The internet has brought explicit sexual imagery into the home much as Hollywood television introduced crass erotica to the American public. The thrust has been predominantly commercial interests of individuals and families. The potential for harm is great, according to Dr. Bancroft of Kinsey Institute. Dr. Vaillant, former head of psychiatry at Harvard and one of the grandfathers of addiction medicine, showed that the more prevalent and accessible a substance of abuse was, the greater the saturation for abuse in communities.
Sexual addiciton is a 'functional addiction' and addiction to pornography is a subset of this disorder.
There is however the concern also for privacy of individuals and the rights of individuals regarding adult sexuality. Little Sisters bookstore in Vancouver has had an expensive repeated conflict with the authorities over what they deem as appropriate sexuality. It was only in the 70's that homosexuality was 'de criminalized' in the west whereas in Africa it remains a serious punishable crime in most states with only lesbianism approved of in many. Anglican Bishop Spong encountered some criticism when he was paraphrased as questioning people who had "just climbed down from the trees" dictating morality and ethics to the western religious world.
Erotica has been called female pornography whereas traditionally males have been principally interested in pornography per se. A Canadian psychoanalyst 20 years ago went on record calling "harlequin romance' 'female pornography' and compared it as equal to Hugh Hefner's Playboy. Male sexual arousal has been more commonly visual (a lesbian friend argued that was because women in general are easier on the eyes). Female sexual arousal has been more noted to be contextual. Erotica videos have prolonged foreplay and stories with very little actual naked activity with usually soft lens sexual content in comparison to male pornography videos where strangers meet and rapidly get into naked ritualized sexuality with detailed genitalia footage. With the egalitarianism of the workplace however women once protected in the home and suburbia are increasingly behaving more like men sexually and the industry of pornography is increasingly marketting to the growing female audience.
The truly brilliant movie 9mm starring Nicholas Cage showed that pornography actually tended to move from the life creating sexuality of church and Catholic marriage to infertility and ultimate snuff films. It is interesting that anthropologically humans engaged in sexuality first for pleasure, knowledge of it's relationship to child birth coming later.
With pornography there's first the rather tame nude man or woman pictures. Then the slippery slope that moves to oral sex, anal sex, group sex, bondage then sado masochism, child abuse, snuff films of sexual murder, necrophilia with perhaps interspecies sex thrown in. This is the increasing 'risk' scale that draws a person from the 'gateway' to the dangerous and illegal edge. Addiction studies have shown that addiction isn't just about reward but is coupled to the risk potential. It's like the drug addict moving through the drugs to eventual needle sharing and high risk behaviour.In this case it's a functional addictive progress without the actual chemical involvement. The MRI preliminary results suggest the brain chemistry is about the same for functional and chemical addiction.
With alcohol the majority can safely imbide a glass of wine without going on to finish the second or third bottle. The same might well be true for erotica and pornography. The concern though is that the more involved and the greater the access then the greater risk for a greater percentage of people moving along the continuum. This leads to a greater cost to society.
Images of nudity go back as far as ancient Egypt Sexual themes have driven art such that Susan Sontag in the late 60's celebrated pornography's imagery in the physical sense comparing it to the ethereal process of religious art.
Given that a specific per centage of people are likely to do poorly with pornography and go on to increasing problems the questions arises whether the huge multi billion dollar commercial industry should be held accountable for projected costs to society that come with increasing distribution. The Gambling Industry has underwritten research seeking to identify those individuals who are at risk of selling their house and children for the sake of gambling. The tobacco industry in contrast under the gun has paid considerably for it's costs to individuals and society. The question arises now whether the pornography industry as a whole can be held accountable for costs while society carries the increasing legal burden and individuals bear the burden of disease. Should only the individual end user be faulted.
Drug courts success with their implicit 'stick' certainly provide evidence for the need of more than a 'carrot' for individuals with addiciton. Ideally those with addiction recognise their problem and seek help through voluntary attendance at 12 step programs such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) or Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). Others would ideally go to an inpatient treatment program such as the Canadian Homewood program in Quelph or Sante in the USA.
Without this willingness to seek help there is the need for legal consequence as has been used in the drug court process. Some of the research regarding pornography suggests that it's use begets illegal behaviour and there is a need for society to be protected in these cases.
More research is definitely needed. Individuals need to be warned of risk and therapeutic options supported, designated specialized funding for policing and legal units for protection need to be supported, with judges trained as drug court judges have been trained specific to the field. More training in normal sexuality and abnormal sexuality is needed in medical and psychiatric training. Community costs for policing and therapeutics need to be assessed and perhaps class actions suits need to start sooner rather than later learning from the dismal history of the tobacco industry.