The Morality Of Porn: Why Americans Think It’s Wrong, But Still Watch It

Old people accidentally seeing porn
A large number of Americans, mostly white evangelicals and those aged over 68, disapprove of watching porn. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

It's difficult to pinpoint exact numbers on watching porn in the U.S., because it’s often something that happens behind closed doors. But it’s probably safe to assume that there are a lot of people — mostly guys — who consume porn in this country and globally.

However, porn habits are not something many people want to admit, possibly because of its stigma. It’s gross, it’s wrong, it’s degrading to women — the list goes on. New research conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that in fact, more Americans believe that porn is morally wrong than expected.

Only 29 percent of Americans think that watching porn is “morally acceptable,” the study found. There's also a relatively large gender gap: 23 percent of women approve, while about 35 percent of men believe it’s morally alright. This means that 65 percent of men think porn is morally wrong. That's right, the majority of men disapprove of porn. This is surprising, seeing as if you’re a male, it’s very likely that you watch porn, or have watched it in the past.

Are men simply not admitting to their habits, or do they hold moral beliefs that they don’t act upon (and then feel guilty about it, hence the lack of revealing their true habits)? It’s difficult to say, but what the study made clear is the difference between people’s personal moral beliefs and their viewpoints on legal matters. For example, 39 percent of the participants said they’d be opposed to legal restrictions on pornography, even though 10 percent of those believe porn is morally wrong.

Even though the majority of Americans disapprove of porn, they are still consuming it – whether or not it’s a guilty pleasure. According to a Pew Research Center survey, about 12 percent of poll participants, who were frequent online video viewers, watched pornography – 25 percent of males did, while only eight percent of females admitted to it. However, the report adds that “this may reflect a reluctance to report the behavior among some adults.”

However, a 2008 study on college campuses found that 87 percent of "emerging" adult men, between the ages of 18 and 26, and 31 percent of emerging adult women, had reported watching porn at some point. The same study found that 20 percent of young males watched porn every day or every other day.

What this means is that people’s moral beliefs may not always match up with their actions. And it also appears that people have become more willing to accept the right to watch porn, produce porn — and also to star in porn — if they so desire.

'Pro-Porn Feminists'

Among the new generation, pro-porn feminists are now emerging — girls who watch, or participate in porn themselves, and wholly embrace it as their own choice. Take Bell Knox for example: A 19-year-old Duke University student who started starring in porn flicks to help pay her college tuition. Belle Knox, who hasn’t revealed her real name, made a major media splash when a classmate exposed her porn activity; since then, she’s been writing on feminist blogs and defending her right to have autonomy over her body as a porn starlet. She says she plans on being a lawyer and is currently studying Women’s Studies.

Perhaps watching porn isn’t right or wrong, but it depends on whether porn stars do it based on their own free choices and for their own reasons. Belle Knox told The New York Daily News that she believes “80 percent of the world’s traffic on the Internet is pornography. And I think that probably every single person at some point in their life has watched pornography. So, I think it’s extremely hypocritical that the same society that consumes me is also condemning me.”

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