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Porn and Stoicism

Porn and Stoicism (5 min read)


By Ma Dingding



What would the Stoics say about pornography? 

What do Stoics think of porn? 


For us, living in our modern time, porn is almost omnipresent in our lives. 

Let’s explore what a Stoic approach to porn is. 


What is porn?

The word “porn” is the abbreviation of the word “pornography.” Pornography is visual and sometimes auditory material depicting sexual acts or states that is consumed for sexual gratification. The material can take the form of text, drawings, paintings, images, videos, animations, sounds and objects. 


For some people something may be considered porn whether the exact same thing may not be considered porn by someone else, for example, in the case of an art piece. It is a matter of perspective, but we can agree to disagree to say that people do not consume videos of gangbang scenes for pure entertainment or love of the arts. 


We do not intend to enter in a scientific, academic, sociological, moral, ethical or DSM-5 based debate here… but we want to explore porn from a Stoic perspective. 


What would the Stoic Seneca say about porn? Would Epictetus reject pornography? What Marcus Aurelius thinks about porn?


Pornography etymology

Before jumping deeper in the subject let’s have a look at the definitions. 


Etymonline says that pornography is: "ancient obscene painting, especially in temples of Bacchus," from French pornographie, from Greek pornographos "(one) depicting prostitutes," from porne "prostitute," originally "bought, purchased" (with an original notion, probably of "female slave sold for prostitution"), related to pernanai "to sell" (from PIE *perə-, variant of root *per- (5) "to traffic in, to sell") + graphein "to write" (see -graphy). […] “ Pornography, or obscene painting, which in the time of the Romans was practiced with the grossest license, prevailed especially at no particular period in Greece, but was apparently tolerated to a considerable extent at all times.” Source: Etymonline 


The first part of the definition talks about Bacchus. Bacchus (Dionysus in Greek) in Ancient Greece and Rome was the God of wine. It is also the God of debauchery… and fertility. It is interesting to see the mix that this God possesses subconsciously: alcohol, sex and reproductivity. Alcohol facilitates sex, and sex brings Life. 


Nietzsche wrote his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, about Dionysus as a God of chaos and Apollonius as a God order, similarly to the duality present in the Taoist Yin ang Yang (the black/white circle with the white/black dots) of the Chinese. Coming from the man who wrote about the uebermensch, we can assume that the topic is quite interesting. I read the book myself as a Philosophy student as part of my university studies. Of course, we are oversimplifying, but you get the point. 


The second part of the definition talks about “depicting prostitutes” and “female slave sold for prostitution.” So for the Ancient Greeks, pornography also had an element of exploitation. So the scope of pornography is much wider that the simple fact of watching people “doing it.” There is a money transaction and sometimes even exploitation. Can we make a new word and call it “sexploitation”? 


This reminds me of a story that I heard about 20 years ago. My first “real job” was in a company that was developing online dating agencies. We are talking about the pre-Facebook, people did not even have digital cameras yet… they would send us pictures, we would scan them, and add upload the pictures to their account. 


A colleague of mine, a web developer, used to work at a porn company. One of his co-worker had to watch everything to “filter” content that they bought in bulk, and reject content that was deemed illegal. Some of the illegal content was precisely about exploitation. I will not go into details as some of the stories he told me are horrific, but one of the conclusions is that we never really know the conditions in which porn was produced… and we never really know what we are watching.  


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What would Stoics say about Porn?

Following the Stoic rational approach to life, Stoics would have a logical look at pornography


The Stoics may well look at porn as another reality of the lives we live on this planet: it IS. 

Porn exists. It is a product. It is a sevice. Some people consume, some other have no interest. 


Another fact of life is that sexuality and sexual desires part of the natural cycle of life. Sexuality is also regulated by hormones, seasons, age, sex, personality, etc. 


So if porn exists, and that sexuality is part of the natural order, we can assume that porn is somehow filling up a need that we human beings have. 


This does not mean that as Stoics we should look out for it. It does not mean that we should not consumer it either. 


If we look at pornography from the values the Stoics hold, especially from the temperance point-of-view, that is moderation and a form of limited restraint, Stoic would say that we should not indulge in over-consuming pornography. 


Another element to consider is self-control over passions. If porn is a source of passion, then self-control should be exercised. If porn is not a source of passion, then self-control is naturally not necessary. 


But aren’t matters related to natural urges linked to passions? We are aware that desires can bring passion along with them. So we should be careful how we deal with them and constantly assess the impact they have on our lives, and readjust when necessary. 


We are what we consume

There is the saying “We are what we consume.” 

If the input is positive, the output is likely to be positive. 

If the input is negative, the output is likely to be negative. 


If you only eat fast-food, you are likely to be physically unhealthy. 

If you watch violence, you are likely to be mentally unhealthy. 


As we have seen earlier, we really never know the conditions in which porn is produced. 

The same logic applies to food. 

Would you ingest food that look unhealthy or was produced in conditions that seem suspect? 


Now the question is: Is porn positive or negative? 


Is all porn created equal? Probably not… 

Are there degrees of intensity in the porn industry? I think we can agree that the answer is “yes.”


Now, one aspect that people disregard when talking about porn is its effect on our subconscious. It is very hard to measure the effect that porn has on our subconscious, which is our operating system operating in the background of our minds.


Our subconscious rules pretty much everything we do, think, feel… and it affects our system of beliefs, our values, how we engage with people and how we react to the world. 


Porn is giving up our own power, our own mind, to someone else or something else that manipulates us. 


However, we can measure the effect porn has on our conscious mind.

Porn’s effects on the Stoic brain

There are numerous studies, sometimes contradictory, on the effect of porn on the brain. 


The first question to ask is: Is porn addictive? It seems that porn, for some people, is addictive. So any Stoic who has a weakness with addiction will need to use self-restraint in this particular case. 


The second question is: Does porn reflect the Natural Law of life? Stoics would probably say that porn depicts a false representation of what actual relationships are in the “real life” for the average people. (Another element is the effect that porn has on our relationships: isn’t better to spend our time with real people instead of virtual ones?)


The third questions is: For some people porn provides a relief from stress, but does this constitute a healthy way to relieve stress? There are better ways to relieve stress that have almost the same exact effect and are more beneficial, for example doing exercise.


The final, and gist of the argument, does porn affect the brain: There are plenty of studies that show that it… does. You can have a look by yourself here:

https://fightthenewdrug.org/scientific-studies-porn-use-brain/

http://greymattersjournal.com/the-brain-on-porn/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4600144/


What should Stoics do about porn?

If you want a Virtuous life, then you need to consider if porn levels up that virtuousness or brings it down. 

Stoics put the emphasis on creating habits and living a life of Virtue, focused on self-control and free from passions. 


We do not have the answer on what you should do and what Stoics should do about porn.


You can ask yourself the following questions: 

-Why is porn so readily available and free? (cui bono, to whom is it a benefit?)

-Can you control yourself and avoid addiction and over-indulgence? 

-Is porn a meaningless fleeting pleasure?

-Would you allow in your body, and in your mind, something that may influence you negatively? 

-Is porn part of a virtuous life?


What would Marcus Aurelius say if he was to stumble on PornHub? Would he take his executive powers to ban it?


Tell us what you think Marcus Aurelius would do !


We also wrote an articles about the Stoic Zen Red Pill, have a look here.


Be Stoic. Be Zen. My Friend. 


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