Current public debate on pornography has prompted many of us to examine our views on this distasteful subject. My research started at the Ontario Censor Board where I viewed their 18-minute composite of cuts made from a selection of commercially-shown movies. I then persuaded my husband (I’m not quite as liberated as I often think I am) to visit our corner store and get a selection of magazines, for both men and women, available there. I also read as much of the research done on the effects of pornography that I could find.

Recent tests done to determine the effects of pornography have consistently shown that exposure to “soft-core” pornography leads to desensitization of the viewer. That is, the person who looks at the Playboy type centrefold for purposes of sexual arousal or stimulation will become numb to this after a time and will seek out more explicit material to achieve the desired effect. “Hard-core” pornography, possibly featuring rape or bondage (usually showing the woman involved as enjoying the experience), extends to women (and men) being beaten, tortured, mutilated and even murdered.

Self-satisfaction guaranteed

Now, I am not trying to imply that every person reading Playboy will graduate to “snuff movies;” however, that possibility is very real for those individuals with fragile identities. The symbolism of what is being viewed is significant. The emotions aroused through pornography are unhealthy; the viewer is merely intent on satisfying himself; he does not want the complication of having to relate to another.

Many who read Playboy, Penthouse and the rest say they do so because they publish interesting articles and good cartoons. That’s as may be; the reader is also looking at nudity, replete with sexual innuendo, is reading ads for sexual aids, and letters suggesting the “fun” to be gained through sexual experimentation. Anyone using these magazines would be well-advised to look more carefully at just what he is “skipping over” in order to read the articles and cartoons.

The basic editorial philosophy of these publications has always been to separate sex from a loving, caring, giving interdependence with another. Sexual intimacy becomes an end in itself. One body is very much like another, and sex is a daily routine like taking a shower or brushing your teeth or doing the laundry.

Children as sex objects

The industry based on deviant pornography is now growing. Not only is homosexual and lesbian material proliferating, but so also is the use of children in pornography. Children are enticed or coerced into performing sexual acts for the titillation of adults. How many of us have bothered to take the time to notice this as a natural progression from the way in which Brooke Shields and her look-alikes have been merchandized? Remember Lolita?

Brooke Shields was deliberately marketed as an adolescent sex object in Pretty Baby: even the title of the movie makes no bones about that. While the immediate audience for the sexy adolescent is presumably adult men, Brooke Shields herself has become an object approved of by many of her peers as someone who has “made it.” In the films Luna and The Tin Drum adolescent boys were shown in intimate sexual contact with older women.

Pornography depersonalizes sex and reduces human beings to objects because the sexual behaviour portrayed is shown in isolation from its normal, proper context – that of an essentially private matter between a man and a woman in a mature, loving relationship.

The perfect woman?

Feminists have, for many years, continued to protest the presentation of women as “sex objects.” They don’t seem to realize that it is not only women who are being degraded in this way. The woman in the photograph or movie frame is merely the immediate object of attention. She has presumably chosen to be there, to be compared with others, or idolized as perfect, or dismissed as an exhibitionist: she is, sadly, unimportant. She merely serves as the focus of, the object of (commercialized) lust, while the viewer fantasizes as he or she wishes. The users, and the users’ weaknesses, are the actual target of exploitation.

Clearly, then, the impact of pornography is that it affects those participating, those who choose to be users, and also those who have rarely (or never) seen pornography at all. Even if we never pick up a sleazy book or magazine, or view a racy home video or movie, the attitude of tolerance of pornography is in the very air we breathe. It is a severe and insidious form of mental pollution of our environment.

Because pornography treats the sexual experience very much in isolation as a specialized activity, and because society has accepted this attitude, we have become increasingly inured to casual portrayals of human sexual activity that would have exceeded the “norm” even 15 years ago.

Standards and norms are fast disappearing. A recent comparison, of 1983 U.S network television programs with those of 1982, showed that depictions of sex were increased by 35%, and that 85% of all sex depicted “occurred” clearly as extra-marital. While this may not be pornographic, it is certainly promoting casual sex that disregards any marital context and thereby undermines the traditionally-held values of the importance of marriage.

We cannot opt-out

It is easy to take the weak-minded attitude, “I do not personally use pornography and, therefore, need not fight against it.” It’s the same attitude which says, “I could not personally have an abortion, but I can’t impose my morality on others.” That’s a cop-out attitude as regards abortion, and it’s a cop-out as regards pornography.

We must protect our children. They are victims of pornography, and not only when they are participants in such enterprises. Pornography is an element often present in cases of child abuse and incest. Police and psychiatric reports show that men involved in cases of child abuse have been using the children to act out the fantasies created by Kiddie porn. Remember, a suitcase of such material was found in the possession of mass-murderer, Clifford Olson. Cases of “oral venereal disease” have been reported in children as young as nine months in the U.S (according to an August 1983 memorandum to the U.S Child Abuse Task Force.)

Adults must protect each other from becoming victims of pornography. Women are seen as the victims of these crimes; however, the man committing the crime is equally a victim. If pornography is restricted and even one man, a man predisposed to this type of violence, is thereby not incited to commit a crime, then this “censorship” is valid. Restriction here is not a curtailment of freedom of expression, it is making legislation to provide a form of preventative medicine.

There is a mandate

Every society recognizes the need for censorship in many areas where there is a possibility of harm to others. We have laws which state you may not murder, steal, libel or slander, or promote and distribute hate literature. Censorship of pornography is needed to restrict a certain type of vicious and insidious “hate literature,” literature which promotes immaturity and self-gratification, and denigrates authority and mature responsibility.

As people who honour the intrinsic worth, dignity and spirituality of all – born and unborn – we do have a mandate to protest and to combat the tolerance of pornography in our society. How can we teach respect for life, when the presence of pornography demeans the very act which creates life and the very structure which supports it – the family?