Probably one of the most divisive and well-known words in the entire English language. For some, it's akin to inviting the devil over for tea, to others it can be an art-form , even inspirational and to anyone that has used the Internet, it's a multi-billion dollar industry.
Just like the acts it represents, it's use, interpretation and impact on society has been highly controversial, often illuminating and almost certainly, always polarising. Today I want to look at where we stand on the issue.
It's as old as civilisation itself, permeating literature, photos, drawings, sculptures, paintings, films, video games and print.
And whilst pornography is certainly not a new phenomenon (Over in Ancient Greece they were a little frisky, the The Karma Sutra provided them with the perfect guide), its modern-day accessibility (and thus further reaching consequences) has begun to re-write and re-wire the moral code and conventional opinions of our time. Or has it? Have things REALLY changed that much?
1860 during the excavations of Pompeii, the Victorians unearthed depictions of confronting sexual imagery, dating back to the Roman Empire. Shocked by what they witnessed, all of the 'offending' images, transcripts, paintings and relics were moved and stored in a secret location in Naples, Italy.
The upper crust of Victorian society couldn't possibly allow such open displays of sexual activity be seen, for fear of corrupting women, children and the general public at large.
Depictions of sex were deemed immoral and likely to infect impressionable minds. That lead to the 'Obscene Publications Act' being passed in 1857 in one of the most repressed empires at the time, the United Kingdom.
Which is a strange train of thought I must admit. The notion that everyone can have sex, but actually, in public at least, you have to pretend you don't.
Thankfully times have changed. And we've gone from covering up the legs of our furniture, to being shocked when Britney Spears actually IS covering up at all.
With a medium that is so prevalent in our everyday lives (like those compelling late night TV commercials to get "Horny Russian Babes" on your mobile...) there will always be abuses of it. It has undoubtedly served as fuel for already disturbed minds, its resulted in young woman being held captive as sex workers and most disgustingly of all, it has lead to children and minors being abused.
The same , however, could be said for the institution of war or the industry of arms proliferation. The format is the same - the abuse of the individual or the exploitation of a demographic, which ultimately satisfies the malevolent desires of others. Now that could be power over a race, control over a society or their own sexual gratification.
There will always be evil in the world, but I'm not entirely convinced that 'pornography' at its most basic level (consenting adults), is quite the bogeyman the conservative right often trumps it up to be. Whilst I wouldn't wish either on anyone, what's worse? The sex trade or the horrors of war?
To try to categorize all the facets & permutations of pornography would take me hours, but regardless of format, its variations and interpretations are limitless.
Make no mistake, there is a network, community, newsgroup and often entire movements dedicated to the whims, fetishes and picadilos of every single person on the planet. So if we're all looking, searching and partaking in indulging our fantasies - why do some people still consider them shameful secrets to have?
Does that make the people of the world's most fetish friendly city morally bankrupt, if they like to wear leather and get spanked with a hairbrush?
Who am I to say it's un-natural or peculiar behaviour? More importantly, who is anyone to pass judgement on what two consenting adults do? People wearing lipstick are not laughed at or branded as looking like clowns, so why should someone wearing a latex outfit be the target of ridicule?
It's puzzling to me that people often rely on the views of others, to tell them what is kinky or subversive - be it from religious leaders, your family, your local neighbour or token community standards.
People inherently avoid talking about their sex life (ever chat to your boss at the water cooler about that gang bang you had last night?) and everyone has right to privacy (it should always be respected) but if it's "the great unspoken" taboo - how can these same people be in a position to decipher what is and what isn't acceptable? How are they even remotely informed?
Would you be comfortable restricting all forms of sexual expression, pornographic or otherwise? I certainly wouldn't.
If the people that are the least aware and receptive (and by that, I mean those who shy away from pornography regardless of form) see fit to describe and brand others as 'perverts' or 'sickos' maybe the harsh reality is that they themselves are 'blinkered' and 'limited' ?
For example, I would love to see the work of H.R. Giger on display in a local art gallery. But as we already found out, people even have strong views about the merits of pornography when it comes to artistic expression.
It seems to me, if you wanted to be a painter, you'd gain valuable insights into the techniques used by painters, if you studied their work. Can't the same be said for people who enjoy sex and pornography? If you can hire a copy of the Karma Sutra from your progressive local library, why can't you hire the yearbook edition of Playboy?
I have a very simple view on pornography (I'd like to think the majority these days share it with me, but you never know these days). It should have been created with the consent of those involved, it shouldn't be exploitative, it shouldn't contain minors nor should minors be exposed to it (with the exception of sex education at high school) and animals are think are best left to the farm yard.
With those ethical rules in place, I don't see why pornography needs any other such restrictions. Surely there are more pressing restrictions needed in society.
Why can you buy ammunition from Walmart so you can go and shoot up your University, but you can't purchase a copy of Hustler? That kind of backward logic astounds me at times.
Isn't "Freedom of Expression" one of the most quoted and fiercely protected human rights of all time? Don't we have a right, as adults to decide what we view as entertainment?
We're a society perfectly at ease with broadcasting the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a show where skimpily clan men beat the living hell out of each other. But you'd be offending the locals if you had two attractive girls kissing on the big screen? Why don't we even have the right to choose? And if we do choose the vastly more appealing option, why is that considered shocking or immoral?
If alpha-males fighting appeal to the primal sense thousands of years old, locked within each of us, surely pornography and the feelings it evokes, resonates too?
There is nothing more powerful than the human touch and whilst I don't harbor any illusions that pornography is about love, it is nevertheless part of our genetic DNA - the primal instinct to mate, touch and pro-create. Somewhere along the line, with dolphins and chimpanzees, we decided we also liked doing it for the sheer fun of it. Pornography is our celebration of that ideal.
Why is that such a shocking notion for people to entertain?
I cannot understand the logical of YouTube willingly hosting a graphic and horrific video of a girl called Neda getting shot and dying on your computer screen yet they deem the concept of people having consensual sex on camera as offensive.
Whilst I know there is an argument that the video is newsworthy, that it needs to be seen to drive home the reality of the situation in Iran - it is far more shocking in my eyes, to see a human being die in front of me, than it is to see people engaging in sexual acts.
Maybe it's about time we asked ourselves, why is there one rule for violence and death, but another rule for pornography and entertainment?