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"Traditional" Morality and Anti-Porn Arguments That Fail

So the Republicans have added a section to their official party platform that calls for a crackdown on pornography.

Whereas previously, the GOP platform had only addressed child pornography, the new language reads: “Current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.”

Although this sentence does not technically suggest a push for more regulation, the “anti-pornography activist” (I’m giggling) quoted in the Reuters piece I linked to claims that Romney has promised to somehow increase the use of blocking software to combat internet porn.

I have no idea how he would do this, and I doubt that a Republican-led White House would manage to crack down on porn given that most reasonable people agree this is a ridiculous thing to be spending time on right now.

However, I want to examine some of the ludicrous things that have been said by Patrick Trueman, the “anti-pornography activist” I mentioned. Trueman is president of Morality in Media, a religious nonprofit that seems intent on defining morality for the rest of us. About porn, Trueman says, “It’s a growing problem for men in their 20s….It’s changed the way their brain maps have developed. This is the way they get sexually excited.”

As usual, research appears not to be necessary here. I don’t even know what these “brain maps” are that Trueman is referring to; I doubt that he does, either. (To quote Hunter from the Daily Kos: “I think ‘brain maps’ is the most science-ish thing said by any Republican in at least a week, so there’s that. Now if we could just get them to believe in ‘climate maps’ we’d be getting somewhere.”) And it’s interesting how he thinks that porn is a bad thing because it’s supposedly harmful for men specifically. What about women? Do we even exist?

A press release from Morality in Media does seem to mention some actual research:

Research shows that children and adults are developing life-long addictions to pornography; there is a very substantial increase in demand for child pornography because many adult-porn users are finding that they are no longer excited by adult images; on average four out of five 16 year-olds now regularly access pornography online; 56% of divorces cite Internet pornography as a major factor in the breakup of the marriage; girls consuming pornography are several times more likely to engage in group sex than those who do not; significant and growing numbers of men in their twenties are developing “porn-induced sexual dysfunction.

No citations are provided, so I can’t vouch for any of this. I would be rather surprised if all of these findings came from research universities or other independent-ish sources, though.

It’s interesting that anti-porn crusaders always cite the fact that pornography can be addictive as proof that it’s Morally Wrong. Alcohol and nicotine are addictive, too, but they are legal–as they should be in a free society. They are also addictive in a much more physical and tenacious way than porn is.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if the bit about porn factoring into divorce is true. When romantic relationships break up, I’ve noticed, it seems pretty common to blame other things that are going on rather than the obvious: that the relationship itself just isn’t working. The couple just isn’t attracted to each other anymore. They’re not in love. Whatever. It’s not hard for me to imagine that in a failing marriage, at least one person might turn to porn for distraction or sexual release, and the other would be hurt and would cite that as a reason for the subsequent divorce.

Point is, causality is never easy to establish in cases like this.

I also find it interesting how the tone of this press release assumes that girls engaging in (safe, consensual) group sex is necessarily a bad thing, and how it likewise assumes that because people are getting bored of adult porn and are moving on to child porn (?!), the former should be cracked down upon as well.

In an interview, Trueman also said that men who watch porn for years before getting married end up being “dysfunctional sexually because their brain maps are changed. They enjoy what they’ve been doing for 10 to 12 years. Normal sex is not something that gets them excited.”

Again with the brain maps. It’s so difficult to debate these statements because they are never, ever backed up by research, so anyone who agrees with them can just trot out some anecdotal evidence and consider the argument won. So here’s some anecdotal evidence of my own: I know plenty of people who are fairly into watching porn, and they are not “dysfunctional sexually.”

I also wonder how many of pornography’s negative consequences are due to 1) its taboo nature; and 2) the dominance of exploitative, misogynistic, and otherwise oppressive forces within the porn industry, as opposed to the “immorality” of pornography itself.

Greta Christina wrote something wonderful about this over four years ago, and I will quote it here. Although she was referring to anti-porn arguments made by feminists, not Christian Republican men who want to run your sex life, what she said still applies:

I think anti-porn writers have a very bad habit of ignoring Sturgeon’s Law. They fail to recognize that, yes, 90% of porn is crap… but 90% of everything is crap. And in a sexist society, 90% of everything is sexist crap. I’ve seen some very good arguments on how most porn is sexist and patriarchal with rigid and misleading images of women… but I’ve never seen a good argument for why, in a world of sexist TV and movies and pop music and video games, porn should be singled out for special condemnation — to the point of trying to eliminate the genre altogether.

But I also think that pro-porn advocates — myself included — need to stop pretending that there isn’t a problem. We need to recognize that the overwhelming majority of porn — or rather, the overwhelming majority of video porn, which is the overwhelming majority of porn — is sexist, is patriarchal, does perpetuate body fascism, does create unrealistic sexual expectations for both women and men, does depict sex in ways that are not only overwhelmingly focused on male pleasure, but are rigid and formulaic and mind-numbingly tedious to boot. And we need to be trying to do something about it.

Read the rest of the post; it’s good.

I’ve seen porn made by the dominant industry forces, and it’s horrid in all the ways you would expect. But I’ve also seen porn made by individuals and by small, socially-conscious producers, and it can be really awesome.

One recent study shows that 70% of men and 30% of women watch Internet porn. Keeping in mind that these numbers are probably deflated because of the stigma that porn carries (some studies suggest up to 80% of women watch porn), that’s still a lot of people. It’s especially a lot of men. Are all of these people really addicted to porn and incapable of being aroused by their partners?

In general, I agree with the stance that Greta Christina outlines in her post that I linked to. That said, I’m much more receptive to anti-porn arguments when they’re coming from a feminist perspective than from a “traditionally moral” perspective. I have little interest in traditional morality. I think we should all have the ability to create our own morality, and that means allowing people to access and experiment with porn if that’s what they want.

Comments

  1. says

    If you would like to know more about how pornography affects the human brain, read William Struther’s book, Wired for Intimacy (I think is the name). Then you can make a valid argument for or against pornography and its effects on the human brain.

    • says

      From what I’ve heard, that book is written from a Christian perspective. Something tells me it’s not the most unbiased source.

      • says

        Typically, what I do, is read both secular and non-secular books and remove the biased myself.

        There are a lot of unknowns about the human brain. However, from my own personal experiences and from hundreds of sex addicts I have interactions with (both Christians and non-Christian), pornography does affect the brain negatively. The “arousal template” is a huge factor in healthy sexuality. Those with distorted arousal templates will need more extreme forms of sexual activity in order to get excited.

        I was 21 and was not able to maintain an erection after a few minutes of sexual intercourse because the stimulation wasn’t as strong as that I had viewed in online pornography. I even tried using viagra and cialis and it still was not enough for my brain to produce the proper amount of neurotransmitters to excite my body into maintaining an erection until orgasm. 16 years later and abstinent from pornography, I have no problems maintaining an erection to orgasm with my wife and do so with the understanding that sex is just an expression of love, not “just” pleasure.

        The reality is, abuse of pornography can and will lead to erectile dysfunction. With the escalation factor in the addiction, no amount of pornographic sex will suffice. The addict will continue to seek the same level of adrenaline/dopamine/seratonin the brain produced in earlier acting out events but will need more and more hardcore or perverse pornography in order to achieve that high.

        Personally, I am completely against the use of pornography in my life and relationship with my wife. However, what other couples choose to do in their private life is their own business, and none of mine. All I ask is that pornographers make it more difficult to access the material online. I don’t want my children going through the pain and suffering I did in my life.

      • says

        Also, if you find Struther’s book too biased, read: The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography By Wendy Maltz & Larry Maltz

        Wendy Maltz used to condone the use in pornography in her marriage counseling until she started to realize the negative effect it was having in marriages.

  2. says

    I thought your point about causality being in question was spot on, here. Watching porn seems to me like more of an effect of an emotion or a desire than a cause of one. As if innocent men keep falling into porn-traps on their way to church and emerging as desensitized, child-porn-loving sociopaths.

    If it is true that normal sex isn’t turning men on anymore, then there is a serious subversion of millions of years of biology going on and I think we might want to look somewhere other than the availability of sexual images.

  3. says

    Clearly I read too many radfem blogs, because whenever I see “anti-pornography activist” I think not of some Ned Flanders type but of someone like Andrea Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon, whose goal is to abolish many of the things these other anti-pornography activists seek to uphold by banning pornography! (examples: marriage, the nuclear family, gender roles).

    And then I get all sad when I realize that the person being talked about is *not* a radical feminist. :(

  4. Igor says

    I’m by no means saying that porn is immoral or should be banned, but the science Patrick Trueman mentions is actually true (surprising, I know!). It IS a growing problem for men in their 20’s who develop porn-induced sexual dysfunction and it DOES change the way their “brain maps” a.k.a. “rewards circuits” develop.

    All the information and citations one would ever need come from the first 14 minutes of this video. It’s made by a scientist, not religious people.
    http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/great-porn-experiment-given-tedx

    • says

      But again, I think these effects have more to do with the culture we have surrounding porn (and relationships in general) than with the nature of pornography itself.

      Because otherwise, I don’t know how to explain the vast numbers of people who watch porn frequently but healthily, including almost every man I’ve ever been involved with.

  5. karla s says

    Food for thought: the most sexually repressed countries in the world are the ones that watch the most porn: Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, etc. In this country, the state that consumes the most porn: Utah

  6. says

    The point that 90% of everything is bad is well taken.

    I think the problem might be bad sex ed in the past 20 years or so. Bad porn as the only sex ed you get, really doesn’t cut it.

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