A Response to “Censoring Pornography Is Counterproductive” (explicit)

“paco” suggested we read “Censoring Pornography Is Counterproductive”, so we did. Before we begin our analysis, we repeat that NPN does not advocate censorship or banning of any kind of speech, but believes in education and self-restraint.

This article is written by Joseph C. Sommer, an attorney and “humanist”, as defined here on his website. Humanism “considers the welfare of humankind–rather than the welfare of a supposed God or gods–to be of paramount importance” and supports efforts to improve the quality of life on this planet through “compassion and the scientific method”.

Sommer writes, “Humanism says people can find purpose in life and maximize their long-term happiness by developing their talents and using those talents for the service of humanity. Humanists believe that this approach to life is more productive and leads to a deeper and longer-lasting satisfaction than a hedonistic pursuit of material or sensual pleasures that soon fade.”

In his article “Censoring Porn is Counterproductive”, Sommer argues that demand for porn will decrease if we stop cracking down on it, basically on the principle that forbidden fruit looks sweeter. His main evidence includes a study from Denmark that demand for porn dropped between 1969, when obscenity laws were repealed, and 1984. By contrast, he says the crackdown on obscenity in the US in the 1980s only increased demand.

However, looking at the explosion of porn online during the 1990s-2000s, when porn became more culturally accepted (less “forbidden”) than it’s ever been, it is implausible to argue that Americans are tiring of their intensifying exposure to porn. Porn in America has grown from an industry measured in the millions in the 1970s to the billions today. Worldwide, porn has grown to be a $56 billion business. They might be sated with porn in Denmark; it doesn’t seem to be the case for America or the planet as a whole.

Sommer also cites studies saying porn can have positive effects on relationships:

“Sex therapist and sex educator Lloyd G. Sinclair says the benefits of pornography also include ‘an increase in the likelihood that viewers will talk about sex (a generally positive effect since most sexual partners benefit from these discussions)…’ Another positive outcome he notes is ‘the introduction of medically and relationally safe variety into couples’ sexual interactions, something many long-term couples find helpful in maintaining sexual interest and pleasure in their relationships.'”

Today’s porn films, such as those Capital Video sells, routinely feature adultery, “gangbangs” and violent sex that recklessly damages women’s bodies. The women in porn are at risk for numerous sexually transmitted diseases because they are constantly drenched with semen and other body fluids. Among the many STDs porn workers can contract is “chlamydia of the eye”, which you can get when men ejaculate onto your face (see bukkake).

This doesn’t sound like “medically and relationally safe variety” to me. It’s also not in keeping with Sommer’s own values of compassion and putting service to humanity above hedonism. More likely, his antipathy to religion has provoked a knee-jerk reaction against an issue he associates with religious conservatives.

Sommer’s claims that porn is therapeutic and reduces sex crimes have not been supported by other studies, which have found that viewing both violent and non-violent pornography can:

  • increase the acceptance of rape myths
  • increase male aggression toward females
  • decrease sensitivity to the crime of rape
  • predispose willingness to rape
  • increase the acceptance of violence against women
  • decrease support for women’s rights
  • alter perceptions of “common” sexual behavior
  • decrease sexual satisfaction with self and partner

The notion that the pornification of society reduces sex crimes has been well countered in an article we discussed earlier, “Some Myths About Denmark”. The concept of what constitutes a “sex crime” has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. For example, people in today’s America are rarely hauled away for having gay sex (not that we think they should be). Underreporting of sex crimes is also a major ongoing issue for researchers. Ask any young woman today how hard it can be to say “no”, or how her school community might react if she accuses someone of rape.

The evidence for harmful secondary effects of sexually oriented businesses is strong enough that numerous American courts have upheld their regulation, even in the face of vigorous challenges from the best lawyers porn dollars can buy.

It’s quite possible that many consumers do get bored with porn over time. That would explain why some go on a downward spiral of addiction, seeking more and more violent and degraded fare. If you compare the typical porn of 40-50 years ago to that sold today by Capital Video,
it would appear the pornographers are spiraling down to meet them. This
situation does not seem to us to be an argument in favor of porn.

Porn’s therapeutic qualities are hard to square with this factoid:

At a 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers,
two-thirds of the 350 divorce lawyers who attended said Internet porn
contributed to more than half of the divorce cases they handled.

At bottom, Sommer’s claims appear to be driven by a belief that throwing off self-restraint will lead to a sexual utopia. This has simply not been born out by the experience of the past few decades.

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