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Defining Pornography in the U.S.   

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Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines pornography as -

1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement  2: material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement.

The above definition of pornography, although accurate, is a very broad one, and does not provide room for interpretation.  Under the above definition, any television show, book, photograph, most anything that might cause sexual excitement to someone, would constitute pornography. 

The dilemma with defining pornography in the United States (and most anywhere else in the world), is that pornography is subjective.  Material that one person may find patently offensive, someone else may argue contains artistic, intellectual or even scientific value, for which their should be an exemption. 

The second dilemma inherent in defining pornography in the United States, is the concern that minors may be exposed to material they are too young to process, and/or that they may be harmed by their exposure to pornographic material.  For purposes of this article, the second dilemma is not an issue, not because it is not important, rather because it is beyond the scope of what my knowledge at this time.

With the above in mind, perhaps a second definition of pornography is in order, Black's Law Dictionary states,

Material is pornographic or obscene if the average person, applying contemporary standards, would find that the work taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest and if it depicts in a a patently offensive way sexual conduct and if the work taken as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

This is a much better definition because it is not so general as to make it difficult for adults to participate in adult conversations and/or activities without being reprimanded for being pornographers.  Unfortunately, upon further inspection, this definition is also vague.  The meaning of the words "community standards" varies depending on the community.  So, although we are closer to a definition, we need to look further, to what it is we are trying to do in defining pornography.

The harm principle:

In defining pornography it is necessary to state what is not included within its boundaries, namely:

  • Explicit sexual material depicting minors (person(s) under the legal age, mental, or physical capacity to give consent);
  • Explicit sexual material involving any person(s) without the consent of all parties involved (i.e. Rape).

Pornography, once relieved of the above situations, because they constitute a harm against person(s) unable to consent, becomes a matter of individual choice, individual morality and individual responsibility.  Therefore, pornography includes any consensually explicit sexual material involving adults.  Since an adult has the right, and ability to give consent to partake, or not, in the activity, there is no harm.

Furthermore, the labeling of pornography as a harm, when it concerns adults, is nothing more than imposing one person's morality on another.  Such use of power and/or supremacy is of a greater harm, than the individual choice to participate, view, etc pornographic material(s).  Thus, when limited to time and place constraints, pornography is not a harm.  Why then limit pornography to time and place?

Time and place

Pornography, should not be such a nuisance that one cannot get away from it.  Rather, pornography should be something that a person (herein after, refers to a consenting adult) needs to seek out.  Such time and place restrictions would allow for those persons who have religious, moral, ethical, or other objections to pornography the ability to not expose themselves to it, all the while, affording other persons who wish to expose themselves to pornographic material the ability to do so.

In conclusion, where a consenting adult is given forewarning and choice with regard to pornography, there exists no harm.  The individual was not forced, coerced, or otherwise against their will, told to expose themselves to pornography.  This is a matter of taking responsibility for one's self and one's life.  As adults, we do this with several questions we face everyday, pornography is no different.



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