Tommy Devine: “people like me, who in the past have taken an indifferent approach to pornography in the name of free speech, need to do more to educate ourselves and others about porn’s destructive properties”

Tommy Devine has been observing the Valley’s political culture for some years as the man behind The Baystate Objectivist [see interview]. In “Freedom and Decency”, posted on 1/13/07, he shares his reactions to one of NoPornNorthampton’s recent publications…

Like most people who work in any field involving self-expression, I’m an absolutist where freedom of speech is concerned. Part of my attitude is self-serving, I wanna say what I wanna say, and anybody who tries to shut me up is my enemy…

My position is simple, consistent and pretty cut and dry. Or is it? Like everything that appears at first to be black or white, if you look a little deeper and you can find shades of grey. That’s what I’m discovering as I read this handout I stumbled upon from the website in the lobby of the Nielson Library at Smith College. It’s pretty thick for a freebie handout, about 50 pages with printing on both sides, consisting of short essays designed to back up the title of the handout, The Feminist Case Against Pornography.

I don’t need feminists to turn me against pornography. I’ve always thought it was shallow, stupid, dehumanizing and degrading for both the consumer and the participants. I’m not talking about Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, which despite its sexism still treats woman like human beings and whose high standards put it more in the legitimate field of “erotica” as opposed to porn. Pornography is a term reserved for the type of sexual images that treat woman as though they were objects, as if women existed for no other purpose but to be used for pleasure, even if that pleasure involves degradation and even violence. And it isn’t just women, in looking into the mysteries surrounding former teen star Stephen Geoffreys, I’ve discovered that gay male porn is just as bad…

The people behind make a pretty good case that my libertarian tolerance overlooks a number of important factors. Granted, this group has a specific agenda, and that is to prevent a porn shop from opening on Northampton’s heavily traveled King Street… One’s first instinct is to mock their disapproval. That bastion of sexual liberation Northampton, declared by no less an authority than The National Inquirer to be “Lesbianville U.S.A”, disapproving of pornography? My, how their hypocrisy comes glaring forth when a porn shop shows up in their own backyard! None of that however, distracts from the validity of many of the points raised in the opponent’s handout and on their website.

The gist of their argument is this, that the effects of pornography on the community are subtle and complex, and that reducing the controversy to simply a First Amendment issue obscures many valid concerns having nothing to do with free speech. I was surprised to discover how much I found myself agreeing with them. For example, they have this commonsense response to those who claim that porn is harmless because it deals merely with sexual fantasies:

It’s commonly claimed that porn is mere fantasy, with no impact on user’s daily lives. But to argue that pornography has no effect on the people who consume it would be like arguing that the multi-billion dollar advertising business is all for naught, that people aren’t influenced by what they see, read, or hear, and that all media are inconsequential. [source]

I agree, but I’m still not ready to go along with any attempt to ban porn by legal means. However I do think that people like me, who in the past have taken an indifferent approach to pornography in the name of free speech, need to do more to educate ourselves and others about porn’s destructive properties. In other words, the answer is not a ban on porn, but to lessen the demand for it through heightened awareness of its destructive properties. We need to create a society that celebrates sexuality and appreciates genuinely artistic erotica. Such a society would have no use for the modern version of pornography, or as the handout puts in quite succinctly:

It all starts with personal awareness. How do your consumer choices perpetuate the spread of porn? What media do you read, or watch, or sell? What attitudes about women and sexuality do you enact in your daily life? Reducing the demand for porn is more effective as a long-term plan than trying to cut off the supply. Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol. By contrast, once the tobacco industry’s deceptive and addictive business practices received enough media attention that no one could defend them with a straight face, popular culture shifted from glamorizing tobacco use to stigmatizing it. [source]

Yes, that’s exactly the right idea. I suggest that you check out more of what these Northampton activists have to say by going here. You may be surprised, as I was, by the rich food for thought it provides.

2 thoughts on “Tommy Devine: “people like me, who in the past have taken an indifferent approach to pornography in the name of free speech, need to do more to educate ourselves and others about porn’s destructive properties”

  1. After perusing the website, I am of the opinion that the site does, indeed, advocate education. They would like to educate others as to their views on pornography. However, there does not seem to be any factual knowledge to be had at, just rhetoric and conjecture. While I respect the fact that the NoPorn folks are against pornography, I have a problem with the way that they present their views. They state that a correlation exists between pornography and rape and child molestation, and then provide no statistical data to support their supposition.
    The article by Tommy Devine is a good example of the nonsensical content available at . Tommy starts by saying that he isn’t against all pornography, just the bad stuff, although he doesn’t say how he distinguishes between good pornography and the bad stuff. He does state that he believes that Playboy is alright because it has “high standards.” Does he mean that he thinks pornography is okay if the models are attractive? Tommy goes on to define pornography as “a term reserved for the type of sexual images that treat woman as though they were objects, as if women existed for no other purpose but to be used for pleasure, even if that pleasure involves degradation.” I have no idea what he is talking about, but I think he’s okay with girl on girl. I mean, Northampton is Lesbianville, USA, isn’t it?
    Chris Keegan

  2. We encourage Chris to look a bit more deeply. He might find scientific studies, personal testimonies and expert testimonies like these:

    Secondary Effects Across America: 1977-1999

    Exposure to Pornography as a Cause of Child Sexual Victimization

    Porn Use Correlates with Infidelity, Prostitution, Aggression, Rape-Supportive Beliefs

    Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography on Family Values; Women’s Desire to Have Daughters Plummets

    Testimony in Minneapolis: Role of Porn in Child Sexual Abuse; Pornographers Perpetuate, Profit from Dysfunction

    Testimony in Minneapolis: With Growth of Porn, Rapists Show Less Remorse

    Testimony in Minneapolis: “Prevalency of pornography amongst our offenders”

    Porn and Sex Crimes in Other Countries: The Historical Experience

    Exposure to pornography as a cause of child sexual victimization

    Testimony in Minneapolis: Offenders Use Porn to Convince Children that Child Sex is Normal and Pleasurable

    Some porn hard to distinguish from training for pedophiles (explicit language)

    Testimony in Minneapolis: Ice cream man uses porn magazine to interest children in sex

    Porn contributes to divorce; used by pedophiles and rapists

    Porn a factor in many sex offenses

    Robert Jensen: Influence of Pornography on Sex Offenders (explicit language)

    Role of porn in sex crimes

    Porn: One rapist’s story (explicit language)

    Testimony in Minneapolis: Pornographic materials often found in homes with child sexual abuse
    Testimony of Bill Neiman, Assistant County Attorney in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office
    We do see, with children, a much greater use of pornographic
    materials. I would say that in the cases that I had–that I have had,
    and I have had many of them–that pornographic materials are found, if
    not in a majority of cases, very close to the majority of cases, found
    in the home of the person who is sexually abusing the children, and
    often there are very substantial numbers of pornographic materials.
    These pornographic materials are both adult and children.

    Our FAQ provides many ways to distinguish between porn and erotica. The key differences lie in abuse, violence, domination and exploitation. Porn merchants don’t find it that difficult to make the distinction, and neither will the average person:

    We distinguish porn, which is generally harmful, from erotica, which
    can be harmless or even beneficial. The distinction is not absolute,
    but we suggest that erotica is that which supports love, and porn is
    that which destroys love. An article in The Guardian suggests that porn is much more about power and domination than erotica is.

    Here are some characteristics we associate with porn:
    imbalance of power
    lack of consent
    taking without permission
    inflicting pain
    actors not proud of product
    actors disdain audience

    Here are some characteristics we associate with erotica:
    balance of power
    mutual pleasure
    deep feelings
    actors proud of product
    actors respect audience

    A complex work of art may have characteristics from both groups. It
    might be hard to apply a simple label to it. However, most porn is not
    that complex. You will not find much Henry Miller or Anais Nin in your
    typical porn shop.

    While erotica may empower women, porn disempowers them. This is easy to see in the workplace, where porn has been used to harass and intimidate female coworkers.

    Ultimately, the biggest difference between porn and erotica has to do with the long-term effect on the viewer, as well as the conditions
    under which the entertainment was made. By educating people as to the
    potential harms of adult materials, we hope they can look inside
    themselves to judge the healthiness of their media diet.

    The following might be signs of unhealthy consumption of porn:

    You feel guilty, ashamed, alienated, sad, confused, unsatisfied, or angry after viewing porn.

    You’re afraid other people might discover what you’re watching.

    You experience negative consequences at work from your consumption of porn, or you fear possible consequences.

    You start looking at pretty people purely as sex objects that you’d like to possess.

    You treat people the way you see people in pornography treated.

    You become more hostile or aggressive toward other people in your life.

    You find that you are becoming increasingly critical of other people’s physical imperfections.

    You find it stimulating when porn performers appear to be experiencing pain, or are crying.

    You notice your relationships, particularly your intimate ones, becoming unstable, coarse and conflict-ridden.

    You become dissatisfied with how your partner expresses himself or herself sexually.

    You need to remember images or scenes from pornography in order to have sex with someone.

    When you are having sex with someone, images or scenes you’ve seen in
    pornography “get in the way”–they come into your mind and won’t go
    away, even if you want them to.

    You find that you prefer spending time alone with porn, rather than engaging with a companion or attempting to find one.

    You sense that you are not growing emotionally as time passes, that you are stuck in habits that are not very satisfying.

    You find that you have to consume more and more porn, or more explicit and violent porn, to become stimulated.

    You experience unwelcome attention from the law due to your porn consumption or sexual activities.

    [Some of the above appears in Men Confront Pornography , p.294]

    Clinician M. Douglas Reed offers further warning signs of porn addiction here.

    Robert Jensen offers these definitions of pornography in Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality (p.3):
    “Pornography is the material sold in pornography shops for the purpose
    of producing sexual arousal for mostly male customers… Second, from a
    critical feminist analysis, pornography is a specific kind of sexual
    material that mediates and helps maintain the sexual subordination of

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.