The great Indian porn debate: Does it create rapists or release sexual frustration?

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By Nithin Sridhar

The Indian government appears to have silently banned around 800 porn websites. According to this Hindustan Times report, the Internet service providers (ISP) received letters directing them to block porn websites from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on Saturday. The ISP’s that have enforced the ban include Vodafone, MTNL, ACT, Hathway and BSNL.

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Many people have expressed opposition to this move on social media, though some have supported the move as well. The present ban has again highlighted the issue of pornography.

Prevalence of Pornography:

According to these statistics released by Covenant Eyes, between 2001 and 2007, the Internet porn industry went from a $1-billion-a-year industry to $3-billion-a-year in the US alone. It further says that by 2017, a quarter of a billion people are expected to be watching porn using mobiles or tablets, an increase of more than 30% from 2013.

It estimates that 9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18. It further says that in 2008, a company called Hitwise cataloged 40,634 websites that distributed pornography. It quotes Damon Brown, author of “Porn and Pong and Playboy’s Greatest Covers” as saying:

It seems so obvious: If we invent a machine, the first thing we are going to do—after making a profit—is use it to watch porn. When the projector was invented roughly a century ago, the first movies were not of damsels in distress tied to train tracks or Charlie Chaplin-style slapsticks;they were stilted porn shorts called stag films. VHS became the dominant standard for VCRs largely because Sony wouldn’t allow pornographers to use Betamax; the movie industry followed porn’slead. DVDs, the Internet, cell phones. You name it, pornography planted its big flag there first, or atleast shortly thereafter.

The Hindustan Times report quotes a data from PornHub that says Indians form 40% of its total 14.2 billion users. Therefore, it can be easily concluded that consumption of pornography is widely prevalent across the world.

Effects of watching porn:

Many people, if not most, indulge in watching pornography to either fulfill their fantasies or to relieve their stress. Various studies have been conducted to access the impact of pornography on people, but no conclusive results have been obtained.

According to the Covenant Eyes report: 88% of scenes in porn films contain acts of physical aggression, and 49% of scenes contain verbal aggression. It further quotes a meta-analysis of 46 studies, that concluded that exposure to pornography puts one at an increased risk of committing sexual crimes (22% increase) and accepting rape myths (31% increase). It quotes another study of 187 female university students, where researchers concluded that early exposure to pornography was related to subsequent “rape fantasies” and attitudes supportive of sexual violence against women.

Therefore, consumption of porn, especially of the violent and hardcore variety may have a deep impact on minds of the people which may lead them to commit many sexual crimes as well.

But, according to this report by Christopher J. Ferguson and Richard D. Hartley:

Evidence for a causal relationship between exposure to pornography and sexual aggression is slim and may, at certain times, have been exaggerated by politicians, pressure groups, and some social scientists. Some of the debate has focused on violent pornography, but evidence of any negative effects is inconsistent, and violent pornography is comparatively rare in the real world. Victimization rates for rape in the United States demonstrate an inverse relationship between pornography consumption and rape rates.

It further quotes a study conducted in Japan that concludes that increasing availability of pornography is associated with declining rates of rape and other sex crimes.

A 2007 study made a survey of 1023 consumers of pornography in Australia. The consumers were asked to specify what effect did watching pornography have on their attitudes towards sexuality. The study revealed that 58.8% people thought that pornography had a positive influence on their attitudes towards sexuality, 34.6% felt it did not have any effect on them and 6.8% thought that it had a negative effect on them.

The positive effects listed by the pornography consumers included making them less repressed and more open minded about sex, increased tolerance towards others’ sexuality, giving pleasure, provided educational information, made them more attentive to partners sexual needs, and helped them to talk to their partners about sex.

The negative effects listed by the consumers in the study included increased tendency to objectify people, caused unrealistic sexual expectations, caused loss of interest in sex and relationship problems, and let to serious addictions.

These various reports clearly depict two things: one, there are definitely both positive and negative effects of watching pornography; two, though excessive viewing of pornography may lead to various sexual crimes in many cases, but, it cannot be considered as a driving factor that leads every consumer of pornography to commit crimes. Some studies also depict co-relation between increased pornographic consumption and decreased sexual crime rate.

Watching pornography is not same as creating pornography

The Supreme Court of India has recently stated that watching a porn movie within the four walls of the house cannot be considered as a crime. Watching porn inside a house is a private activity that harms no one, hence it may even become an issue of fundamental rights. On the other hand, creation of pornography may involve mafias who abduct women and make sex tape, or might secretly be filming couples using hidden cameras, and other activities. Hence, the law clearly bans creation and distribution of obscene materials. It is only with respect to child pornography that there is a ban on production as well as consumption.

Education and not prohibition is the solution

The Delhi incident of Nirbhaya rape, wherein the perpetrators of the crime used beastly methods of torture, can be linked to portrayal of such scenes in many hardcore pornographic videos. As quoted earlier, extensive and excessive exposure to pornography does have a negative influence on some people which may result in their committing various sexual crimes.

But, at the same time, majority of the pornography consumers are not criminals. It may well be argued that stopping people from watching porn may lead to increase in sexual frustration which may in-turn lead to increase in sexual crimes. Those people who used to satisfy their fantasies inside four walls, may come out and try to fulfill those fantasies through people.

If that happens, then there would be an opposite effect than what the ban intends to implement. From the various studies, it is clear that watching porn or not watching porn is not the driving factor behind various sexual crimes. It is the attitude and character of people which is the root cause.

People who are well rooted in values and have strong character, don’t indulge in sexual crimes, even though they may be watching hardcore porn at nights. On the other hand, those who are raised to believe that women are to be objectified and exploited, they become more encouraged to commit sexual crimes after watching pornography.

Further, it is practically impossible to stop people from watching porn. There are thousands of porn websites and many new websites come up every day. It is not practical to block all of them. Yet, even if we assume that a total block is implemented, even then, people will access porn through other means like CD’s and DVD’s. In fact, the business of various CD shops and porn CD manufacturers is going to flourish again, the way it did in pre-internet days.

Therefore, it is vital for the government to realize that only through proper and wholesome education that includes education on ethics, morality, and sex and relationships will it be able to counter any negative influence of pornography or other kinds of obscenity and prevent sexual crimes.

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