On Pornography, Sexuality and Self-Esteem

Long time no write up! You’ll have to excuse my lack of posts this past month. As always, I get occupied with studies and other parts of my life. In particular this month involved some health concerns which needed prioritizing, but I’m fine and quite healthy after all, so no problem.

This blog post is not as dry as others. I’m aware of the innuendo in that, but let’s be serious: sex talk is rather engaging, at least for me. Specifically, I’ll be examining pornography, how it affects an individual, whether it is right or wrong, and other factors. But let’s first destroy one aspect, which is the question of “Should porn be banned”?

Freedom and What it Entails

To answer directly – no, it should not be banned, regardless of your stance on pornography and other explicit material.

The reason behind this is that pornography on its own does not harm anyone in the sense that there is a physical or indirect violation of their rights as an individual. Defining pornography: it is material that portrays explicit sexual acts, usually showing genitalia, with the intent of increasing sexual excitement and stimulation.

From this definition, there is an implied consent to it. To participate in or watch pornography is to imply that an action has been taken by an individual by choice. Whether the content or the action leads to a negative outcome for the individual is up to them to discover, but there is no force in it unless it is explicitly shown to lack consent, or involves coercion.

If it involves explicit force, it is no longer pornography – it is rape. Likewise with coerced acts – it is anti-mind and removes the choice equation from the victim. Many supporters of the banning of pornography tend to fall back on this argument without realizing that they are making it a package deal – they assume porn as a whole involves coercion, and therefore it should be banned.

But this logic doesn’t add up. When defining things, one must not apply conditional package deals to them. This would be akin to me making the statement “Divorce is bad”. Divorce as a concept is the elimination of a marriage contract between two individuals who no longer want to be together. By applying the “bad” statement, I’ve made a value judgement without understanding the context or the terms of the divorce. There’s nothing wrong about a break up – on the contrary, one that is agreed upon and rationally decided is a good thing long term, because then both individuals can live their life on their terms and without compromises.

So to conclude – no, pornography should not be banned. Laws should involve protecting individuals from force, not from content. The argument behind children having ease of access is also invalid – that suggests that one should provide government the power to ban an industry based on the notion that a child has the capability to act on and use the item. That is patently absurd and removes the parent out of the equation – it is oddly malevolent too, as it implies that parents are incapable. There are bad parents, but not all parents are bad. That is reality, and to accommodate the irresponsible parents by removing the freedom from others is wrong.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s move onto whether porn has any merit in one’s life!

Pornography Use and Psychology

Let’s first start with the concept of masturbation. Masturbation is self-stimulation in order to satisfy ones sexual needs. Ayn Rand called it “sexual self regulation”, which is a potent and straightforward way of explaining it. Is there anything wrong with the action? No. Self-stimulation is taking care of one’s own body and mind. One eats pleasurable treats because one wants to make themselves happy. Likewise, one masturbates because they have a sex drive, and they want that drive to be fulfilled. How you do it is purely unique among individuals, but ultimately, masturbation is healthy and provides one with the capacity to know themselves a little better – what makes them tick, how their bodies function, etc.

However, now comes the conditions. What do you masturbate to, and how does that change the variables and circumstances?

With regards to pornography, it involves adults consenting to have sex with one another and (usually) getting paid to do so. It’s a form of entertainment. The viewer watches these things and is sexually excited by it, and usually it’s used as a supplemental material for the purpose of masturbation. There doesn’t seem to be much wrong with that – except that there are elements there which involve sex, your self-esteem and conditioning.

Sex is a very important aspect of human life. I’d argue it’s the best thing in life – but not without conditions. When one has sex with someone they genuinely love and enjoy, there is a union of body and mind there, and something called “psychological visibility”. I spoke about this in my post on love, but essentially when you’re a being of high self-esteem and worth and fall in love with someone, you’re falling in love with the values that they portray. There is the physical side, but there is also the deeper aspect of it – how do they see life? What do they value? How do they live? These aspects are not visible in the concrete sense when you look at yourself – you can’t see your own values when you look in a mirror – so when meeting someone that matches or complements those values, it is now a visible thing – it’s very real.

You’ve found someone who matches and meets your standards, and it’s apparent in how they are, metaphysically. The values and principles you hold are no longer abstractions, but rather explicitly validated in existence. That’s what falling in love or being strongly attracted to someone is, and when the time comes to have sex with them, it’s a celebration of each others lives and values. You are seen in full, as you are, both in a physical and spiritual sense.

Now what does this have to do with pornography?

Pornography is purely material. When you’re viewing porn online, you’re watching two actors have sex and it is all visual and aural. You’re a spectator watching on the side lines. Do you know the actors? No. Are you invested in them at all? No.

When one masturbates to porn, they’re implicitly sanctioning the act of sex as being fine just on the material realm – all that matters is that one is stimulated, rather than finding that union of psychological visibility and physical pleasure.

In essence, it is removing the “mind” and committing only to the body. Now, how does this relate to one’s psychology?

When one does this, they are implicitly telling themselves that being a spectator and watching others pleasure each other in a purely materialistic way is “good enough”. It’s folding on your standards and saying “All I need is the physical, and I am satisfied”. There is no value in porn and promiscuity apart from the material realm – it’s just a way to satisfy a biological drive while excluding the value judgements implicit in everything we do.

Another variable to this is online pornography and its immediate accessibility. To access porn, it takes mere seconds and you’ve got exactly what you crave, sexually. Consider this notion and consider whether that’s an earned sexual release, and how that may affect how you perceive sex. Healthy relationships, commitment and intimacy take a lot of effort to build and maintain. It takes a lot of focus, rationality and honesty, and furthermore the success of it is earned by the couple – and prior to this, one has to earn the relationship through courting.

When one uses online porn, there’s no effort to getting that sexual release – it’s a quick search, a click and it’s given to you on a platter. Sex and a healthy relationship are absolutely nothing like that, but pornography can give a nice illusion that you’ve earned the spectator spot in the scene – but that’s not a sustainable illusion. There’s also an interesting discussion to be had here on porn magazines from back in the day before the internet – young boys had to sneak off and hide those magazines, and because the images were static, they’d have to imagine themselves with the image. There is an element of effort and earning it. I think that there is a psychological element there, too, where images that are erotic and must require some imagination have a very different effect to videos that are instant, pornographic and require only that one watches. But I digress – further on I elaborate between those two terms.

All of this instant porn can condition you into a poorer, and unfocused view of sex, sexuality and relationships. Why should you apply effort into a relationship when getting sexual satisfaction is in a click? Relationships take work, especially when being intimate, but porn provides a very easy outlet – it conflicts with the prospect of effort because it provides a junk food alternative – and one that requires no payment.

That is why I don’t think pornography (in particular, online forms) has much value. When one masturbates, they ought to be doing it to make themselves happy without the need of another person. By focusing on yourself and removing the conditions, one is committed to pleasing themselves and focusing on their own body – and one is staying committed to standards. “I’m worth pleasing because I deserve it, and my standards are way higher than basic pornography on a screen. It doesn’t deserve my sanction because I expect more than that beyond pleasing myself”. That is, I think, an enormous self-esteem made explicit. If you’re an avid viewer of pornography, perhaps consider cutting it out for a little as a small challenge, and see how you respond and feel. An interesting experiment to consider!

All Porn or Some Porn?

I’m sure many people will disagree with me on my thoughts regarding the matter, which is fine – as mentioned above, individuals choose and act according to what they believe is correct for their lives; you deal with the consequences too, whether good or bad.

However, I’d also like to propose that I think that there is some validity to pornography, but certain types – and I will distinguish them with two different terms.

Consider a couple who are in love and married, but their fetish is exhibitionism. Exhibitionists enjoy being watched or seen by other people, as it enhances their intimacy and enjoyment. I don’t consider this wrong – sexuality is incredibly complicated and diverse – so if the couple posts videos online for others to watch, is it a good or bad thing to watch it?

It’s an interesting thought, but I’ve since concluded that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. The couple are not doing it on materialistic premises, but for each other – it is selfish. They’re in a committed and loving relationship, so the element of sex there is very secure and integrated. People watching that? I’d say that I don’t think that’s an issue, because the act is an integrated sum, rather than just purely materialistic. I’d classify it more as eroticism rather than porn, if we were to distinguish the terms. Eroticism involves an artistic representation to the nature of sex, while porn is more materialistic, explicit consumption.

To conclude, I think that porn isn’t very valuable as it is like junk food for your sex drive. It’s easy to get and consume, but long term it’ll erode your desires and it’s implicitly telling yourself that “this will do”. However, on the concept of eroticism and erotic material (romantic novels, exhibitionist couples, erotic art), I cannot really consider them in any way bad and I in fact consider them as avenues to understanding what you like in your own life, as well as giving you an idealized image as to what one can expect when they find the right partner in their life.

Addendum: Having Sex is OK..But

As an extra note, much of what I’ve written may suggest that you be chaste until you find a perfect partner. No. Go out and date. Meet people, talk to them, and evaluate how they are. If one finds someone they match in many ways and has sex with them – there’s nothing wrong with that. Dating and relationships does not involve finding a perfect Plato, but rather an individual that you respect and admire. Everyone will come with flaws /fallibility, and part of a relationship is helping nullify those things by complementing one another with your values.

This also means that often, you’ll meet people you hit it off with and have lots of sexual experiences with, but the relationship may fall apart in the future. That’s reality and learning from experience. Go have sex – just make sure to choose wisely instead of mindlessly. Don’t chase the material.

2 Comments

  1. (Sorry, I may have posted this twice. I’m not sure if the first time worked or not)
    Fun Post!
    I don’t think you are wrong (although maybe you are). I don’t have a settled opinion on this topic. But I do think there is something going wrong with how some Objectivists are framing the issue of the morality of porn.
    “Is porn immoral?” is a loaded question. You don’t ask this question, but I think you might be assuming some of the premises of the question that I would consider “loaded in.”
    From the perspective of Objectivism, it doesn’t make sense to ask if specific actions, generally, are moral or immoral. Because we always evaluate the morality of a specific action in its context. “Is killing immoral?” “Is lying immoral?” These questions aren’t good. One would always answer, “It depends on the context.” We can say, in an overwhelming majority of contexts that people find themselves in, killing someone in those contexts would be immoral. But the killing isn’t the essential. Say, desiring the unearned is. And, probably and ultimately, some kind of evasion. When people ask, “Is killing immoral?” they are presupposing an intrinsicist morality. They are assuming that certain actions, “in and of themselves,” are immoral. That is, the action is “intrinsically” or “inherently” immoral. I believe this language was thrown around in the DDV podcast from this weekend.
    The better question to ask oneself is, “In my context now, is porn watching moral?” Or, to get at the principle, “What is the line between moral porn watching and immoral porn watching?” And finding that line would be finding the principle that guides you in deciding when it’s beneficial for you to watch porn or not (and this principle probably guides more action than just porn watching).
    Again, I don’t think you are making this mistake in any obvious way in the post. But I do see some evidence of it. For example, you say, “When one masturbates to porn, they’re implicitly sanctioning the act of sex as being fine just on the material realm. . .” And, later, “. . . they are implicitly telling themselves that being a spectator and watching others pleasure each other in a purely materialistic way is ‘good enough.’ I see these statements as perhaps implying some intrinsicism because it’s not clear to me that watching porn necessarily involves implying these things. If someone masturbates, they aren’t implying that “I don’t need sex; self-stimulation is enough.” Similarly, if they watch porn, they don’t need to be implying, “sex is just fine on the material realm.” That this isn’t implied is most obvious when you consider animated porn. It depends on what you are doing with the porn, and why you are watching it.
    Or consider what you say about earning sex. Yes, sex is something to be earned (good sex). But porn is just masturbation. You have to earn masturbation too, and people with low self-esteem don’t enjoy masturbation as much as people with high self-esteem (this has been my observation, and it integrates well). So, enjoying porn is also something to be earned. But it depends on what you are doing with it.
    Consider this analogy. “Money is something to be earned. When you automate your farming business, you aren’t doing any work. You didn’t earn the money, unlike someone who put in all the manual labor. Therefore, automatization is wrong.” Automatization can be wrong, if someone just copies someone else’s brilliant invention, and employs it unthinkingly. They won’t be happy running that business (although they will make money in this economy probably). The automatization is a technology, that reduces labor cost and allows for the farmer to spend his time on other things. Similarly, porn can be conceived of as a “psychological technology.” It can facilitate the imagination, making it so less effort is spent on the creation of the visual/auditory elements, and more imagination can be spent on the backstory and the context of the sex. So, porn can be used for this purpose (I’m ignoring at this point, the ‘immorality’ of the actors. Which, I think, can be looked at apart from the, say, psycho-epistemology of porn watching).
    Again, I’m not saying you are wrong about porn, but I don’t think I agree with the thrust of your argument. I don’t think your argument considers what porn makes possible with respect to masturbation. But I don’t “totally” disagree with you.
    I have a youtube channel that’s been going for a few months that talks mostly about psychology. Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQ7Xw0DU6OzuoJg9zUwts1A?view_as=subscriber
    It seems like we have similar interests in common (based on your website).
    Thanks for your post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment, it’s a very stimulating one and something I’ll properly reply to in a new post soon, as there’s quite a lot to cover!

      I think we are mostly in agreement with most areas, but I’m understanding you when you talk about the thrust behind the argument, as well as loaded questions – something I work to avoid. I’ll properly respond soon!

      Like

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