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Apr 04 2012

Santorum’s Porn Nonsense

As Rick Santorum’s theocratic vision for America comes into full view, he is now aiming not only at imposing his Christian beliefs in the areas of contraception, abortion and gay rights, but also in banning pornography. From his website:

America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography. A wealth of research is now available demonstrating that pornography causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences.

Tracy Clark-Flory talks to some experts and debunks this nonsense:

Pornography surely changes the brain in some ways — but so does everything. “Watching the NCAA playoffs is going to change your brain, eating chocolate — any time you have any kind of experience, it’s going to change your brain,” says Rory C. Reid, a research psychologist at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at UCLA. “The real question is, ‘Are those changes substantial enough that there’s going to be some observable effect?’”

As to Santorum’s claim that such damning research exists, Reid says: “Well, if there is, I’d sure like to see it!” He continues, “There’s not a single study to my knowledge that has even demonstrated half of that [claim].” Allow me to put into perspective Reid’s expertise: He not only specializes in neuropsychology but he’s also one of the world’s top experts on hypersexual behavior. If any such evidence existed, let alone “a wealth of research,” he would have seen it.

Still, he humored me by logging onto PubMed, a database maintained by the National Institutes of Health, and doing a search for any studies involving neuroimaging and pornography. Plenty of related research showed up, but none reliably demonstrate “profound” brain changes. The problem with much of the research in this arena is that it’s limited to (in nerd-speak) cross-sectional and quantitative data — it doesn’t establish a cause and effect.

In order to reliably demonstrate such a brain-damaging impact, researchers would have to engage in the sort of study that no review board would approve — especially when it comes to the impact on children. “You would have to get a group of children that had never looked at porn and then divide them into two groups,” Reid explains. They would all undergo brain scans and then half would have to be repetitively exposed to pornography before another round of brain scans. In addition to then showing “that there had been changes in the brain that would be detrimental, you’d also have to correlate that with behavioral outcomes,” he says…

Lest you think Reid is a pro-porn activist, he’s not. He’s written a book titled “Confronting Your Spouse’s Pornography Problem.” He works with patients with sexual compulsivity problems and believes that porn “can be a gateway to developing problems.” He tells me, “Philosophically, I’ve got all sorts of problems with porn. It’s not that I have this liberal perspective that there shouldn’t be any constraints on our sexual behavior … but this idea that consumption of pornography causes cortical atrophy that leads to negative consequences? We haven’t seen that.”

In an email, Bruce Carpenter, a researcher at Brigham Young University — of all places! — made a point of expressing his moral opposition to pornography, and his suspicion “that pornography has larger deleterious effects upon individuals, family, and society,” before writing, “Now to the evidence. THERE IS NONE.” He adds, “There is not a single study of pornography use showing brain damage or even brain changes.”

Similarly, Barry Komisaruk, a Rutgers University psychologist who has done groundbreaking research on the brain during climax, says, “As an experienced reviewer of neuroscientific research literature, I would welcome the challenge of reviewing and commenting upon, the ‘wealth of research’ that the statement claims exists,” he says. “I invite the claimant to make it available to me.” In other words: Bring it on.

I can tell you who he’s getting his “information” from: Judith Reisman, the loonie who rants about porn producing “erototoxins” — which do not exist — in the brain and turning people into sex-crazed maniacs. Except her, of course; she proudly talks about all the porn she has watched in her “research,” none of which seems to have had any effect on her at all.

41 comments

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  1. 1
    raven

    The Mormons will be very disappointed if Santorum outlaws porn.

    Utah is the largest consumer of porn in the USA.

    I’m sure that outlawing porn will work just as well as outlawing alcohol during Prohibition or outlawing marijuana today does.

    One of my very old and now long dead relatives loved Prohibition. He ran a still and made enough money to support 5 kids during the Depression.

  2. 2
    Mr Ed

    This is the Reefer Madness for erotic images. I worry what good old Rick would call porn. Can I still keep my Sears catalog?

  3. 3
    eric

    Just another example of science envy. Santorum knows the public will listen a lot more closely to ‘scientists have shown it is bad for you’ than they will “my religion says you ought not do it.”

  4. 4
    janiceintoronto

    Umm, any idea where I could purchase some of these “erototoxins”?

    They sound like a very marketable item…

  5. 5
    coragyps

    Mr Ed – you can keep your Sears catalog, but we’ll need to cut out all the pictures of bras and panties. And power tools.

  6. 6
    dingojack

    (The gushing flood of) santorum stated:
    “A wealth of research is now available demonstrating that pornography causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences”.

    Citations please, santorum.

    Dingo

  7. 7
    unbound

    Is it just me, or is Santorum rather obsessed with sex in a wide variety of ways?

  8. 8
    The Lorax

    And yet, despite the fact that scientists who have a moral objection to pornography said in no uncertain terms that there is no evidence to support Santorum’s statement, this will not matter. People who want to be ignorant will do just that.

  9. 9
    raven

    People who want to be ignorant will do just that.

    They aren’t ignorant. They are hypocrites.

    The religious and religious states consume more porn than normal people. Utah is the national leader.

    Porn in the USA: Conservatives are biggest consumers – science-in …
    ww.newscientist.com/…/dn16680-porn-in-the-usa-conservatives-are…

    27 Feb 2009 – “When it comes to adult entertainment, it seems people are more the … Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than ….. with six months of winter go figure that their porn consumption is higher. … Distrust in science among US conservatives is assumed to be a …

  10. 10
    scienceavenger

    I’ve yet to see an anti-porn argument that wasn’t either hopelessly circular (watching porn leads to wanting to watch more!), or coming from a sexually repressed perspective (it gives people ideas of things they’d like to do. Horrors!).

    People like Santurom are hung up on others enjoying sex, its as simple as that, and of course this is linked to his religiosity. Religions have always known that one way to make people interested in the pleasures of the after-life is to convince them the pleasures of this one are sinful, and those so convinced can’t bear the thought of giving up all the pleasure for nothing, so they are driven to enforce the prohibition on others.

  11. 11
    MikeMa

    Santorum Porn Nonsense

    FTFY. Everything the man says can be directly or indirectly related to nonsense and most of that derives from his religious devotion. Every time I see him on the TeeVee, I imagine him with mickey mouse ears to keep my blood pressure from rising.

  12. 12
    bahrfeldt

    Reporting priestly pedophilia= pornography.

  13. 13
    subbie

    Brain changes from viewing porn? Nope, don’t buy it.

    I have noticed lately that I think I need to start wearing glasses, and the palm of my hand seems to be getting rather hairy, but I’m sure that doesn’t have anything to do with my viewing porn.

  14. 14
    Reginald Selkirk

    Off-topic (sort of)
    .
    Get a load of this:
    DeLaSalle kids have a few words with archdiocese at marriage talk

    When DeLaSalle senior Matt Bliss heard rumors that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis planned to hold a mandatory school assembly to talk about marriage, and potentially gay marriage, he remembers thinking, “This is not going to end well.”

    Hannah said students were anxious when they heard about the program and were suspicious because only seniors were required to go. “We put two and two together,” said Hannah. “All of us will be able to vote next fall [on the constitutional amendment that limits marriage to same-sex couples].”
    .
    Hannah said the presenters briefly brought up the amendment but backed off when students got angry.
    .
    A priest and a volunteer couple presented the information. When someone asked a question about two men being able to have a quality, committed relationship, the couple compared their love to bestiality, Bliss said.

    Go kids, go! Future ex-Catholics in the making.

  15. 15
    Raging Bee

    This is a typical Republican diversion, and it serves two specific purposes:

    First, it gives the authoritarian right an excuse to take control of the Internet, in much the same way as the Chinese try to control it, in order to control, not just porn, but ANY content they deem harmful to their interests and want to suppress.

    And second, it allows the authoritarian right to portray themselves as the true champions of women’s honor, dignity, and personhood; which they really need to do after proving themselves so vindictively hostile to women’s basic right to control their own bodies. They don’t give a shit about rape victims, they think a tiny clump of non-sentient cells has more rights than a fully-grown woman, and they don’t even want woman to control whether they get pregnant or not…but they’re against porn, so that makes them the true champions of women’s rights! And sadly, a lot of women — particularly wives who don’t want their husbands looking at other women, and mothers who don’t want their boys to think impure adult thoughts — will go along with the scam.

  16. 16
    Pierce R. Butler

    Does anybody even have respectable data showing persistent behavioral changes from viewing/reading porn?

  17. 17
    Trebuchet

    They aren’t ignorant. They are hypocrites.

    They’re both. The audience are mostly ignorant, and believe everything their “leaders” tell them. The “leaders”, however, are mostly hypocrites. In this case, however, I’m prepared to believe that Santorum is pretty much sincerely ignorant. If it was coming from Romney or Gingrich the needle would swing all the way over to the hypocrite side.

    Mr Ed – you can keep your Sears catalog, but we’ll need to cut out all the pictures of bras and panties. And power tools.

    Noooo! Not the power tools! Nooo!

  18. 18
    Larry

    the public will listen a lot more closely to ‘scientists have shown it is bad for you’ than they will “my religion says you ought not do it.

    Have you been paying attention to today’s GOP?

  19. 19
    cjtotalbro

    When I was 15 or so my very religious mother made me go to a “therapist” (ie a guy at her church) because she thought I was addicted to porn. Her reasoning was that the only possible explanation for a teenage boy being interested in naked women was an overriding and uncontrollable addiction. This “expert”, as he called himself, told me that not only did all rapists start with porn (which was hilarious to me- I would imagine most doctors “start with porn” too by that reasoning) but every porn user would eventually get into child porn and that I might only be mere weeks from such a path.

    It was the most awkward thing I had ever experienced in my life, until a week later when my stepdad decided to take me to promise keepers.

  20. 20
    Brett McCoy

    Hey I was a sex-crazed maniac before there was porn on the Internet. So there!

  21. 21
    jeroenmetselaar

    Watching porn changes my sheets, I have a washing machine for that.

  22. 22
    subbie

    Does anybody even have respectable data showing persistent behavioral changes from viewing/reading porn?

    I’ve become quite adept at using my left hand for mouseclicking, does that count?

  23. 23
    TGAP Dad

    @2 Mr Ed

    This is the Reefer Madness for erotic images.

    This has already been done, in the mockumentary Rabbit Fever

  24. 24
    interrobang

    So, scienceavenger, you’ve never seen an anti-porn argument that talks about the massive problem of coercion (in the industry and on the set) in professional porn (rape on camera is still not ok, even if you get a boner); or the sheer amount of misogyny inherent in a lot of mainstream porn (like, for instance, that a lot of mainstream porn is framed around having a sexual “winner” – the man – an a “loser,” who winds up having degrading and demeaning things done to her?*, or the endless, endless use of sexist slurs in porn marketing).

    I’m not anti-porn qua porn, by the way, but I sure as hell am against demeaning, humiliating, coerced, and misogynist porn. Given that I know something about history (and prehistory), I don’t think humans are going to stop enjoying looking at other naked humans, or depictions thereof, but I also think that portraying women as objects to be conquered and dirtied by sex is the wrong way to go about it.

    I also think “porn addiction” is bullshit. If you think you’re “addicted to porn,” what you have is an impulse control problem, which probably means your serotonin levels are out of whack and you’re self-medicating, and you’d probably feel a lot better if the Wellbutrin levels in your bloodstream went up. Of course, since the more repressive fundamentalist faction thinks that everything fun must be just like heroin (makes me wonder what they do when they think no one’s looking), they don’t share my viewpoint.

    ______________
    * Other than that some guys apparently get off on watching that kind of thing, I can’t explain the existence of certain mainstream porn genres, like “ass to mouth,” for instance.

  25. 25
    rjlangley

    @19 cjtotalbro

    That is amazing…I’ve always responded to the ‘marijuana is a gateway drug that will lead to heroin use – every heroin addict I know started on weed’ argument (frequently used in the drugs debate by British police) with something along the lines of ‘and I’m sure you’ve never known a rapist who didn’t start by masturbating either’.

    I can’t believe that argument exists outside the world of parody.

  26. 26
    Raging Bee

    So, scienceavenger, you’ve never seen an anti-porn argument that talks about the massive problem of coercion (in the industry and on the set) in professional porn (rape on camera is still not ok, even if you get a boner); or the sheer amount of misogyny inherent in a lot of mainstream porn…

    No, but we’ve seen plenty of anti-slavery, anti-coercion, and anti-misogyny arguments that mentioned those things.

  27. 27
    Crudely Wrott

    Q. Why does Rick Santorum hate his pee-pee?

    A. He was told to when he was little and again repeatedly as he grew up.

    As the twig is bent . . .

  28. 28
    democommie

    Well, I started with heroin and wound up watching porn. It’s not always a one-way street, y’know.

    I don’t believe that Mr. Assfroth is the least bit ignorant. He may be delusional but he has several degrees that attest to his having sufficient intellectual capacity to know the difference between shit and shinola.

    He also knows that nothing, not one fucking thing, that he proposes in any other area of “policy” will withstand more than cursory scrutiny before being ridiculed.

    He may be delusional, he’s most certainly hypocritical.

  29. 29
    Captain Mike

    I sure as hell am against demeaning, humiliating, coerced, and misogynist porn.

    I don’t like porn that I don’t like, either. Not quite the same as being against it.

    There are a lot of sexual practices and styles that make people uncomfortable, but they’re not wrong. I fail to see how depictions of them are.

  30. 30
    Worldtraveller

    janiceintoronto, it doesn’t work. It’s homeopathic, you know. ;-)

  31. 31
    baal

    @#19 cjtotalbro
    It was the most awkward thing I had ever experienced in my life, until a week later when my stepdad decided to take me to promise keepers.

    I hope it wasn’t too scaring. I’ve known folks who had on-going mental issues from being in the promise keepers (or similar) environments. I’ve yet to met people who were similarly unhinged from porn. Of course, it’s possible I’m not hanging out with the right crowds.

  32. 32
    Raging Bee

    Some questions for Santorum…

    Is the Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar bad? Or is it in compliance with our “anti-Sharia” laws?

    And what about all those nude paintings and statues we see in art galleries? Are those bad too?

  33. 33
    logic

    Even if watching pornography caused brain atrophy or other negative effects, banning porn wouldn’t solve the problem, since sexual response is relative to quantity of stimulus. Without porn, people would get hot and bothered by cheerleaders at football games or the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, like they did when they were 13 and had never seen porn. If anything, more porn should have the effect of desensitizing people and reducing any (supposed) effects.

  34. 34
    scienceavenger

    Interrobang, yes, I’ve seen those arguments, but I was speaking of anti-porn arguments directed at the dangers of use, not production. As others have noted, those arguments are covered by broader issues where they aren’t dismissable as a matter of taste.

  35. 35
    Scott Hanley

    Santorum, like his followers, has a particular weakness for bullshit. The latest lie that he swallowed and regurgitated is that universities in the California State system don’t offer any US history courses.

  36. 36
    Raging Bee

    baal: your STEPdad took you to Promise Keepers? That’s really creepy. How did he treat your mom?

  37. 37
    slc1

    Re Scott Hanley @ #35

    I don’t know what the policy is now but when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley a million years ago, one either had to take a 1 year course in American History or pass a written exam in the subject in order to graduate. I chose to take the one year course, divided into 2 semesters.

    By the way, the instructor for the second semester course (1865 – present) was Prof. Grady McWhiney, who was a visiting professor from, I believe, the University of Southern Mississippi, who is best known as one of a small group of historians, mostly from the South, who are highly highly critical of Robert E. Lee’s generalship.

  38. 38
    Pinky

    Nine-tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tenth is physiological, and will occur in one way or another whatever the state of the law may be.

    -Bertrand Russell

    The narrow minded mistake Santorum and other religulous persons make is assuming pornography is only representative of sex.

    I consider violence against animals (including humans) to be porn. I have never understood why the graphic depiction of a man’s innerds exploding away from his torso accompanied by realistic red ropes of blood and splatter is perfectly fine for all to watch on TV, but show a nipple or a penis and its: “The worlds coming to an end.”

    I have only seen brief bits of the porn film Mel Gibson made about his deity’s son. Jesus (said to be Yahweh’s offspring via a host mother) appears in most of the film (I understand) almost naked, being lashed and tortured into a delicious frenzy.

    That’s not pornography?

  39. 39
    cactuswren

    The average age of first exposure to hard-core, Internet pornography is now 11.

    Man, would I love a cite for that.

  40. 40
    gravityisjustatheory

    Captain Mike says:

    I sure as hell am against demeaning, humiliating, coerced, and misogynist porn.

    I don’t like porn that I don’t like, either. Not quite the same as being against it.

    There are a lot of sexual practices and styles that make people uncomfortable, but they’re not wrong. I fail to see how depictions of them are.

    There is a big difference between “porn you don’t like” and “porn that is coerced”, or which is is exploiting or humiliating the actresses (which, in the worst cases, would morally and (should) legally count as rape or assault).

    (The grey areas are the ones that fake exploitation – when does it change from harmless fun to something that normalizes abuse or misogyny?)

  41. 41
    stace

    Is it just me, or is Santorum rather obsessed with sex in a wide variety of ways?

    Oh yeah, he’s gotta be a closet case of some sort.

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