“Is Pornography Like the Law”: A dive into the Philosophy Society x Women’s Department Debate

cw: sex, porn

Although the title suggested that we would have a mindful and structured conversation discussing the disparities and similarities of porn and the law. My expectations were blown away, the discussion was comfortable, thought provoking, educational and downright hilarious. We indulged in sharing personal experiences, preferences and beliefs that added great substance and comedy to the flow of the conversation.

An innocent question kick-started the evening. Do we consider porn bad? Some said yes and some no, although most of us fell into maybe. We suggested It depended on who’s watching, who produced it, and who was featured. Which brought up a topic that lasted hours into the night, ethical porn.

Ethical porn can be described as, “porn which is made legally, respects the rights of performers, has good working conditions, shows both fantasy and real-world sex and celebrates sexual diversity”. We asked if it should be the standard for the porn industry, if it needed to be regulated, if laws and policies needed to be involved, if it could provide sex education and most interestingly… if the government should fund the production of ethical porn. Which had us all imagine “Scomo” in questionable positions. But besides from that, these topics led the conversation into the night.

It was mostly understood that whilst regulation could be helpful legislation would be dangerous. We noted that ethical porn implied that everyone involved was having safe, consensual sex and all agreed that this needed to be the standard in all porn. We found frightening statistics that highlighted the abuse of female actors and thought we could learn from the BDSM community whose motto is, “safe, sane and consensual”.

This brought up the point that safe sex looked different for different communities and that if law was involved it could harm sex workers. A law that enforces actors to wear condoms. We weren’t sure what this meant for lesbian porn and saw that in ethical porn, to ensure safety of the actors, there is often rigourous testing procedures and condoms may not be necessary.

Questions that divided the group only served to encourage respectful debate that I for one thoroughly enjoyed. Some spicy questions included:

Whose responsibility is it to change the porn industry to be more ethical? Some argued it was the creator’s responsibility, others argued that it was up to the consumers to demand better porn and, others said the law needed to regulate the industry.

Was porn a reflection of the sex we are having or was it to serve our fantasies? While some argued, it was a representation of sex we were having others disagreed.  Bringing up studies that suggested our porn preferences changed with societal norms and that we watched porn that represented what we couldn’t have in real life like multiple and same sex partners. I had to prove my point like any psych student would with raw hard data. I pulled up Pornhub and gazed upon Australia’s hottest videos which included; unprotected sex with creampies, stepsisters, babysitters and one girl in a unicorn onesie. No one could or wanted to argue that this was an accurate depiction of their Friday night hook ups.

Should ethical porn be responsible for sex education? It was a hot and heavy no from me although it was highlighted that if people could not access comprehensive sex education which is a real issue then perhaps ethical porn could provide some form of education. But maybe more knowledge about your own sexuality and not sexually transmitted infections.

We also talked about how pornography enforces patriarchal standards even in porn with no dudes. These standards have negative effects for everyone. It can take a toll on self-esteem and self-image as in porn there is little diversity between bodies. We cited the increase of circumcision and labiaplasties. It can also enforce harmful sexual scripts, women being told they need to orgasm every two seconds and men being told they can’t orgasm until the very last second or that women had to be submissive to their male partners. This made the case for ethical porn even stronger.

And finally, the topic you were all waiting for that I’ve absolutely teased you with is the one idea that none of us could get out of our heads. When we weren’t talking about it the chat room went off. Should ethical porn be funded by our government?

This perked our interest and sparked the deepest corners of our imagination.

We entertained the idea that if the Australian government funded porn then it would have to be on ABC probably late at night and it would start and end with missionary, the lights would be off, and it’s actually a podcast. But as mature adults we needed to figure out if this could be a serious option and there was a lot of controversy. We thought there wouldn’t be any or nearly enough representation of different bodies and relationships and suggested that before Australia can hand out porn with your jobseeker payments it should probably heavily invest in comprehensive sex education. We also noted that maybe the Australian government should advocate for ethical porn instead of making it.

Unfortunately, the images of Scott Morrison teaching me shibari were burnt into my brain and I had to call it quits. But after a night spent with a group of intelligent individuals willing to explore ideas of sexuality, pornography and the law no one left unsatisfied. On the contrary, some of us were left wanting more. But not to fear, the Philosophy society wants to make these conversations a weekly occurrence so no one will have to go without.

~ Lillian Keenan

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