Pornography and Human Futures


This first issue of Ful­ly Human cuts a dif­fer­ent path through the dis­cus­sion of online porn.

Peo­ple often think online porn is about sex. So we talk as if we’re talk­ing about sex. Squea­mish­ly or stri­dent­ly. As moral­ist or lib­er­tar­i­an. Denounc­ing porn as sex­u­al per­ver­sion or cel­e­brat­ing porn as sex­u­al free­dom. The two sides line up in oppo­si­tion while pornog­ra­phy itself grows and changes beyond recog­ni­tion online. Because main­stream online porn isn’t about sex. It’s about mon­ey, and what hap­pens when tech­nol­o­gy is aimed at the most inti­mate parts of us in the pur­suit of profit. 

If porn was just about sex, we’d have the debate about whether there is any­thing inher­ent­ly harm­ful or uneth­i­cal about cre­at­ing and view­ing films and pho­tos of humans involved in sex­u­al activ­i­ties. But main­stream online porn is not just films and images, and this is not the debate we need have.

Instead, when there is now a rich and grow­ing research lit­er­a­ture1 reveal­ing main­stream online porn’s wide-rang­ing harm­ful effects on humans, includ­ing on rela­tion­al and sex­u­al sat­is­fac­tion, atti­tudes towards women and girls, the preva­lence of harass­ment and oth­er uneth­i­cal behav­iour, we need to ask — why? 

Q: Do you like hav­ing your pic­ture tak­en?
A: I don’t like hav­ing my pic­ture taken.

Q: Do you believe that it is pos­si­ble that, at some point in the future, one will be able to achieve sex­u­al sat­is­fac­tion, com­plete” sex­u­al sat­is­fac­tion, for instance by tak­ing a pill?
A: I doubt that it’s impossible.

Q: You don’t like the idea.
A: No, I think under those con­di­tions we would know less than we do now. 

Q: Know less about each oth­er.
A: Of course.

From The Expla­na­tion’ Don­ald Barthelme Forty Sto­ries

Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, Porn­hub had a big­ger audi­ence than the BBC2 yet the increas­ing media and gov­ern­ment scruti­ny of tech cor­po­rate prac­tices and their influ­ence on humans is not being applied to the online porn indus­try. This is despite the porn indus­try’s engage­ment in many of the prac­tices being ques­tioned else­where (and more besides) and the fact that a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of teenagers view pornog­ra­phy regularly.

UK gov­ern­ment made a com­mit­ment to age ver­i­fi­ca­tion of online pornog­ra­phy in 2015 which five years on is still not in place. There is a lack of clar­i­ty about its future and whether oth­er forms of reg­u­la­tion will be applied to the indus­try. The 145 page draft Online Safe­ty Bill (2021) going through par­lia­ment at the time of writ­ing does not men­tion pornog­ra­phy once (exclud­ing ref­er­ence to the dis­tinct issue of chil­dren involved in its pro­duc­tion, a form of child sex­u­al abuse). So while pornog­ra­phy remains ubiq­ui­tous in online life, it is near invis­i­ble in pol­i­cy. These facts com­bine to cre­ate sig­nif­i­cant, poor­ly under­stood and unchecked influ­ence on indi­vid­u­als and soci­ety, includ­ing on chil­dren and young people.

In Ful­ly Human Issue #1, our explo­ration of this influ­ence con­cludes that at its heart, main­stream online porn is not videos or imagery, or even a prod­uct. It is an invi­ta­tion – or end­less invi­ta­tions — for indi­vid­u­als to go on a jour­ney in which their sex­u­al­i­ty, self and val­ues are shaped towards oth­ers’ prof­it, and away from their own and oth­ers’ poten­tial for rich, con­nec­tive life. This under­stand­ing has pro­found impli­ca­tions for young people’s edu­ca­tion and for wider soci­etal action aimed at sup­port­ing human thriv­ing, and pre­vent­ing injus­tice and harm.