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How does pornography shape social norms

  • Apr 28, 2014 · 7:00 PM
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We will explore these four questions:


1)What is Porn ?


What is a woking definition of Porn. How is it different from Erotica .  Is there a normative component to the definition. Is this definition sensitive to culture or does Porn, by its nature, converge to the same thing.

Example definition: Pornography is sexually explicit material that treats women, men, children or transsexuals in sexually dehumanizing or subordinating ways.


2) Is Porn Moral ?


Many feminist philosophers ( Naussman, Mackinnon,..) apply the Kantian principle and argue that Porn objectifies human beings as sex objects and is therefore intrinsically immoral.
See: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminist-sex-markets/#Por

Some have argued that porn in moderate doses is a harmless outlet for single persons, couples with mismatched desires, and can act as form of sexual education. 

3)Does Porn impact some social norms ?

Here are some views:

There are number of feminist writers who argue that the present ubiquity of porn is an enormous misogynist backdrop that undermines women's equality in so many ways.  Anticipate a lot of discussion on this aspect.

Porn addiction: Gary Wilson looks at the impact of porn from both a psychological  and neural science perspective. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSF82AwSDiU. Also his website  www.yourbrainonporn.com 

Romantic etiquette: Cindy Gallop, a woman in her 50's who enjoys men in their twenties, in the famous TED clip about how porn has changed young men https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV8n_E_6Tpc 

(Video is a bit graphic, and to be frank, I find Cindy a little scary )

4)What is a moral response to porn ?


Ethical porn movement ?

Film maker Taormino states that the difference between feminist porn and mainstream pornography is that "feminist porn is sex-positive, depicts sexual consent and agency, and prioritizes female pleasure."

A very interesting article link from Sarah that is very critical of feminist porn :  http://feministcurrent.com/7569/in-pornography-theres-literally-a-market-for-everything-why-feminist-porn-isnt-the-answer/


Porn filters like what is being considered in the UK ?http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/uk-internet-filter-block-more-than-porn_n_3670771.html

Other ideas ?



Join or login to comment.

  • Christo

    Here are set of articles that challenges the common anti-porn arguments:
    http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca/2010/11/pornography-investigation.html

    June 8, 2014

  • Christo

    May 18, 2014

  • Nick B.

    I thought this TEDx talk was excellent: "Why I stopped watching porn" by Ran Gavrieli https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRJ_QfP2mhU

    1 · May 10, 2014

  • James H.

    Another way to make the argument that hardcore porn is intrinsically immoral is to compare it to an incitement to racism. Hardcore porn is an incitement to treat women as sex objects and not as persons and some may heed this incitement. Racist propaganda is an incitement to treat some race in a subhuman way and again some may heed this incitement.

    1 · April 30, 2014

    • Dr S. Ranga S.

      I agree.

      May 4, 2014

    • Erik

      that and that the literal moral stance isn't tenable...

      May 5, 2014

  • Erik

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30/pornhub-planting-trees_n_5240803.html?utm_hp_ref=green
    besides the bad puns, it seems porn has gone environmentalist...

    May 2, 2014

    • James H.

      the your is referring to the porn site owners who have come with this ruse so that unwitting third parties like Huffington post to push what they think is an amusing story are also inadvertently advertising the porn site.

      May 3, 2014

    • Erik

      Like the story about how Kinder Morgan says oil spills are an economic opportunity?

      May 3, 2014

  • Elena

    The wide spread of porno is a sign of decadence, decline of society. Males don't have to fight for females any more therefore don't have to be strong, wit, intellectual etc. The human race can easily degrade - in a pleasant way though for many.

    April 30, 2014

    • James H.

      I can now rest happy that you have actually stated morally wrong on an issue, with your long list of caveats of course.

      May 2, 2014

    • Erik

      no caveats, but my philosophical reasoning on what morals are, aka a human artifact...

      May 2, 2014

  • Sarah

    There is nothing inherently wrong with sex, sexuality, or even public representations thereof. That is not what I am critical of when I criticize porn. However:

    _sexism in porn is problematic
    _objectification in porn is problematic
    _rape culture in porn is problematic
    _violence in porn
    _mediated reality in porn
    _class issues in porn
    _race issues in porn
    _commercialization in porn
    _disassociation in porn
    _promotion of unsafe practices in porn
    _excessive escapism in porn
    _devaluation of human relationships in porn
    _body-image issues in porn
    _self-image issues in porn
    _etc

    (and I mean statistically significant presence of these not that they are necessarily present in all porn all the time)

    May 1, 2014

    • Elena

      There is nothing wrong with sex and sexuality; however, appearing in public without pants never was an act one (and, even worse , two) could be proud of...

      May 2, 2014

    • Erik

      Oh, you missed the 70's then with the streakers, even had songs heralding their efforts ...

      May 2, 2014

  • James H.

    It was curious to me that many did not wish to accept a distinction between erotica and pornography, that something like 'gang banged, all holes filled' with no dialogue etc, is similar to say the manual Joy of Sex.

    April 30, 2014

    • Dr S. Ranga S.

      There is clearly a distinction between erotica and pornography. THEY ARE NOT the same.

      1 · April 30, 2014

    • Christo

      I had trouble with the distinction because I felt that erotica was just an artificial label to overcome the problematic definition of porn you suggested which contains the words "sexually dehumanizing".

      May 1, 2014

  • Sarah

    I have to admit I was surprised that the (potential) correlation with increased/normalized violence against women and rape culture, among other serious issues, was not raised.

    1 · April 30, 2014

    • Christo

      Also I am skeptical about the paper, because from the start her idea of "romantic relationships" excludes a lot of people who experience them: gay people, non-married people.

      May 1, 2014

    • James H.

      I agree with Sarah it hugely complicated to actually measure harm empirically done by porn because there are simply too many variables. This is a limitation from social science and but I believe strongly that porn does cause harm. That is why I personally prefer the moral argument as it is clear that hardcore porn intends and can incite harm particularly too women. Another way to put it, it is very difficult to show empirically for example that lying for personal gain causes social harm yet we understand that that this act is immoral. By immoral is meant to encourage individuals to reflect about the nature of porn (or lying) and to encourage them not to make or consume porn.Certainly not for censorship unless minors, etc, are involved.

      May 1, 2014

  • Christo

    It sounds like there is demand for a part II of this discussion.

    April 30, 2014

    • Dr S. Ranga S.

      There are aspects of the subject one can still discuss.

      May 1, 2014

  • Erik

    Lively, at times passionate discussion... intellectually erotic?

    2 · April 29, 2014

  • Sarah

    To reframe one of the many issues, perhaps a parallel model would help:

    I think it's pretty widely accepted that fairytales and RomComs have a damaging effect on young women, distorting their image of real relationships. It can cause severe psychological distress when their expectations don't match reality. And it creates problems when they try to force their mate to match their expectations.

    I don't think anyone would argue it is unethical for little girls to watch Disney movies. But there is a pretty strong argument that the overall phenomena (production, marketing, distribution, etc) is unethical.

    (That's right, I just compared Disney to porn!)

    3 · April 18, 2014

    • Erik

      It isn't in the pretending to be good clean fun that it is trouble, it is the portrayal that life is perfect as long as you marry a Prince or Princess...

      April 28, 2014

    • Jonas W.

      ..and ugly people are evil, and kings have divine right etc.

      1 · April 28, 2014

  • Christo

    Someone said "Or is it because we believe women in porn are being objectified/victimized?".­­ Porn that caters to gay men is devoid of women. It therefore does not objectify women. Does this mean that gay porn is moral?

    April 16, 2014

    • Christo

      So a sex scene in a mainstream movie like in the Oscar winning "The Reader" is unacceptable? It it publicly exposed sex and the people are being paid?

      April 28, 2014

    • Jonas W.

      This is interesting to look at from an anthropological perspective. Throughout most of European history one room houses provided little privacy. In some areas it was common for entire villages to gather to witness the consumation of a marriage. There are similar examples in south america, polynesia and many other regions. It seems to be culturally and historically variable.

      April 28, 2014

  • Dr S. Ranga S.

    OK. I will attend.

    April 25, 2014

  • Sarah

    Interesting article on whether "feminist porn" is feminist or just porn. http://feministcurrent.com/7569/in-pornography-theres-literally-a-market-for-everything-why-feminist-porn-isnt-the-answer/

    I don't really recommend the video. Only a handful of thoughtful points in the whole an hour and half debate.

    And because a comic strip is always a good argument:
    http://www.sinfest.net/archive_page.php?comicID=4589

    1 · April 18, 2014

    • Christo

      Who says that porn actors/actresses are underpaid? Who says that porn actors/actresses are an underprivileged segment of society?

      April 19, 2014

    • James H.

      Can't resist this humorous clip by Little Britain on a Scottish hotel: https://www.youtube.co...­

      1 · April 19, 2014

  • Rafi

    Great discussion. Just out of curiosity are people's intuitions this strongly felt when it comes to weapon's manufacturing? (and related propaganda industries like movies, war museums and the like ...)

    1 · April 19, 2014

    • Christo

      No because none of these things involve sex.

      April 19, 2014

    • Rafi

      Have you seen Dr. Strangelove?

      April 19, 2014

  • James H.

    The argument for why porn is intrinsically immoral is similar to why lying is intrinsically immoral. In both cases the act shows a profound devaluation of human dignity. This is a moral violation that one is sensitive to or not. The moral principle is really deontological and is not based on one sense of one's sensibilities being affronted by obscenity. Kevin raises the question of identifying the specific cases and maybe this debate is simply a difference of taste, perhaps the prurient versus the libertines. I would argue there is already too many cases where porn clearly objectifies sex in extreme ways and looks like 'open heart surgery' to use Cindy Gallop's metaphor, and that there is clearly real basis to this moral concern. Of course as with lying, there are some cases which are ambiguous and challenging in terms of how it may relate to this moral principle.

    April 18, 2014

    • James H.

      I don't mean intrinsically immoral in absolute way but in a moral realist way . Of course there are cases where lying is required like the case of protecting Jews in a house against Nazis. Even in this decision making process there is some consideration given to the fact that lying, which has negative moral value, is unfortunately required.

      April 19, 2014

    • Audie

      Thanks, James.

      April 19, 2014

  • Sarah

    Ok, I've said my last piece until the meetup.

    April 19, 2014

  • Dr S. Ranga S.

    I agree with Jenefer's comments. If one wants to see the difference between Porn and Erotic lovemaking, study either the Kama Sutra or learn about Tantric Lovemaking.

    April 17, 2014

    • Christo

      So it's wrong if it's purely mechanical? You say "Sex is the ultimate bond between a man and a woman". Where does that leave gay men? What about deep platonic friendships between a man and a woman? Is that not an ultimate bond as well?

      April 19, 2014

    • Dr S. Ranga S.

      It is the same for either gender as well as platonic relationships.

      April 19, 2014

  • Audie

    Definition of eroticism according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary:

    Medical Definition of EROTICISM
    1: the arousal of or the attempt to arouse sexual feeling by means of suggestion, symbolism, or allusion (as in an art form)
    2: a state of sexual arousal or anticipation (as from stimulation of erogenous zones)
    3: insistent sexual impulse or desire I don't know, eroticism sounds like the sanitized, legitimatized version of porn lite. As if introducing the term "art form" makes it morally acceptable and at par with, say, Gauguin. Maybe porn is for the masses and exotica for the sophisticated. At the end of the day, both depict the same ideas? One is crudely made, the other, more pretentious?

    April 18, 2014

    • Dr S. Ranga S.

      You are right, one is very crude adn the other is natural educated sophistication between lovers.

      April 18, 2014

    • Dr S. Ranga S.

      Porn actors are NOT lovers but performers for money! crass exhibitionists at that !!

      April 18, 2014

  • Audie

    Some of my best friends are pornographers: they opposed Vic Toew's internet bill.

    April 17, 2014

    • Audie

      Kevin.......(facepalm)

      1 · April 18, 2014

    • Cathbha

      And my work is done here. Thank you, and note that I will be playing Tara's, Lake Tahoe, Thursday and Friday next week opening for Monte Rock III!

      April 18, 2014

  • Jen

    I think what is key is James' comment below (when he differentiates btw porn and erotica). Porn objectifies sex, taking it completely (I say 'completely' because erotic does keep the relational aspect) outside of the context of feelings or a relationship. And when you start to objectify sex, it's easy to slide past neutrality and/or self-pleasure and into harmful behaviour. And to an argument that viewing porn causes no harm, I will just say we are what we read, we are our thoughts; our thoughts can lead our actions, consciously or unconsciously.

    1 · April 17, 2014

    • Cathbha

      I sense a lot of broad brushing in which personal sensibilities are being used to proscribe what may be other people's sensibilities, where a personal distaste is projected, very much as a sense of threat, onto the activity of others, and includes presumption of intent. Speaking as the Satanist in your midst, I will ask for details that the devils be properly identified and located. I will note, for instance, that what we presume to be meaningful, edifying, and "ennobling" experiences are hardly the same for all people who are contemporaries or cohorts, let alone across time. When one speaks of a personal morality and proscribes activity that is negotiated between parties without coercion, is one truly defending personal morality? And if compulsion and coercion are the issue, how much and of what sorts does one deem acceptable? The article which David noted strikes me as speaking to conditions far superior to those inflicted on persons employed in many other endeavours.

      3 · April 18, 2014

    • Cathbha

      Eg. Working at McDonald's, WalMart, at a sweat-shop, in ununionized industrial settings, being Rob Anders....

      April 18, 2014

  • James H.

    An article claiming hardcore porn harms frequent users : http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/06/2011630143536779660.html

    April 17, 2014

    • James H.

      For 1-7 one could argue erotica and sex education are preferred means than something that is demeaning.

      1 · April 18, 2014

    • Christo

      no because erotica does not have close-up shots of penetrative sex.

      April 18, 2014

  • James H.

    Ok Christo and Erik, and I personally appreciate that you are taking a porn is not immoral position, how would describe your position at philosophical level ? My initial guesses are : 1) moral nihilism, that personal morality is simply a fiction 2) moral relativism, that now porn is apparently a social norm it is morally acceptable or 3) treating a person as sex object with no respect to that person's thoughts or feelings is not dehumanizing and is a perfectly natural way to behave.

    April 17, 2014

    • Christo

      "OK I have stated clearly that I am not for publically shaming anyone so you are essentially constructing a strawman of my position"
      It is precisely because you mentioned that you are against public shaming that I say this. Take away any moral judgement of porn, including that an 18 year old woman faking sex with multiple men is dehumanizing, and any public shaming of people involved in porn, including those who watch it, is impossible.
      Not a straw-man argument.

      April 18, 2014

    • James H.

      This argument has now morphed into a red herring. Some People will publicly hurt or shame others independent of whether private persons have private moral code. And again this behaviour of publicly hurting people would argue is immoral.

      April 18, 2014

    • Audie

      I called up one of my "shadier" friends if he knew anyone in the pron industry. He told me he was, once. He is against child porn. He sounds like one of the people in your article, David.

      April 17, 2014

    • Cathbha

      One might also consider the milieu's portrayal in the film "Boogie Nights".

      April 18, 2014

  • Audie

    Definition of pornography: "...printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings."

    When I read the definition above, I really do not see anything wrong with pornography. So, why do I have this discomfort that it's taboo. Is it partly to do with the fact that it's the depiction of an act most of us deem a very private act? Is it because we do not approve of people showing their naked bodies "shamelessly"? Or is it because we believe women in porn are being objectified/victimized? What if some women in the industry are exhibitionists and love being in the porn business? Will that make it more socially acceptable?

    April 16, 2014

    • Audie

      Now, there's a subject, nation builder or pornographer?

      2 · April 17, 2014

    • Erik

      Why not both?

      1 · April 17, 2014

  • Audie

    I wonder how the performers in porn see their consumers. This is where a porn insider can shed interesting perspectives into our discussion.

    2 · April 17, 2014

  • James H.

    I would argue that porn, which by its nature objectifies human beings as mere sex objects, is intrinsically immoral because I think in this case, Kant perspective that we should not treat other human beings as a means to end, is exactly right. I think there is also a standard of harm that applies as well, although probably very difficult to empirical verify because of too many variables in these situations, where those who engaged in making porn and those in receiving porn are harmed in all kinds of ways.

    April 16, 2014

    • James H.

      Gustave Courbet's 1866 L'Origine du Monde" which depicts in realistic form a woman's genitals and lower abdomen is wonderful realist statement on the source of life in interesting style so different from the beautified style at the time. I and many others do not see this painting as porn except puritans. Contrast this powerful realistic statement on the source of life to say modern porn video say of 18 year old girl with six men who is ordered to pretend to pretend to enjoy the choreographed list of sexual humiliations in order to sexually excite what the pornographers think is key audience.. I know of no-one who thinks this type of video is erotica.

      April 16, 2014

    • Christo

      "L'Origine du Monde" still evokes the same chock and dismay you express at the porn-video scene you describe. When the 18 year old woman is pretending, she's doing something for what most actors are being praised for, she is acting convincingly! And perhaps some, if not most people would find the sex humiliating, is judging it "humiliating" not the problem to start with? If social norms were to stop judging the sex willful adults engage in as "humiliating",­ even if is like most art-forms today for the sole pleasure of the consumer, would it not temper the dismay you express at this scene?

      1 · April 17, 2014

  • Dr S. Ranga S.

    It is mechanical sex , more like a circus performance.

    April 16, 2014

    • Christo

      So what is immoral about a circus?

      April 16, 2014

  • Dr S. Ranga S.

    Pornography is an addiction. Like smoking and alcohol. It is also deceptive in the sense that it promotes a misleading style and preoccupation about what is uncommon in real life. It can also induce inferiority in a large section of the population as it dwells on the extreme. But surprisingly it is becoming very common, and invasive. It is something one has to deal with to protect the young and the fragile minds.

    April 16, 2014

    • James H.

      Agree with others that erotica would be both more enjoyable and more moral than watching porn. Pity good erotica is simply submerged under the tidal wave of porn that is there.

      April 16, 2014

    • Christo

      Why is watching porn not moral?

      April 16, 2014

  • Robert

    Occurs to me that anonymity in general has been shaping social norms, and it has also been propelling the access, proliferation, and de-sensitizing of porn. That's one angle to look at maybe. Another would be to compare European and N. American cultural takes. I recall being surprised by the relative casualness of nudity and sex imagery throughout media, when I first went hitchhiking around Europe at 19. With the onslaught of the web, it might be interesting to compare how acceptance and consumption trends have varied between U.S./Canada and Europe past four decades.

    April 16, 2014

    • Jonas W.

      It is interesting to note that many of these European countries are also less tolerant of violence in film. One can actually see this divide at the Ottawa River... if you look up the descriptions for Quebec's rating system you'll see a higher tolerance for nudity/sexuality and a lower tolerance for violence than in the rating systems used in the rest of Canada.

      April 16, 2014

  • Christo

    I am unable to come-up with a definition of social-norms?

    April 4, 2014

    • Jonas W.

      Social norms can be viewed even slightly more broadly - norms provided guidance for behaviour, and that makes the behaviour of others *predictable*. So it goes beyond morality (or prescription/proscriptio­n) to include theories about human nature or expectations about the behaviour of others.

      April 13, 2014

    • Jonas W.

      The wikipedia is actually a fun place to read up: http://en.wikipedia.o...­) vs. http://en.wikipedia.o...­) vs. http://en.wikipedia.o...­

      April 13, 2014

  • Audie

    I wonder if there were studies of what percentage of male vs females watch porn? Would people even admit? And why not?

    April 13, 2014

    • Jonas W.

      There was a recent study using anonymised search engine results. Gender was inferred from other search patterns (e.g. types of online shopping etc.) I'll see if I can find it.

      April 13, 2014

    • Jonas W.

      Here is one focused on the younger generation - figures are lower for the older generation (especially for women) but the gender divide has been declining: jar.sagepub.com/content/­23/1/6.short

      This is an interesting finding given the relative ambivalence to women or downright misogyny of much of the material and the limited market for feminist pornography.

      Note that this is with regard to regular use of visual pornography. Erotic stories or art might show a different gender pattern.

      April 13, 2014

  • Dr S. Ranga S.

    Is this being held at The James Street Pub or at the Old Laurier Aver one? I will come if there is room.

    April 13, 2014

  • James H.

    The intent to reflect critically about the 'morality' of pornography as well look at the impact on our social norms. Sadly there is an abundance of porn and we sense it has very corrosive effect on our social norms. The hope is to shed some light in this hidden but not so hidden area. There are some interesting moral lenses to look at porn, for example Immanuel Kant and the moral precept we should not objectify others and treat them as a means to an end. We know there appears to sub cultures like rape cultures at universities which would appear to modelled from porn. Is this true ?

    April 3, 2014

    • Moneca K.

      I think if we had more erotic sculptures and any semblance of our sexuality being sacred in our culture pornography wouldn't be so viral. We're almost victorian in our attitudes though sex is everywhere as a commodity. I wonder what it is costing us culturally and hope someone drops out so

      April 13, 2014

    • Moneca K.

      oops so I can join the discussion, cause they have something ever better to do : )

      April 13, 2014

  • James H.

    What is porn, or what is erotica, these are great questions..

    April 3, 2014

    • Rafi

      BTW, in a follow up to my previous comment above, one of the ending theses of E. Bloch's "The Principle of Hope" was precisely to ground a Marxist utopian society where the abolition of the capitalist classes and victory of the working classes wouldn't end in any other sort of exploitative system, but rather in one in which every individual (with unique talents and proclivities) would harmonize with every other in the society. A cynic might say that this amounts to a reworking of the invisible hand of the market, but I'm not a cynic and the book is worth a read if only for its unique prose.

      April 3, 2014

    • Audie

      Rafi, re your "commodification"­ as dehumanizing, would you then say that Fathers' Day and "Mothers' Day are dehumanizing. As well as the mother of all "Day" Christmas?

      April 10, 2014

  • Audie

    I am not too well versed in pornography. I only read the articles, but I hope the discussion gets dirty.

    April 3, 2014

    • Audie

      My solution to most things is more education, more social discussions, more Plato Cafe! My kids grew up understanding the negative effects of cigarettes via the public school system . I imagine we have to tackle porn the same way too. Obviously, we can't put porn back in the bottle.

      1 · April 3, 2014

    • Erik

      every media type has its porn, the internet is as developed as it is today, in a good part due to porn... bandwidth requirements for HD video porn coupled with porn being a multi-billlion dollar industry is significant driver in the advancements of transmission rates, etc. Wait when they get 3-d going ...

      April 3, 2014

  • Erik

    Ah good, a discussion on the phenomenah that pays my salary... aka I work in high tech in telecom...

    April 3, 2014

    • Erik

      are we limiting teh discussion to just boring sexual porn, or do we get to sink out teeth into intellectual porn with a well known sub-genre of neuro-bollocks, polyporn (political porn), etc.?

      April 3, 2014

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