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Why Porn Can Be Good For You (And Society)

Easy access to porn is blamed for everything from a decrease in male desire to poor body image in women. But are there social upsides?

2006 New York magazine story by Naomi Wolf warned that pornography is so seriously turning men off to real women that now, six years later, you’d think it’s a miracle there are any children in first grade. 

Porn has always had plenty of detractors, but since the web has brought it into our homes on demand, a multitude of 21st-century criticisms have been leveled at it. The breakup of relationships, violence, sexual pressure, body image problems for women and sexual addiction and dysfunction in men have all been blamed on the avid use of porn.

One could argue that all these things existed before search engines did; Henry VIII handily exemplified two or three. And is there no upside to having a world of human sexual wonders at your  grown-up fingertips? Is the world in no way better for having a film called Bitanic? Let’s take a look past the implants and see if -- and when -- a little voyeurism is a good thing.

In The Sunny Side of SmutScientific American’s Melinda Wenner Mover says the research in several studies suggests that “…moderate pornography consumption does not make users more aggressive, promote sexism or harm relationships. If anything, some researchers suggest, exposure to pornography might make some people less likely to commit sexual crimes.” Mover does not see this as proof that porn decreases sex crime, but Christopher J. Ferguson, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M told Mover that the trends  “just don’t fit with the theory that rape and sexual assault are in part influenced by pornography.” 

Participants of both sexes in a  2007 study of more than 600 Danish men and women aged 18-30 found that self-reporting adults said that “hardcore” pornography had a positive effect on their lives. Researchers Martin Hald and Neil M. Malamuth asked the subjects to report the effects of hardcore porn consumption on “sexual knowledge, attitudes toward sex, attitudes toward and perception of the opposite sex, sex life and general quality of life.”

Along the quality-of-life lines, Dr. Donald Ardell, who was credited with helping found the wellness movement in the 1970s, writes in A Wellness Perspective on Pornography, that wellness  is about quality of life, and that pornography, with its ancient lineage (he mentions the Kama Sutra,  circa 300 AD) and huge number of users “ seems to enhance life quality, unless of course they get caught looking at it.” He sites humor and stress release as two possibly life-enhancing qualities of porn. 

In a  small study from the University of Montreal in 2009 -- also self-reporting -- the male participants claimed that watching porn didn’t change their views of women or impact their relationships. An oft-repeated punchline of the study was that the researchers tried, and failed, to find men who had never viewed porn.

Then there was a 2009 study by Michael Twohig (cited in  Sunny Side ) from the University of Utah, which asked students whether or not their porn consumption was problematic.  Twohig found that porn itself didn’t affect the students’ mental state; it was only a problem when they tried to control their urge to watch it. 

So some studies indicate that adult entertainment could have its positive effects. Are there other benefits, ones that might be more difficult to quantify?

Breaking the taboo of porn could have its benefits

Except for a moment in the '70s when people went on dates to see  Deep Throat , it’s always been less than desirable to be seen as a porn watcher.  Jamye Waxman , a producer of erotic educational films, reminds me in a phone interview of the Pee Wee Herman debacle -- in which Paul Reubens’ brilliant career was derailed when he was caught in a porn theater in Florida.  

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