PornographyPoisonAndPrey // Jonny Pollock answers: What Is Porn?

Jonny Pollock is Pornography Poison And Prey’s first guest contributor. A father of two boys, he pastors a church in North Belfast and tweets at @jonnypollock.

Porn is a word that can have a plethora of meanings. I suppose in the relative culture that we live in, porn can mean anything to anyone.  Yet, a brief search of the terms sheds some light on the depth of what porn actually is. Academics define pornography or porn as “the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter.” They further conclude that “the term applies to the depiction of the act rather than the act itself, and so does not include live exhibitions like sex shows and striptease.”

The etymology of the word is a bringing together of three words, porne (meaning “prostitute”), graphien (meaning “to write, record or illustrate) and the suffix, ia (meaning “in place of.”)

Yet, in society the relative wording of pornography means that the determination is specific to each individual person. Ultimately, our culture tells us, we are the ones who decide. In a more general sense, the meaning of the term pornographic constantly shifts along a vast spectrum moving between two equally slippery concepts, the erotic and the obscene. An erotic representation is usually considered socially acceptable. Associated with upperclass sensibilities, eroticism is primarily esthetic; erotic materials, say many critics, begin by stimulating physical responses, then transcend them, leaving a mildly sexual glow that one can speak of in polite company. Gloria Steinem, among others, claims that the differences between pornographic and erotic are always obvious. Al Goldstein, among others, maintains that such descriptions are biased by gender, class, and factors such as personal preference: “Eroticism,” says Goldstein, “is what turns me on. Pornography is what turns you on.”

However, can we say that this postmodern, relativistic wording, really sums up the practical realities of what “porn” has come to mean in our society and culture today? For most people, pornography means striptease, live sex acts, hardcore videos, sexual aids and devices, explicit telephone and computer messages, and adult magazines.  Conservatives might add prime-time television programming, soap operas, Music Television (MTV) and rock music, romance novels, even fashion magazines. As Walter Kendrick, professor of English at Fordham University, has pointed out, pornography is not a thing but an argument.

So defining the term has become nigh impossible for society; as made evident by one of the most most well known definitions, which comes to us from the US Supreme Court. Justice Power Stewart, when asked to give a definition on pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio(1964). His reply was, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.

In and of itself, the most dangerous thing about pornography is this relativism. That no one can nail down what it is and what it is not, leading on to the reality that rendering judgement on the broad area of “pornography’ becomes increasingly difficult.

// What do YOU think? What is your definition of porn? What are the consequences of the relativism regarding pornography? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below or by getting in touch on Twitter/Facebook! //

The next post is in the series is coming on Friday, where we will look at the desensitising properties of porn. Tune in again next Wednesday where Jonny will examine the relationship and difference between erotice and pornography.

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5 responses to “PornographyPoisonAndPrey // Jonny Pollock answers: What Is Porn?

  1. Brilliant points. What I would say is that porn should be defined as not what is going on in the magazine/screen/monitor, but the intentions of the makers. So if it’s intended for masturbatory purposes – or in other words to stimulate a flow of neurotransmitters (especially in the brain’s reward pathway) and hormones to the point where sexual arousal has to be brought to its conclusion – it’s porn.

    And it’s when the neurotransmitter/hormonal cascade becomes habitual when perceiving women/girls in certain lights that makes pornography harmful.

  2. Thanks for contributing Gerry, and sorry for the late reply. There have been a few comments and points that have been excellent and come from different platforms (FB/Twitter etc) so I’m going to try to answer some of them here to keep it all together.

    I fully agree with you Gerry, that the intentionality of the makers goes a long way to define the term, and I will broach that in the next post comparing the erotic and pornographic, so keep posted. The other side of that angle is the intention of the consumer. In a world with various ‘hungers’ there are things that will stimulate some and not others. This, in my opinion, is what I referred to as the danger of pornography, it’s inability to be defined, recognised and ultimately stopped.

    The other intention, that we cannot overlook is the real purpose of the pornography ‘industry’ which is not ultimately to reward, stimulate or create material of sexual satisfaction, rather to make money by ‘hooking’ people to become addicted to their ‘product.’ Again there is more to come on this.

    The other lead from this post was one that came on Twitter. The point was raised that the issue is that there is a common misconception of what used to be available compared to what is now available with modern pornography, driven by the internet. This also will be addressed in coming posts, and I’m sure discussions. However, and without wanting to keep reducing back to my initial post, the root issue again seems to be one of definition. The fact that ‘pornography’ is such an umbrella term, or as one person put it, a ‘junk drawer’ term, both producers and consumers can cram it in without fear of it being seen as deviant. So searches for porn on the web, can bring up beastiality, snuff, forcible rape, child abuse and various other deviant sexual practices now disgustingly referred to as porn. Even more sickening as ‘art.’

    All your points are excellent and I am learning in this area from your comments. We are indeed, to coin a phrase, all in this together, so the more discussion, defining, and support that this gets means ultimately more people rescued from the destruction that this inevitably leads to.

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