Pornography — Sex or Subordination?
In the late Seventies, America became shocked and outraged
by the rape, mutilation, and murder of over a dozen young,
beautiful girls. The man who committed these murders, Ted
Bundy, was later apprehended and executed. During his
detention in various penitentiaries, he was mentally
probed and prodded by psychologist and psychoanalysts
hoping to discover the root of his violent actions and
sexual frustrations. Many theories arose in attempts to
explain the motivational factors behind his murderous
escapades. However, the strongest and most feasible of
these theories came not from the psychologists, but from
the man himself, ?as a teenager, my buddies and I would
all sneak around and watch porn. As I grew older, I
became more and more interested and involved in it,
[pornography] became an obsession. I got so involved in
it, I wanted to incorporate [porn] into my life, but I
couldn’t behave like that and maintain the success I had
worked so hard for. I generated an alter-ego to fulfill
my fantasies under-cover. Pornography was a means of
unlocking the evil I had burried inside myself? (Leidholdt
47). Is it possible that pornography is acting as the key
to unlocking the evil in more unstable minds?
According to Edward Donnerstein, a leading researcher
in the pornography field, ?the relationship between
sexually violent images in the media and subsequent
aggression and . . . callous attitudes towards women is
much stonger statistically than the relationship between
smoking and cancer? (Itzin 22). After considering the
increase in rape and molestation, sexual harassment, and
other sex crimes over the last few decades, and also the
corresponding increase of business in the pornography
industry, the link between violence and pornogrpahy needs
considerable study and examination. Once the evidence you
will encounter in this paper is evaluated and quantified,
it will be hard not come away with the realization that
habitual use of pornographic material promotes unrealistic
and unattainable desires in men that can leac to violent
behavior toward women.
In order to properly discuss pornography, and be able
to link it to violence, we must first come to a basic and
agreeable understanding of what the word pornography
means. The term pornogrpahy originates from two greek
words, porne, which means harlot, and graphein, which
means to write (Webster’s 286). My belief is that the
combination of the two words was originally meant to
describe, in literature, the sexual escapades of women
deemed to be whores. As time has passed, this definition
of pornography has grown to include any and all obscene
literature and pictures. At the present date, the term is
basically a blanket which covers all types of material
such as explicit literature, photography, films, and video
tapes with varying degrees of sexual content.
For Catherine Itzin’s research purposes pornogrpahy
has been divided into three categories: The sexually
explicit and violent; the sexually explicit and
nonviolent, but subordinating and dehumanizing; and the
sexually explicit, nonviolent, and nonsubordinating that
is based upon mutuality. The sexually explicit and
violent is graphic, showing penetration and ejaculation.
Also, it shows the violent act toward a woman. The
second example shows the graphic sexual act and climax,
but not a violent act. This example shows the woman
being dressed is a costume or being ?talked down’ to in
order to reduce her to something not human; such as a
body part or just something to have sex with, a body
opening or an orifice. Not only does ?erotica’ show the
entire graphic sexual act, it also depicts an attraction
between two people. Her research consistently shows
that harmful effects are associated with the first two,
but that the third ?erotica’, is harmless (22). These
three categories basically exist as tools of discerning
content. Although sometimes they overlap without a true
distinction, as in when the film is graphic in the
sexual act and also in violence, but shows the act as
being a mutual activity between the people
In my view, to further divide pornography, it is
possible to break it down into even simpler categories:
soft and hard core pornography. Hard core pornography is
a combination of the sexually explicit and violent and the
sexually explicit and nonviolent, but subordinating and
dehumanizing categories, previously discussed. Soft core
pornography is thought to be harmless and falls into the
category known as ?erotica’; which is the category based
on mutuality. In hard core pornogrpahy, commonly rated
XXX, you can see graphic depiction’s of violent sexual
acts usually with a man or group of men, deriving sexual
gratification from the degradation of a woman.
You can also see women participating in demoralizing
sexual behavior among themselves for the gratification of
men. In a triple-X movie all physical aspects are shown,
such as extreme close-ups of genitalia, oral, vaginal, and
anal penetration, and also ejaculation. Much of the time
emphasis is put on the painful and humiliating experience
of the woman, for the sole satisfaction of the male. Soft
core pornography, or X-rated pornography, is less explicit
in terms of what is shown and the sexual act is usually
put in the light of mutual enjoyment for both the male and
female parties(Cameron and Frazer 23). Triple-X
pornography is manufactured and sold legally in the United
States. Deborah Cameron and Elizabeth Frazer point out
that other forms of hard core pornography that have to be
kept under wraps, made and sold illegally in underground
?black’ markets. These are ultraviolent, ?snuff’, and
child pornography. Ultraviolent tapes or videos show the
actual torture, rape, and sometime mutilation of a woman.
?Snuff’ films go even future to depict the actual death of
a victim, and child pornography reveals the use of
under-age or pre-pubescent children for sexual purposes
(17-18). These types of pornogrpahy cross over the
boundaries of entertainment and are definitely hard core.
Now that pornography has been defined in a fashion
mirroring its content, it is now possible to touch upon
the more complex ways a community, as a society , views or
defines it. Some have said it is impossible for a group
of individuals to form a concrete opinion as to what
pornography means. A U.S. Supreme Court judge is quoted
as saying, ?I can’t define pornography, but I know it when
I see it? (Itzin 20). This statement can be heard at
community meetings in every state, city, and county across
the nation. Community standards are hazy due to the fact
that when asked what pornography is to them, most
individuals cannot express or explain in words what
pornography is, therefore creating confusion among
Communities are left somewhat helpless in this matter
since the federal courts passed legislation to keep
pornography available to adults. The courts assess that
to ban or censor the material would be infringing on the
public’s First Amendment Right (Carol 28). Maureen
O’Brien quotes critics of a congressionally terminated
bill, the Pornography Victim’s Compensation Act, as saying
?That if it had passed, it would have had severely
chilling effects on the First Amendment, allowing victims
of sexual crimes to file suit against producers and
distributors of any work that was proven to have had
?caused’ the attack, such as graphic material in books,
magazines, videos, films, and records? (7). People in a
community debating over pornography often have different
views as to whether or not it should even be made
available period, and some could even argue this point
against the types of women used in pornography: ?A far
greater variety of female types are shown as desirable in
pornography than mainstream films and network television
have ever recognized: fat women, flat women, hairy women,
aggressive women, older women, you name it? (Carol 25).
If we could all decide on just exactly what pornography is
and what is acceptable, there wouldn’t be so much debate
over the issue of censoring it.
The bounds of community standards have been stretched
by mainstreaming movies, opening the way even further for
the legalization of more explicit fare (Jenish 53). In
most contemporary communities explicit sex that is without
violent or dehumanizing acts is acceptable in American
These community standards have not been around very
long. When movies were first brought out, they were
heavily restricted and not protected by the First
Amendment, because films then were looked upon only as
diversionary entertainment and business.Even though sexual
images were highly monitored, the movie industry was hit
so hard during the Great Depression that film-makers found
themselves sneaking in as much sexual content as possible,
even then they saw that ?sex sells’ (Clark 1029). Films
were highly restricted throughout the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s
by the industry, but once independent films of the 60’s
such as: ?Bonnie and Clyde? and ?Whose afraid of Virginia
Woolfe?? (Clark 1029-30), both with explicit language,
sexual innuendo, and violence started out-performing the
larger ?wholesome’ production companies, many of the
barriers holding sex and violence back were torn down in
the name of profit . Adult content was put into movies
long ago, we have become more immune and can’t expect it
to get any better or to go away. Porn is here for good.
Pornography is a multi-million dollar international
industry, ultimately run by organized crime all over the
world, and is produced by the respectable mainstream
publishing business companies (Itzin 21). Although the
publishing companies are thought to be ?respectable’,
people generally stereotype buyers and users of
pornographic material as ?dirty old men in trenchcoats’,
but most patrons of adult stores are well-educated people
with disposable income (Jenish 52). Porno movies provide
adults of both genders with activities they normally
wouldn’t get in everyday life, such as oral pleasures or
different types of fetishes. Ultimately adult
entertainment is just a quick-fix for grown-ups, as
junk-food would be for small children.
Pornography’s main purpose is to serve as
masturbatory stimuli for males and to provide a sexual
vent. Although in the beginning, society saw it as
perverted and sinful, it was still considered relatively
harmless. Today there is one case studie, standing out
from the rest, that tends to shatter this illusion.
The study done my Monica D. Weisz and Christopher M.
Earls used ?eighty-seven males . . . that were randomly
shown one of four films?, by researchers William Tooke and
Martin Lalumiere: ?Deliverance, Straw Dogs, Die Hard II,
and Days of Thunder?, for a study on how they would react
to questions about sexual violence and offenders after
watching. In the four films there is sexual aggression
against a male, sexual aggression against a female,
physical aggression, and neutrality-no explicit scenes of
physical or sexual aggression. Out of this study the
males were more acceptable of interpersonal violence and
rape myths and also more attracted to sexual aggression.
These same males were less sympathetic to rape victims and
were noted less likely to find a defendant guilty of rape
(71). These four above mentioned movies are mainstreamed
R-rated films. If a mainstream movie can cause this kind
of distortion of value and morality, then it should become
evident that continuous viewing/use of pornographic films
depicting violent sex and aggression could lead vulnerable
persons into performing or participating in sexual
violence against their partners or against a stranger.
Bill Marshall, psychology professor at Queen’s
University and director of a sexual behavior clinic in
Kingston, interviewed one-hundred and twenty men, between
the years 1980 and 1985, who had molested children or
raped women. In his conclusion he found that pornography
appeared to be a significant factor in the chain of events
leading up to a deviant act in 25% of these cases (Nicols
60). The results of this study should prove that
pornography obviously has a down side to it.
According to Mark Nicols, a psychology professor at
the University of Michigan, Neil Malamuth, concludes quite
cautiously that some messages combined with other factors,
including the viewer’s personality type, in pornography
can lead to antisocial behavior and make individuals less
sensitive to violence. Dr. Marshall also quotes men in
Nicols article as saying, ?that they looked at pornography
with the intent to masturbate, but then became aroused,
and decided to go out and assault a woman or child.? Men
who are drawn into pornography and use it frequently, have
also been proven to suggest more lenient prison terms for
sex offenders? (60). If this previous statement is true,
should we reevaluate how many men serve on juries for
Itzin gives possible support for these theories. It
can be found in the case of an ex-prostitute who had her
pubic hair removed with a jackknife and was forced by her
pimp to be filmed reenacting what they had seen in
pornographic movies; she was sexually assaulted and forced
to have intercourse with animals, generally dogs. Another
such case is one of a woman who reports having metal clips
attached to her breasts, being tied to a chair, and being
raped and beaten continuously for twelve hours (22-24).
The dehumanizing, degradation, and reduction of a woman’s
body isn’t just a result of viewed pornography, it is
often inseminated into the production of a pornographic
project. During the making of ?Deep Throat?, a 1970’s
pornographic film, Linda Marchiano (a.k.a. Linda
Lovelace), was presented to the public as a liberated
woman with an ever present and unfulfilled appetite for
fellatio. What isn’t known to the general public is that
during the making of the movie, she was hypnotized to
suppress the natural gagging reaction, was tortured when
caught trying to escape, and also held at gun-point by her
boss, who threatened her with death (Itzin 22). Ms.
Marchiano did escape and when her story was told, it was
repeated by a number of women in the pornography business.
According to D’Arcy Jenish many children are lured
into the pornography industry by choosing first to model.
These young teen’s egos are boosted when they are told
?[they have good bodies]?, and are asked ?if they work
out??. More often than not, they are told ?to take off
[their] shirts?, and then asked ?Do you feel nervous??
(36). These youngsters honestly don’t know when too much
is too much, and what they don’t know could put them in
Calvin Klein, once known for being a reputable
clothing designer, is now known for his racy ads using
teens. Some feel he crossed the line when he chose this
type of advertising. Jenish observes that these
advertisements ?featured an array of . . . teen-aged
models dressed in loose jeans or hiked-up skirts, one
showing bare breasts, others offering androgynous models
kissing? (36). If adults in positions of power act this
way, these youngsters cannot expect other adults to act
any differently. Therefore they accept this type of
behavior as normal.
Diana Russell claims that tactics like these are
being used more often in advertising and television, which
has led media watchdogs and anti-porn activists to believe
that this sort of masked imitation of pornography tricks
mainstream television viewers into having an ?everybody’s
doing it? attitude about pornography. She also feels that
this attitude subconsciously leads them into seeking
pornography out (39). We need to show the younger
generation that everyone is not doing ?it’, and that it is
all right not to have sex if they feel pressured.
Another problem anti-pornography activists believe
arises from regular viewing of pornography, is the
acceptance of ?rape myths?. Rape myth is a term
pertaining to people’s views on rape, rapists, and sexual
assaults, wherein it is assumed that the victim of a
sexual crime is either partially or completely to blame
(Allen 6). To help understand the rape myth a ?Rape Myth
Acceptance Scale? was established, which lists some of the
most prominent beliefs that a person accepting the rape
myth has. They are as follows:
1. A woman who goes to the home or apartment
of a man on their first date implies that
she is willing to have sex.
2. One reason that women falsely report a rape
is that they frequently have a need to
call attention to themselves.
3. Any healthy woman can successfully resist
a rapist if she really wants to.
4. When women go around braless or wearing
short skirts and tight tops, they are just
asking for trouble.
5. In the majority or rapes, the victim is
promiscuous or has a bad reputation.
6. If a girl engages in necking or petting and
she lets things get out of hand, it is her
own fault if her partner forces sex on her.
7. Women who get raped while hitchhiking get
what they deserve.
8. Many women have an unconscious wish to be
raped, and may then [subconsciously] set up
a situation in which they are likely to be
9. If a woman gets drunk at a party and has
intercourse with a man she’s just met
there, she should be considered ?fair game?
to other males at the party who want to
have sex with her too, whether she wants to
or not (Burt 217).
Pauline Bart reports that studies held simultaneously
at UCLA and St. Xavier College on students, demonstrate
that pornography does positively reinforce the rape myth.
Men and women were exposed to over four hours of exotic
video (of varying types; i.e. soft, hard core, etc.) and
then asked to answer a set of questions meant to gage
their attitudes of sex crimes. All the men were proven to
be more accepting to rape myths, and surprisingly, over
half of the women were also (123). Once again, the women
in these films were portrayed as insatiable and in need of
constant fulfillment. After so much exposure to women in
this light from films and books, it is generally taken for
granted that women should emulate this type of behavior in
real life(125). comment?
Of all the studies and examples from real life
situations connecting pornography with violent behavior
and sexual aggressiveness, none are more concrete than the
activities the Serbian military are part of every day now
in the Bosnian war. Part of the ?ethnic cleansing?
process the Serbs are practicing in Bosnia involves the
gang-raping of all Muslim and Croatian women. Andrea
Dworkin states that it is mandatory for the Serbian
soldiers to rape the wives and female children of Muslim
men. Concentration camps are set up as brothels where
women are ordered to satisfy the soldiers in the most
painful and dehumanizing ways imaginable. The women in
these camps are taped with cam-corders and the videos are
displayed everywhere throughout the camps to lower the
woman’s will and need to resist. Were do the soldiers get
the inspiration to commit these crimes, from commercial
pornography. Serbian troops are basically force-fed porn;
it is present all through training and is made readily
available to (even pushed upon) the soldiers. They are
basically asked to ?watch and learn?. After the seed is
planted not much is needed to be done, because they are
naturally instilled with the desire to repeat what they
have seen, and are not concerned with the feelings of the
women. They have seen that some women have no feelings
and are meant to be used merely for sexual gratification
(M2-M6). To add insult to injury, some of the tapes of
these women being victimized have entered the black
market, being sold internationally, possible infecting the
minds of millions.
Pornogrpahy has enamored itself as a large part of
our modern society. It is seldom discussed and often
hidden as a dirty secret, but porn still seems to play a
major part in the shaping of our morals and behaviors.
Although some say pornography is relatively harmless, a
considerable larger group seem to uphold the assumption
the porn works in negative and disruptive ways on those
who view it and participate. Nearly all the research
supports this assumption, so it is evident the the topic
is in need of much more examination and debate.
Even though the majority of modern society views
pornography as objectionable and sometimes obscene, there
are some that do not agree with the assumption that
pornography is guilty of the defamation of women and their
sexual roles. Social observationalists, such as Mary
White, at the University of Michigan often agree with her
statement on the part women play in pornogrpahy which
explains that ?since most pornographic material plays up
to male fantasy, women are usually the aggressors, hence
women are given a semblance of empowerment. Also, the
majority of these women in the material are very
attractive, therefore seen as the forms of beauty and
desire, something to be respected and worked for? (72).
Although White may not realize it, this statement
reinforced most of the arguments made in support of the
notion that pornography is subordinating and degrading to
women. By saying that being sexually aggressive gives a
woman empowerment, she limits a woman’s ability to reach
empowerment to sexual activity alone, and by claiming that
the use of attractive women in pornographic material lends
to a view of women being desirable, she inadvertently
excludes women that don’t fit society’s mold of the model
physical female, (i.e. overweight, small breasted, short,
etc.). Most of the arguments similar to White’s follow
the same line of reasoning, and are easily broken down in
the same manner as hers.
In regards to pornogrpahy perpetuating violent acts
toward women, pornography defenders claim that the use of
pornographic material can act as a cathartic release,
actual lessening the likelihood of males committing
violent acts. The reasoning is that the pornogrpahy can
substitute for sex and that the ?want’ to commit sexual
crimes is acted out vicariously through the pornographic
material (Whicclair 327). This argument, however, does
not explain the crimes committed by serial killers like
Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacey, who regularly viewed
pornography during the lengths of their times between
murders and rapes (Scully 70). By saying that pornogrpahy
would reduce harm to women through cathartic effects,
pornography defenders display a large lack in reasoning
because through their argument the rise in the production
of pornography would have led to a decrease in sexual
crimes, but as has been shown previously, that simply is
Pornographers and pornography defenders proclaim that
the link between pornography and violence is exaggerated
and that the research linking pornography to sexual crimes
is inconclusive. They state that the fundamentals of sex
crimes are found inherently in the individuals and that
the sexual permissiveness of American society cannot be
blamed on the increase of pornography’s availability
(Jacobson 79). David Adams, a co-founder and executive
director of Emerge, a Boston counseling center for male
batterers, states, ?that only a minority of his clients
(perhaps 10 to 20 percent) use hard-core pornography. He
estimates that half may have substance abuse problems, and
adds that alcohol seems more directly involved in abuse
than pornography? (Kaminer 115). The statement made by
Adams and the view that pornography does not contribute to
the act of sex crimes is heavily outweighed, however, by
the various studies connecting violence and pornography.
Bill Marshall’s observations on his patients and the
examples of individual crimes originating from
pornography, show this acclimation to be invalidated.
Some also say that attacks on pornography merely
reflect the majority of feminist’s disdain for men,
cynically stating that people who fear pornography think
of all men as potential abusers, whose violent impulses
are bound to be sparked by pornography (114). Researcher
Catherin MacKinnon, says that ?pornography works as a
behavioral conditioner, reinforcer, and stimulus, not as
idea or advocacy? (114). However, this idea is proven to
be false by the use of pornography in and by the Serbian
military. This example shows that pornography does
advocate sex crimes and that ideas of sexual violence are
able to be stemmed from the viewing of pornography.
Pornography has become to most just another one of
those cold, nasty facts of life that cannot be stopped, so
some choose to ignore it. This attitude has to change.
After reviewing the abuse and subordination delegated to
women as an almost indisputable result of the mass
infiltration of pornography into modern society, it should
be impossible for someone not to want to do something
about it. What can be done is for those concerned to try
to spread the word and educate others as much as possible
to the dangers of this sort of material. If people knew
the roots of some of their more violent behavior, it could
be deminished, thus protecting the future and health of
From its inception, in most cases, pornography is a
media that links sexual gratification and violence
together. This fact can only lead a rational mind to the
conclusion that a chain of events will begin, combining
sex and violence further in the minds of those who watch
pornography and will ensure an unhealthy attitude towards
women and their sexual identities. Only through
discussion and individual action can the perpetuation of
the negative impacts of pornography be swept from the
closets and dark corners of the American household.
Allen, Mike. ?Exposure to Pornography and Acceptance of
Rape Myths.? Journal of Communication. Winter,
Bart, Pauline B., and Patricia H. O’Brien. Stopping Rape:
Successful Survival Strategies. New York: Pergamon
Burt, M. ?Cultural Myths and Supports for Rape.? Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology. 38 (1980):
Cameron, Deborah, and Elizabeth Frazer. The Lust to Kill.
New York: New York UP, 1987.
Carol, Avedon. ?Free Speech and the Porn Wars.? National
Forum. 75.2 (1985): 25-28.
Clark, Charles S. ?Sex, Violence, and the Media.? CQ
Researcher. 17 Nov. 1995: 1019-1033.
Dworkin, Andrea. ?The Real Pornography of A Brutal War
Against Women.? Los Angeles Times. 5 Sept. 1993,
Itzin, Catherine. ?Pornogrpahy and Civil Liberties.?
National Review. 75.2 (1985): 20-24.
Jacobson, Daniel. ?Freedom of Speech Acts? A Response to
Langton.? Philosophy & Public Affairs. Summer 1992:
Jenish, D’Arcy. ?The King of Porn.? Maclean’s. 11 Oct.
– – – – ?Did Sexy Kalvin Klein Ads Go Too Far??
Maclean’s. 2 Oct. 1995: 36.
Kaminer, Wendy. ?Feminists Against the First Amendment.?
The Atlantic Monthly. Nov. 1992: 111-118.
Leidholdt, Margaret. Take Back The Night: Women on
Pornography. New York: William Morrow and Company,
Nicols, Mark. ?Viewers and Victims.? Newsweek. 10 Aug.
Russell, Diana E.H., ed. Making Violence Sexy: Feminist
View on Pornography. New York: Teachers College
Webster’s Dictionary. Miami Florida. P.S.I. &
Associates. 1987: 286.
Weisz, Monica G., and Christopher M. Earls. ?The Effects
of Exposure to Filmed Sexual Violence on Attitudes
Toward Rape.? Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
March 1995: 71-84.
Whicclair, Mark. R. ?Feminism, Pornography, and
Censorship.? Contemporary Moral Problems. ed. James
White. Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: 1994.
White, Mary. ?Women As Victim: The New Stereotype.?
Spin. Apr. 1992: 60-65.