«

»

Jul 27 2011

“Straight Porn Will Make You Gay”: The Delusion of Sex-Negativity

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. I never reprinted it here, since the piece was topical and time-sensitive. But the Blowfish Blog archives are apparently no longer on the Internets, and the original piece is no longer available. So in the interest of completism and making all my published works accessible, I’m going ahead and posting it here.

Laughter You’ve almost certainly heard this story already. Michael Schwartz, chief of staff to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), recently told an audience at the conservative Values Voters Summit that “all pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.” And the media, including the blogosphere, went Foom, with scornful, unrestrained, finger- pointing hilarity. If it were physically possible for the media to piss itself laughing, it would have.

It’s been an easy story to make fun of. (Fun, too!) And I absolutely think it’s a story that’s worth making fun of. I plan to make fun of it here myself. But a lot of the fun-making about this story has, I think, missed one of its most interesting angles.

Granted, there are an awful lot of ways to go with this story. You can go with the “Are you fucking kidding me?” angle, a.k.a. the “This is so stupid it’s laughable” angle, a.k.a. the “If what Schwartz says were true, our species would have turned gay and died out generations ago” angle. You can go with the “Yippee, let’s instill homophobia and sex-phobia in our kids all at once, using the one to whip up the other” angle. You can even go with the “What are you going to do when your kids figure out you’re lying to them? What will that do to your family values?” angle.

All of which is intriguing, and all of which has informed my thinking on this topic. But it’s not what I’m finding truly fascinating.

What I’m finding truly fascinating is the profound futility, to the point of delusion, of the ultimate purpose behind Schwartz’s bizarre connection between straight porn and homosexuality.

Schwartz’s ultimate point wasn’t “Straight porn makes you gay.” I’m not even sure he believes that himself. (In fact, he backpedaled from it just a few sentences later in his speech, saying, “If it [porn] doesn’t turn you homosexual, it at least renders you less capable of loving your wife.”) His ultimate point wasn’t that. His ultimate point was, “Teaching ten- year- old boys that straight porn makes them gay is a great way to keep them away from porn.” His point was that ten- and eleven- year- old boys are profoundly grossed-out by homosexuality… and therefore, telling them that porn will make them gay is a nifty way to make them not want porn.

Playboy cover To me, that’s the money quote. Not the one about how all porn is really gay porn. To me, the money quote is, quote: “If you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to go out and get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants.”

So here’s what I want to know.

Does Michael Schwartz truly believe that you can keep pre- and early- pubescent straight boys from being interested in pictures of naked women, just by telling them it’ll make them gay?

Does Michael Schwartz know any pre- and early- pubescent boys?

Has Michael Schwartz ever been a pre- and early- pubescent boy?

There is just about no force on earth that could keep pre- and early- pubescent straight boys from being interested in pictures of naked women. You could bar their paths with oceans of fire, mountains of jagged rocks, canyons filled with snakes and poisons and pop quizzes… and pre- and early- pubescent straight boys would still find their way to pictures of naked women.

Does Schwartz really think that saying “Straight porn will make you gay” is going to do the trick?

Is he so deluded, so out of touch with the realities of human sexuality, that he thinks this pathetic bit of propaganda is going to have any effect whatsoever?

Come to think of it, it might have an effect. Telling kids that straight porn will make them gay might well contribute to the toxic mess of shame and guilt and mixed messages they’re already being taught about sex. (Especially if their parents are Values Voters.) And it could easily create a serious rift of mistrust between parents and children. Telling your kids such a transparent falsehood is very likely going to make them mistrust anything else you say about sex… or any other topic, for that matter. (See above, re: “What are you going to do when your kids figure out you’re lying to them? What will that do to your family values?”)

But if Michael Schwartz seriously thinks his “straight porn will make you gay” propaganda is going to keep pre- and early- pubescent straight boys from being interested in pictures of naked women, he’s deluded. Deeply, profoundly, almost hallucinatorily deluded. It would frighten me if it weren’t so funny. In fact, it does frighten me, even though it’s so funny. It’s probably so funny, at least in part, because it’s so frightening. The man is so out of touch with the realities of sexual desire that an entire nation could only gasp in shock and then fall all over itself in fits of hysterical giggles.

And that profound delusion is exactly where reflexive sex-negativity leads to.

Fingers in ears Sex-negativity isn’t just about viewing sex as wicked and disgusting (and thus a treasured gift you should save for the person you love). Sex-negativity is about ignoring or denying the realities of sex. It’s about pretending that teenagers will abstain from sex if the schools scare them enough. It’s about pretending that gay people don’t come that way from a very early age, that they can change if they really try, that their lives will be miserable if they don’t try. It’s about pretending that pre- and early- pubescent straight boys won’t be interested in pictures of naked women if you only tell them an idiotic lie about how it’ll make them gay. It’s about prioritizing your personal view of the sexual world you wished we lived in — rigid, narrow, confined, with only a handful of situations in which people have sex and only one partner they have it with — over, you know, reality.

And it’s not just about doing all this as deliberate propaganda (a.k.a. “lies”). It’s about getting so deeply enmeshed in the propaganda that you believe it yourself.

I’m not convinced that even Michael Schwartz believes straight porn makes you gay. But he does seem to believe — sincerely, and with all his heart — that telling 10- year- old boys “Straight porn makes you gay” will keep them away from porn.

He seems to have swallowed his own Kool-Aid.

And that’s not just scary. It’s not even just scary and hilariously funny. It’s both of those things… and at the same time, it’s one of the saddest things I can imagine.

21 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Ani Sharmin

    Thanks for posting this, Greta! On top of denying realities about sex, I think this is also an example of denying realities about kids in general. When some public figure makes a statement or speech, they may be tailoring their talk specifically to a certain demographic, probably adults with similar views, but that doesn’t mean that kids aren’t hearing it, too.
    I remember when I was younger, when we’d go to the pediatrician’s office and be waiting in the waiting room, I would read articles from the parenting magazines. I did this because I wanted to know what other adults were telling parents about how to raise their kids, because obviously, as a kid, it would affect me if my parents were to listen to that advice.
    So, basically, whenever someone advocates lying to or otherwise deceiving kids, I imagine that there are probably kids out there who heard the tv from the other room, read the article that was left out on the table, overheard a conversation that adults were having about it, etc. and know that they’re being lied to.

  2. 2
    Jamesclaims.wordpress.com

    Growing up in a christian home, I already had some bizarre guilt related concepts attached to porn. Mainly about the whole lusting after women part. But I’m concerned about what would happen if you then added in the fear that porn may make make me homosexual (though I guess it did turn me bi).
    If you come from a home that would peddle this lie, you likely believe that homosexuality is evil. So being told that not only what you are doing is wrong, but may make you evil is a traumatic thing to do to a child who is really just acting normally. Even without this lie, christianity screwed up my views on porn for quite a while, I’d hate to think what would have happened if this was added in.
    And the thing that comes to my mind when I hear this is not so much laughable, but that it is truly sick and twisted to try and manipulate children by simultaneously distorting their views on sexuality and distorting the views on homosexuality beyond the usual drivel.

  3. 3
    Azkyroth

    He seems to have swallowed his own Kool-Aid.

    Here, at least, spitting is definitely preferable.
    Other than that, this seems relevant.

  4. 4
    Nathan Salo Tumberg aka LucienBlack

    “Sex-negativity isn’t just about viewing sex as wicked and disgusting (and thus a treasured gift you should save for the person you love).”
    I laughed.

  5. 5
    TechSkeptic

    I guess if trying to scare them with hairy palms and blindness didn’t work, they are gonna have to move on to something scarier.
    What happens when that doesnt work?
    “Porn will make your your dick detach”
    I can’t even imagine what will be after that one.

  6. 6
    Flimsy

    Extremely eloquent, from a guy who heard all kinds of ridiculous falsehoods (my favorite: “if you look at dirty pictures, you won’t be able to have sex, no really, it happened to your Dad, isn’t that right dear?”) from his Values Voter parents in an effort to keep him from being interested in naked women. You’re absolutely correct, Greta, the effects were twofold:
    1. Epic quests for magical swords hidden deep in forests that would enable me to fight my way through the hordes of monsters that barred me from old issues of Penthouse. In other words, no detrimental effect on my teenage sex drive.
    2. It didn’t take long to discover the “false” part of all those falsehoods. I really do think that this contributed to my relationship with my parents being very strained to this day.

  7. 7
    kagerato

    The only way porn is going to turn you gay is if you’re a woman.
    All jokes aside, the stance that the anti-sex crowd takes towards porn disturbs me. They repeatedly make these very broad claims about how essentially all pornography harms women. The particular premise that erotic materials in general turns one’s sex drive away from other people and toward oneself is pretty common. It’s not a point limited only to Christian conservatives or even the religious right of any shape or sect (unless, of course, some people are lying about their identity).
    The main issue that I have with this argument is that it doesn’t present any actual evidence for its case. You don’t see them conducting studies or even running polls. They just declare their premises and expect the audience to believe them. If porn actually has anti-social effects of any kind, you would be able to measure that with the correct approaches. So, where is the data?
    There’s another aspect of this where the argument merely assumes a huge premise that has to be shown. Essentially, that premise is that sexuality is very malleable during adolescence. So malleable that even slight influences, like pictures in a porn mag, are enough to actually to make a significant and permanent shift in sexuality. Where was that shown? Why are we expected to simply buy that outright, without any attempt to demonstrate it?
    I know it’s kind of obvious to point out that people who think the Earth is 6,000 years old and a pair of every species on it could fit on a single wooden boat don’t seem to value evidence or proving their case. Still, it’s important to show exactly what premises are false.
    It’s not that I (or many others) am especially intransigent about these particular premises. If you don’t formulate them in absolute terms, there’s probably at least a sliver of truth there.
    I can understand, for instance, why a lot of mainstream porn would make many women uncomfortable. Much of commercial and even amateur porn seems to have the dial permanently stuck in a dom/sub position, with men cast in the dominant role. That’s not fair nor reasonable even if we can present precise economic and social reasons for why it became that way. (I don’t think the dom/sub mechanic is what breaks it, either, although it is excessively played. If half of all porn was running the power dynamic in the other direction, I doubt you’d hear much in complaints.)
    Further, I’m pretty sure that most reasonable people do not think that sexuality is fixed at birth. It is not deterministically generated from your genes. That doesn’t mean that gene makeup plays no role, but rather that the function of the genome is to generate a set of likely possibilities — not to produce a specific result. Epigenetics, how the environment enables and disables genes and transfers information and structure over time, is very important. Beyond that, there is a sea of very subtle cultural clues that children are exposed to. Although any particular influence is probably weak, thousands upon thousands of small suggestions almost certainly create an impact. Finally, there is, of course, direct social interactions between people. All of these things influence sexuality, and no one should simply ignore one or more of them merely because it can be used to serve a political point.

  8. 8
    Icelander

    The quest for porn as a pubescent straight boy lead me to understand things like keyloggers, secure proxies and tunnels and steganography.
    I’m sure if there were snakes and flaming pits I would have learned about how to disable snakes and build fire-proof suits.

  9. 9
    vel

    I do dearly love to watch “good Christians” and their dependence on using lies and fear to push their personal religious agenda.

  10. 10
    Stonyground

    @Kagerato
    The reason that these people do not cite studies that show that porn is harmful is that every properly conducted study has shown that it isn’t.
    The notion that anything can turn you gay is as absurd as the idea that any kind of therapy can turn gay people straight. In any case why would anyone want to try to reverse their sexuality? Without the bigoted halfwit homophobes there would be no reason for anyone to want to.

  11. 11
    Edgerman58

    Wow. The religious Right really is getting nuttier all the time! Straight porn will make me gay? Huh. Interesting. I know that growing up in a strict Christian fundamentalist household gave me loads of guilt to deal with later in life,still,I was never dissuaded from masturbating (nor looking at Playboy—which was all the “porn” I could hope to find in those days, if even that).
    Of course, maybe there is something to porn making you curious about gay sex. I “experimented” with queer sex at about the same time I was groping several neighborhood girls my age that I knew! I hadn’t really seen all that many Playboys then,so,where did my “curiosity” with cocks come from?! I just liked touching them,and feeling them responding to that;the same with the way girls bodies felt and responded.
    I’m not a Christian any more,so the worry that porn will “make” any one queer seems stupid. Who cares? If anything,porn made me open to being bi! I see nothing wrong in that!
    Edgerman58

  12. 12
    diane

    “Sex-negativity isn’t just about viewing sex as wicked and disgusting (and thus a treasured gift you should save for the person you love).”
    I seriously LOVE this line. That’s all.

  13. 13
    Eclectic

    Actually, there is some genuine, reproducibly demonstrable harm from watching porn. Particularly violent porn.
    And it’s kind of obvious once it’s pointed out.
    Basically, the problem is that it tends to leave you thinking that people like that sort of thing.
    This is true even if someone has sexual experience as a reality check. I don’t have evidence to mabk up this extrapolation, but I worry even more about horny teenagers who don’t have any experience to offset the distorted image of sex in porn.
    So no, it doesn’t make you gay. But it can make you a lousy and inconsiderate lover.
    The solution, of course, isn’t less porn (an ambition rivalling King Canute’s), but better information and freeing depictions of sex from the pornography ghetto.
    I was really lucky in that my grade 3 classroom had Show Me! on the shelf (yay for good teaching!), but in general, the good sex education material is utterly drowned out by a flood of caricature-of-sex porn.
    Where’s the romantic comedy where the misunderstandings and eventual reconciliation extend into the bedroom?
    There are so few movies like “Shortbus”.

  14. 14
    kagerato

    Eclectic, what is “violent porn”? Are you talking about sadomasochism? Bondage? Rape roleplaying?
    I’m having trouble understanding your point because you seem to be holding the delusion that no one likes those things. I can assure you they do exist.
    They also don’t make up the vast majority of pornography, so I don’t know why anyone would get the impression that these are typical tastes.

  15. 15
    Eclectic

    kagerato: Whoops, lack of context. And trying to fit a big point into a manageable-sized comment. Yes, lots of people like BDSM, including me personally.
    I think of Greta’s blog as “in the kink community” and kind of forgot that people reading my comment don’t know that I count myself among its members.
    But not everyone does enjoy BSDM, and those who do like different aspects of it, and it’s very important to discuss limits and safety before diving in.
    The problem is that there’s lots of porn that skips straight past negotiation and safety to get to the fun stuff.
    And them exaggerates the “fun stuff”.
    The resultant distorted view (and it’s been well documented that watching videos of forced sex disposes people more favourably to it) can tip someone over the edge from “I’m pissed that this person is withholding sex to manipulate me” to “it’s okay to rape them”.
    I don’t think that’s enough harm to justify restricting porn, but I think it’s real.

  16. 16
    Azkyroth

    Actually, there is some genuine, reproducibly demonstrable harm from watching porn. Particularly violent porn.

    Citation needed.
    Though I’m not sure it’d help. As with the whole “video games turn your kids into Anders Breivik” myth, there’s been so much utter crap, baseless speculation, and open prejudice smeared over any legitimate questions there might have been that any study which does show a statistically significant effect can probably be safely assumed to be accidental. Almost any bullshit hypothesis could be “supported” if we just let them throw predictions against the wall forever until SOMETHING sticks.

  17. 17
    Azkyroth

    Hmm. Probably shoulda included this; it’s relevant as always.

  18. 18
    Eclectic

    My original source was actually an obscenity trial I attended; that was one point that the dueling experts agreed on. (Whether the changed attitudes lead to significantly changed behaviour was something they both agreed there was no substantial evidence for.)
    For a written paper, I suggest Neil Malamuth’s study Do Sexually Violent Media Indirectly Contribute to Antisocial Behavior? (1986) That is itself a survey summarizing other primary papers.

  19. 19
    Chris H.

    I realize someone’s already linked to The Onion, but I think the more relevant bit from The Onion is this one: New Anti-Smoking Ads Warn Teens It’s Gay to Smoke.

  20. 20
    SexPot

    I’ve never understood why god has a problem with casual sex. It’s fun, it doesn’t hurt anyone, and it’s part of what makes life worth living. Why save it for someone you love when you can share the wealth?
    I will give the religious right some credit though: at least they’re not restricting their sex negativity to young girls.

  21. 21
    John James

    i never understood the importance on waiting to get marry to have sex. why would i buy the cow before i taste the milk. it like buying porn without looking at the perview when there are website like boldporn.com. that why religious never made any sense to me.

Leave a Reply