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The modern society is saturated with many sexual images such shirtless male athletes and barely clothed females in advertisement and movies. In addition, nudity or soft-core pornography and explicit sex scenes or hardcore pornography shown in public televisions and over the internet are becoming more and more acceptable into the society.
This raises two questions; the effect of living in a society saturated with sexual images and existence of morals in modern society.
Historically, sexual images served the purpose of worshipping gods, adorning pottery and criticizing the political elites. Thus, sexual images were imbedded in the religious, legal and moral context i.e. sexuality was never thought of as a separate sphere of life.
However, in modern this perspective has ceased to exist. Sex is considered a form of advanced calisthenics i.e. an act whereby two people come together without consideration of its physical context.
The set of all modern sexual images constitute pornography because they serve no intended purpose other than gratification. However, this is notion is pornography is partially accurate as it give a vague correlation between sexual images and pornography.
This paper is going to assess the extent to what extent is the definition of pornography qualified to be used, and if pornography is ethical in modern society.
Definition of pornography
Ethics examines the basic concepts of values. This is because, values shape what individuals define as wrong or right, moral or immoral, fair or unfair, good or bad etc. In more general terms, ethics is focused on inventing or studying systems that individuals may refer to when addressing ‘what is good’ (Beauchamp, 2002).
Ethics also seeks to provide answers on how a person ought to be living or carrying out his duties. As consequence, it is an important and complex component that should be integrated in law, religion and the society in general as a base for definition of morals or standards. Thus, everybody in one way or another should understand and practice ethic to morally upright (Beauchamp, 2002).
Pornography can be defined as materials that portray erotic content, or the set of all obscene materials, which are intended to cause sexual arousal. These materials can be in the form of literature, pictures and videos. However, this definition is ambiguous.
This is because the concept sexual arousal and the definition of obscenity or erotic materials are relative terms i.e. they depend on an individual or the social context under which they appear or exist. Moreover, this definition fails to answer a simple question; how much content must be there for a material to be classified as obscene or erotic? Can it be a single image, a whole video clip or suggestive dialogue?
Under the umbrella of ethics, Pornography is can be redefined as a struggle or fight that describes an argument, not a thing, about erotic representation. For example, if a group of persons decided that an erotic representation is beautiful, then it is likely to be considered a creative artwork.
Thus, pornography in such a contest and a struggle between those who attempt to create erotic material and those who attempt to suppress it, or a contest between allowing or denying an individual the right to display explicitly sexuality (Strossen, 2000).
However, this struggle is not uniform globally and is dependent on the social values of a given locality. For instance, walking in bikini is normal in some places and others it is considered obscene.
Ethical aspect of pornography
The pornography, a subsector of the entertainment industry, is the most profitable sector to venture in. So far, it is the richest industry with an unexplainable exponential growth rate. As at 2007, this industry was recorded to have generated a total revenue of $57 billion worldwide, with the top four most selling erotic material being in the form of adult videos, escort videos, magazines and sex clubs respectively.
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This revenue was much greater than the total combination of revenues received from professional football, baseball, and basketball franchise (Family safe media, 2011).
Egoism and Welfarism perspectives of ethics justify the ethical nature of pornography. In this view, the humongous revenue arising from pornography suggests that the industry is a major form of lucrative employment to the actors, website mangers, movie directors and other direct or indirect participants.
Moreover, it is the shortest route to becoming famous and it assists the government in earning revenue. Therefore, this industry is a means of obtaining income is legally, and is more acceptable than begging or stealing.
Moreover, it does not require sophisticated training or advanced degrees to venture in or to be successful (Strossen, 2000). Thus, the industry serves the interests of the participants and is therefore ethical.
Pornography is the new adopted tool for advertising. This is because of the psychological association that potential consumers have attached to sexuality. Men are visual creatures while women like attention.
Thus, images of beautiful, naked or barely dressed women attached in advertisement attract men and give the product an association beauty. On the other hand, women would watch the adverts in order to ascertain what makes images gain that much attention. Overall, the objective of the product advertisement is achieved (Attwooll & Brockmöller, 2001).
Leisure is the outcome of an experience or activity i.e. the feeling of satisfaction. Pornography viewing is a form of entertainment and leisure activity that many modern people have adopted. Nowadays, it is very common to find people over the weekend sitting and relaxing just watching erotic materials over the internet or on DVD.
To such individuals, it is source of pleasure, satisfaction, and to group viewers, it is means of bonding together (Strossen, 2000). Thus under the hedonistic utilitarianism, which requires that people should maximizes all the avenues of pleasure in the short life span for an individual’s own good, seeking pleasure through pornography is ethical (Tännsjö, 2008).
The hidden nature of sexuality has for a long time forbidden parents from talking about sex to their children. Children left with option of learning about sex from schools, which do not effectively teach about sex. However, the most hilarious TV commercials and soap operas, watched by children and adults, openly display pornographic materials.
Actors discuss morality, act getting pregnant and extramarital affairs, and above all, they have scenes that portray sexuality as a process whereby two people meet fall in love or not but eventually fall to bed. This begs the question of appropriateness of the audience.
Thus, existence of pornographic materials has transformed sex education. Parents are coerced to openly speak about sex to their children, least they may regret what their children may become.
Unethical aspect of Pornography
In religious perspective, human body is compared with temple of god and sex is considered a religious form of intimacy and hence sacred. Also, sex is considered a divine gift that gives human beings the divine power of co-creation.
Thus , it should be done by only married couples in a dignified manner, for the purpose of procreation. Thus pornography demoralizes sex by addressing with casualness and in a careless manner.
The slow and gradual introduction of pervert principles makes those perceived to be lesser evils acceptable. Pornography operates in a similar manner, and through it sexually explicit contents have become widespread acceptable (Tännsjö, 2008).
Thus, it encourages acceptance of sexual perversion and adultery which are considered sin before god. In most instances, people who come into constant with despicable images are prone sexual acts such as to premarital sex, sodomy, lesbianism and sex outside marriage, which are condemned in the holy books such as the Bible and Quran.
“Consequentialists” argue that morals attached to action are subject to the outcome. The outcomes associated with addiction to, prolonged or continuous consumption pornographic content has very negative repercussions (Tännsjö, 2008). For instance, it leads to building up of tolerance towards plain sex.
As consequence, an individual is tempted “to explore more deviant forms of sexuality” such as fetishism, and “paraphilias”. Moreover, the hype portrayed by porn stars can lead frigidity and sexual dysfunction, which are detrimental to marriages, and are major contributors of divorce, promiscuity and clandestine relationship within the marriage circle. This makes pornography unethical.
Existence of Pornography content in work places, places the workplace at a risk that can attract legal liability, loss of production and loss of bandwidth. Firstly, pornography is addictive and may make employees less focused on work related issues hence becoming less productive.
Secondly, Pornographic content can lead to arousal of employees and may encourage sexual harassment and intercourses at work places. Sexual harassment may attract legal liability. Lastly, transfer of pornographic materials over peer to peer networks consumes a lot of company’s connection bandwidth and this can cripple the networking services of an organization.
Technology is becoming so cheap that it has made access to erotic content easy for children. Children who view pornographic materials act out the sexual fantasies that they see with other children and adults.
This has significantly contributed to fornication and premarital sex, teenage pregnancy, venturing into prostitution at an early age, and contacting of sexually transmitted diseases. Thus the outcome or consequence of having pornographic materials has negative effects on children and must be considered unethical (Tännsjö, 2008).
Pornography supports the interests of few individual and therefore under the utilitarian approach, pornography is unethical.Feminists argue that pornography is has no entertaining value but rather a degradation of women. It promotes violence against women and also portrays them as weak and undeserving respect (Soble, 2006).
Further, it promotes social vices and affects the attitudes of the user by endorsing rape myths, misogynist and negative attitudes towards women. They also view child pornography as immoral because it is a means of exploiting or abusing underdeveloped children for the sole purpose of making money. Moreover, they describe the audience as mentally incompetent or people with biological flaws, who other than protecting children enjoy their subordination (Soble, 2006).
It is almost impossible to take a side over the concept of pornography. All actions in some way are justified by accompanied reasons. However, reasons that may justify a given action are not necessarily the motivating factors over the actions.
Thus, the reasons given by different people as to why pornography is ethical or not, are not necessarily the same as their motivation for watching or not watching erotic materials. I find the argument against pornography more appealing in the sense that it is driven by reason rather than motivation.
According to Kant, moral judgment is means of guiding behavior but it only expresses feelings and not facts. For instance, if a person derives pleasure from viewing erotic contents then it is moral (Tännsjö, 2008). However, this perspective cannot be used to justify pornography because feelings change frequently and without reason.
This is unlike facts that are very difficult to change. Thus, ethical nature of pornography should be guided by facts only, which strongly disapprove pornography.
Hume argues that “actions are guided by faith and desires”. Thus the degree to which pornography is wrong or right depends on what the individual motivation or desires (Tännsjö, 2008). For example, religious persons oppose pornography because it is contrary to their faith.
However, a porn actor or actress see the pornography as means of earning a living hence they would support it. Therefore, if an action is ethical and motivating then it considered right. The problem with this view is that faith and desires are relative and thus cannot be used to establish the ethical nature of pornography.
Deontologists argue that it “is our duty to act morally at all times”. However, not all duties are absolute i.e. everything that is considered either moral or immoral have cases in which their rules are bent. Moreover, in reality morals and the associated theories do not provide all answers, and so every action must be guided by insight and proper judgment (Tännsjö, 2008).
Therefore, Pornography is wrong based on its consequences or impacts. However, if watching or acting pornography can be justified if it is driven by positive motives (Attwooll & Brockmöller, 2001). For example, a porn star that makes a living through acting erotic movies is justified to be involved in such an act.
I strongly support the concept that “pornography is unethical”. This is because every individual is brought up under some societal values and norms for which engagement in pornography or with pornographic materials is not one of them.
Pornography is a creation of the modern society, mainly as result of the hidden nature of sexuality, unemployment, and moral decadence. Although it exists it does not mean that people have to conform to it. Moreover, the amount of damage to the society resulting from pornography industry far outweighs the benefits i.e. very few stand to benefit heavily at the expense of many people.
The damages caused by pornography are real. Therefore pornography should be controlled- in terms of the quantity and access of the content- for the well being of the society at large. However, a total ban of pornography is barbaric and violation of an individual’s freedom to choice or freewill. Moreover, it may signal the end of livelihood of many who primarily depend on this industry.
The definition of pornography in an ethical context is ambiguous. This is because the boundaries to which an action or concept can be declared ethical are not clear. Thus any definition of pornography given, based on the type or quantity of the content, is subjective.
The proponents of the pornography base most of their arguments based on egoism, freewill and motivation. Thus to them pornography is ethical as long as it addresses their own needs if comes at the expense of the society. They argue mainly on income, fame, business and education.
On the other hand, the antagonists of pornography justify their views on religious grounds, utilitarianism and consequentialism. According to them, pornography degrades the society and has detrimental effects in workplaces, marriages and above severely affects growth of children.
Attwooll, E. & Brockmöller, A. (2001) Applied Ethics At The Turn Of The Millennium: Proceedings Of The 19th World Congress Of The International Association For Philosophy Of Law And Social Philosophy (IVR), New York, June 24-30, 1999 California: F. Steiner
Beauchamp, P.T. (2002) Philosophical Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. Illinois: McGraw-Hill College
Family Safe Media (2010) Preserving Family Values in a Media Driven Society. From www.Familysafemedia.com. Accesses on October 29, 2011
Soble, A. (2006). Sex from Plato to Paglia: A Philosophical Encyclopedia. Ohio: Greenwood
Strossen, N. (2000) Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights New York: New York University
Tännsjö, T. (2008) Understanding Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Theory UK: Edinburgh University