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Let’s talk about porn

The industry is rife with myths

December 10, 2019

2:22 PM

10 December 2019

2:22 PM

If you have the misfortune of being Very Online, you likely scrolled past apoplexy from social libertarians this weekend following news of the letter from GOP lawmakers to Attorney General William Barr regarding porn prosecution.

For those lucky enough to be out of the loop, four Republicans wrote a letter exhorting Barr to prioritize the prosecution of obscene pornography. They argue that the proliferation and ease of access to porn coincides with increases in violence toward women, human trafficking and child pornography. They also mention the writ large consequences of pornography for children, who are becoming exposed to it online at ever younger ages.

Barr enforced obscenity laws that still exist today while serving as George H.W. Bush’s AG, but under Bill Clinton, prosecutions were halted after nearly a decade of prosecuting porn kings for obscenity violations. Despite his 1992 campaign pledge to aggressively enforce federal obscenity laws, Clinton introduced an era of cavalier and permissive attitudes by the government toward the scourge of pornography. Compounded by insufficient funding, today the federal government is crippled in its ability to target even exclusively child pornography.

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The congressmen are correct: porn is omnipresent. A 2018 ranking showed that porn sites were more visited than Wikipedia, Twitter, Netflix, and children are being exposed to porn at increasingly younger ages, some sources reporting an average of 11 years old. In October of this year, owners and employees of a popular porn site were charged with sex trafficking. Many adults who enter the industry do so as children, and there is no way for porn consumers to know whether they are watching rape or revenge porn. In the words of Sir Roger Scruton, ‘pornography does not corrupt; it is corrupt.’


Some might think that pornography has become as American as apple pie, but when considering the magnitude of porn consumption, it’s not as welcomed as we would be led to believe. In a Gallup survey from May 2019, Americans were asked about their views on the moral acceptability of 21 issues, such as smoking weed, the death penalty, doctor-assisted suicide and married people having an affair. This national gut check reveals that while Americans have few qualms with birth control (92 percent morally acceptable), divorce (77 percent morally acceptable) and gay or lesbian relations (63 percent morally acceptable), we aren’t as prurient as our pornified culture would lead us to believe. Sandwiched between ‘sex between teenagers’ (58 percent immoral) and ‘cloning animals’ (66 percent immoral) is ‘pornography’ (61 percent immoral, 37 percent immoral).

Other items ranking as more immoral than pornography include polygamy and extramarital affairs. Clearly, pornography’s alleged harmlessness has not been accepted outside of libertarian-pundit-pontificating. Although this data is somewhat comforting to those who are otherwise apprehensive about a worsening cultural malaise, social conservatives should not get too excited: the number of Americans who have found porn morally acceptable had only grown since Gallup began asking about the subject in 2011. Between 2017 and 2018, the number grew from 36 percent to 43 percent, and younger men and the unmarried found it the most acceptable.

Gauging cultural attitudes is complicated, but the statistic suggests a decrease in the overall acceptability of porn as immoral between 2018 and 2019. If this shift is indicative of a wider rejection of the myth that pornography is simply a benign leisure activity, there is a chance to have the honest discussion about how it has destroyed relationships; victimized young women, girls, and boys; warped minds; created addiction; and robbed young children of innocence.

The porn industry is rife with myths. One is the attempt to frame an industry that thrives on exploitation of both the ‘actress’ (I hesitate to use this title due to the number of victims of sex trafficking and rape that have been forced on camera) and the consumer as an innocent catalyst to onanism. In the porn industry’s bad faith attempts to exculpate itself, it also seeks to convey shame and guilt as unhealthy or unnecessary feelings, often directing blame at ‘puritans’ and those with ‘archaic’ beliefs for their ‘regressive’ attitudes toward sex and attempting to hold back their consumers from what they consider a ‘liberating’ experience.

This ‘liberation’ has only created shackles for millions of Americans who require increasingly heavier doses of harder, more abusive and more incestuous pornography every time. In Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book Everybody Lies about data and the internet can tell us about those using it, ‘Of the top 100 searches by men on Pornhub, one of the most popular porn sites, 16 are for incest-themed videos.’

But the porn industry is not powerful enough to completely reconfigure the human psyche (although it can pervert it): we are not Pez dispensers. Oscar Wilde once said that masturbation is ‘cleaner, more efficient, and you meet a better class of person,’ which brings us to another myth that the porn industry seeks to advance; that we are capable of experiencing transcendence and satisfaction alone, without the elements of love or dignity at play. Porn has also been found to cause men to be less attracted to their partner than men who didn’t watch porn and harms their partner’s self-confidence. Even when a person isn’t alone and is in a healthy relationship, porn has the ability to isolate them from reality while wrapping them in artificiality. We can’t neatly compartmentalize our lives and emotions between porn and the surrounding world, focusing attention on a screen one moment and real life the next, our sexualities abused for profit, only to return to a tabula rasa after exiting from a private browser. Oscar Wilde is wrong, and this utilitarian view of sex is what allows the industry to capitalize on destroyed marriages and even childhoods. Kanye West recently divulged his experience with porn from a young age and its corrosion of his innocence. Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has also attempted to start a conversation about protecting children from pornography due to its creeping influence on the nation’s youth. This proliferation and its malignancy is, I believe, something most Americans sense.

Another myth is that those who watch porn cannot be at odds with their views on it; that if someone is a porn-watcher, they can’t also report finding pornography immoral. Statistics vary, but upwards toward 79 percent of men aged between 18 and 30 watch porn once a month, and one-third of women watch porn a few times a month. It is possible, and healthy, for a person to recognize vice while committing that vice and strategizing a path forward that allows them liberation from it. The first step is acknowledging immorality, and it’s no secret anymore that pornography pillages the human soul for a bottom line.

The initiative taken by four representatives to spark a conversation about the effects of pornography on our country, our communities, and our homes has at least planted a seed at the governmental level, where we need it most. Porn is everywhere. Helicopter parents would fail at protecting their children from porn due to its pervasiveness, and to suggest otherwise is not realistic. Hope shouldn’t be lost, however. Americans want to protect their families. In this fact, we should have faith.


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