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What is Moral Panic?

Is the Reaction to Pornography an Example of Moral Panic?

This essay will prove the point that reaction to pornography is not a moral panic. Moral panic can be described as a fear that is widespread and often regarded as an irrational one. The fear emanates from the notion that something or someone poses a significant threat to the interests, safety, and values of a society. Essentially, moral panic is propagated by the media and the politicians play their part in fueling it. The end result is the formulation of policies or laws aimed at dealing with the source of panic. Therefore, the moral panic has been noted to, in many ways, escalate social control. More often than not, moral panics are focused on the marginalized groups as a consequence of their class, sexuality, religion, or nationality. In this regard, moral panic is often based on stereotypes that are well-known and enacts some sort of reinforcement on them. Moral panic also exacerbates the notable differences between certain groups or individuals (Vasudevan, Ross and Eccleston, 2017 p.45). This essay will, therefore, argue that the reaction to pornography is not a moral panic. The essay will also provide literature and evidence-based in Australia to reinforce the aforementioned topic.

Whether moral panic entails children having an easy access to pornographic materials or mobile phones that have the ability to take and communicating digital photos, all the fears have a real basis. Internet pornography and the ease of accessibility to children has perhaps been one of the significant fears in the modern times. Indeed, the fear justified. Nonetheless, a certain irony exists due to the fact that the same industry that has produced the pornographic content has also issued tools to deal with the threat that poses moral fear (Harkness, Mullan and Blaszczynski, 2015 p.34). Parents can now comfortably access software to limit offending and explicit contents and keep their children away from the prevailing harm.


For decades, studies have been conducted to unravel the negative effects of pornography with a special focus on the degrading and violent pornography. Some of the elements that were analyzed in these studies include whether pornography causes objectification of women, violence, or aggression. Some researchers maintain that pornography plays a great role in propagating violence against women. However, the recent past has seen the aforementioned studies get challenged by multiple scholars. Ferguson and Hartley (2009), for instance, conducted a study challenging the above studies and proceeded to debunk the hypothesis implying that pornography is a significant contributor to behaviors related to sexual assault. According to Ferguson and Hartley, pornography offers its consumers a catharsis to eliminate sexual aggression (Ferguson and Hartley, 2009 p. 328). Another research by D'Amato( 2006) indicated that the current data from the United States indicates an inverse relationship between the reported rape cases and the consumption of pornography, and the author also indicates that the same holds for multiple countries including Australia (D'Amato, 2006 p.45). Posner (2011) submits a theory indicating that pornography can be viewed as a complement to consensual sex as well as masturbation and thus there is no need for moral panic as this could reduce the cases of rape (Posner, 2011 p.45). Other commentators argue that pornography has a great impact on the sexualization of the community, and noting that it has become relatively easy to access such content via the internet nowadays, the adolescents’, as well as the children, may be affected negatively during their development stages. The agreement of restricting children to access such content is widespread, and while similar concerns exist regarding the exposure of adolescents to the same, these concerns fail to consider the fact that pornography is associated with various sexual education benefits to the adolescents.

Reaction to Pornography

Among the male gender, consumption of pornography has been associated with a decline in sexual desire, unrealistic sexual expectations, and erectile dysfunction. However, the recent past has seen commentators come out to discredit the early studies on the possible effects of pornography to men. The commentators argue that the research carried out in the earlier years lacked methodological rigor including non-causal and cross-sectional data and even submitted that the results from these studies could have been ideologically propagated by business interests as well as conservative religions. Recent research has discredited the possibility of a link between male sexual health disorders and pornography (Simpson, 2009 p.455). Such results give this essay more strength in proving the point that pornography reactions should not be perceived as a moral panic. Instead, the society as a whole should focus on illuminating the better part of it as indicated in the various studies regarding the same topic.

On the same note, various questions could be posed regarding the implications of pornography, with a special focus on whether there are positive effects associated with the non-violent sexual content. Such questions include:

  1. Does pornography consumption make individuals discuss the sex-related topic more openly?
  2. Does pornography consumption lead to a more rigid feeling of sexual agency?
  3. Does pornography consumption mean that the sexual lives of the consumers will be more satisfactory?

Indeed, the aforementioned questions lead one to the conclusion that pornography results should not be a moral panic as there is a myriad of benefits associated with pornography consumption. Some of the evident benefits include sexual education to the adolescents about autonomy as their parents shy away from such topics, individuals learn about sexual practices and positions, some groups such as gay men learn how to practice safe anal sex, and so forth. Again, the fact that reaction to pornography is not a moral panic still stands.


According to a recent survey conducted in Australia regarding the topic of pornography, 58% of the respondents were of the opinion that pornography is linked to a positive effect towards their sexuality.; 35% of the respondents indicated that it had no implications and 7% felt that pornography was associated with negative effects (McKee, A., 2014 p.87). According to the respondents in this survey, the key benefits include a minimal feeling of sexual repression, a sense of open-mindedness on matters regarding sex, improved acceptance of other individuals’ sexualities, source of pleasure, educative content, sexual interest sustenance, more attention when it comes to the desires of the sexual partner, and enabling the consumers establish a sense of identity. The negative implications, again according to the respondents, include objectification of individuals, unrealistic sexual expectations, addiction, loss of sexual interest, and relationship challenges. Weighing both sides, however, the benefits outweigh the demerits and hence a conclusion can be made that, among the Australian population, reaction to pornography is not a moral panic.

Negative Effects of Pornography

The second Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR2) considered a huge representative sample which was gathered from a national telephone survey. The aim of the study was to investigate the sexual behaviors and attitudes. Two-fifths of the respondents or thereabouts (63% of men and 20% of women) indicated that they had maneuvered through various pornographic contents in the past one year, with men possessing a three times likelihood to look at pornographic contents as compared to their male counterparts. These results appear to have taken an upward spiral significantly over the past 10 years. Evidence from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Health and Relationships indicate that the percentage of males accessing internet sex sites has increased to 22% in the fourth year from 14% in the first year. On the other hand, the number of women visiting the sex sites has remained stagnant (2% from year one through to year four). Given the upward movement of the people watching the sex films, it is important to look at the proportion of the society consuming pornography as well as the bad effects and addiction cases. The evidence which is currently available indicates that in comparison to the non-users, the users of pornography are young males who possess a positive attitude towards teenage sex. Multiple studies indicate that despite having a significant increase of Australians watching pornography, the cases of addiction, rape, and other behaviors linked to pornography remain relatively lower. It is, therefore, true to conclude that reaction to pornography is not a moral panic.


In another study, which involved 1023 pornography consumers in Australia, the main focus was to establish whether there were significant implications of watching pornography. The research was dubbed Understanding Pornography in Australia and the main sponsor was the Australian Research Council (Potter and Potter, 2011 p.113). Some of the data gathering techniques that were applied included a survey and a comprehensive interview with 46 pornography consumers. The respondents of this study were asked to describe the pornography implications on their sexuality. The question was left open so that the respondents could give their own definitions regarding the topic. From the results, the researchers were able to document the commonly mentioned impacts of pornography, both the negative and positive. It is seemingly worthwhile to mention the likely positive implications first, considering that a relatively larger number of respondents cited positive impacts that negative impacts. An analysis of the responses given to the open question indicates that there was a set of emerging common ideas as well as recurring words. The most prevalent positive implications included more sexual comfort and becoming less repressed. The main recurring terminologies included “relaxed” “open” and “inhibited”. A number of respondents indicated that pornography had instilled in them the virtue of tolerance in regards to the sexual pleasures of other people. Another portion of the respondents maintained that pornography was a source of pleasure and arousal to them. Other portions mentioned that pornography is educative; pornography maintains relationships; pornography helps one get a sense of identity in the society; pornography helps one become more attentive to his/her partner; pornography helped them talk about sex more openly.

Positive Effects of Pornography

At this point, it is worth noting that the negative implications were few according to the study. The results of above study concur with the study conducted by Winick (1985), where the results indicated that the consumers of pornography might extract various benefits from the contents including getting reassurance, obtaining information, seeking stimulation, and exercising fantasies (Winick, 1985 p.95). In brief, only a small portion of the respondents indicated that pornography was addictive to them or had any adverse implications. Considering that there is currently a huge debate concerning the addictive nature of pornography, the results from this study imply that there is a mismatch between the experiences of pornographic consumers and journalistic concerns. The results from this study present categorically emphasize that reaction to pornography is not a moral panic among the Australian population. There may be various adverse implications of pornography as outlined in the various studies, but there is still overwhelming evidence to suggest that pornography should not be a cause of moral panic.

Conclusion

In summary, this essay argues that the reaction to pornography is not a moral panic. The essay also gives empirical data to prove the argument. Various studies were carried in the earlier years with the aim of determining whether pornography causes objectification of women, violence, or aggression. Up to date, some researchers maintain that pornography plays a great role in propagating violence against women. Notwithstanding, this essay has presented evidence from recent studies conducted in Australia to discredit the hypothesis implying that pornography is a significant contributor to behaviors related to sexual assault. Some of the studies presented to debunk the aforementioned hypothesis include the first and second Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR1) and (ASHR 2). Another recent study which was conducted to discredit the earlier studies regarding the issue of pornography is the Understanding Pornography in Australia funded by the Australian Research Council. All these studies arrived at a common conclusion that the negative implications of pornography were relatively lower compared to the positive implications. According to the respondents in the study, pornography made them feel “relaxed” “open” and “inhibited”. A number of respondents indicated that pornography had instilled in them the virtue of tolerance in regards to the sexual pleasures of other people, others maintained that pornography was a source of pleasure and arousal to them, others mentioned that pornography is educative; pornography maintains relationships; pornography helps one get a sense of identity in the society; pornography helps one become more attentive to his/her partner; pornography helped them talk about sex more openly. Taking all the above results into consideration, the fact that prevails is that reaction to pornography is not a moral panic among the Australian community.

D'Amato, A., 2016. Porn up, rape down. Original L. Rev., 2, p.91.

Ferguson, C.J. and Hartley, R.D., 2009. The pleasure is momentary… the expense damnable?: The influence of pornography on rape and sexual assault. Aggression and violent behavior, 14(5), pp.323-329.

Harkness, E.L., Mullan, B. and Blaszczynski, A., 2015. Association between pornography use and sexual risk behaviors in adult consumers: a systematic review. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(2), pp.59-71.

McKee, A., 2014. The positive and negative effects of pornography as attributed by consumers. Australian Journal of Communication, 34(1), p.87.

Posner, R.A., 2011. Sex and reason. Harvard University Press.

Potter, R.H. and Potter, L.A., 2011. The internet, cyberporn, and sexual exploitation of children: Media moral panics and urban myths for middle-class parents?. Sexuality and Culture, 5(3), pp.31-48.

Simpson, B., 2009. Controlling fantasy in cyberspace: Cartoons, imagination and child pornography. Information & Communications Technology Law, 18(3), pp.255-271.

Vasudevan, A.K., Ross, S. and Eccleston, L., 2017. Data-based Profiling of Internet Child Pornography Offenders: A Study of the Causal Link between use of Internet Child Pornography and the Paedophilic Offending Behaviour. Medico-Legal Update, 17(2).

Winick, C., 1985. A content analysis of sexually explicit magazines sold in an adult bookstore.

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