Pornography: still taboo?

As much as we like to think that in the 21st century we are accepting of sexuality, self-expression and sex for the sole purpose of pleasure, one aspect of the puzzle remains something of a taboo: porn.

Take the situation involving Jacqui Smith’s husband, Richard Timney a few weeks back, for example. The scenario is easy to picture: the wife is away at work all week in London and her job is a thankless one, with people quick to pick fault with any action she takes. When she does come home, she’s tired and stressed, and most likely spending her time catching up on much needed rest. Hardly the greatest recipe for mind-blowing sex, or even a quickie for that matter.

Pornography should not be an issue, or a taboo

So, instead of cheating on his wife in the form of finding a mistress or a hooker like plenty of her fellow MPs in Westminster have been guilty of doing, Richard decides to watch a couple of skin-flicks. The only mistake came in including them in an expenses claim for her TV package, yet the press pounced on it.

Would such a fuss have been made if the claims had just been for the three other, non-pornographic films that were also included? I doubt it. The aim of the coverage was to embarrass the Home Secretary in one of two ways: firstly to imply, through the focus on the pornographic films that she was sexually inadequate and that her husband had to look elsewhere, and secondly to show her up as an example of someone who had broken the rules.

Timney later apologised for ‘any embarrassment’ that his actions may have caused for his wife, clearly meaning the pornographic content as well as the claims themselves. What he should have done, and indeed, Smith too if she had any ability to understand pornography, is to state that while the claims were clearly wrong to make, the content of them was not an issue.

Indeed, it fell to a Liberal Democrat, Lembit Opik, to say what all politicians should have said: ‘‘I have no issue with the genre’.

Pornography should not be an issue, nor a taboo. It is misguided thinking to believe that anyone using it as a masturbation tool is either cheating in any way, or considering doing so. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, it is a purely visual stimulation that stems from the fact that humans find the human body and sexual acts arousing.

A common argument is that pornography exploits women, and objectifies them. It is, critics argue, nothing more than prostitution. Why then are so many porn stars happily married, well-paid and entirely comfortable with what they do? If feminism has taught us anything, it is that a woman is in control of her own body and is a sexual being. If she makes a conscious choice to display her body for a camera, and be paid well for it, how is she being exploited? The same goes for men, who usually earn less than their female counterparts in the industry.

It is an industry that is tightly regulated, with mandatory STD tests on a regular basis. Furthermore, all porn studios and businesses in the UK and USA must, by law, have an office containing records of the ages of all performers at the time of them first being filmed that can be freely accessed at any point by law enforcers. Such commitment to the well-being of workers, and transparency would be unheard of in other workplaces.

As a form of entertainment, pornography also caters for any fantasy, fetish or desire an individual may have. A threesome with two women is the number one fantasy for a large number of men, but, as Jeremy Kyle has said, fantasies are often best kept in the mind. Pornography offers the chance for the individual to view such an act without the emotional complications that the real-life situation would inevitably have. It provides a safe space for the fantasy to be viewed and voyeuristically enjoyed.

Such an exploration of sexual fantasy is, by the very nature of pornography, a voyeuristic affair, requiring no physical or emotional connection to anyone other than the self and the mind. Catching a partner watching pornography would be devastating to a large number of people, as it would raises inevitable questions one’s own self-worth and attractiveness, as well as the possibility of infidelity. Such fears are unfounded and false.

Porn works by offering temporary visual stimulation, and interest in the content is only sustained during the act of masturbation. Smith’s husband didn’t for one second love his wife any less while he was watching the women on screen; the people in the films are not a replacement partner and they cease to be of any interest once the act of masturbation is complete.

It is therefore confusing that the popularity of series Sex and the City and lingerie brand Ann Summers has made sure that the idea sex for the sole purpose of pleasure is firmly in the mainstream, and yet pornography is still seen as a dirty secret. Why, I would like to ask, should owning and using Rampant Rabbit, be any more or less of a taboo than viewing pornography?

They need not be mutually exclusive, as both offer sexual gratification that a relationship can bring, but none of the intimacy. They are no threat to a relationship, and if they are, the problem lies not with the object, but the individual.

The time has come for any shred of taboo to be lifted from pornography. It should not be seen as wrong or perverse, but an avenue for sexual exploration. Just last term the ‘Under the Covers’ column here in the Boar advocated masturbation as it ‘provides the gratification without the risk’. Pornography offers gratification without the risk of a fantasy or fetish being rejected. It allows the mind a safe space to wander, to enjoy, and then to return. Can there really be anything wrong with that?

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