Why “Ethical” Porn is a Myth

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“Ethical” pornography is an oxymoron—one of massive proportions. Here are four reasons why so-called ethical pornography is a myth.

1. Consumers of “ethical” porn aren’t immune to effects of addiction and tolerance

An important strand of evidence to consider is the way in which both substance and behavioral addictions are formed.

When a person consumes or uses a stimulus repeatedly, the dopamine receptors in their brain become desensitized in a process referred to as downregulation. Using drugs as an example, over time a small dose of cocaine must become a larger and larger dose for the user to experience the same high they initially had with a smaller dose, because in the brain’s effort to return to normal homeostasis it shuts down dopamine receptors.

For more background on this and the addiction process more broadly please see our article, “Why Addicts Don’t Stop”.

Among pornography users, neurobiological research is revealing evidence of both addiction and tolerance, resulting in the need for novelty and more extreme material. There is zero evidence to suggest that users of so-called ethical pornography are immune from these effects.

"Ethical" porn is a myth. Users of so-called ethical pornography are not immune from the effects of addiction and tolerance. #pornharms Click To Tweet

2. The brain’s ability to say “no” to other material is impaired

We know that pornography use has an adverse impact on the frontal lobes of the brain—the area of the brain responsible for executive function. This region of the brain has been called the brain’s “braking system.”

A major finding of a review of 21 studies of brain function among individuals with problematic pornography use was that several studies revealed impaired inhibitory control. In other words, studies are showing impairments to the prefrontal cortexes of pornography users.

The area of the brain that would normally say “no” to material like slapping, choking, torture, child sexual abuse material, etc. begins to no longer function properly.

Concerning pornography use there are two important neurobiological factors at play: tolerance and impaired inhibitory control. These two “ingredients” constitute a perfect recipe for escalation from any kind of pornography—including so-called ethical pornography—to pornography with all kinds of harmful themes like incest, violence, torture, and potentially to use of child sex abuse materials.

Research shows that pornography users' brains are changed. The area of the brain that would normally say "no" to degrading material (including slapping, torture, child abuse) loses function. #pornharms Click To Tweet

3. Chances of supplanting mainstream pornography are slim

It’s not surprising that a survey of 434 men who engaged in online sexual activities, 99% reported viewing Internet pornography and 49% reported searching for sexual content or being involved in online sexual activities that were previously uninteresting to them or that they considered disgusting.

Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men

Aline Wery, J. Billieux

So-called ethical pornography is a mere drop in a vast ocean of violent, abusive, and extreme pornography that already exists.

Are we to believe that this genre of pornography is going to supplant mainstream pornographic content? The idea is preposterous.

So-called ethical pornography is a mere drop in a vast ocean of violent, abusive, and extreme pornography. The likelihood of it supplanting mainstream porn is slim. #pornharms Click To Tweet

4. Pornography is intrinsically unethical

All pornography use is intrinsically oriented toward the sexual pleasure of the consumer. It is, as Dr. Mary Anne Layden has termed it, “sexually narcissistic.”

How can it be ethical to use another person for one’s own sexual pleasure when there is no reciprocity of pleasure (not to mention affection for or sexual responsibility toward the other)?

Consumers of “ethical” pornography are still using another person for one-way sexual pleasure; they are engaged in a sexually self-centered act.

Pornography is intrinsically unethical: there is no reciprocity of pleasure and "authentic" consent can easily be manufactured. #pornharms Click To Tweet

Moreover, how can any consumer of pornography actually be assured of “authentic” consent on the part of the performer? They can’t!

The appearance of consent can be easily manufactured, while coercion, force, and fraud are a part of the performers’ circumstances. Because the consumer doesn’t know the person being consumed and knows nothing of their background and circumstances, they can never be 100% assured that the pornography they are consuming was not produced under coercive and abusive conditions.

The term “ethical” is nothing more than a false veneer that gives a sheen of legitimacy to use of inherently exploitive material.

Find more information and research on the harms of pornography here and here.

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The Numbers

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NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

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NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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