The jury is still out on whether or not watching porn is damaging our minds, after “The Great Porn Debate,” organised by the ANU Circle for Gender Equity on Tuesday the 7th of October.

The event’s key speakers were First Officer for the Australian Sex Party in the ACT Steven Bailey, researcher and analyst of population health Bethany Jones, and Sex Addiction Therapist John Larkin. Each speaker held the floor for a brief presentation of their own background and findings on the effects of pornography upon individuals, relationships, and communities, before opening the floor to questions from the audience.

Each speaker took a differing approach to issues surrounding pornography. On the issue of porn censorship, there was a consensus that a complete prohibition of it would only have negative consequences. Bailey compared the issue to Prohibition in the United States during the 1930s, highlighting the higher criminal rates during this period.

The issue of ‘ethical porn’ was widely debated, primarily between Larkin and members of the audience. Larkin, from a perspective of porn addiction, stated ‘let’s find out what we’re eating… let’s not kid ourselves that porn doesn’t have negative effects’. An issue of concern to all the speakers was the exploitation and abuse found throughout the pornography industry and the vulnerability of those working within it.

All three speakers were in agreement that the industry which produces pornography is “problematic,” and were in support of industry standards to be applied through higher regulation. There was also a consensus on the need for greater public education in the area of pornography, sex, and consent.

Bailey spoke of the need for a mature political response of the government towards pornography. Bailey stated ‘porn and sex are facts of life but are often subjects of taboo’. Bailey used his own party’s successful lobbying attempts to illustrate examples of what regulation in the pornography industry can be.

A criticism raised against current standards of sex education in Australia was that there is an “underlying assumption that sex is bad, and particularly bad for women,” said Jones. She argued against this type of education, saying that a reform of sex education requires the acknowledgement that “it’s about health, it’s not about morality.”

The discussion with the audience covered topics ranging from consent, abuse, and misrepresentation within the porn industry, to the effects of porn addiction on human intimacy, to potential public policy regarding the regulation and management of pornographic production.
Anecdotally, each of the speakers also presented some of the more shocking things that they had come across in their respective fields. “I have clients who will watch porn sixteen hours a day, sometimes more,” said Larkin, in response to a question about how extreme porn addiction could become.

Circle for Gender Equity President Josey Janssen said that the inspiration for this discussion comes from the increasingly extreme and accessible nature of pornography. “I’ve watched documentaries myself where it’s been that porn producers have said… ‘I have to go that extra mile, I have to go a bit more extreme, because otherwise my videos don’t get viewed.’… I just thought it was a really interesting topic, and sometimes controversial.”

Academic events like this one are hosted by the Circle twice each term. “The CGE does a variety of different discussions throughout the year, and what we do is we promote gender equity.” Janssen advised interested students to attend the CGE’s AGM at 6pm on Wednesday the 14th, in the Brian Kenyon Student Space.