It is important to understood exactly what is meant by the term ‘pornography’. It seems that definitions vary and are often open to interpretation. For instance, in 2009, researcher Michael Flood defined pornography as:

Sexually explicit media that are primarily intended to sexually arouse the audience. It includes images of female or male nudity or semi-nudity, implied sexual activity, and actual sexual activity. This term ‘pornography’ is a neutral term, rather than as a negative term referring to representations which are necessarily offensive, obscene, or harmful.

This is a fairly basic definition of non-violent materials. It could cover a range of porn that some may refer to as erotica. Erotica comes from the Greek word erōtika, essentially meaning ‘sexual love’: materials intended to arouse sexual feelings that portray mutually consenting, pleasurable acts. And again, going back to the Greek, the derivative of pornography is porne: meaning ‘whore’ and graphean: meaning ‘to write’. More specifically ‘writing of harlots’ or ‘depictions of acts of prostitutes’.

Beyond this definition is what is known as hard-core porn. From a legal perspective, United States Supreme Court Associate Justice, Potter Stewart (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964) said the following:

In an effort to define hard core pornography “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”

This is not a detailed definition either, and is unhelpful in determining exactly what it is about pornography that is problematic. Perhaps Stewart was trying to explain ‘violent pornography’, which has been defined as ‘sexual images that portray explicit violence of varying degrees perpetrated against one individual by another.’

Drawing on the work of activist and renowned feminist Andrea Dworkin, more detail comes from the special findings on pornography published by the State of Minnesota that recognised pornography as sex discrimination and a violation of women’s civil rights:

The council finds that pornography is central in creating and maintaining the civil inequality of the sexes. Pornography is a systematic practice of exploitation and subordination based on sex which differentially harms women. The bigotry and contempt it promotes, with the acts of aggression it fosters, harm women’s opportunities for equality of rights in employment, education, property rights, public accommodations and public services; create public harassment and private denigration; promote injury and degradation such as rape, battery and prostitution and inhibit just enforcement of laws against these acts; contribute significantly to restricting women from full exercise of citizenship and participation in public life, including in neighborhoods; damage relations between the sexes; and undermine women’s equal exercise of rights to speech and action guaranteed to all citizens under the constitutions and laws of the United States and the State of Minnesota.

In addition, it follows with a confronting yet insightful definition:

Pornography is the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and/or words that also includes one or more of the following:
(i) Women are presented dehumanized as sexual objects, things or commodities; or
(ii) Women are presented as sexual objects who enjoy pain or humiliation; or
(iii) Women are presented as sexual objects who experience sexual pleasure in being raped; or
(iv) Women are presented as sexual objects tied up or cut up or mutilated or bruised or physically hurt; or
(v) Women are presented in postures or positions of sexual submission, servility, or display; or
(vi) Women’s body parts—-including but not limited to vaginas, breasts, or buttocks—-are exhibited such that women are reduced to those parts; or
(vii) Women are presented as whores by nature; or
(viii) Women are presented being penetrated by objects or animals; or
(ix) Woman are presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual.

The use of men, children, or transsexuals in the place of women is also pornography.

Disturbingly, this pornography is readily available on the Internet for anyone – including children and teens.

 


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Liz Walker

About Liz Walker

Sexuality & pornography educator and advocate. Liz provides consultancy, schools education & presentations, and is sought after internationally.