While the question of free speech is philosophical, the question of whether porn does any social harm is an empirical one. And the data is pretty clear: Pornography either reduces sex crime by giving males a non-violent outlet for excess sexual impulses, or it has no effect.I find this result pretty unsurprising, but of course I tend toward a libertarian perspective on social issues.
The debate over pornography has always made for strange bedfellows. Feminists usually oppose it, arguing that sexual objectification of women leads to violence against women. Social conservatives typically see it as a gateway to infidelity and a threat to strong families. For years, both groups have maintained that the research bolsters their argument, pointing to (among other things) the methodologically flawed Meese Report as evidence of the connection between porn and various social ills. But most of the recent research suggests quite the opposite.
While it’s impossible to produce a perfect study on the subject, it seems fairly clear at this point that pornography is not the evil that many on the left and right insisted it was.
The implications for feminism are quite profound. If pornography reduces violence against women, isn’t it something that should be promoted? Should visceral opposition to sexual objectification really trump empirical reality?
Social conservatives confront a similar dilemma. The crime rate has long been an important metric for those on the right. Many conservatives have argued that pornography leads to antisocial behavior, which ultimately leads to higher incidents of crime. But if the opposite is true – if pornography actually reduces crime – shouldn’t social conservatives rethink their position?
I realize that there are broader points of opposition among feminists and conservatives, but at the very least, I think that both groups need to seriously wrestle with their ideological preconceptions on this issue.