What Is Harm?
Lahey (1991) argues that the attempt to determine the effects of viewing pornography misses the point because once again the focus is on men and their reactions; is it not enough that women feel belittled, humiliated, and degraded? The voice of women is silent in pornography studies. The questions focus on whether pornography induces sexual violence in men. Pornography, Lahey (after MacKinnon and Dworkin) argues, harms women by teaching falsehoods about women (that they enjoy painful sex, are not as worthy as men, secretly desire sex even when they refuse it, and do not know what they really like); it harms women’s self-esteem; and it harms women by reproducing itself in men’s behavior toward women.
Certainly, there is an argument to be made that certain kinds of sexually explicit materials contribute little to society and cause much pain directly and indirectly to women. Many who defend sexually explicit materials that show consensual sex abhor the violent and degrading pornography that is the particular target of feminist ire. Whether the way to respond to such materials is through new laws (which may do little to stop its production; for example, child pornography, which is illegal, flourishes in the United States; Wolak et al., 2005) or through listening to the voices of women, who are its victims, is an open question.
Men who watch pornographic videos containing images of naked men with a woman have been found to have higher quality sperm than men who watch similar videos containing only women (Kilgallon & Simmons, 2005). Researchers suggest this is due to a perceived sperm competition, wherein a male produces higher quality sperm when there is a threat of a female choosing another male.