The Morality of Pornography

 Posted by on 21 April 2008 at 7:02 am  Ethics, Love/Sex
Apr 212008

An interesting question for NoodleFood, again on sex:

I was intrigued by your posting on the psychology of prostitution. I haven’t followed the Spitzer case all that closely, but I read Paul’s posting and Ari Armstrong’s essay with much agreement.

In the past you’ve suggested that we might ask questions related to Objectivism, and Ari’s writing brought to mind the question of pornography. Especially when he writes:

“Prostitution is a vice for the same reason that indiscriminate sex is a vice: sex properly involves a connection of consciousness as well as bodies between two people who genuinely admire one another. Purely physical sex undermines the distinctly human dimension of it.”

Now, I’m no prude and I have no desire to see adult pornography censored by the government. On the other hand, I’ve often been disgusted by the squalid nature of what passes for erotica.

And so… where is the proper place of pornography in the Objectivist ethics?

A couple years ago I listened to Peikoff’s recording on love and sex, and don’t recall his directly addressing the subject. Of course I know Rand did address the subject (In “Censorship: Local and Express”), but always felt her comments to be a reflection of personal taste and context and not necessarily part of her ethics.

What do you think?

On the one hand, the visual and auditory depiction of consensual sexual activity in itself certainly doesn’t seem to violate Rand’s fundamental virtues. On the other hand, as Ari writes above, I can’t see a follower of Rand sanctioning the quick intercourse (for pay) of two actors who hardly know each other.

I’d be interested in your thoughts or any advice on Objectivist writings that address the issue.

In fact, Leonard Peikoff does discuss pornography in his “Love, Sex, and Romance” lecture. So that’s a good place to start.

I would like to distinguish two related moral questions about pornography:

  • When is it moral to watch pornography, if ever? Can it serve a legitimate purpose in a healthy person’s sex life or in a healthy couple’s sex life?

  • When is it moral to create pornography, if ever? Is the production of pornography (e.g. as actor, director, distributor) a proper career?

I have my own thoughts on these matters, but since time is tight for me right now, I think I’ll just open the floor for comments.

  • Tyler

    Masturbation is certainly justified and I think it’s fair to say that indulging in fantasy during the activity is acceptable and harmless, granted the content of the fantasy is justified.

    I think pornography can serve a good purpose, because pornography is a broad category of entertainment. Pornography need not involve live actors, as it can just as easily be created with animation and even motionless art. The way I see it, pornography can depict certain images and scenarios that are exciting and even according to the aspiring values of the individual. Pornography can serve as a template of sorts actually, with an anonymous body illustrated to accompany and compliment a fantasy or act of masturbation.

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