Bringing Compassion to the First Amendment

Blogger Hugo Schwyzer is a “progressive Anabaptist/Episcopalian Democrat (but with a sense of humor), a community college history and gender studies professor, animal rights activist, ENFP Gemini, avid marathoner, aspiring ultra-runner, die-hard political junkie, and (still) the proud father of the most amazing chinchilla on God’s green earth.”

On August 25, Schwyzer reprinted the post that first drew significant attention to his blog–“the ‘break-out’ post that ended up quadrupling my number of visitors. I’m grateful for that, and though the Lara Roxx story is now nearly two and a half years old, I stand by everything I wrote back on April 17, 2004….”

From the 2004 post:

The adult entertainment industry in Los Angeles (the porn capital of the world, thank you) has been hard hit by news that two of its stars have recently tested positive for HIV. Some companies have shut down production entirely, others are continuing business as usual, some are shifting to a “safer-sex” format.

Some folks might respond to this story with schadenfreude, or at the least, with a certain lack of compassion for the people involved. “What else should they have expected?”, a reasonable person might ask of those who perform in porn; “they are reaping the consequences of their actions”, others might–with some justification–say.

The one woman known to be infected with HIV is an 18 year-old porn actress (who has only worked in the business three months) named Lara Roxx. She contracted HIV through unprotected anal sex with two men during the shooting of one particular film in March. What she was doing was perfectly legal, as it was in the workplace and she was over 18. No one–least of all the producers of the film–showed the slightest regard for this young woman who is still, for all psychological and spiritual purposes, very much in adolescence….

Brian Flemming, who apparently works close to the industry, put it best in his blog:

“The porn industry has become increasingly mainstream, so much so that on the same day that the HIV story broke in LA, the New York Times did an “at home” feature in its House and Garden section on porn star Jenna Jameson’s 6700 square foot palace in Arizona. But this increasingly accepting attitude towards pornography is still another example of how our society is abandoning its responsibility to care for and protect all of its citizens.”

I know firsthand how destructive porn can be. I cannot say I have not enjoyed looking at it; I can also say with confidence that exposure to it has invariably left me feeling ashamed, alienated, and sad. That may not be a universal experience, but it is certainly a very common response! Like in so many other areas (abortion, plastic surgery) we frame the debate about pornography in terms of choices. Women should have the choice to work in porn. Men should have the choice to work in porn. Women and men should have the choice to consume porn as well. As long as everyone (performer, producer, marketer, consumer) is over 18, where is the harm?

The harm is in my soul when I view it. The harm is in Lara Roxx’s body right now….

I know there are women who work in the porn industry (the aforementioned Jameson chief among them) who are proud of what they do, who refuse to see themselves as exploited, who have reaped large financial rewards. While I accept their experience as valid, I am convinced that they are rare and over-hyped exceptions. I am convinced that the reality of the porn industry–for performers of both genders–is psychically, physically, emotionally and morally far bleaker than its few superstars will ever admit….

Porn kills many things: innocence, hope, trust, health, bodies, spirits. I know it is hip today to proclaim it harmless, but the unfashionable fact is that this is an industry built on distorted fantasy, loneliness, and despair. And we on the left need to stop hiding behind the First Amendment issues and articulate this untrendy but vital truth.

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