THE BIG QUESTION? Naughty, or very nice?
After the recent furore over Top TV's propsed dedicated pay-TV porn channel, there has been vigorous debate about pornography, both online and off. Is porn good for you?
ANDREA NAGEL DEFENDS THE RIGHT TO WATCH
I'M NOT sure how I feel about porn.
In high school, when guys, and some liberal minded girls, (or those who were trying to appear that way to the guys), sat around the television watching porn at parties that were liberally (not) supervised by some parents, I couldn't bring myself to join in.
It made me feel uncomfortable. At the time I felt that it exposed women's bodies to the lascivious view of men and, because, I am a woman with basically the same parts, that I was also exposed.
Sex, I thought, was supposed to be a private and intimate affair.
Pornography takes all the intimacy out of it.
I objected to the objectification of women, and by extension to the objectification of me.
But since I started researching the arguments both for and against pornography, I've been rethinking my position.
According to Matthew Hudson, author of the book Vice or Virtue? The Pros of Pornography, studies conducted in Australia show that men and women who view pornography have improved sex lives, better sexual knowledge and an overall better quality of life.
Furthermore, living in a society with liberal attitudes to sex and the sex industry does not only benefit men. In a recent article in The Guardian, Anna Arrowsmith makes the point that women's rights are far stronger in societies with liberal attitudes to sex.
"Think of conservative countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen or China, and the place of women there," she says.
"Yet, anti-porn campaigners neglect such issues entirely."
Author and public speaker Greta Christina raises another issue neglected by anti-porn campaigners - that they ignore Sturgeon's Law, which goes along the lines of: yes, 90% of porn is crap, but 90% of everything is crap.
And in a sexist society, 90% of everything is sexist crap.
"I've seen good arguments on how porn is sexist and patriarchal with rigid and misleading images of women," Christina says.
''But I've never seen a good argument for why, in a world of sexist TV and movies and pop music and video games, porn should be singled out for special condemnation."
Editor of Playboy Magazine South Africa, Charl du Plessis, agrees that pornography, whether internet- or television-based, is by no means the only sexual stimulant in society.
"We grow up with titillating images all around us which inform how we view the body."
It's clear we can't blame porn alone for the perpetuation of body fascism, unrealistic sexual expectations for both women and men and the overwhelming focus on male pleasure.
Popular radio sexologist Marlene Wasserman (Dr Eve) says: "Help me understand why porn is so bad and violence so acceptable in images, discussions, games and clothing to which we expose our children. Get it into perspective. Focus on protecting children from violence and teach them how to be self-loving, respectable sexual people. Don't worry about the porn - they will find it without you."
Ultimately, no matter what you think of pornography, whether it is beneficial or detrimental to society, whether it damages or enhances the sex lives of couples, or whether it's a danger to our children, the real argument is not actually about pornography. It is about civil liberties.
"Sexuality is a fundamental part of who we are as human beings," says Du Plessis.
"Porn is here to stay. We need to respect the freedom of adults to make up their own minds. It's the guiding principle of freedom of choice and our constitution."
REFILWE BOIKANYO SAYS PORN IS BAD FOR WOMEN'S SEXUALITY
THEY'RE young and beautiful and always willing; any time, anywhere, any how. They don't want meaningful relationships and will never become emotionally attached. They are happy to fulfil your wildest fantasies, no matter how obscene, painful, dehumanising, dangerous or illegal. And once it's over, you can walk away, be with someone else or return when you're ready for another session.
These are the women depicted in commercial pornographic material, the women who introduce most boys (and some girls) to the world of sex, and who have seduced many husbands into having an affair of the mind.
"I used to race home to have sex with my wife. Now I leave work early so I can get home before she does and masturbate to porn," said Perry, a 41-year-old lawyer, in an interview with New York Magazine.
According to Clive Human, counsellor and Director of STOP (Standing Together To Oppose Pornography), there are many other men whose addiction to porn - which for most started as an occasional pastime - has caused them to detach from their partners in profound ways.
"Porn stimulates dopamine, the neurotransmitter that activates the body's reaction to sexual pleasure, but after excessively watching porn the brain becomes desensitised. This causes the user to fall into a chemical dependency and they need larger doses to achieve the same effect. This phenomenon is also what drives the market for extreme genres of porn and ends up decreasing the addict's ability to respond to real-life sexual encounters," says Human.
Put simply, because pornography is a selfish activity devoid of human interaction, the user progressively needs more extreme, obscene and bizarre genres and scenarios to maintain their sexual high. This causes users who were initially opposed to genres like violent porn, rape porn or child porn to watch them and increase the frequency. This leads to unrealistic sexual expectations which many women are neither willing nor capable of meeting. It also creates low self-esteem, reduces sexual confidence and breaks down relationships because there are feelings of betrayal and inferiority.
"Like drugs and alcohol, porn is addictive in its nature. But unlike drugs, when one stops viewing sexually explicit images, they don't disappear. Sexual images are persistent," says Human.
According to the Teddy Bear Clinic, in 2005, the average age of first exposure to pornography was 11 years and children as young as seven are accessing porn on television and online now.
Author Fiona Snyckers, who has been tweeting about the subject recently, says: "Young men and women whose only sexual education comes from watching porn may well grow up with very mistaken ideas about female eroticism. The female orgasm is an elusive creature that is not likely to be coaxed out by the sexual techniques used in porn movies."