Assessing the societal influence of pornography

Pornography is a controversial topic that many people think about, but avoid broaching aloud. Because porn has become ubiquitous on the Internet and its influence infiltrates media and pop culture—whether or not you’re supportive of its presence—it’s a subject wanting discussion. We’re living in a society saturated with pornified messages.

Surrounding the matter of porn are innumerable issues such as legality, morality, industry abuse, regulations for safety—or lack thereof—and more. Although I’m interested in the scope of those impugns, tackling them is a venture for another time and place. In this article, my focus is a cursory consideration of conventional porn’s more obvious and direct influences within our culture.

With pornographic content more widely and freely available than ever before, explicit content in other forms of media such as advertisements, television shows, movies and magazines have increased as well and become a norm. I believe these realities pose both positive and negative implications for our society.

Based on my individual beliefs and educational background, I don’t believe that the notion of porn itself is damaging. In fact, I credit it for the certain progressivism that has occurred as a result. It seems to me that porn has helped open the doors to more free and comfortable conversations about sexual experiences and human anatomy, as well as conventionally ignored or unrepresented areas including female pleasure and non-cis and non-heterosexual populations.

The abundance and accessibility of porn has helped—and is still helping—to normalize sex and to curtail embarrassment surrounding sexual desire. I consider this enlightenment within our culture. I believe its influence and permeation of more mainstream media has also had positive effects, such as encouraging honest conversations about sex between television and movie characters as well as the introduction of more LGBTQ+ characters.

I am, however, not blind to various negative consequences that have resulted from mainstream media’s “pornification.” While porn’s influence on mainstream media content does launch progressive discourse about various subjects I’ve touched on, in other ways, it serves as a fortification of harmful social constructs and stereotypes.

Like other media platforms, porn does possess a large concentration of material that reinforces our culture’s socially constructed heterosexual “male-gaze,” as well as preconceived perceptions of femininity as subordinate to masculinity.

It can also support racial stereotypes through race-based categories that exploit typecast fixation—such as Asian massage porn or black big beautiful women porn, which both present stereotypes. This also helps to maintain white privilege, as neither white male nor female porn is austerely categorized with any particular mania or specialization. These themes not only reify detrimental ideas and standards for specific genders, races and ethnicities, but they also magnify them. It’s cyclical—mainstream media take advantage of people’s conceptions of sexual reality, thus continuing or amplifying these trends in less explicit portrayals while standardizing them even more.

When it comes down to it, I don’t believe porn itself is detrimental to society. I believe social constructions and society’s blind acceptance of them is problematic, for they allow the cycle of damaging messages to perpetuate and porn is a platform in which these messages can thrive.

While I’m only able to scratch the surface of the complexity of societal implications of pornographic material in this article—I haven’t even touched on body image ideals—I hope to encourage people’s conversations on the topic and all that it encompasses. I intend only to inspire reflection about the negative and positive influences of porn and other explicit material in our own personal lives and in society as a whole.