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Legal Considerations

The Politics of Legal Challenges to Pornography

The Politics of Legal Challenges to Pornography: Canada, Sweden, and the United StatesFull Article Name: The Politics of Legal Challenges to Pornography: Canada, Sweden, and the United States

Open Access: No


The dissertation analyzes obstacles and potential in democracies, specifically Canada, Sweden, and United States, to effectively address empirically documented harms of pornography. Legislative and judicial challenges under different democratic and legal frameworks are compared. Adopting a problem-driven theoretical approach, the reality of pornography’s harms is analyzed. Evidence shows its production exploits existing inequalities among persons typically drawn from other forms of prostitution who suffer multiple disadvantages, such as extreme poverty, childhood sexual abuse, and race and gender discrimination, making survival alternatives remote. Consumption is also divided by sex. A majority of young adult men consumes pornography frequently; women rarely do, usually not unless initiated by others. After consumption, studies show many normal men become substantially more sexually aggressive and increasingly trivialize and support violence against women. Vulnerable populations — including battered, raped, or prostituted women — are most harmed as a result. The impact of attempts to address pornography’s harms on democratic rights and freedoms, specifically gender equality and speech, is explored through the case studies. Democracies are found to provide more favorable conditions for legal challenges to pornography’s harms when recognizing substantive (not formal) equality in law, and when promoting representation of perspectives and interests of groups particularly injured by pornography. State-implemented approaches such as criminal obscenity laws are found less effective. More victim-centered and survivor-initiated civil rights approaches would be more responsive and remedial — a finding with implications for other politico-legal problems, such as global warming, that disproportionately affect disadvantaged populations traditionally largely excluded from decision-making.


Waltman, M. (2014). The politics of legal challenges to pornography: Canada, Sweden, and the United States. Department of Political Science, Stockholm University. ISSN 0346-6620.