I probably looked at as much porn as anybody else, and to be honest, for a long time I didn't see it as a big deal. If you don't like it don't read it - period. The people in it are getting paid, no one is being hurt, etc., etc.
But then a few things happened. One concerns a friendship I mentioned in a previous post to you Jasper. I had a gay friend and housemate in university who came out and immediately lost most of his friends and was absolutely rejected by his family ("what have we done that you would hate us this much"). He was devastated of course, and I got to see close up how badly a young person - or anyone I guess - can be messed up by things that are not his fault and really start walking down a road that leads to enormous hurt. My friend's feeling of rejection and worthlessness got him into a lot of what I thought were dangerous sexual adventures in New York (this even before AIDS), and he came close to abandoning his studies and getting into porn himself. I quickly lost that crazy idea of porn as victimless. I know porn stars are paid, but many also get into it because of devastated self-esteem and then get tangled up in drugs and other traps that keep them going.
The other thing is what medicb4 refers to - I had two kids. Having innocent children relying on you and trusting you even with their lives is a wonderful but awesome experience, and as they get older and you start worrying about them getting into sex, alcohol and drugs, then yes, pretty soon you realize that all those "stars" were once kids like yours.
In deciding what I wanted to tell my kids about porn, I had to think back and answer some of the questions you raise. I think what interested me in porn was, of course, the utter naughtiness and sensuality of it. When you are young you want to break free anyway, and porn calls out to you and says this is all the really wicked and hot stuff you are missing. But mainly porn is about fantasy isn't it? How many of us ever had the bodies of those people? And how many of us were that well endowed, or had such babes (or hunks) climbing all over us. I had a number of girlfriends before I settled down and got married, and I never did 90% of the things I saw in the magazines! It's just masturbation fantasy.
The other thing I discovered (or thought I discovered) once I got into relationships based on genuine love and affection is that porn misses that entirely. Porn is just about the gratuitous sex side of things. So maybe that is what makes porn seem so cheap - it is cheap!, in terms of values at least. It dismisses from the very beginning any idea that sex expresses any emotion other than predatory lust.
This has more or less defined what I have told both of my kids, now 21 and 17. I told them that I know they will be curious and that is a normal part of growing up, but when they see these things on the Internet they need to know that this is just fantasy and not what a relationship is about.
Personally I do think there is a moral consideration to porn, in that a lot of people who get into making it are enormously damaged by it. But people are also damaged by alcohol and I am not against that, and I know that the farmers who produce the coffee on my desk right now were outrageously underpaid for their labor.
Maybe it is a matter of how many battles you want to fight and how important they are to you, but I don't get into blame or judgment games about porn, especially not with friends. I guess my view is that it's legal in most places, and people can take it or leave it. But when we do have a go it's a good idea to remember that it isn't victimless. Personally, I don't think I have ever met an 18-year-old who is mature enough to make the decision to get into porn, but that is what the law says and a boundary has to be drawn somewhere. I think it's a huge mistake for a young person - or anyone - to go down that road, but I suppose the bottom line is that society has decided that at this age we are responsible for our own choices.
Like a lot of things, porn isn't something I get emotional about - it isn't a terribly urgent issue for me so long as we are talking about consenting adults. I don't blame anyone for being interested in it, and I can understand that the fantasy aspect of it is attractive to some people. I don't blame smokers for smoking or drinkers for drinking (which I do anyway); I would just say let's be clear about what is going on.
Porn can still be arousing for me to some extent I suppose, but mainly I find it amusing and vaguely absurd. Oh well.