Pornography is a heavily discussed topic: While some perceive porn as sinful, others see it as a means for sexual education to learn about pleasure and sexual fantasies. 

Watching porn online has become popular in recent years. Sex sells. 

A lot of research on the question whether pornography is oppressive/degrading or liberating had been done back in the 90s referring back to the sexual revolution in the US in the 60s/70s which can be viewed as the golden ages of the porn industry. 

The whole topic has always been closely linked to the feminist movement. There were and are anti-porn as well as pro-porn movements.

Nowadays there are concerns that the easy access to pornography via laptops and smartphones leads to excessive consumption and an unhealthy impact on human development and behaviour.

To answer the question whether porn is oppressive or liberating, we need to have a look into the definition of pornography first:

Pornography describes visualizations of sexual activities, sexual arousal or sex organs, of either explicit or graphical nature, and has been invented in the mid-19th century. It was never clear where the boundaries were. There are many different types of pornographic material and distinctions need to be made. 

But let’s focus on answering our initial question whether pornography is oppressive or liberating. 

Arguments for pornography being oppressive 

  • People in porn are exploited in many ways. (They work without knowing how much profit is being made, they don’t have control.)
  • It threatens traditional family values and the moral development of young people. (conservative view)
  • Pornography functions as means of sexualizing inequality, women are being subordinated. (radical feminist view)

The discussion around pornography being oppressive includes keywords such as ‘sexual discrimination’, ‘exploitation’, ‘degrading’. 

Furthermore, the porn industry is accused of objectifying women and even encouraging rape. 

‘Oppression’ refers mainly to women being shown as objects used for men’s sexual pleasure. Over time, new categories emerged that show women dominating the scene or no women being involved at all in gay pornography for example. Also, many women started working in producing porn themselves. 

Arguments for pornography being liberating

  • Pornography has an esthetical and social value, showing pleasure and satisfaction. 
  • It is a tool for sexual liberation: sexual expression is necessary for humans to be fulfilled. 
  • Homosexual and queer pornography emerged and is liberating for sexual minorities. 

Nowadays pornographic material is not only watched by men like before – it is now for everyone.

So, let’s answer our question: Is pornography oppressive or liberating? 

Well, depending on the perspective, pornography can be seen as both oppressive or liberating. The topic is very complex and heavily debated. 

The feminist movement has shifted perspective over time: from perceiving pornography as harmful and oppressive to liberating. 

Before only heterosexual individuals were shown, nowadays pornography reflects the transformation of society into something more open towards all kinds of sexual identities – these become visible through porn. 

Sexual desires are not seen as pervert or abnormal anymore, they are being normalized and embraced without society seeing the necessity to repress or hide them. Pornography nowadays shows how varied desires can be and allows us to learn without feeling ashamed. 

Pornography can be seen as the least unhealthy way for sexual satisfaction: arousal can be experienced by watching pornographic material without unexpected consequences such as pregnancy or a sexual disease.  

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in sexuality, relationship issues, trauma and general mental health.