Will Pornography Create More Freedom In Pakistan?

What is the Big Idea?


The half-lit room smells strongly of hashish. On the screen, a woman wearing too much make up and a clingy, provocative outfit sways her hips suggestively. The audience, made up exclusively of men, hoots and whistles. The music stops and the onscreen action starts to heat up. The crowd loses all its inhibitions. The whistles turn into hoarse moans and the chairs start to vibrate intensely.

This scene, courtesy of Zofeen Ebrahim from Le Temps, was the description of an adult movie house in one of the most unlikely places in the world: Peshawar, the capital of the most conservative province in Pakistan. The men (and some women), she says, are "watching a porn film, right under the nose of the religious political parties, the Taliban and the government."

This is a place where cafes and music stores are regularly the target of bomb attacks by extremists and advertisements showing women are often taken down. Yet adult movie houses have managed to flourish, so much so that Lala Fida Mohammad Khan, a movie producer who use to make conventional films switched to producing adult films because “no one wanted to watch clean films, they don’t sell anymore.”

Read the full story in English or French.

What is the Significance?

The Rainbow Center in Saddar was once a hub for pirated CDs and DVDs. Frequent raids and the increasing lack of pirated content online forced many of the stores to shutter or switch to selling garments and computer accessories. But since Internet pornography was banned in Pakistan last November, dealers at The Rainbow Center have seen a surge in DVD sales.

“People no longer come here for Hollywood or Bollywood movies. They want porn,” Afaq told The Express Tribune. “If you ask me, almost 90% of our revenue comes from the sale of such content.”

Thanks to the long arm of technology and people's desire for pornographic material, no amount of censorship or religious virtue can entirely block its availability. This is apparently true in Pakistan and definitely true in America.

Gay Talese, journalist and Big Think expert, conjures up a time in America about a century ago when there was "moral squad of people who wanted to restrict the right of adults to have access to sexual dalliance." But technology changed all that.

"Right now you can’t control it because what’s happened through the technology of the Internet is it brought the merchandising of sex into the home, and people can just sit there on their lap top and order whatever they want," said Talese. "I mean it’s like it’s just as easy as takeout. I mean it’s like going to Kentucky Fried Chicken or having pizza sent in. You can get everything."

While 24/7 access to porn may not be healthy or morally sound to some, sex therapist Michael Perelman says pornography has some benefits.

"There’s no question that excessive use of pornography can be detrimental to an individual’s mental health and to a relationship, but the flip side of that is sexual fantasy, in some cases, pornography, can help facilitate monogamy," said Perelman

Listen to Big Think expert Michael Perelman weigh in on the pros and cons of porn:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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