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The epistemology of pornography

Much has been said regarding pornography. It’s use, it’s consumption, it’s effects on both groups, and it’s effect on society.

I want to step back, however, for a minute and discuss how pornography itself constitutes a “way of knowing” regarding sex and how this method of knowing, this ideological grid, colors how we think about sex in general and our own personal sexual relationships in particular.

To begin with, we need to take a look at what pornography is, and isn’t.

The etymology of pornography is basically “writing about prostitutes/harlots/whores”. For our purposes we’ll take the first definition from The Free Dictionary: writings, pictures, films, etc., designed to stimulate sexual excitement So pornography is not merely a subjective description but one which is based on the intent (either stated or implied) of the author.

With that in mind we need to look at how pornography is often transmitted. The preferred medium pornography uses is often pictographic.

Videos and images.

Sure, there is such a thing as text-based pornography in the form of erotic stories and harlequin romance novels. However these are not what has propelled the pornography industry into a multi-billion dollar enterprise1.

Why is it important that most pornography is conveyed in the medium of images? Because the medium shapes the message.

In short; Context.

Pornographic images and even videos do not generally convey much context. Aside from a small amount of foreplay, mood-setting pretext, and, on the rare occasion, an “ending” to round things out, not much time is spent in pornography delving into the actor’s thoughts or feelings. Aside from obvious physical compatibility, the viewer is left not knowing what kind of person either participant is.

And herein lies the rub.

Pornography systematically destroys the context wherein sex normally lies and thereby produces a wholly unrealistic fantasy world.

Unfortunately many people in our culture, no doubt conditioned through countless hours of exposure to both soft and hardcore pornography, have tried to live out in real life what they have seen acted out in pornography. They embark upon serially monogamous relationships. Or, as is becoming more common, they embrace “open relationships”, “friends with benefits”, and the lure of so-called sexual liberation with wild abandon.

Why? What are they looking for?

Cheap entertainment.

You see, the antithesis to this sort of sexual epistemology is the one that has been traditionally accepted throughout the ages. That is, the idea that sexual activity takes place within the context of a long-term monogamous relationship. Or, to put it more specifically; the sexual epistemology of the past was rooted firmly in traditional marriage and family.

In the end, there are really only two ways of thinking about sex. Either it is within a specific context or it isn’t. Context-less sex is made to be appealing through the widespread¬†proliferation¬†of context-less pornography.

  1. You’ll be waiting quite a while if you’re waiting on a “Girls Gone Wild” novel. []
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