In our society, pornography is considered something immoral, pernicious, shameful, scandalous. Those who produce it, and those who are its audience, are seen as disreputable.
(Pornography I am defining as any media that depict sexual matters and whose purpose –whatever the nature of the depiction (however subtle or blatant)—is to produce intense sexual arousal in its audience. Such media include pictures, stories, and videos.)
Looking at the whole universe of today’s pornography, one can certainly find much to object to in terms of what’s healthy for human relationships and what’s moral. But the American condemnation of pornography tends not to be confined to any particular kinds of pornography, but rather objects in principle to depictions whose purpose is the arousal of “prurient interest.”
It is in this more comprehensive condemnation that the defects in American morality’s relationship to sexuality are revealed. Indeed, I would argue that in a moral and sexually healthy society, there would be a respectable place for some kinds of pornography. And I would venture further that what’s wrong with the pornography in today’s America is merely the counterpart with what’s wrong with our culture’s sexual morality.
Where Does Sexuality Fit Into the Human Good?
Can you imagine any fully explicit depiction of people engaging in sex that you would think to be a good thing for some adults to make and for other adults to watch? If not, why not?
Our culture creates media –considered entirely legitimate and respectable-- that evoke in us the experience of grief. We have media expressions, generally held in high regard, that provoke us to the experience of fear. So also with anger and wonder and nostalgia, and other feelings that are part of the basic repertoire of human experiences.
If all these feelings can be the legitimate outcomes of our experiences of media (literature or film or painting or whatever), why should sexual arousal be different?