Porn can be good for you

Jack Straw's opposition to photos and films of penetrative sex ("More sex, please, we're British", 30 August) is based on the assumption that sexually explicit imagery is, ipso facto, offensive - even when it involves consenting adults.

This does not make sense unless Straw also believes that consensual sexual acts are intrinsically offensive. Logic dictates that if there is nothing offensive about the acts, there can be nothing offensive about the visual depiction of those acts.

Straw's policy implies that porn is so dangerous that censorship is necessary to protect the public from its harmful effects. The alleged harm of porn is unproved (although it can be abused, as can cars and alcohol). The social benefits of explicit images are, however, clearly demonstrable.

Pornography has made a major contribution to reducing the spread of HIV. Sexually arousing pictures have been used successfully to promote safer sex as glamorous and appealing, thereby encouraging millions to switch from risky behaviour. Likewise, the use of porn as a substitute sexual outlet has contributed to cuts in the number of partners. As a solo sex aid, it is the safest form of sex, with no danger of transmitting or contracting HIV.

Viewing frank images of sex has also helped save or improve flagging relationships. Many couples have learnt from porn how to enhance their sexual repertoire and proficiency, resulting in a better, more satisfying love life.

For single people who are not beautiful, able-bodied and self-confident (or who live in isolated communities), sex videos may be their only means of erotic enjoyment. Porn is thus a cornerstone of sexual democracy. It gives everyone access to carnal fulfilment and happiness, regardless of their looks, abilities or background.

Peter Tatchell, OutRage!
London SW14

Laurence O'Toole is puzzled because Labour does not support more laissez-faire and less regulation in the porn market. But since when does Labour champion the rights of the consumer without addressing any issues of social responsibility?

First, he should acknowledge that commercial pressure is relentlessly ratcheting up the prevalence and intensity of porn images in our culture. Domestic TV carries sex scenes that would not have been seen in an "X" film 30 years ago. Films are constantly pushing back the boundaries of decency. Adverts and tabloids rely on sexual imagery to sell the product. The media market is ruthlessly competitive. If you have got a selling angle, then to hell with social responsibility.

Second, sex-related social problems and crime seem to be getting worse. Surely the social context in which we should place the porn industry includes divorce, family breakdown, disturbed children, assaults, rapes and child abuse? I would argue that the higher sexual temperature in our culture is exacerbating those problems, not alleviating them. I have no objection to adults enjoying consensual porn in private. But the customer's right to voyeuristic pleasures is not sacrosanct, no matter what the market tells us.

Les Reid
London W1

This article first appeared in the 13 September 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Kids just say no to party politics