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Of late, I have been thinking about certain things and I am not sure if I am thinking the right way about them. I am a 23 year old Indian student. During my undergrad, like everyone else around, I used to watch porn every now and then. Especially, I used to watch only Indian porn and sex videos as they felt more realistic to me and natural than the officially produced English porn videos that people watch. I used to watch them to explore my sexuality and fulfill my sexual desires. I no longer watch them as I felt that developing intimacy with someone in real life is much more important than fulfilling your desires through online content.

Coming to my question, I read somewhere that sometimes people upload their personal videos without the other partner being aware of the same and sometimes also use them as a means to blackmail them or something. Moreover, we never know if both of them are consensually having sex or not. As a viewer, we don't think of all these things and we just watch them purely for the sake of our pleasure unless they are too unwatchable and also it's almost impossible to think about all these things and then watch these videos. So I am wondering as a viewer, are we morally wrong to watch such kind of real sex videos? My feeling is that the intent behind watching such videos is what matters though we don't mean ill towards whoever is part of the videos I am a little confused as the similar logic can be applied to sex scenes in movies for example, since we don't know under what financial conditions and pressure do actors perform such sex scenes. If we keep thinking about these things, of course we wouldn't be able to enjoy watching anything. So I am not sure what's the right way to think about and understand these things.

Any thoughts would be appreciated!

  • "they felt more realistic" - you might be surprised, but western porn is seen more realistic in the West. "are we morally wrong to watch such kind of real sex videos?" - this depends on the methods. Intention typically is just to get satisfaction and watching porn itself does not harm anyone, does it? – rus9384 Jul 13 '18 at 16:48
  • @rus9384: They are usually people in every day life having sex in various places. I get that just viewing doesn't harm anyone but don't we feel guilty of watching once we come to know that there was a negative connotation with what we watched though we don't control it? That was my doubt regarding how do we deal with it. – pikachuchameleon Jul 13 '18 at 16:51
  • Sexual behavior is more of a religious standard than a philosophical standard. Watching porn from a normative view may not qualify as something normative at all. Ethics is not always about morality. Normative ethics is about morality. Thus there are distinct types of ethics and all of them are not normative. – Logikal Jul 13 '18 at 16:56
  • I wouldn't feel guilty for it because: a) I'm not harming anyone. b) The person represented there may ask to delete the video if [s]he does not like it's there. Also, this question asks for opinions. – rus9384 Jul 13 '18 at 16:58
  • @Logikal, on wikipedia ethics and morality are used somewhat interchangeably and only outside of philosophy there is distinction: morals is somewhat common in the society (in conservative countries it's immoral to have many sexual partners). I could be immoral from the position of society, but at the same time not being immoral from my own position as I would not regret my actions. But ethics is understood as somewhat close to etiquette. – rus9384 Jul 13 '18 at 17:03
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Ill try to answer your actual question, but there are many views, and many possible answers, as I am sure you are aware.

Porn (and the wider sex industry) is a sector of human activities where there are some real concerns about consensual behaviour, and abuse, vs. freewill.

Of course it is easy to forget that the exact same issues exist in many other industries - are clothes made ethically and without child/slave labour? What about fishing, or tea, or cotton? What about manual workers and fruit pickers? What about people in any country who feel forced to work in a job that they feel does them emotional harm?

So the first point is, this is a real issue, but it's not an issue that only affects porn. Perhaps porn makes it more "visible" or poignant because it is so personal and intimate. For example, we haven't been "taught" by our cultures that being reluctantly forced to do a bad job is as evil as being reluctantly forced to do sex.

The effect is probably different as well. When harm happens, it seems so much more likely to be serious or long-term harm in a sex industry context (violence, drugs, disease), or because it preys especially on young vulnerable people, or because it can be much more painful/difficult to escape. But that could be incorrect perception - perhaps there are people in all industries who feel forced to accept abuse, harm, and suffering, to keep a job, or support their children/families. (Personally I suspect it's a correct perception, though)

So this is not just a "porn industry only" question. Really, it highlights a whole range of issues that affect all people and industries, in a wider context. Porn is one of those. Also, porn is an industry where the effects of abuse/coercioncan be especially severe and harmful, and where our culture does not evade the question of whether power imbalance is a bad thing. So it's more visible as well.

Turning back to your question, I think most people here would agree, it is good to try and avoid things that are based on abuse, and benefit abuse.

With other industries, we do this (if we care enough) in two main ways:

  • We might decide to choose our supplier carefully - only buy tea and chocolate from businesses that have a reputable certification showing that some trusted body checks them for abuse, child labour, etc. That reassures us that the supplier is probably not using abuse to produce their products, and that if we buy from them, we will not be supporting abusive practices.

  • Or we might decide there is too much risk, and not buy that kind of product at all.

  • (Also, as a society, we might ban various industries or practices, or restrict them,to try and minimise harm. But this is an action by a society, not by an individual,so it isn't really relevant to your question)

These are probably good ways to start looking at your question. Beyond doubt, many people in porn movies and pictures are there because they choose to be, and also many are there because they are pressured to be - they are coerced or enslaved, often by people with power over them, and do not have a "way out of it".

We know this because a search online shows people in the sex industry with both of these positions. I would trust their stated views. If we trust a person who says "I like my work", and we trust a person who says "I am trapped in my work and cannot escape", they are probably the authorities on how they feel. (Note: not everyone agrees with this perspective).

So applying the same approach as anything else - are there sex industry bodies, or ways to find out, which people feel happy in their work, and not trapped or coerced? Are there relevant sex industry bodies, or specific actors whose online websites/blogs/feeds seem to show that they like and enjoy their work? Maybe you can find out how the sex industry tries to handle this issue, and if there is anything within the sex industry that you feel safe to rely on, to be sure the actors in the porn you enjoy are not trapped/coerced.

If these do not exist, or you don't feel safe to trust them, then you might feel that it is safer to completely avoid the kinds of porn which carry risk of unwilling actors.

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  • +1 for showing the real issue. However, I'd say in West most (if not all) professional pornstars are there because they want to be there. Another thing if they are doing it only for money and really do not like it, or if this is wrong. But the first still hardly can be called non-consensual, otherwise much if not majority of the labor is done non-consensually by people who go to their work only in order to get money. – rus9384 Jul 14 '18 at 11:10
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Morality of watching porn

I would feel ashamed of any intentional kind of involvement in any business based on exploitation of human beings especially, but really of anything. Exploitation is motivated by greed and several other morally primitive ego drives.

(Google Books search)

(Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia search)

And if anyone should justify it by countering with examples of other businesses that are equally exploitative, I would only say that I instinctively avoid involvement with those things also, and find them equally shameful.

There are times when we have no choice but to exploit or take life for our own sustenance (such as, for food or shelter or defense). But for the preservation of present and future generations it should always be only as often as necessary, and with as much respect, consideration, and forethought as possible shown for the victims. Some tribes are traditionally non-exploitative. Some are not. And the same can be said of individual attitudes.

After killing an animal, Cherokee hunters would ask the gods' forgiveness for taking the animal's life.

(Cherokee Hunting Traditions, Sciencing, By Jacob Broadley; Updated April 17, 2018)

5.1 What should be for sale? A number of writers have argued that some things should not be for sale (Anderson 1993; MacDonald & Gavura 2016; Sandel 2012; Satz 2010). Among the things commonly said to be inappropriate for sale are sexual services, surrogacy services, and human organs. Some writers object to markets in these items for consequentialist reasons. They argue that markets in commodities like sex and kidneys will lead to the exploitation of vulnerable people (Satz 2010).

(Business Ethics, First published Thu Nov 17, 2016, Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia)

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From your Question, it sounds like you have made the decision to prioritize your relationships over watching porn. I would not want you to doubt that this is a rational stance. If that is not your decision (you the Asker or anybody else reading), it's OK to stop reading this now.


A rational decision

Watching porn divides your romantic bond to your partner by cultivating feelings toward others who are not your partner. Also, watching porn weakens your mind's bond between your partner and your sexual desires.

The best sexuality is just like every other aspect of good relationships: whatever actions you take, you take them to benefit others. It seems to me that watching porn (and gazing at people other than your partner) hurts that.

So therefore, avoiding porn has positive consequences for your partner, and this makes it a rational decision for those concerned about these kinds of negative feelings.

I do not wish to evaluate the production of porn, the making of sex videos, or the filming of Hollywood movies...other than to re-state that the best sexuality benefits others, and romantic love is better when it is directed at your partner.

Disclaimer: I do not claim (...and I hope I am not implying...) that I am somehow superior to people who choose to watch porn. How could I ever know if the kinds of crap I feel bad about at the end of each day were objectively better?

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  • "it sounds like you have made the decision to heed your negative feelings about watching porn and change your habits"- the question is not even about this... It is about watching porn where actors did not give a consent to be filmed. – rus9384 Jul 13 '18 at 21:55
  • Ah, I see your point @rus9384. – elliot svensson Jul 14 '18 at 0:41
  • "Watching porn divides your romantic bond to your partner by cultivating feelings toward others who are not your partner." - there are different kinds of people. There are people who prefer to have sex with different people, like one prefers to eat different kinds of food. It is completely normal if a person has such type of personality. And those people do not have some kind of bond since the beginning. There is no problem if there are such persons having polyamoric (even open) relationships, since they are not inclined to be jealous. – rus9384 Jul 14 '18 at 1:16
  • Well, that's why I said "if that's not your decision it's OK to stop reading now." The person who asked had made a decision pretty similar to what I'm describing (or else I didn't read it right this time either) and what I have done is to write rationally why this is a sensible stance. – elliot svensson Jul 14 '18 at 1:26
  • But, well, if one does not watch porn and just prefers to have casual sex? My purpose is to eliminate all kinds of stereotypes and social myths and this post looks like being based on them. – rus9384 Jul 14 '18 at 1:31
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In pornography on screen or online we are only presented with depictions. We don't know, for example, if what appears to be consensual sex is really consensual; and it is usually practically impossible to say. Anyone who watches porn runs the risk that they are actually if unintentionally supporting a studio that presents coerced sex as consensual.

Probably we can agree on some guidelines. Porn should not involve underage actors such as very young children or anyone below the age of consent. Equally it should not depict non-consensual sex (e.g. rape) or sex that is life-threatening, or sex that depicts harm to breasts, genitalia or the anus. An interest in watching even the depiction of such acts, whether faked or (probably more often, not), is not one that should be encouraged. It does no good beyond providing at best misdirected pleasure. My criterion here is whether given ordinary standards of morality, even taking into account the diversity of morals, the actual doing of such acts is harmful to their participants and taking pleasure in their depiction is equally bad.

Two other points. The first is that the familiar abeunt studia in mores argument - roughly, that if you watch it you'll do it - is leaky. Empirical evidence is inconclusive. People who watch 'nasty' porn may do so as a substitute for action rather than the prelude to it. And when rapists, flashers, touchers-up and the rest are found to have been in possession of such porn, it may be their personalities that led to their watching porn rather than watching porn that led to their unacceptable behaviour.

Lastly, watching porn is only a poor shadow of the 'joy of sex' - consensual sex with a real person. Occasional indulgence probably does no or little harm but, to make a comparison, I'd rather eat a meal than watch other people pigging out in a restaurant.

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  • "faked or (probably more often, not)" I think "or" should be under the brackets as well. "is not one that should be encouraged." - I would argue against in some cases. Would it be immoral for a pedophile to have sex with an android girl, who does not has those negative consequences after that as a real girl would. – rus9384 Jul 14 '18 at 12:23
  • Brackets corrected, thanks. Btw I was thinking of harm, faked or not, to real persons. Your android girl would not suffer real harm though there is the consideration that the paedophile's android activities might extend to real people. But I agree that there's no way of calculating the probability of this. Porn is such a tangled topic. I say, for instance that it's a pale shadow of real sex but the shadow may be all that's available to someone who's severely physically disabled. Every statement has to be qualified but there's room here only to make some main points - or points that seem so. – Geoffrey Thomas Jul 14 '18 at 13:27
  • What I meant that by the same analogy, I can say that depicting sex with non-adults should not be considered bad as well, as no real harm is caused. Otherwise you can consider videogames with blood and dismemberment should be considered bad as they are depicting harmful actions. But in fact they allow people to distress. – rus9384 Jul 14 '18 at 13:32
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    So if a child is merely depicted as having sex with an adult, no harm is done to the child if the sex is merely simulated ? Not sure : the child is still being placed in circumstances it doesn't understand and having things done to it (if not actual sex) which it also doesn't understand. I would not volunteer any child of mine to this type of situation. And you ? – Geoffrey Thomas Jul 14 '18 at 13:44
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    I meant cartoons, games, computer graphics and so on. I can't imagine how people can fake sex. Yes, it's possible to fake pleasure from it, but not the action itself. – rus9384 Jul 14 '18 at 13:46
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There are different systems of Morality, any answer must refer to one of those. Such as "In Islam, it is not moral to watch porn".

The categorical imperative explains that the action of watching porn can be moral or not moral, depending on the maxim (motivation) of the watcher, and whether the watcher would agree to this maxim becoming universal. Universal means you need to be ok with everyone else watching porn, and being ok with watching porn in which you hypothetically would appear on screen.

Since we live in a world where watching porn is already pretty much universal, as a watcher you do not need to imagine such a world, rather you can try to imagine a world where you and people could not watch porn, and consider if that were a better world.

Watching porn generally sustains the demand for porn (even if watching 'for free'), and thus sustains the working conditions of those doing it professionally. Often those are not great working conditions. But if we assume there was a "clean porn" business with controlled working conditions, then watching that porn would probably have not much negative impact, hence watching that kind of porn should be morally ok for most people applying the categorical imperative.

However watching other porn like child pornography, snuff movies, revenge porn etc. can thus practically not be moral for most people, as they would not be okay with themselves or people they like being watched in such movies.

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    "and being ok with watching porn in which you hypothetically would appear on screen." Well, this is a bit wrong. You only must be ok with being filmed with your permission. – rus9384 Jul 15 '18 at 12:08
  • How can I ever be ok with being filmed if I don't know who's going to watch? If nobody is going to watch, I can always be ok. – tkruse Jul 16 '18 at 2:12
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    Maybe you don't, others can be. Otherwise you could prohibit all the food with CI. – rus9384 Jul 16 '18 at 10:09
  • The CI is always personal. But I believe it is reasonable to assume most humans are not happy with being seeing naked online while having sex, thus the CI would force them not to consider watching porn a moral action according to the CI. – tkruse Jul 16 '18 at 14:00
  • Then you can prohibit BDSM. But that would be the violation of right of both sides if it's consensual. – rus9384 Jul 16 '18 at 14:33

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