Quotation by Margaret Mead

It is ... useful to distinguish between the pornographic, condemned in every society, and the bawdy, the ribald, the shared vulgarities and jokes, which are the safety valves of most social systems. Pornography is a most doubtful safety valve. In extreme cases it may feed the perverted imagination of the doomed man who starts by pulling a little girl's braid and ends by cutting off a little girl's head, as each increasing stimulus loses its effectiveness and must be replaced by a more extreme one. This is particularly true of the pornography primarily designed to be brooded over in secret. But is quite otherwise with the music hall jokes, the folk ribaldry at a wedding, the innocent smut of the smoking rooms, where men who are perennially faithful to their wives exchange stories which release explosive laughter. Pornography does not lead to laughter, it leads to deadly serious pursuit of sexual satisfaction divorced from personality and from every other meaning. The uproarious laugh of the group who recognize a common dilemma—the laughter of a group of women at the story of the intractable unborn who refused to budge and merely shivered under the effects of the quart of ice cream hopefully eaten by its poor mother, the laughter of a group of men at the story of the bride who asked to be "frightened" a fourth time—is the laughter of human beings who are making the best of the imperfect social arrangements within which their life here on earth is conducted.
Margaret Mead (1901–1978), U.S. anthropologist, author. "Sex and Censorship in Contemporary Society," New World Writing III, New American Library (1953).
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