HEARING FROM MEN AND WOMEN: EXPLORING SUBJECTIVE MEANINGS OF PORNOGRAPHY
By Freddie Rabelas Obligacion, Ph.D., MBA, MA, BS (magna cum laude)
In this paper, I ventured to clarify what pornography stands for in contemporary society. Do people see pornography as degrading and instigating violence toward women? Or is it a harmless and cathartic outlet for sexual fantasies and excess sexual energy?
This study involved 302 female and 214 male students of Introductory to Sociology students in a large, Midwestern university in the United States. The sample was predominantly white, raised in small cities and had an upper-middle and upper-class identification.
The feminist critique of pornography contends that it is a symbol of hegemonic male domination. Andrea Dworkin describes the “power of men in pornography” as “imperial power” in a society where “women are porneia…used as whores are used, valued as whores are valued.”
Furthermore, the Meese Commission on Pornography concluded that both violent and non-violent forms of pornography are harmful
In the area of human sexuality, it is posited that pornography’s focus on the genitals limits sexual expression. By constricting sexuality through standardization, sex becomes greatly narrowed and ultimately becomes boring.
Opponents of the feminist critique such as revisionist feminists believe that women have libidos as active, desiring, and demanding sexual beings who engage in sexual acts, such as fellatio, formerly denied them by their culture.
Viewed with positive meanings, pornography is considered an aid to masturbation, enhances sexual congress, and is a source of fantasies. These ideas are couched in the catharsis model which states that pornography as a symbolic system serves as “safety valves” where men are able to release in a harmless way their sexual aggression toward women via pornography.
As an entire group composed of males and females, there was a tendency to perceive pornography as harmful or detrimental. Specifically, pornography was perceived as a harmful outlet that treats people as sex objects, exploits women
encourages violence toward women, induces promiscuity, motivates sexual abuse of children, leads to pornographic addiction, and is something that the world can do without.
Interestingly, however, the respondents also recognized pornography’s positive aspects in their belief that pornography allows fantasizing about sex acts they cannot perform in real life, removing sexual inhibitions, dreaming about sexually desirable people, and entertaining the option of casual sex.
It may then be inferred from these seemingly contradictory findings that pornography is a multi-faceted phenomenon representing several versions of reality.
As separate groups of male and female, findings indicated that there are significant gender differences in attitudes or perceptions of pornography. For instance, men tended to stress pornography’s harmlessness while women veered toward highlighting its dangers. This finding may be an indication of gender differences in the sexual arousal mechanism.
The study showed that male respondents rejected the notion of pornography as an aid to sexual congress while their female counterparts agreed with that notion.
Such finding lends support to research that emphasizes the incorporation of pornography into fantasy. To men, the female in pornography is a sex object which they take out of videos and have sex with. To women, a female is an object of identification, an object to whom men respond.
I submit that men have low regard for pornography as substitute sexual activity in the face of abundant sexual opportunities available to them.
On the other hand, women experience more restricted access to sexual exploits. Thus, pornography to women may be regarded not as a mere substitute for sexual activity but as an “authentic, autonomous sexual activity.”
In terms of the degree of pornographic use, 70% of the male respondents admitted viewing or reading pornographic materials while only 23% of the women did. Those who consumed pornography tended to view pornography as harmless or beneficial while those who did not saw pornography as harmful or detrimental. Relatedly, the more frequent the exposure to pornography, the greater the propensity to consider pornography as beneficial.
In conclusion, a nuanced picture of pornography emerged in this research. Respondents viewed pornography as both detrimental and beneficial, both innocuous and potentially damaging.
As a current or future consumer of pornography, the respondents will play an important role in shaping the discourse surrounding pornography.
It is heartening to note that participants in the study demonstrated flexibility and open-mindedness, attributes of critical importance in handling the complexity of pornography where boundaries between the functional and dysfunctional are constantly shifting; where an elusive golden mean need be negotiated between the extremes of complete sexual freedom—which is a contradiction of the human condition, on one hand, and the excessive regulation of pornography which is a denial of the
“pornographic deep” in ourselves, on the other.