Skip to comments.The Weight of Smut
Posted on 07/11/2010 7:43:21 AM PDT by IbJensen
As the impressively depressing cover story America the Obese in the May issue of The Atlantic serves to remind us all, the weight-gain epidemic in the United States and the rest of the West is indeed widespread, deleterious, and unhealthywhich is why it is so frequently remarked on, and an object of such universal public concern.
But while were on the subject of bad habits that can turn unwitting kids into unhappy adults, how about that other epidemic out there that is far more likely to make their future lives miserable than carrying those extra pounds ever will? That would be the emerging social phenomenon of what can appropriately be called sexual obesity: the widespread gorging on pornographic imagery that is also deleterious and unhealthy, though far less remarked on than that other epidemicand nowhere near an object of universal public concern.
That complacency may now be changing. The term sexual obesity comes from Mary Ann Layden, a psychiatrist who runs the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She sees the victims of Internet-pornography consumption in her practice, day in and day out. She also knows what most do not: Quietly, patiently, and irrefutably, an empirical record of the harms of sexual obesity is being assembled piecemeal via the combined efforts of psychologists, sociologists, addiction specialists, psychiatrists, and other authorities.
Young people who have been exposed to pornography are more likely to have multiple lifetime sexual partners, more likely to have had more than one sexual partner in the last three months, more likely to have used alcohol or other substances at their last sexual encounter, andno surprise heremore likely to have scored higher on a sexual permissiveness test. They are also more likely to have tried risky forms of sex. They are also more likely to engage in forced sex and more likely to be sexual offenders.
As for the all-purpose cop-out that all this shows is correlation, it can be refuted as Dr. Johnson famously refuted the immaterialism of Bishop Berkeleyby kicking a stone. No one reasonable would doubt that there is a connection between watching sex acts and trying out what one seesespecially for adolescents, who rather famously and instantly ape the other influences on their lives, from fashion to drug use and more, as has also been copiously studied.
And this list is just one possible way of starting a conversation about the consequences of todays novel sexual obesity. There is also the question of what the same material does to adultsabout which another empirical record is also being amassed, and about which more will be said later in this essay. Pornography today, in short, is much like obesity was yesterdaya social problem increasing over time, with especially worrisome results among its youngest consumers, and one whose harms are only beginning to be studied with the seriousness they clearly deserve.
Parallels between the two epidemics are striking. Much like the more commonly understood obesity, the phenomenon of sexual obesity permeates the populationthough unlike regular obesity, of course, pornography consumption is mostly (though not entirely) a male thing. At the same time, evidence also shows that sexual obesity does share with its counterpart this critical common denominator: It afflicts the subset of human beings who form the first generation immersed in this consumption, many of whom have never known a world without itthe young.
The data about the immersion of young Americans in pornography are startling and disturbing. One 2008 study focused on undergraduate and graduate students ages 18 to 26 across the country found that more than two-thirds of menand one out of every ten women in the sampleviewed pornography more than once a month. Another study showed that first-year college students using sexually explicit material exhibited these troubling features: increased tolerance, resulting in a turn toward more bizarre and esoteric material; increased risk of body-image problems, especially among girls; and erroneous and exaggerated conceptions of how prevalent certain sexual behaviors, including risky and even dangerous behaviors, actually are.
In 2004, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported that 65 percent of boys ages 16 and 17 reported having friends who regularly download Internet pornographyand, given that pornography is something people lie down about in surveys as well as in life, it seems safe to say those numbers underestimate todays actual consumption, perhaps even significantly.
Finally, to connect the dots between monkey see and monkey do, a 2004 study in Pediatrics reported, in the words of its title, that Watching sex on television predicts adolescent initiation of sexual behavioran ominous connection, given that Internet sex is vastly more realistic than anything available on television.
Even young people who dont go looking for pornography are now routinely exposedlargely through incursions into popular media, including on phones (the sexting phenomenon), in video games, in pop music, and on television. A Kaiser Family Foundation study from 2005, for example, revealed that the number of sex scenes on television doubled between 1998 and 2005. The Foundation had previously noted that some 70 percent of youths aged 15 to 17 accidently came across pornography online. Even more startling, a 2006 Youth Internet Safety Survey of 1500 youths showed that one in seven reported unwanted sexual solicitation, and one in eleven reported being harassed online.
Yet another study confirms what many parents already will suspect: Most mothers and fathers know nothing about the online sexual experiences of their children.
But even this impressive array of data cannot answer a question almost as ubiquitous as pornography itself: So what? Why should people who are not part of that consumption even care about it? The varieties of the libertarian shrug extend even to those averse to it. Pornography indeed may be morally wrong, many of those people would also say (and of course major religions would agree); but, apart from the possible damage to the users soul, if you believe in such a thing, what really is the social harm of smut?
This lackadaisical attitudethis entrenched refusal to look seriously at what the computer screen has really wroughtis widespread. Religious people, among other people simply disgusted by the subject, understandably wish to speak in public of almost anything else. Closet users, and they are apparently legion, will probably already have stopped reading these wordsor any others potentially critical of pornographyfor reasons of their own; such complicity is probably the deepest font of omertà on the subject. And chronic users above all have their own fierce reasons for promoting the anything-goes-as-long-as-its-private patteran interesting phenomenon about which more will be said further on.
And yet this hands-off approach to the matter of sexual obesitythis unwitting collusion of disparate interested parties masquerading as a social consensusremains wrong from alpha to omega, as a new document signed by fifty experts from various fields and distilling just some of the recent empirical evidence, goes to show. Full disclosure: The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations, just published by the Witherspoon Institute of New Jersey, was codrafted by Mary Ann Layden and me. Unlike other pieces of writing, however, this compendium summons no authorial joy and is not the work of one or two but rather scores of people. Most of them academics and medical professionals, they represent a true rainbow coalition of the spectrum: left and right, feminism and conservatism, secularism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Its a collective attempt to render for the public good just some of the accumulating academic and therapeutic and other evidence of the harm and devastation now traceable to pornography abuse.
Bursting through the academically neutral language, the studies, the survey data, and the econometrics were the skin and bones of the very human stories that went into it all: the marriages lost or in tatters; the sexual problems among the addicted; the constant slide, on account of higher tolerance, into ever edgier circles of this hell; the children and teenagers lured into participating in various ways in this awful world in the effort to please romantic partners or exploitive adults. This report, in sum, like the conference that preceded it, answers definitively the libertarian question of So what about pornography? with a solid list of Heres whateight documented findings about the manifold risks of warping the sexual template with pornographic imagery.
Reading work after work by the experts for the purpose of condensing and putting it into laymens terms felt at times like what might be called a labor of hatehate for what pornography addiction does, for all corrupters and would-be corrupters of the innocent, and for the mistaken libertarian nonchalance that enables such continuing corruption.
Of all the untruths about this subject today that are belied by the factual record, I would like to focus here on just three of the most influential and reckless.
Pornography use is a private matter. Perhaps the queen bee of lies about pornography, this is also the easiest to take down. For while consumption of the substance may be private (or not, as airline travelers and library patrons and others in the public square have lately been learning), the fallout from some of that consumption is anything but.
Consider just a few examples from recent studies on people younger than eighteen. Adolescent users of pornography are more likely to intend to have sex and to engage in more frequent sexual activity. They are more likely to test positive for Chlamydia. Three separate studies have found among adolescents a strong correlation between pornography consumption and engaging in various sexual activities.
The exceedingly well-documented social costs of adolescent sexual activity, alongside the health costs now accumulating, alone torpedo the refrain that Internet pornography use today is private. Now consider a few more findings concerning adults rather than kids. At a November 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (comprising the nations top 1600 divorce and matrimonial-law attorneys), 62 percent of the 350 attendees said the Internet had played a role in divorces during the last year. In especially germane research not yet published, economists Kirk Doran and Joseph Price are examining data from the General Social Survey (GSS) to assess the negative impact of pornography on other aspects of marriage. They report that, among individuals who have ever been married, those who say theyve seen an X-rated movie in the last year are 25 percent more likely to be divorced and 13 percent less likely to identify themselves as very happy with life in general.
Divorce, as everyone knows by now, is associated with a variety of adverse financial and other outcomes as well as with problems for children and adolescents affected by it. Here too, private behavior is clearly exacting public costs.
Yet with all due respect to the social science, not everyone needs it to know that pornography is more than just a private thing. Imagine your teenage daughter walking down the beach. Half the men on it have been watching sex on the Internet within the last few days, and half have not. Which ones do you want watching her? How can their private behavior possibly be said to be confined to home, when their same eyes with which they view it travel along with them everywhere else?
Pornography use is a guy thing. It only bothers women. In fact, some of the saddest and most riveting testimony on this topic concerns exactly this: the harm that pornography consumption can do to men immersed in it.
Consider the insights of Pamela Paul, a reporter for Time magazine, who interviewed in depth more than 100 heterosexual users of pornography, 80 percent of them men, for her 2005 book Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. This bookthe best yet written in laymens terms about the impact of Internet pornography on users themselvesis remarkable for several reasons. Just one is the unforgettably sad portrait that emerges, sometimes unwittingly, from habitual users themselves. Countless men, she summarizes from the interviews, have described to me how, while using pornography, they have lost the ability to relate to or be close to women. They have trouble being turned on by real women, and their sex lives with their girlfriends or wives collapse.
The same point has been echoed by medical authorities including Norman Doidge, a doctor specializing in neuropsychiatry and author of The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. Treating men in the early to mid-1990s for their pornography habits, he found it a common refrain that many were no longer able to have intercourse with their own wives. Pornographers, he concludes, promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didnt like it.
At least some of the shame and disgust that users sometimes report to therapists may be due to another phenomenon well documented about chronic pornography use: habituation and tolerance. Just as heavy drinkers and drug users over time require higher doses of substances to achieve the same effect, so apparently do some chronic users of pornography come to require harder-core and edgier material. From another of Pamela Pauls descriptions: Men . . . told me that they found themselves wasting countless hours looking at pornography on their televisions and DVD players, and especially online. They looked at things they would once have considered appallingbestiality, group sex, hard-core S&M, genital torture, child pornography.
This same descent into the particular pit of knowing that one is doing something wrong, and still being unable to stop oneself, echoes through other accounts by clinicians of what they hear from some patients. In a widely read article in the London Spectator in 2003, British writer Sean Thomas courageously catalogued his own such descent, including into terrain that will not be described here. As he concluded, Internet pornography revealed to me that I had an unquantifiable variety of sexual fantasies and quirks and that the process of satisfying these desires online only led to more interest.
But self-loathing is hardly limited to the most extreme cases. Recently, National Review Online ran an anonymous and widely discussed essay called Getting Serious About Pornography. Its author, a mother of five, detailed and deplored pornographys role as she saw it in the destruction of her marriage. The result was an outpouring of impassioned e-mailincluding from some people exploring their own use of pornography and its impact on their own lives. As one military man put it with unusual candor in a particularly poignant (also anonymous) e-mail to the editor:
I absolutely agree it is damaging. It damages my respect for my wife, and she has done nothing to deserve that damage. It damages my self-esteem and respect for myself, because I know it is not helpful to our life, to our marriage, to our love. . . . It reduces my satisfaction in a wonderful woman. It makes me yearn for things that I should not want. It is disruptive to my inner peace. I dont like myself when Im looking at porn. I dont like the way I feel about myself when Im looking at porn. . . . But I can only do without it about six months. . . . It has been an endless cycle.
Or as Roger Scruton put it memorably at the Witherspoon conference, summarizing the philosophical aspect of this particular form of sadness that this new form of obesity can bring: This, it seems to me, is the real risk attached to pornography. Those who become addicted to this risk-free form of sex run a risk of another and greater kind. They risk the loss of love, in a world where only love brings happiness.
Its only pictures of consenting adults. Unless it is computer simulated, pornography is never only about pictures. Every single person on the screen is somebodys sister, cousin, son, niece, or mother; every one of them stands in a human relation to the world.
The notion for starters that those in the industry itself are not being harmed by what they do cannot survive even the briefest reading of testimonials to the contrary by those who have turned their backs on it, among them Playboy bunnies (including Izabella St. James, author of Bunny Tales). It is a world rife with everything one would want any genuinely loved one to avoid like the plague: drugs, exploitation, physical harm, AIDS.
Nor can that defense survive the extremely troublingor what ought to be extremely troublingconnections between pornography and prostitution. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has notably taken the lead in investigating and throwing light on the sordid phenomenon of sex trafficking, both here and abroad. Yet trafficking, as the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have both noted, is often associated with pornographyfor example, via cameras and film equipment found when trafficking circles are broken up. Plainly, the reality of the human beings behind many of those images on the Internet is poorer, dirtier, druggierand youngerthan pious appeals to consenting adults can withstand. Is this world really what the libertarian defenders of pornography want to subsidize?
Once again, who even needs all that social science? Perhaps the most telling response to the pictures defense is rhetorical. Ask even the most committed user whether he wants his own daughter or son in that line of workand then ask why its all right to have other peoples daughters and sons making it instead.
Several experts have also noted one more interesting phenomenon that most people who have ever written on this thankless subject will verify: Telling the truth about pornography is practically guaranteed to elicit malice and venom unique in their potency from its defenders.
This aspect of sexual obesity too, I believe, tells us something of note. Blogging recently about the subject on National Review Online, for example, Kathryn Jean Lopez remarked in public about the quality of the torrent of emotional e-mails her comments provoked. Many of them, she reported, were terrifying. Cathy Ruse, who worked on the issue of pornography during the mid-1990s for the National Law Center for Children and Families and again later for the Family Research Council, reports similarly: I have been involved in various public policy debates in the United States for twenty years and I have never encountered anything like the pornography debates. . . . I have never experienced attacks that were so abusive and personal, including angry ranting messages on my home telephone and horrible e-mails. Such unique vituperation, which has so far gone unremarked in any public discussion of pornography despite the fact that it is commonplace, demands inspection in its own right. In fact, it may be the surest proof altogether of just how addictive Internet pornography can be. Although academic experts may continue to battle over exactly what is meant by addiction, surely the tremendously defensive response in the public square by itself settles the question to any reasonable persons satisfaction. What does it tell us that, when faced with any attempt to make the case that this substance should be harder to get than it is, some reliable subset of defenders can be counted on to respond more like animals than like people? If such is not the very definition of addiction, what is?
All of which goes to show that there is nothing alarmist whatsoever in arguing that we ought to be alarmed about the first generation raised on Internet pornography. In speaking on college campuses about other issues lately, I have been struck by how many studentsusually, though not only, girlshave come up afterward and confided their view that pornography use is the number-one factor warping relations between the sexes these days. I have also heard at least a few boys confide that its hard to find girls on campus who have not themselves been drawn in to some form of the pornographic subculturevia sexting, say, or in the effort to please previous boyfriends, or in the deliberately provocative pictures of themselves on Facebook and elsewhere.
What, if anything, can be done about this other obesity epidemic? For starters, we could use a campaign that might promise to do to pornography what was ultimately done to tobaccoa restigmatization based on the evolving record of fact. Whats needed is nothing less than the kind of leadership that turned smoking, in the course of a single generation, from cool to uncoolone eventually summoning support high and low, ranging from celebrities, high-school teachers and principals, counselors, former users, and anyone else who knows they belong in the coalition of the willing on this wretched issue.
Perhaps when the First Lady concludes her campaign against regular obesity, she or someone else of similar public stature can spare time for this other epidemic, too. After all, uninviting though these dirty waters may be, the reward for tackling this epidemic could be profound. For amid the squalor, the unhappiness, and the rest of the bad news about sexual obesity, the bad news isnt the only news there isnot at all.
Where sin abounded, as Pauls Letter to the Romans has it, grace did much more abound. The empirical record shows that too, though it may not yet be an issue of academic study. After all, just look at the tremendous effort that goes into attempts to break the habit. Look at the energy fueling all those attempts to repair the damage donethe turns to counseling, the therapists, priests, pastors, and others working in these awful trenches to help the addicted get their real lives back. Look at the technological ingenuity toothe new software, the filters, the countercultural and uphill efforts here and there to thwart pornographys public crawl.
To survey that multifaceted record of struggle, fledgling but growing by the day, against the also rapidly growing empirical record of the beasts harms, is to grasp a truth about this new obesity beyond the ridicule of the jaded or the vituperative recriminations of those still in the pit. It is to see redemption. It is to spy hope in a place where desperate people need it mostand plenty of it, too.
The American Family Association of Indiana has some billboards posting the following message: Is Porn the "Other Woman? Porn Doesn't Stay Private."
This is a way to introduce this idea in a more public way; and the controversy it causes may be good to get discussion going. It also in a more subtle way calls it shameful.
How about soliciting the Surgeon General to put warnings on all print, video and electronic pornographic media stating: "WARNING: Viewing Pornography can lead to a sexual addiction" or "WARNING: Viewing Porn can harm your relationship with your spouse." or "WARNING: Studies have shown that 80+% of all people engaging services of those in the sex trafficking industry are viewers of pornography."
I realize this would fall on deaf ears right now with most people; but the idea is to cause SOME people to hear of the unimaginable bondage men are in and its effect on others, as well as cause them to think!
I completely agree.
Trillion dollar slush fund for the states? Sure, why not?
I'm an old man. In my day, pornography went into neighborhoods and communities through vulgar peep shows and adult bookstores. These places were cancers. They were the scourges of neighborhoods, and were part of what forced Giuliani to clean up Times Square. These places have been marginalized now and porn is largely underground. That is very good.
Online porn is everywhere. It is also viewed in private. People don't discuss it. They keep it to themselves, which is supposedly how sexual matters should be. Users are overwhelmingly men. It is a sexual supplement for many of them. The crime rate is nowhere near what it was in the days of adult bookstores and theatres. There is no rise in crime because of this modern entity.
Women cannot keep up with the male sex drive. Many women don't even like sex. My profession is in counseling and I know this from firsthand experience through doing many interviews. My point isn't universal. Many men don't use porn and some women enjoy sex. But porn serves a purpose. It gets the undesirable parts of our natures away from the public, etc..and puts it in homes and living rooms, where our most private choices are made, and it handles the overflow for men with very high sex drives.
Meddlers and do gooders; both liberal and conservative, believe they have a right to crusade against other people's behavior and choices, and will invent a myriad of reasons to do so. Look at the crusade against salt, for instance. I really don't care what my neighbor's sexual tastes are, as long as they leave me alone and I never learn about them.
Pornography is rarely an addiction. It is a compulsion. Addiction takes over and enters all areas of one’s life. Most men who view porn go about their business each day. This is an area of societal victory. not defeat. We have compromised between freedom and allowing a behavior some find repulsive and undesirable, but also removing that behavior from the public square. Sometimes people should know when to declare victory.
Feminists hate pornography. They hate men. The feminists turn their attention back to porn every few years, having squashed male female relationships everywhere else. And they often use Christian and conservative women to carry their water. But also remember that the gays are huge consumers of porn, and are more powerful than the feminists in the P.C. ruling order. Scissors beats a rock here. Sometimes it is that simple.
If they want to put the genie back in the bottle and go back to more conservative times the first thing they have to do is end women’s sufferage. Women have suffered too long from their socialist addiction.
Their hate is fundamentally driven by the evil motive of envy, starting with intense penis envy. What most people don't understand about envy is it's not about wanting what others have, it's about going into other people's lives and cutting off, destroying, and denying them what they have. When envy gets loose it's a race to the bottom.
Wow, only 4 posts before a pro-pornography reply on the FR, no wonder we are losing. I completely agree with the article btw.
What laws would you like to see passed that we don't already have? A new campaign to stigmatize porn is not going to cap this well.
Yes, the Liberal-tarians are pretty vigilant these days.
Porn equals freedom, don’t you know.
Someone better tell God. He says it’s enslavement.
I suppose Luke 21 and Reeses promote porn to their daughters as a lucrative career choice? And if not, why not?
Arm your children with truth and love, and tell the village to stick it as they try to force more of their ideals into laws. Because these are the same idiots who came up with the idea that schools shouldn't spank students, that parents should be arrested if they do it, and that a war on drugs would be any more successful than the last prohibition attempt. That gun control would cut crime, and a minor traffic violation should run in excess of $800, including a hundred to the victim's fund, while a thief who gets convicted and probation in court walks out paying nothing.
Government is almost always the answer to just one question: What screwed this up?
Got one of the best chuckles reading an article on FR in years from the gem above.
Pornography has been around for 35,000 years. Smoking tobacco in Western European and white American culture has been around for 500.
And the desire to view pornography is a heck of a lot more basic, and far stronger, than the desire to smoke.
The surest way to insure your daughter has the option of a lucrative career in porn is to make it illegal. As it stands, very few daughters can make a lot of money in the porn industry, so they go into something else.
What new porn laws would you like to see that we don't already have?
A good antidote to the “free to be you and me” attitude towards porn is here
“Pornography - the Road to Hell”
There is lots of porn in hell, I suppose. Bestiality, child porn, plenty of adultery porn and probably a lot of stuff I’ve never even heard of, thankfully.
Yet there is no porn in heaven.
God says heaven is the most superlatively happy place to be. Hell, the indescribably worst. Yet that is where the porn is. Go figure.
Are you from Hell?
Oh yes, illegalizing porn makes it more lucrative. That makes sense.
Why don’t we legalize child porn, then? It would pay a lot less, and by your logic, fewer kids would be exploited.
As for new porn laws, I would like to see the possession, production or distribution of porn made illegal, as judge by the community standards test. Without apology.
This $10B enterprise rots the souls of the young and adults. Just look around and see the littered landscape of broken lives and crimes of passion.
Does your community not already ban the posession, production and distribution of pornography, according to their standards, within their community?
A very thin line between the two you made.
I'm not even sure if there is a line.
You know that's not going to happen any time soon anywhere in the Western world and even if it happened it would create a lucrative black market. Why waste time on a pointless battle? If you truly want this you can move to a conservative country like Iran or Saudi Arabia. If you are in the petroleum industry, this is a real option.
“What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don’t like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don’t expect freedom to survive very long.”
- Thomas Sowell
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