Pornography Across Cultures and Times

Pornography, which is sometimes abbreviated as “porn”, is material that’s intended to be sexually arousing. This material may be explicit or “hardcore” (showing sex acts), or it can be “softcore” (which means that the pornography just hints at them).

Pornography can occur in any of a number of media. It can take the form of videos, drawn pictures, photographs, stories, or poems.

Because the desire to increase sexual arousal is very hard to resist in human beings, pornography seems to be nearly a cultural universal. It is found around the world and in every historical period. We have found cave paintings, for instance, that show very sexualized images of club-wielding hunters that have huge erections. Another example is Chaucer’s series of short story-poems, the Canterbury Tales, which has many stories that are sexually explicit. The Japanese “pillow novel” entitled the Tale of Genji is another story that resembles softcore pornography.

But with that being said, many cultures frown upon porn. Often, they view it as creating lustful thoughts that cause spiritual impurity or moral depravity in people who watch, see or read it. Pornography often encourages people to masturbate, and many cultures also view masturbation as an undesirable, dirty habit.

Some feminist lines of thought in modern Western culture argue that pornography is demeaning to women. The argument runs that pornography trains people, who are typically men, to think of women in general as objects of sexual desire, to be acted upon and treated as less than human. Many thinkers and activists also accuse the modern Western pornography industry of behaving in ways that are demeaning and disrespectful to the women who work in pornographic films or photoshoots.

But at least in America, our culture takes a much more positive view of sex and masturbation than many cultures that came before us, and so, too, do we take a more positive view of pornography. Pornography is now seen as being an issue of free speech, and so long as all people depicted in pornography are consenting, and of legal age, the pornography is typically legal. This stands in stark contrast to previous cultures, where creating or possessing pornography was often punishable by jail time and public shaming.

The guidelines that all people shown in pornographic media must be of legal age can sometimes be confusing, however, and many places may have exceptions to that rule for fictional characters. This rule was created to try to protect children and teenagers, who cannot legally consent to sex, from being in pornography. However, because no children or teenagers are harmed by a drawn picture or a completely fictional story, some places may have laws that do say that pornography that does not and cannot harm a young person is legal.

In the past 10 to 20 years, with Internet porn becoming more popular, some public health advocates have become concerned that porn, especially online, may be addictive. The argument goes that viewing porn is so pleasurable that it risks permanently rewiring the brain of the person who watches it, and Internet porn gets described as being particularly risky, because it can be accessed so quickly and offers such an intense variety in its viewing experience. Psychologists and other health experts aren’t sure if it’s possible to become addicted to internet porn, but there are still a number of experts and clinics that promise to cure an addiction to internet porn.