What is pornog­ra­phy in this age of ever-present tech­nol­o­gy? How does it work and what does it do? What does it mean for our hopes for young peo­ple? How does it affect our poten­tial for what we might call a ful­ly human exis­tence? These are the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about porn that Ful­ly Human Issue #1 seeks to explore.

There now exists a robust body of research evi­denc­ing var­i­ous effects of pornog­ra­phy on both young peo­ple and adults, and this is crit­i­cal to our abil­i­ty to find answers to these ques­tions. Alone how­ev­er this research is insuf­fi­cient – here we look beyond indi­vid­ual impacts’ of porn to explore what lies beneath, join­ing up these stud­ies with research on the core qual­i­ties of human flour­ish­ing, as well as the essen­tial aspects of the porn com­plex and expe­ri­ence – always ask­ing what one means for the other.

One back­drop to this report is the long-stand­ing heat­ed debate about pornog­ra­phy, with peo­ple divid­ed broad­ly along lib­er­al, con­ser­v­a­tive and fem­i­nist lines, and the argu­ments cen­tred on whether pornog­ra­phy should be cen­sored giv­en (con­test­ed) harms to women and the fam­i­ly, or whether in fact that con­sti­tutes an infringe­ment of indi­vid­ual rights and free­doms. The analy­sis here and the posi­tion we come to does not neat­ly sit with­in any of these camps, nor indeed this debate as a whole. First our focus is on today’s main­stream online porn. Sec­ond, the dif­fer­ent views in this debate arise from peo­ple giv­ing more or less weight to dif­fer­ent val­ues (for exam­ple, some empha­sis­ing indi­vid­ual free­doms ver­sus oth­ers pri­ori­tis­ing equal­i­ty), yet we see each of these as core to a ful­ly human exis­tence and seek to fore­ground them all – per­haps at their most fun­da­men­tal these core goods’ being auton­o­my, con­nec­tion and jus­tice. Third, our focus here is large­ly on sur­fac­ing the fun­da­men­tals at play, rather than pre­sent­ing the case for spe­cif­ic ways for­ward – this explo­ration being a nec­es­sary basis for those sub­se­quent discussions.

The themes of vis­i­bil­i­ty and invis­i­bil­i­ty run through­out. What do view­ers see and what don’t they? What do those behind the algo­rithms see, and what do they hide? What are the ele­men­tal qual­i­ties of being human that are both pro­found­ly known’ but all too infre­quent­ly artic­u­lat­ed, and in what ways might they be qui­et­ly chipped away at by today’s online porn? By bring­ing all of this to the sur­face, we can more clear­ly think about what porn means for our chil­dren and young peo­ple, and for all of us, and what we can do in the effort to chart a ful­ly human course forwards.