd. 

 As members of society, we recognize the power of the mass 
media. We understand that public perception can be easily persuaded. 
But it should be clearly understood that pornography in the media 
alone cannot persuade men to cause harm to women; it cannot cause men 
to do things that are socially unacceptable. As was mentioned 
earlier, pornography only causes feelings of excitement and 
satisfaction and these feelings overpower those feelings of 
violence. For these reasons, it can be said that until a positive 
link can be found between pornography in the media and violence 
against women, it will remain that sexual violence such as rape is the 
result of sexual frustration, and not of sexual arousal.

Reference Cited

Christensen F.M. Pornography. New York: Praeger. 1990

Howitt, Cumberpatch. Mass Media, Violence and Society. London: Elek 
Science. 1975

Harmon, Check. Role of Pornography in Woman Abuse. (City unknown). 
American Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. 1988

Hawkins, Zimring. Pornography in a Free Society. (City unknown). 
(Publisher uknown). 1988


1. Pornography, Christensen F.M., 1990, New York, Praeger.
2. Mass Media, Violence and Society, Howitt, Cumberpatch, 1975, 
London, Elek Science.
3. Role of Pornography in Woman Abuse, Harmon, Check, 1988, American 
Commission on Obscenity and Pornography.
4. Pornography in a Free Society, Hawkins, Zimring, 1988.
5. Advertising, World Book Encyclopedia 1990, New York, Nault.
6. Pornography, Encarta Encyclopedia 1995, New York, Microsoft.
7. The Question of Pornography, Donnerstein, Linz, Penrod, ã1987,
8. Pornography and Censorship, Bullough, 1983, pp.255-261.



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