Pinning down the understandings of current feminist debates on pornography may be long overdue for South African feminists and feminism/s, the subject having not attracted much attention since the 1990s. In South Africa post-1994, feminists paused for a moment to reflect on what the new freedom of expression meant under the new Constitution, and how the emergence of pornography from the underground where it had been illegal under apartheid, possibly related to women’s rights and freedom. The agenda for liberation certainly had not emphasised sexual licence imported from the North, but women’s long-fought emancipation and a non-racial and non-sexist participation in the nation as equal citizens.

The diversion and possible subversion of ‘freedom’ of expression, as a celebration of the right to possess pornography and for local consumption and production to take place without the threat of censorship and criminal penalty, was interpreted at the time as an opportunistic use of democratic freedom by the pornography industry that would operate at the individual level, and not enter the sphere of the body politic (Loots, 1996). The struggle for the recognition of gender difference, freedom of sexual choice and the diversity of sexual identity were yet to be fought in earnest using the Constitution’s Equality Clause. The possible implications for harm to women (and of course children and men) by pornography were not included in regulation as some feminists and church groups would have liked. So while the impact, meaning and practices of the pornography industry have been seen as peripheral, we may have misplaced the importance of the shifting meanings attached to the term itself, of sex and of the growing proliferation of pornography.

Recently, we have seen the suppression of our freedom to access of information, and we have also seen a national outcry over the explicit sexual depiction of the President, and women holding ‘slut’ marches to demand the right to wear what they choose and asserting control over their own bodies and sexuality. So some of the certainty over assertions around what may fall within the body politic for national debate may need more probing and unsettling, not least because we have also seen the rise of the disturbing murder of gays and lesbians and transsexuals – because of their exercise of sexual choice and difference. Sex and sexuality and who has the freedom to make the decisions around sex, in the last 18 years have arguably become increasingly contested. We cannot also ignore that pornography can be easily and possibly incorrectly implicated in moral degeneration, the spread of HIV/AIDS, the rise in teenage pregnancies and toll on women through gender violence. Thus, in framing an issue on ‘Women’s sexuality and pornography’ it may not be sufficient to state simply that pornography is a site of sexual entertainment, that as in the North, it has also offered a source of empowered sexual agency for women and men and that a high proportion of women are employed in its production and are its consumers globally. Instead, it may be productive to question the place and existence of pornography as a genre, its gender ideologies, its conventions of production and how as an industry it uses sexism and racism, particularly as an ubiquitous and widely used form of sexual entertainment in 2012. More than that, we can ask who pornography’s main consumers are, how pornography is read and understood, and lastly, we could also acknowledge the unknown dimensions of the sex industry and the problem of the precarious conditions of its workers.