Question: Pornography and Ayn Rand

by Jason Stotts

I get a lot of interesting questions at Erosophia and I try to answer as many of them as I can. When I think the question and answer is particularly interesting, I usually publish an anonymized version of it.  This is one of those.

Hi Jason.

What is your basic advice on using pornography and why do you think Ayn Rand was opposed to it? How is connected to mental health from your point of view?

– G.

I think that fantasy is a very important part of the masturbatory experience. While it’s possible to masturbate merely through self-simulation without fantasy, it is much more common for masturbation to include fantasy. Our imaginations, however, are not unlimited. We are limited by the things that we have seen and already know. To this end, pornography functions as a form of external fantasy. Through pornography, we can expand our sexual horizons to include new and exciting things that we may have never yet experienced. This leads to a much richer and more interesting masturbatory life (pornography can also enhance a couple’s sex life).

Now, I think that this can have drawbacks. For example, some people become so fixated on pornography, that they don’t enjoy sex with another person as well because they have conditioned themselves to need more variety or things that their real partner is not willing to do. This is a problem because pornography can create a very false picture about what sex is, what it looks like, and also what human bodies look like. For example, in porn the average penis size is around 8”, but in real life its around 5.5”. I think the other danger of pornography is that it can also create dispositions in a person to negative behaviors. Some people come to be too fixated on variety and difference and so start to watch pornography of things they wouldn’t want to do in real life. This is fine, as long as it doesn’t create a disposition to action in the person to do these things. It’s not fine if they create in themselves a disposition to action for something that would be actually wrong; for example, if they start to watch realistic rape fantasy porn and start to want to rape someone in real life. If pornography is used to create a negative disposition for action, then this is immoral (studies actually show that more porn equals less rape, for the record).

Ayn Rand was opposed to it, as far as I can tell, because she thought sex was intensely personal and private and that it would have been inappropriate to share any aspect of this. This would mean that both the creation and consumption of pornography was illicit. She was also worried that pornography, being focussed only on the physical side of sex, would drive a wedge between the spiritual side of sex and the physical side of sex, which would lead people to engage in dualism:

I want to state, for the record, my own view of what is called “hard-core” pornography. I regard it as unspeakably disgusting. I have not read any of the books or seen any of the current movies belonging to that category, and I do not intend ever to read or see them. The descriptions provided in legal cases, as well as the “modern” touches in “soft-core” productions, are sufficient grounds on which to form an opinion. The reason of my opinion is the opposite of the usual one: I do not regard sex as evil—I regard it as good, as one of the most important aspects of human life, too important to be made the subject of public anatomical display.

I think it’s clear that her concern was the disconnect of sexuality from values. She thought that pornography was evil (disgust is a moral emotion), because it would do this.

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