I've often heard it said that Americans are uncomfortable with sex, and that this is seen in the fact that it is often forbidden to depict sexuality or nudity in popular media, yet depictions of graphic violence are ubiquitous. Implicit in this observation is that depictions of violence should rightly seem as bad, or worse, than depictions of sex. But what makes any such depiction bad? Is it just a matter of the psychological distress they cause? Is it that they encourage people to do what they depict? Are some things just intrinsically obscene?

I think what you say about American attitudes towards sex may be true, if we stick to the surface of the culture, and these attitudes are Puritanical compared with European ones, for example French and Swedish. What makes depictions of violence wrong, surely, is not just the distress they cause. The answer to that is to avoid violent movies. Or if movies with sex in them cause distress, they can easily be avoided. And you are obviously correct that there is something wrong with depictions of sex and violence together, even or even especially from a narrow utilitarian point of view. For one thing, they can make people jaded with the real things, sex less appealing and violence routine and routinely acceptable. And you are right again, I think, to ask the question whether some things are intrinsically obscene. Consider the Madonna and Child in so many representations. There is often a quiet tenderness here that cannot be missed. Then consider juxtaposed some viscous and violent and exploitative sexual act without love or shame. The degradation of "the act of love" combined with vulgarity is certainly "ill-omened" (which is the meaning of the Latin obscaenus) - it goes nowhere and no good will come of it, as such - and also liable to cause moral revulsion, which is another apparently unrelated meaning of the word. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' response to a radio interviewer, who started off, hoping to trap Lewis, with the question, 'Professor Lewis, as a Christian, what exactly is your objection to pornography?' Lewis' answer was, 'My objection to pornography [pause] is that it is insufficiently erotic.'

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