Pornography* Online

One extensive UK survey showed that the largest number of both women and men primarily visit so-called tube sites – i.e., the porn equivalents of YouTube such as porntube. com. More recently, one of these sites, Pornhub, provided a wealth of statistics on its visitors. Considering the source, the significance and quality of these numbers are to be taken with many grains of salt. Still, these statistics reinforce Attwood’s account of growing diversities in sexuality and media. At the same time, there is no shortage of variations of SEMs designed primarily to arouse heterosexual males through a focus on women as both the targets and active agents of male sexual pleasure. With this last genre of pornography* as a starting point, we’ll now turn to three different analyses and arguments that should be useful in their own right and as providing examples and models for approaching other mediated SEMs – and in the following sections on robots and games.

A utilitarian analysis At least in the English-speaking world, approaches to pornography* online often follow utilitarian lines of argument. Classical liberals, beginning with John Stuart Mill, defend freedom of speech and object to censorship on straightforwardly utilitarian grounds. First, freedom of speech is argued to lead to such positive consequences as individual happiness and a flourishing society. By contrast, censorship is rejected because of its many negative consequences, including inadvertent suppression of what may be grains of truth in an otherwise suspect claim or view. (As Warburton points out, Mill’s arguments are directed to freedom of expression and freedom of speech. For pornography* to be defended on these grounds, it must first be shown to count as speech or expression. For arguments pro and con, see ibid., 60–4.) We can add to these considerations common neoliberal objections to proposed internet regulation as being too costly – as imposing unneeded costs and inconveniences on governments, the corporations responsible for maintaining the internet infrastructure, and users/consumers. On the other hand, critics of pornography* argue that the production and consumption of such materials are harmful to women – as well as children, especially as trade in child pornography has apparently increased thanks to rising access to the Dark Web. Indeed, for all of the debate regarding the difficulty of demonstrating causality between consumption, on the one hand, and attitudes and actions, on the other, a recent meta-study of some 135 (English-language) studies flatly concludes:

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Both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to this [sexualized media] content are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.