Philosopher, author and founder of The School of Life Alain de Botton today announced a new project dedicated to revolutionising pornography for the better. Given the current debate around restricting access to online pornography and the huge rise in the popularisation of erotica (the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon – which, if the page I read over someone’s shoulder on the tube recently is anything to go by is more accurately described as Fifty Shades of Dreariness) and recent developments in the erotica retail space, he wants to pose the question If we have reached porn saturation point, and porn is everywhere, what next for porn? Just what could the new pornography be?

De Botton is part of a growing movement which counts movers and shakers such as the indominatable Cindy Gallup, whose Make love, not porn lecture on TED back in 2009 warned against the porn-ification of young people’s views on sexuality.

We are all aware that the modern world is awash with pornography. My Oxford dictionary defines pornography as ‘printed or visual material intended to stimulate sexual excitement’. Now we know the range this cover is vast – one man’s glimpse of a bony wrist is another man’s fully fledged bukkake spitroast (look it up). Similarly, we know ‘soft porn’ is used commercially as a way of making us look. In a world constantly bombarding us with images the ante has to be upped to at least get our weary, over-saturated minds to look twice even if it’s just to go “Oh. Naked titilation. Meh.”  Then there’s arty porn/porny art/fashion porn (again, to entice us to buy or at least look, create a stir or give some sort of credibility to a designer’s clothes/perfume/product) to full-on hardcore where everything is reduced to a butcher shop’s display of carefully depilated and faketanned meat puppets going through various scenarios. Some will say any pornography represents a threat not just to those who make it in terms of the exploitation involved, but also to those who consume it, in terms of the conflict it can set up between the values encoded in the porn and their responsibilities and values in the rest of their lives.

One solution is to ban porn. As this would be nigh impossible, and likely encourage consumption, another, and perhaps more creative solution now suggested by Alain de Botton and his cultural enterprise The School of Life, is to create Better Porn. A sort of Free Range, Organic Porn maybe? Artisan Porn, anyone?

Alain de Botton says, ‘We shouldn’t have to choose between being human and being sexual (the Ancient Greeks knew this very well). Ideally, porn would excite our lust in contexts which also presented other, elevated sides of human nature – in which people were being witty, for instance, or showing kindness, or working hard or being clever – so that our sexual excitement could bleed into, and enhance our respect for these other elements of a good life. No longer would sexuality have to be lumped together with stupidity, brutishness, earnestness and exploitation; it could instead be harnessed to what is noblest in us.

AdB furthermore says: ‘The real problem with current pornography is that it’s so far removed from all the other concerns which a reasonably sensible, moral, kind and ambitious person might have. As currently constituted, pornography asks that we leave behind our ethics, our aesthetic sense and our intelligence when we contemplate it. Yet it is possible to conceive of a version of pornography which wouldn’t force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue – a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.’

He has definitely got a valid point. Especially when it comes to the leaving behind of intelligence in the way porn is currently served up.

Thus The School of Life is looking to create a gathering of leaders in porn and the arts to look at this issue and will announce a website under the name Better Porn in due course.

Alain de Botton is the author of ten bestselling books and his latest book, published as part of The School of Life’s new self-help series is How to Think More About Sex.

Words by Anna Bang


Alain de Botton, anna bang, Better Porn, Cindy Gallup, How To Think More About Sex, School of Life,