Treat porn as a public health issue | South China Morning Post
  • Sun
  • Mar 29, 2015
  • Updated: 11:07am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 4:48am

Treat porn as a public health issue

There is porn sex and real sex. We are supposed to know the difference. But do we, really?

If it's so easy to tell reality from fantasy, then porn perhaps would be rather harmless, as its advocates claim. But the issue is much more complicated.

Porn is literally at our fingertips nowadays via the internet and mobile computing. For most boys, it serves as their first introduction to sex. And for many, it will remain a source of self-gratification.

Here I am only speaking of the male experience. Perhaps a female colleague will discuss porn from the perspectives of women.

"Porn is without doubt the most powerful form of sex education today," said Gail Dines, a feminist and sociologist, "with studies showing that the average age of first viewing porn [in the US] is between 11 and 14 - and let me tell you, this is not your father's Playboy."

An influential porn critic, Dines pioneers the strategy of addressing porn as a public and mental health issue, rather than as free speech, which favours its purveyors.

She was speaking ahead of the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation summit to be held this week near Washington.

Porn advocates, usually the ones who make the most money out of it, like to argue it expands our sexual horizons and empowers women. Anyone who has seen degrading Japanese porn, a major source in Hong Kong, cannot think the women were empowered. And while we do know a lot more tricks than before, it's not clear that we are better off. For example, fellatio was virtually unknown for much of the last century, according to the classic mid-century Masters and Johnson sex survey in the US. Now it's practically a required sex act in the bedroom. G. E. Moore, a distinguished British philosopher in the early 20th century, thought that sodomy disappeared along with the fall of Rome.

Some argue there is a difference between soft- and hard-core. But Dines points out that soft or mainstream porn of the Playboy era is gone - mainstream porn is hard-core porn.

A lifelong exposure to such material cannot fail to have a profound impact, whatever it is. Since porn is a highly complex phenomenon, treating it as a public health issue gives critics the multi-track strategy they need to address it and fight back.

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