Is Porn Culture Better Than Its Alternative?

Reading Sex and God at Yale by Ricochet’s very own Nathan Harden, I came across an interesting fact (two, actually) about porn consumption in the United States and abroad:

Porn advocates often cite the fact that Utah, one of the most religious and most politically conservative states in the United States, also has the highest rate of porn subscribers in the nation. Pakistan, a largely Muslim nation with extreme cultural restrictions on sex and public indecency, also ranks number one in the world Internet searches for pornographic content per person. A nation where women are commonly compelled to wear head coverings and head-to-toe robes in order to safeguard their “modesty” is the same nation that leads the world in Google searches for the terms “rape sex,” “donkey sex,” and “child sex.”

(This is particularly interesting to think about in light of the Taliban’s recent attempted assassination of the fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai, who was an outspoken proponent of education rights for young women.)

I find these porn statistics fascinating. Why is porn most highly consumed in very conservative cultures where promiscuous sexuality is most repressed? Harden offers his two cents: “Wherever there are severe cultural restrictions on pornography, people are all the more compelled to access it privately–without risk of cultural stigma–via the Internet. It begins to look like there is a pattern of hypocrisy: Those who condemn porn publicly consume it privately.”

Here’s another way to think about it: Whenever you make something taboo, it becomes even more desirable and sought after–it becomes risque and sexy. As Salman Rushdie recently said, “Terrible ideas, reprehensible ideas, do not disappear if you ban them. They go underground. They acquire a kind of glamour of taboo. In the harsh light of day, they are out there and, like vampires, they die in the sunlight.” He was talking about the anti-Muslim video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” but I think his point applies more broadly, and offers some insight into why porn is so popular in the very places where it is most restricted. Though I don’t like porn culture, I would agree that it’s better to let the culture exist unrestricted, and to criticize it, than to try to hide from it by restricting it.