Archive for the ‘Pornography’ Category


Love and Lust – anon

July 5, 2013


I came across this quite some time ago and quote it from time to time. Then I lost it, couldn’t find it anywhere. And, then, magically, it drifted across my disorganized mess of stuff. Here it is, finally captured, never to be lost again. I love it for its simplicity.

Love is whisper, Lust is a roar,
Love is content, Lust wants more,
Love is offered, Lust just takes,
Love mends the hearts that Lust breaks


Internet Porn Addiction

May 27, 2013
By focusing on the wrong things we pollute and diminish the right things. In pornography, desire is detached from love, and attached to the mute machinery of sex. This is damaging to adults in just the same way that modern sex education is damaging to children. For it undermines the possibility of real erotic love, which comes only when the sexual act is hedged round with prohibitions, and offered as a gift and an existential commitment. Roger Scruton

By focusing on the wrong things we pollute and diminish the right things. In pornography, desire is detached from love, and attached to the mute machinery of sex. This is damaging to adults in just the same way that modern sex education is damaging to children. For it undermines the possibility of real erotic love, which comes only when the sexual act is hedged round with prohibitions, and offered as a gift and an existential commitment.
Roger Scruton

More on Internet Porn Addiction. If you know a ten year old boy with a computer and internet access, you need to get this to his parents so they can all sit down and watch this together. Previous posts on this topic are here.



Shameless and Loveless — Roger Scruton

July 31, 2012

The Venus of Urbino is a 1538 oil painting by the Italian master Titian. Titian returns us to the Garden of Eden, instructing us that we are not to see this body as naked, as though the woman were exposing herself to us in the manner of the girl above in the Venus of Urbino. The nude’s sexuality is not offered to us, but remains latent and expectant within her — awaiting the lover to whom it can be offered not shamelessly, but nevertheless without shame. Focus on the dog. The dog reminds us that she, unlike it, is capable of shame, while being neither ashamed nor shameless. This stupendous fact is presented to us not as a thought or a theory, but as a revelation — the kind of revelation that is contained in every human form, but which is of necessity hidden by our daily commerce and retrieved and clarified by art.


The condition in which we now find ourselves is novel in many ways. Perhaps the most interesting is the enormous effort that is now devoted to overcoming or abolishing shame.

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

 Up to then there’d only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
Philip Larkin, Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began, according to Philip Larkin’s famous poem, in 1963. Four decades have elapsed since then, and these decades have seen a growing recognition that sexual liberation is not the answer to the problems of sex but a new addition to them. Traditional sexual morality reinforced the society-wide commitment to marriage as the sole legitimate avenue to sexual release.

It is easy to understand such a morality. It has a clear social function — ensuring stable families and guaranteeing the transfer of social capital from one generation to the next. And it has an intrinsic rational appeal in making sense of love, commitment, jealousy, courtship and the drama of the sexes. The problem is that, by impeding our pleasures, it creates a strong motive to escape from it. And escape from it we did, with a great burst of jubilation that very quickly dwindled to an apprehensive gulp.

The condition in which we now find ourselves is novel in many ways. Perhaps the most interesting is the enormous effort that is now devoted to overcoming or abolishing shame. The Book of Genesis tells the story of man’s fall, caused by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Until eating the forbidden fruit, the Bible tells us, ‘they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed’. No sooner had they eaten, however, than ‘the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons’.

When you do something wrong and are discovered you feel ashamed of yourself. This kind of shame is a moral emotion, founded on the thought that someone else is judging you. But it is not what is referred to in the verses quoted, which are about sexual shame. Sexual shame differs from moral shame in two ways.

  1. First, it is not a confession of wrongdoing: on the contrary, it testifies to the reluctance to do or suffer wrong.
  2. Secondly, it is not troubled, as moral shame is troubled, by the thought that you are being judged as a self, a free being, a moral subject. On the contrary, it arises from the thought that you are being judged as a body, a mechanism, an object.

Hence the German philosopher Max Scheler described sexual shame as a Schutzgefühl — a shield-emotion that protects you from abuse, whether by another or yourself. If we lose the capacity for shame we do not regain the innocence of the animals; we become shameless, and that means that we are no longer protected from the sexual predator.

Shame still existed in 1963. Couples hid their desire from the world, and sometimes from each other — at least until the moment when it could be clearly expressed. Obscenity was frowned upon, and by nobody more than the prophets of liberation, such as Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown. Sex, for them, was something beautiful, sacred even, which must not be sullied by dirty language, lavatorial humour or exhibitionist displays.

Shame has since been banished from the culture. This we witness in Reality TV — which ought to be called Fantasy TV since that is its function. All fig leaves, whether of language, thought or behavior, have now been removed, and the feral children are right there before our eyes, playing their dirty games on the screen. It is not a pretty sight, but nor is it meant to be.

This shamelessness is encouraged by sex education in our schools, which tries both to discount the differences between us and the other animals, and to remove every hint of the forbidden, the dangerous or the sacred. Shame, according to the standard literature now endorsed by the DES, is a lingering disability. Sexual initiation means learning to overcome such ‘negative’ emotions, to put aside our hesitations, and to enjoy ‘good sex’. Questions as to ‘who’, ‘whom’ or ‘which gender’ are matters of personal choice — sex education is not there to make the choice, merely to facilitate it.

In this way we encourage children to a premature and depersonalized interest in their own sexuality, and at the same time we become hysterical at the thought of all those pedophiles out there, who are really the pedophiles in here. I see in this the clear proof that shame is not a luxury, still less an inhibition to be discarded, but an integral part of the human condition. It is the emotion without which true sexual desire cannot develop, and if there is such a thing as genuine sex education, it consists in teaching children not to discard shame but to acquire it.

Equally novel is the loss of the concept of normal sexual desire. In 1963 we still saw homosexuality as a perversion, even if an enviably glamorous one. We still believed that sexual desire had a normal course, in which man and woman come together by mutual consent and to their mutual pleasure. We regarded sex with children as abhorrent and sex with animals as unthinkable, except for literary purposes.

Thanks in part to massive propaganda from the gay lobby, in part to the mendacious pseudo-science put out by the Kinsey Institute (whose charlatan founder has now been admitted to the ranks of saints and heroes), we have abandoned the concept of perversion, and accepted the official view of ‘sexual orientation’ as a natural and inescapable fact.

Indeed, things have gone further. Around 1963 the philosopher Michael Polanyi presented his theory of ‘moral inversion’, according to which disapproval once directed at an activity may become directed instead at the people who still disapprove of it. By moral inversion we protect ourselves from our previous beliefs and from the guilt of discarding them.

Moral inversion has infected the debate about sexual inversion to the point of silencing it. To suggest that it would be better if children were not exposed to homosexuality or encouraged to think of it as normal, that the gay scene is not the innocent thing that it claims to be but a form of sexual predation — to make those suggestions now, however hesitantly, is to lay yourself open to the charge of ‘homophobia’. And this will spell the end of your career in any place, such as a university, which has freedom of opinion as its guiding purpose. In this area, as in so many others, the ruling principle of liberalism applies; namely, all opinions are permitted, so long as they are liberal.

Novel too is the way in which sex and the sexual act are now described. In 1963 it was possible — just — to believe that the language of Lady Chatterley’s Lover safeguarded the moral core of sexual emotion, and showed it to be the beautiful and personal thing that it is. Sex, for Lawrence and his liberated followers, was still something holy, which could therefore be defiled. Forty years on we have acquired a habit of describing sex in demeaning and depersonalized terms. Having lost all sense of the human being as ‘made in God’s image’, we take revenge on the body by describing it in what the Lawrentians would regard as sacrilegious language.

A significant contribution has been made, in this respect, by pornography. You can study a picture and see only lines, colors and shapes, while failing to notice the face that shines in and through them. So you can look at a person and see only the body, and not the self that lives in it. It is precisely our sexual interest that presents us with this choice: whether to see the other as subject or as object.

This explains both the charm and the danger of pornography, which represents people as objects, so that the body becomes peculiarly opaque, a prison door behind which the self shifts invisibly, inaudibly and inaccessibly. People are repelled by pornography and also fascinated by it, and now that it is available to everyone on the internet, it seems that just about everyone is logging on.

The growing toleration of pornography, which will soon be regarded as an industry like any other, protected against criticism by the same moral inversion that now protects homosexuality, is rapidly changing the way in which the human body is perceived.One way of understanding this change is by invoking Kenneth Clark’s distinction between the naked and the nude.

In Titian’s nudes you will often find a lapdog, whose eyes and posture express an eager interest in the woman who reclines on the couch. Dogs have no conception of what it is to be naked, and their calm unembarrassability before the sight of human flesh reminds us of how very different the human form is in their eyes and in ours. 

Venus with a Mirror Titian (c.1555)

In this way Titian returns us to the Garden of Eden, instructing us that we are not to see this body as naked, as though the woman were exposing herself to us in the manner of the girl above in the Venus of Urbino. The nude’s sexuality is not offered to us, but remains latent and expectant within her — awaiting the lover to whom it can be offered not shamelessly, but nevertheless without shame. The dog reminds us that she, unlike he, is capable of shame, while being neither ashamed nor shameless. This stupendous fact is presented to us not as a thought or a theory, but as a revelation — the kind of revelation that is contained in every human form, but which is of necessity hidden by our daily commerce and retrieved and clarified by art.

The people in the pornographic image are not nude like Titian’s Venus but naked — even if they are also partly clothed. The focus is on the sexual act and the sexual organs, which are exposed, framed by the camera and detached from any personal emotion. In this way pornography effects a shift in focus — a shift downwards from the human person, the object of love and desire, to the human animal, the object of transferable fantasies. This shift in focus is also a profanation. By focusing on the wrong things we pollute and diminish the right things. In pornography, desire is detached from love, and attached to the mute machinery of sex. This is damaging to adults in just the same way that modern sex education is damaging to children. For it undermines the possibility of real erotic love, which comes only when the sexual act is hedged round with prohibitions, and offered as a gift and an existential commitment.

The growth of internet porn is easily explained, however. Pornography has a function, which is precisely to relieve us of commitments. Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all is it difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence, make demands that we may be unwilling to meet. It requires a great force, a desire that fixes upon an individual, and sees that individual as unique and irreplaceable, if people are to make the sacrifices upon which the community depends for its longevity. It is far easier to take refuge in surrogates, which neither embarrass us nor resist our cravings. The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which the erotic force is dissipated and the needs of love denied.

The effect of pornographic fantasy is therefore to ‘commodify’ the object of desire, and to replace love and its vestigial sacraments with the law of exchange. When sex becomes a commodity, the most important sanctuary of human ideals becomes a market, and value is reduced to price. That is what has happened in the last few decades, and it is the root fact of post-modern culture, the ultimate explanation of what is observed and commented upon on every side — namely, that our culture has become not just shameless, but loveless. For the human body has been downgraded in our perception from subject to object, from self to tool.

The distinction between body and self is not to be explained as a distinction between the physical body and the ethereal soul. It is a distinction between two ways of seeing our embodiment. Nor is it a distinction that we can really apply to the rest of creation. But it belongs to the truth of our condition. And it is only when we look on people as we should, so that their physical embodiment becomes transparent to the self-conscious viewpoint that is uniquely theirs, that we see the moral reality. That moral reality is what is meant when it is written that we are made in the image of God. Take that phrase as a metaphor if you like; but it still refers to something real, namely the embodiment in the human form of a free being, capable of desire, love and commitment and capable also, therefore, of shame. This reality was vivid to us four decades ago; today it is still perceived, but through a glass darkly.

These radical changes have consequences that nobody would have foreseen in 1963. It was still assumed in that year that men made advances, and that women gave in to them only when consent was complete. What happened thereafter was the responsibility of man and woman alike. This assumption can no longer be made. In the world of ‘safe sex’ those old habits of courtship seem tedious and redundant. If sex is simply the pleasurable transaction that is on sale over the internet and advertised in schools, then consent is easily obtained and easily signified.

But it seems as though consent, offered so freely and without regard for the preliminaries once assumed to be indispensable, is not really consent and can be withdrawn at any time, even retrospectively. The charges of harassment or even ‘date rape’ lie always in reserve. The slap in the face which used to curtail importunate advances is now offered after the event, and in a far more deadly form — a form which is no longer private, intimate and remediable, but public, militarised and, in America at least, possessing the absolute objectivity of law. ‘Date rape’ is now a serious and increasing crime on the American campus. It doesn’t matter that the girl said ‘yes’, since yes means no. In the absence of feminine modesty, ardent courtship and masculine address — behaviour still common in 1963 — you cannot assume that a woman knows what she is doing when she does it with you. You might take this as showing that ‘safe sex’ is really sex at its most dangerous. Maybe marriage is the only safe sex that we know.

With the crime of ‘date rape’ has come the lesser crime of sexual harassment, which means (to put it honestly) advances made by an unattractive man. The choreography of seduction was inherited in 1963 from the institution of marriage. But it has since decayed to the point where men are forced to be blunt about what they want, while being no longer trained to disguise their desires behind an offer of protection. In consequence unattractive men, reduced to blurting out their sexual need to its reluctant object, expose themselves to humiliation. And because women, however much they are schooled in feminist ideology, despise men who fail to be men and who appear to treat them as mere commodities, ‘sexual harassment’ has become a serious and wildly proliferating charge, a way in which women can release their generalized anger against men — an anger which is itself the long-term product of sexual liberation, and among the most distressing of the many legacies of 1963.

For four decades we have been defying human nature, making purely theoretical assumptions which fly in the face of customs and instincts that have existed, in one form or another, from the beginning of recorded history. Sexual liberation is here to stay; but we should try to temper it, to rescue the natural order that it threatens, and to safeguard the two great projects which, since 1963, have been in such serious decline: the project of love and the project of raising children.


Reading Selections II from How Porn Became the Norm by Pamela Paul

May 23, 2012

Not A Solo Activity
In other words, despite appearances, pornography isn’t precisely a solo activity. As interviews with men and women attest, it plays into how people approach and function in relationships. Whether a couple watches together, or one or both partners uses it alone, pornography plays a significant role not only in sex but in couple’s sense of trust, security, and fidelity. As Mark Schwartz, clinical director of  the Masters and Johnson Clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, says, “Pornography is having a dramatic effect on relationships at many different levels and in many different ways — and nobody outside the sexual behavior field and the psychiatric community is talking about it.”

Not knowing whom to turn to when their boyfriends turn away from them and toward pornography, many women write in to magazine advice columnists for help or ask for support in online forums. Female-oriented internet communities (chat rooms, bulletin boards, online forums, etc.) teem with discussions on the subject. Every week, advice columnists across the country address the issue; presumably many similar letters go unanswered in print.

Just one example: A woman writes to a local newspaper, “We’ve been together five years, lived together half that time. We have a loving, happy relationship. Recent I discovered via the computer that he’s fascinated by hard-core pornography, lots of it. When confronted, he said I have no right to be upset, though he’s aware it offends me; he insisted I let it go. He’s still spending hours looking at this and I’m disgusted…. I’ve tried to discuss how degrading and controlling this seems to me, but he is not willing to give it up. I know many people think it’s harmless, but it’s making me question whether I’m willing to continue a relationship with someone who can disregard my feelings so easily.”

The Pornified/Harris poll found that overall, 34% of women see men using pornography as cheating in absolutely all cases. Yet only 17% of men equated pornography with cheating. Indeed, most men who use pornography tend to see pornography as not cheating: A man has his needs, and he’s fulfilling them in a way that prevents him from cheating on his wife with a real woman. According to the Pornified/Harris poll, 41% of men say pornography should never be considered cheating. Only 18% of women felt the same way.

Once she’s discovered his pornography, what next? Psychotherapist Marlene Spielman says when a woman finds out about a partner’s pornography habit, the result is usually a back and forth of very strong emotions. The woman typically feels, hurt angry and betrayed. Confronted husbands often begin with denial before confessing the truth, followed by a big fight, blaming, and accusations. He may accuse her of driving him to it; she might point to his avoidance of problems in the relationship.

In the 2004 Elle/ poll, one in four divorced respondents said internet pornography and chat had contributed to their split. At the 2003 meeting of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a gathering of the nation’s divorce attendees documented a startling trend. Nearly two-thirds of the attorneys present had witnessed a sudden rise in divorces related to the internet; 58% of those were the result of a spouse looking at excessive amounts of pornography online. According to the association’s president, Richard Barry, “Eight years ago, pornography played almost no role in divorces in this country. Today, there are a significant number of cases where it plays a definite part in marriages breaking up:’.

The five lawyers from the office of matrimonial attorney Marcia Maddox are working on at least one case involving pornography. In one, a wife found her husband’s internet pornography while she and their daughter were working on a school project. Horrified, the woman hired a computer technician, who discovered a trove of pornography on the hard drive. The couple ended up getting a divorce; the mother was awarded sole custody.

The fact is, Maddox says, “Using pornography is like adultery. It’s not legally adultery, which requires penetration. But there are many ways of cheating. It’s often effectively desertion — men abandoning their family to spend time with porn.” Often the judges find that even if children aren’t directly exposed to a father’s pornography, they are indirectly affected because their fathers ignore them in favor of porn. Visitation in such cases may be limited.

Mary Jo McCurley, an attorney who has practiced family law in Dallas since 1979, agrees. In the past five years, more and more cases are brought forth in which a husband’s pornography habit is a factor.”We see cases in which the husband becomes so immersed in online porn it destroys the marriage;’ she explains. “Not only is it unsettling for the wife that he’s using other women to get off, but it takes away from the time they could spend together as a couple.”

In divorce cases these days, enormous amounts of time and money are spent recovering pornography from computers. “You can hire experts who specialize in digging through hard drives, McCurley says, “There are people who have made a profession out of it. It’s become quite common in Texas divorce.”

Bad For Teenagers
The statistics are frightening, but even more appalling are the effects of pornography on the next generation. According to a 2001 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, seven in ten fifteen-to-seventeen-year-olds admitted to “accidentally” stumbling across pornography online. Girls were more likely than boys to say they were “very upset” by the experience (35% versus 6%), although 41% of youth that age said that it wasn’t a problem.

Statistics show nearly all — if not all — teenagers are exposed to pornography
one way or another. A 2004 study by Columbia University found that 11.5 million teenagers (45%) have friends who regularly view internet pornography and download it? (Incidentally, teenagers with a majority of friends who do so are three times more likely to smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs than are teens who have no such friends.)

The prevalence of teens with friends who view and download internet pornography increases with age, from nearly one-third of twelve-year-olds to nearly two-thirds of seventeen-year-olds. Boys are significantly more likely than girls to have friends who view online pornography: 25% of twelve- and thirteen-year-old s, and 46% of sixteen- and seventeen-year-old girls say they have friends who regularly view and download internet pornography, compared with 37% and 65% of ,s in those age groups.

Bear in mind that most of these statistics are already outdated.

Psychotherapists and family counselors across the country attest to the popularity of pornography among pre-adolescents. Even pre-adolescents are being treated for pornography addiction, says Judith Coche, a clinical psychologist who runs the Coché Center in Philadelphia and teaches psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. She describes one case in which the parents of an eleven-year-old girl found her creating her own pornographic website. When confronted, she said that pornography was considered `cool” among her friends. Perhaps it wasn’t a very good idea, she admitted, but all of her friends were doing it. Her parents were horrified. Coché says, “Before the internet, I never encountered this.”

“I’ve had my own therapy practice for over twenty-five years;’ she says. “I feel like I’ve seen everything.”She pauses and says almost apologetically, “I’ve been walking around my practice saying  “We have an epidemic on our hands: The growth of pornography and its impact on young people is really, really dangerous. And the most dangerous part is that we don’t even realize what’s happening.”

Pornography is wildly popular with teenage boys in a way that makes yesterday’s sneaked glimpses at Penthouse seem monastic. The prevalence of the internet among teenagers has made pornography just another online activity; there is little barrier to entry and almost no sense of taboo. Instead, pornography seems to be a natural right and an acceptable pastime. One teenage boy in Boston explained recently to the New York Times, “Who needs the hassle of dating when I’ve got online porn?”

There is a reason for this. Like all good marketers, pornographers know it’s important to reel consumers in while they’re young. Pornography is integrated into the cable TV and videogame cultures, for example. MTV recently announc launch of a Stan Lee/Hugh Hefner collaboration, Hef’s Superbunnies, an “edgy, sexy animated series” from the creator of the Spider-Man comic book series featuring a buxom team of specially trained Playboy bunnies.”

Mainstream videogames regularly feature pornographic elements. One 2004 game, “The Guy Game,” which features women exposing their breasts when they answer questions wrong in a trivia contest, didn’t even get an `Adults-Only” rating (The game manufacturer is being sued because one female included in the footage was only seventeen and didn’t give her consent to be filmed.)” “BMX XXX” adds a pornographic sheen to bike stunts and racing. Another game, “Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, features full-on nudity as garners live out the player lifestyle, trying to score hot babes. The manufacturers are fighting to obtain an “M” rating (the equivalent of a movie’s “R’) in order to ensure being carried at Wal-Mart’s across America.

Marketers have extended the porn brand to everything from sporting equipment to clothing. Two snowboarding companies, Burton Snowboards and Sims, now offer boards — clearly marketed to teenagers, the backbone of the snowboarding market — emblazoned with images of Playboy bunnies and Vivid porn stars. Sims boasts that the boards with photographs of porn starts Jenna Jameson and Briana Banks are their best sellers.

Sexually Cued To A Computer
The effects of such ever-present pornography on kids who are still developing sexually has yet to be fully understood, Coché explains. She has talked to parents who have witnessed their sons playing computer games when pornographic pop come onto the screen. “Pornography is so often tied into videogame culture and insinuates itself even into non-pornographic areas of the web. It’s very hard for a twelve-year-old boy to avoid.”

As a result, boys are learning to sexually cue to a computer, rather than to human beings. “This is where they’re learning what turns them on. And what are they supposed to do about that? Whereas once boys would kiss a girl they had a crush on behind the school, we don’t know how boys who become trained to cue sexually to computer-generated porn stars are going to behave, especially as they get older.”’

Kids also absorb pornography very differently from adults. Not only are they like sponges, they are also quite literal. Not only younger children, but even young teenagers are generally not sophisticated enough to differentiate between fantasy and reality. They learn direct lessons from pornography, with no filter, and with no concept of exaggeration, irony, or affect.

They learn what women supposedly look like, how they should act, and what are supposed to do. They learn what women “want” and how men can give it to them. Watching pornography, boys and girls learn that women always want sex and sex is divorced from relationships. They learn that men can have whomever they want and that women will respond the way men want them to. They learn that anal sex is the norm and instant female orgasm is to be expected. And they absorb these lessons avidly, emulating people they perceive to be role models.

“Kids today are going to run into pornography online, not erotica,” explains Aline Zoldbrod.”They’re getting a very bad model. Pornography doesn’t show how a real couple negotiates conflict or creates intimacy.” For girls especially, Zoldbrod believes, pornography is a “brutal way to be introduced to sexuality, since much of it is “rape-like” in its use of violence.

Still, many older kids at least partly recognize the negative side. When asked 2001 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 59% of fifteen- to twenty-four-olds said they thought seeing pornography online encouraged young people to have sex before they are ready, and half thought it would lead people to think unprotected sex is okay. Half thought internet pornography could lead to addiction and promote bad attitudes toward women. In a 2002 nationwide Gallup poll, 69% of teenage boys between the ages of thirteen and seventeen said that even if nobody knew about it, they would feel guilty about surfing pornography on the internet, Not surprising, an even greater number of girls — 86% — felt the same way.

Interestingly, when asked about the effect of pornography for the Pornified/ Harris poll, young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four were most likely of all generations to report negative consequences. Four in ten of them believe pornography harms relationships between men and women, compared with only three in ten twenty-five-to-forty-year-olds. The internet generation is also more likely to believe that pornography changes men’s expectations of women’s looks and behavior.

Adults also see the harm pornography does to young children and teenagers. When asked in the Pornified/Harris poll, “What is the greatest impact of pornography on children?” 30% of Americans said the fact that it distorts boys’ expectations and understanding of women and sex, 25% said that it makes kids more likely to have sex earlier than they otherwise might have, 7% cited the way it distorts girls’ body images and ideas about sex, and 6% said it makes kids more likely to look at pornography as adults (men were twice as likely as women to believe this).

Only 2% of Americans actually believe that pornography helps kids better understand sexuality. And only 9% think that it doesn’t have any impact on children at all.

Pornography’s Effects
Pornography in all its permutations affects children’s developing sexuality; the younger the age of exposure and the more hard-core the material, the more intense the effects.
Boys who look at pornography excessively become men who connect arousal purely with the physical, losing the ability to become attracted by the particular features of a given partner. Instead, they recreate images from pornography in their brain while they’re with a real person.

“It’s sad that boys who are initiated to sex through these images become indoctrinated in a way that can potentially stay with them for the rest of their lives,” Gary Brooks says.”Boys learn that you have sex in spite of your feelings, not because of your feelings. Meanwhile, girls are taught that you don’t have intimacy without relationships:’

No matter what kind of pornography teenagers look at, spending one’s pre-pubescence and puberty using porn can have lifelong implications. Masters and Johnson’s clinical director Mark Schwartz has seen fourteen- and fifteen-year-old boys who are addicted to pornography. “It’s awful to see the effect it has on them;’ he says. At such a young age, to have that kind of sexual problem.”

Schwartz isn’t surprised about the growing number of young addicts in the Internet Age. At that age, “your brain is much more susceptible;’ he explains. “Many of these boys are very smart and academically successful; a lot of computer geeks are the ones who get drawn in. It affects how they develop sexually. Think about a twelve-year-old boy looking at Playboy magazine. When you’re talking about internet pornography, you can multiply that effect by the relative size of the internet itself

Research trickling in has begun to document the effects of pornography on kids a difficult area to study given obvious ethical challenges. Certainly, there aren’t any parents who would consent to have their children view pornography in order to further research on the damage it causes.

Still, some evidence has been gathered. A recent study of 101 sexually abusivechild ren in Australia documented increased aggressiveness in boys who use pornography. Almost all had internet access, and 90% admitted to seeing pornography online. One-fourth said an older sibling or a friend had shown them how to access pornography online, sometimes against their will; 25% said that using pornography their primary reason for going online. When questioned separately, nearly all of their parents said they doubted their child would access any pornography via the internet.

It Wasn’t Like This
Touring around this country to promote my book Pornified, I heard again and again concerned parents. “I know my fourteen-year-old son is looking at extremely -core pornography, but what can I do about it? He tells me he needs the computer for schoolwork.”I have a ten-year-old daughter. I don’t want to even think about boys her age are learning about the opposite sex online.” “My daughter found pornography that my husband downloaded on the family computer.” A pediatric told me there was an incident in her practice in which toddlers acted out moves from a pornographic movie.

A day’s worth of nationwide headlines inevitably brings up stories of children encountering pornography at the local library, child pornography arrests, and school incidents in which teachers are caught looking at pornography on school computers during school hours. It is terrible enough that adults are suffering the consequences of a pornified culture. But we must think about the kind of world we are introducing to our children. Certainly everyone — liberals and conservatives alike — can agree with the statement, “It wasn’t like this when we were kids.” And I can’t imagine anyone would have that thought without simultaneously experiencing a profound sense of fear and loss.


Reading Selections I from How Porn Became the Norm by Pamela Paul

May 22, 2012

“It’s All Mainstream Now!”
That is what Seth Rogan’s character Zack says to his best friend and and intended love, Miri, in an effort to get her to make a pornographic film with him. The film is Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the latest gross-out comedy/romance from Kevin Smith, and one of many recent comedies (and romances, shockingly) to make light of pornography. Indeed, in Rogan’s last romantic hit, Knocked Up, his character’s’ job” is creating a pornographic website. The women in the film? After a quick, symbolic “Yuck!,” they become willing participants.

It is all mainstream now. Over the past ten years, technological advances, cultural shifts, and social attitudes have transformed the pornography landscape. Today men, women, and children are affected by the ubiquity and mainstreaming pornography in unprecedented ways. The internet, in particular, has made pornography more anonymous, more accessible, and more affordable than ever before, bringing in new users, increasing use among existing fans, and catapulting many into sexual compulsiveness. Children are being exposed to pornography earlier than ever before in ways that will profoundly affect their sexuality and their lives.

Not only is pornography itself more ubiquitous, the entire culture has become pornified. By that I mean that the aesthetics, values, and standards of pornography into mainstream popular culture. Young girls brazenly pose in pornographic ways on their MySpace pages, even creating porn-like videos of themselves and preening before untold numbers of strangers. Porn stars are regularly in the same tabloid magazines that profile actors, singers, and other celebrities celebrating those who sell sex with those who create art on the basis of other talents (though, of course, one could argue the relative merits of that “art”).

Pornography Is Everywhere
All of this would not be possible without the hyper speed spread of pornography over the past two decades. Today, the number of people looking at pornography is staggering. Americans rent upwards of 800 million pornographic videos and DVDs (about one in five of all rented movies is porn), and the 11,000 porn films shot each year far outpaces Hollywood’s yearly slate of 400. Four billion dollars a year is spent consumers on video pornography in the United States, more than on football, baseball and basketball. One in four internet users looks at a pornography website in any given month. Men look at pornography online more than they look at any other subject. And 66% of eighteen- to thirty-four-year-old men visit a pornographic site every month.

Pornography regularly makes headlines and sells products, even within the mainstream culture. In 2004, Janet Jackson notoriously bared her breast during the Super Bowl, in prime-time family television viewing hours. Shortly thereafter Paris Hilton’s amateur sex video became an internet sensation. More media attend followed — Howard Stern fled to satellite radio and soon porn star Jenna Jameson and Playboy bunny Pamela Anderson were topping the best-seller lists with a memoir a roman a clef, respectively.

A glossy coffee table book of porn star portraits accompanied by essays from writers such as Salman Rushdie and Francine du Pies Gray was published. Showtime ran a special in which porn stars, Jameson among them, bragged about the power women have in the pornography business. Today celebrity couples boast about their trips to the hottest strip clubs. Characters on prime-time sitcoms extol the benefits of porn. Even mainstream women’s magazines advise women to enliven their marital bedtime routine by turning on late-night Skinemax.

The message is that pornography is everywhere — and only ever-so-slightly scandalous. It is good for you, and especially good for relationships. Pornography is hip, sexy, and fun.

But particularly on the internet, where much of pornography today consumed, the type of sexuality depicted often has more to do with violence, extreme fetishes, and mutual degradation than with fun, much less with sexual or emotion connection. For those who haven’t double-clicked: These aren’t airbrushed photographs of the girl next door or images of coupling; they are vivid scenes of crying women enduring aggressive multiple penetration.

These are images created by pornographers for a single purpose: to help men masturbate and get them to pay for it. Sex, in pornography, is a commercialized product, devoid of emotion, stripped of humanity, an essentially empty experience. As one porn fan put it, after an evening of porn surfing, “You feel like, yeah, that was a release, but I don’t know, maybe not the best thing. Like eating a bag of potatos chips.”

Bad For Women And Marriage
“You get into a slippery slope,” cautions Massachusetts-based psychologist and sex therapist Aline Zoldbrod. “The majority of porn out there is degrading and has only gotten worse. The women are plasticized; there’s no longer as much diversity or naturalism as there was two decades ago.

Zoldbrod believes many young men today are terrible lovers because they learn about sexuality from pornography. “In real life, sexually-speaking, women are slow cookers and men are microwaves. But in pornography, all a man does is touch a woman and she’s howling in delight.

Today, pornography is so widely used by young they learn these falsehoods. There’s good evidence that the more porn men watch, the less satisfied they are with their partner’s looks and sexual performance. Advice columnists across North America receive letter after letter in which women complain about their partner’s pornography. Men who watch a lot of porn seem to focus more intensely on the visual, even when in bed with a woman, asking her to emulate the look and moves of porn stars. Women have distorted body images feel the need to remodel their appearances — no matter how they personally feel about pornography.

Though pressured to accept pornography as a sign of being sexy and hip, women admit that in practice they are hurt by their boyfriend’s use of porn. A twenty-four-year-old from Baltimore complained to me about how her boyfriend got lap dances at a strip club every month. “If he were to do that with a woman in front of me on the living room couch, that would be considered cheating. Why is it somehow okay just because he’s at a strip club?” Another woman told me, “All of my girlfriends and I expect to find histories of pornographic websites on our computers after our boyfriends use it. They don’t bother erasing the history if you don’t give them a lot of hell.” The implications troubled her.”I fear we are losing something important — a healthy sexual worldview. I think, however, that we are using old ideas of pornography to understand its function in a much more complex modern world.”

Women view men’s relationship with pornography as a sign of betrayal, even cheating. A thirty-eight-year-old mother of two from Kentucky said finding her husband’s secret stash of porn “pretty much wiped out the trust in our relationship.” She she knew about his years-long subterfuge, she recalled, “I would find myself worrying all the time. If I were going to take a trip for my job, I’d wonder about what he might look at while I was gone.”

Pornography thus creates deception and distrust in relationships. Most women have no idea how often their boyfriends and husbands look at pornography because the men do not tell them. Usually the deception is deliberate, though many men deny to themselves how often they look at it, and most simply don’t think about quantifying the amount they view. While men consider trust crucial for a healthy relationship, they seem willing to flout that trust when it comes to pornography — deceiving their significant others into thinking they’re either not looking at it at all or are looking at it less frequently. Fitting pornography into one’s life isn’t always easy.

More women are installing programs such as Net Nanny on their computer to limit their home computer internet access to PG websites. According to one filtering company,, more than half the company’s 3,000 customers at adults who use the software not to block their kids’ access but to keep themselves and other adults from looking at porn. In a 2004 Elle/ poll, one in four women said she was concerned that her partner had an “out-of-control habit” with online pornography.

Matrimonial lawyers attest to a growing docket of cases in which pornography was a major source of tension, if not the cause of the divorce, “Pornography wreck marriages.” says Marcia Maddox, a Virginia-based attorney.

Bad For Men
Yet lest pornography get written off as a “women’s problem;’ consider the extensive negative effects of pornography on the primary users, men. According to a large-scale 1994 report summarizing eighty-one peer-reviewed research studies, most studies (70%) found that exposure to non-aggressive pornography has clear negative effects – and that is not the only kind of pornography most users view.’

Countless men 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. These are men who seem like regular guys, but who spend hours each week with porn — usually online. And many of them admit they have trouble cutting down their use. They also find themselves seeking out harder and harder pornography.

In interviews for Pornified, a book I wrote about pornography’s effects, men — even those who were avid porn fans — confessed that their pornography habits had damaged their sex lives. Men who use pornography say they are losing the ability to relate to, be close to, and achieve orgasm with real women.

A single twenty-something graphic designer told me he would find himself in bars, berating himself over the way he scanned potential dates. “I’d be saying, ‘No, her breasts are too small, she’s not worth it then wonder,’ Who have I become? Why am I judging women like this?” After months of rampant use, he had to “restrict” himself in order to regain perspective.

A twenty-eight-year-old man explained, “I used to view porn online, but I began to find it more difficult to stay aroused when having sex with a real woman… During a dry spell, I discovered iPorn, and the easiness of it made it easy to glut — to the point where now, even though the dry spell is over, real sex has lost some of its magic.”

When they are having sex with real women, such men need to conjure images they’ve viewed in pornography in order to maintain their level of excitement. Other times, they want to focus on their partner, but find their minds filled with pornographic images instead — like getting a bad song trapped in their heads.

Men also 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 have once considered appalling — bestiality, group sex, hard-core S&M, genital torture, child pornography.

They found the way they looked at women in real life warping to fit the pornography fantasies they consumed onscreen. Their daily interactions with women became pornified. Their relationships soured. They had trouble relating to women as individual human beings. They worried about the way they saw their daughters and girls their daughters’ age. It wasn’ t only their sex lives that suffered — pornography’s effects rippled out, touching all aspects of their existence. Their workdays became interrupted, their hobbies were tossed aside, their family lives were disrupted. Some men even lost their jobs, their wives, and their children. The sacrifice is enormous.

Nor is it only the most violent hard-core pornography that damages how the male users view women, including their wives and their girlfriends. Because pornography involves looking at women but not interacting with them, it elevates the physical while ignoring or trivializing all other aspects of the woman. A woman is literally reduced to her body parts and sexual behavior. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who studies pornography at Texas A&M University, explains that” soft-core pornography has a very negative effect on men as well. The problem with soft-core pornography is that it’s voyeurism — it teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings.”

But pornography doesn’t just change how men view women — it changes their lives, including their relation to pornography. The first step is usually an increase in frequency and quantity of viewing: more times logging online or clicking the remote control, prolonged visits to certain websites, a tendency to fall into a routine. In a 2004 Elle/ poll, nearly 25% of men admitted that they were afraid they were `overstimulating” themselves with online sex.

In fact, routine is an essential ingredient in the financial success of high-tech porn. Wendy Seltzer, an advocate for online civil liberties, argues that pornographers should not even be concerned about piracy of their free material. “People always want this stuff. Seeing some of it just whets their appetite for more. Once they get through what’s available for free, they’ll move into the paid services .” And once they’ve indulged in more quantity, they want more quality — meaning more action, more intensity, more extreme situations. The user’s impetus to find harder-core fare helps the entire industry.

Particularly on the internet, men find themselves veering off into forms of pornography they never thought they could find appealing. Those who start off with soft-core develop a taste for harder-core pornography.

Men who view a lot of pornography talk about their disgust the first time they chanced upon an unpleasant image or unsolicited child porn. But with experience, it doesn’t bother the user as much — the shock wears thin quickly, especially given the frequent assault of such images he encounters on the internet. He learns to ignore or navigate around unwanted imagery, and the third time he sees an unpleasant image, it’s merely an annoyance and a delay. At the same time that such upsetting imagery becomes more tolerable, the imagery that had aroused him becomes less interesting, leading the user to ratchet up the extremity of the kind of pornography he seeks, looking for more shocking material than he started with.

The Women’s Market
Having won over such a significant chunk of the male market, the pornography industry is eager to tap into the other potential 50% of the market: women. A number of companies are increasing production of pornography made by and for women, and the industry is keen to promote what it likes to view as women’s burgeoning predilection for pornography. Playgirl TV announced its launch in 2004 with programming to include an `erotic soap opera’ from a woman’s point of view, a 1940s-style romantic comedy with “a sexual twist;’ and roundtable discussions of “newsworthy women’s topics:’

In recent years, women’s magazines have regularly featured a discussion of pornography from a new perspective: how women can introduce it into their own lives. While many women continue to have mixed or negative feelings toward pornography, they are told to be realistic, to be “open-minded:’ Porn, they are told, is sexy, and if you want to be a sexually attractive and forward-thinking woman, you’ve got to catch on.

Today, the pornography industry and our pornified culture have convinced women that wearing a thong is a form of emancipation, learning to pole dance means embracing your sexuality, and taking your boyfriend for a lap dance is what every sexy and supportive girlfriend should do. In an Elle magazine poll, more than half of the respondents described themselves as “pro-stripping’ (56%), and said that they weren’t bothered if their partner went to strip clubs (52%).

Sociologist Michael Kimmel, who studies pornography and teaches sexuality classes at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, says, “Twenty years ago, my female students would say, ‘Ugh, that’s disgusting,’ when I brought up pornography in class. The men would guiltily say, ‘Yeah, I’ve used it, Today, men are much more open about saying they use pornography all the time, and they don’t feel any guilt. The women now resemble the old male attitude: They’ll sheepishly admit to using it themselves:’ Women’s attitudes have merged even more closely with men’s.

The internet measurement firm comScore tracked close to thirty-two million women visiting at least one adult website in January 2004. Seven million of them were ages thirty-five to forty-four, while only 800,000 were over the age of sixty-five. Nielsen NetRatings has found the figures to be somewhat lower, with ten million women visiting adult content websites in December 2003. In a 2004 Elle/MSNBC. com poll, 41% of women said they have intentionally viewed or downloaded erotic films or photos, and 13% watched or sexually interacted with someone on a live web cam.

Yet as much as women are touted as the new pornography consumer, they still lag far behind men. The sensational headlines do little to reflect the reality of most women’s experiences. Statistics belie the assertions of the pro-porn movement and the go-go girl mentality espoused by female pornography purveyors.

While some polls show that up to half of all women go online for sexual reasons, the percentage of women who say they do is likely exaggerated by the inclusion in the definition of “adult” internet content of erotica, dating, and informational sites, areas to which women are disproportionately drawn compared with men. Others feel that admitting they don’t look at pornography at all is akin to affixing a “frigid” sticker to their chastity belts; better not to come off as uptight. Many women tracked through filtering programs visit pornographic sites by accident or out of curiosity, or are tracking down their male partner’s usage.

Some attribute the rise in female consumption to an increased supply in pornography for women. That may be part of the reason, but there’s more at play than a simple increase in supply — something has to explain the increased demand. Broader societal shifts in men’s and women’s roles in relationships and a corresponding swing in women’s expectations and attitudes toward their sexuality are driving women to pornography, too.

Not A Harmless “Guy Thing”
Many women try to treat porn as merely a harmless `guy thing;’ but they are profoundly disturbed when they are forced to come to terms with the way porn changes their lives — and the lives of their boyfriends or husbands. They find themselves constantly trying to measure up to the bodies and sexual performance of the women their men watch online and onscreen. They fear that they’ve lost the ability to turn their men on anymore — and quite often, they have.

One twenty-four-year-old woman from Baltimore confided, “I find that porn’s prevalence is a serious hindrance to my comfort level in relationships. Whether it’s porn DVDs and magazines lying around the house, countless porn files downloaded their computers, or even trips to strip clubs, almost every guy I have dated (as well as my male friends) is very open about his interest in porn. As a result, my body image suffers tremendously…. I wonder if I am insecure or if the images I see guys ogle every day has done this to me.’ She later confessed that she felt unable to her concerns to anyone. A guy doesn’t think you’re cool if you complain about it,’ explained.”Ever since the internet made it so easy to access, there’s no longer any stigma to porn.”

A thirty-eight-year-old woman from a Chicago suburb described her husband’s addiction to pornography: “He would come home from work, slide food around his plate during dinner, play for maybe half an hour with the kids, and then go into his home office, shut the door and surf internet porn for hours. I knew – and he knew that I knew. I put a filter on his browser that would email me every time a pornographic image was captured…. I continually confronted him on this. There were times I would be so angry I would cry and cry and tell him how much it hurt…. It got to the point where he stopped even making excuses. It was more or less ‘I know you know and I don’t really care, What are you going to do about it?

For many wives and girlfriends, it becomes immediately clear that the kind pornography their men are into is all about the men — about their needs, about they want — not about their women or their relationships or their families. It’s not surprising a woman ends up feeling second-rate. Not only does pornography dictate how women are supposed to look; it skews expectations of how they should act. Men absorb those ideals, but women internalize them as well. According to the nationally representative Pornified/Harris poll, commissioned for my 2004 book, women (six out of ten) believe pornography affects how men expect them to look and behave. In fact, only about one out of seven women believes pornography doesn’t raise men’s expectations of women.

Men tell women their consumption of pornography is natural and normal, and if a woman doesn’t like it, she is controlling, insecure, uptight, petty, or a combination thereof. The woman is demanding. She is unreasonable. He has to give up something cherished since boyhood. She’s not supportive. She blows everything out of proportion. If it weren’t for this attitude of hers, the relationship would be fine. For a woman to judge pornography as anything but positive is read as a condemnation of her man, or at the very least, of his sexual life. Discomfort with pornography also becomes a woman’s discomfort with her own sexuality.

Still, the Pornified/Harris poll found that only one-fifth of Americans belies pornography improves the sex life of those who look at it. Indeed, two-thirds respondents to this nationwide poll believe looking at pornography will harm couple’s relationship. And not surprisingly, half of Americans say pornography demeans women. Women are far more likely to believe this-58% compared with 37% of men. They are much less likely — 20%o compared with 34% — to believe that pornography isn’t demeaning.

Of course, with increased viewing, the arousing effects of pornography become less obvious over time. While 60% of adults age fifty-nine and older believe pornography is demeaning toward women, only 35% of Gen Xers — the most tolerant and often heaviest users of pornography — agree.


Pornography, Persons And Sexual Desire – Roger Scruton

May 18, 2012

Dr. Norman Doidge, a neurologist at Columbia, in his book The Brain That Changes Itself, describes how pornography causes re-wiring of the neural circuits. He notes that in a study of men viewing internet pornography, the men looked “uncannily” like rats pushing the lever to receive cocaine in the experimental Skinner boxes. Like the addicted rats, the men were desperately seeking the next fix, clicking the mouse just as the rats pushed the lever.
Pornography addiction is frantic learning, and perhaps this is why many who have struggled with multiple addictions report that it was the hardest for them to overcome. Drug addictions, while powerful, are more passive in a “thinking” kind of way, whereas pornography viewing, especially on the internet, is a much more active process neurologically. The constant searching for and evaluating of each image or video clip for its potency and effect is an exercise in neuronal learning, limited only by the progressively rewired brain. Curiosities are thus fused into compulsions, and the need for a larger dopamine fix can drive the person from soft-core to hard-core to child pornography—and worse. A paper published in the Journal of Family Violence in 2009 revealed that 85 percent of men arrested for child pornography had also physically abused children.

The “rival picture of human sexual desire” Scruton presents here is nothing less than the image that emerges from the Churches’ understanding of the human person, particularly in what we find in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I’m beginning a new category for these writings on pornography but, in truth, this is really TOB in a different context.


Now, I am one of those who think of pornography as something we should avoid ourselves and do everything we can to forbid to our children. But nothing in the modern myths justifies that attitude, and therefore I must search for the error these myths involve, and replace them with a rival picture of human sexual desire.

This is what I wish to sketch in the remainder of this paper. But first, let me make some disclaimers.

  1. First, these myths involve an “instrumentalized” view of sexual conduct — the view that the sexual act, in whatever form it takes, is a means to something else, be it sensory pleasure, orgasm, or relief from internal pressure. It does not follow from this that the act does not have some other value. Just as eating is a means to gustatory pleasure and also to nourishment, so does it have another value — especially eating in company, a form of companionship that brings with it both intimacy and comfort.
  2. Second, someone could adhere to the instrumentalized view of sexual desire and still argue that when we take this pleasure in company there is a social payoff, in the form of an intimacy and mutual enjoyment, and go on to build a picture of “good sex” which reconstructs some of the moral values we associate with loving relations in general and marriage in particular. However these moral values will not be intrinsic to the sexual act. They will be by-products of the act, and will have no intrinsic bearing on the morality of the act itself, any more than the social value of dinner à deux has any bearing on the rightness or wrongness of eating the particular thing that is eaten (and which may in fact be forbidden by some dietary code).
  3. Finally, in opposing these myths, I am not insisting that the only alternative to them is the old morality that regards heterosexual relations within marriage as the only legitimate form of sexual expression, and which, for example, dismisses homosexuality as a perversion. Exactly what moral code is the right one, or whether there is any single right one, is not a matter that concerns me directly in this paper. I am concerned only with the more fundamental question, which is a question of philosophical psychology rather than morality — the question of what to put in place of the instrumentalized view of sex. If I go on to draw moral conclusions, they will be tentative, and based in a sense of what is at risk in our sexual encounters.

Persons And Animals
The first point to make is that sexual desire belongs to that aspect of the human being which we summarize in the concept of the person. Many of the things that we experience we experience as animals, and what we feel does not normally depend upon thought, intention, or personality. We feel the same pain from a wound that a dog might feel if wounded in the same way. But there are other states of mind •that only persons can experience. While a dog can experience aggression, he cannot experience remorse or shame, cannot wonder about the laws of nature, cannot judge another dog morally, and so on.

There are some states of mind that are rooted in our animal nature, but are transformed by our involvement as persons. Soldiers in the front line respond to an attack on their comrades by joining with them in the fight, and this response belongs to those collective reactions exhibited by pack animals. However, the soldier who rushes to share the danger of his comrades is not just obeying an instinct. He has risen above that instinct and judged acting on it to be right and honorable. He has not just an urge to join the battle but a motive, and that motive is honor and duty toward his fellows, and shame at letting them down.

The soldier is acting for others, and from a conception of himself, and of how he looks in others’ eyes. Such a motive can prevail over the animal instincts of fear and dread only because the soldier also has the virtue that enables him to act on it — the virtue that we know as fortitude or courage. In short, he acts from a full, free, personal involvement in his predicament, conscious that he is judged for what he does, and aiming at a good that he understands in personal terms.

Exactly similar things should be said of sexual desire. Sexual desire is rooted in instincts we share with the other animals, and the pursuit of one person by another may not look so very different from the encounter of horse and mare in a field. However, just as in the case of the soldier, the person who responds to these instincts also stands in judgment upon them. Is it right or wrong to respond? When he responds, he responds from a judgment that this is the right person, that in doing this thing he is in her eyes not demeaning himself but gaining her acceptance, just as she is in his. They share a reciprocity of glances, a gradual accommodation in which their consent is woven into their desire, so that the desire becomes an expression of something other than instinct. Of what?

To answer that question we must look a little more closely at the concept of the person. Most animals are not persons, and some persons are not animals. We, however, are both. Hence there are features of our mental life that non-personal animals do not share. We have rights and duties; we make judgments, reflect on past and future, on the possible and the impossible; we are self-conscious, distinguishing self and other, and attributing our mental states to ourselves on no basis; we relate to each other not as animals but as persons, through dialogue, judgment, and moral expectations.

Indeed, there are arguments for saying that the concept of the person is essentially tied to interpersonal relations: To explain what a person is, we must explain how persons relate to each other. One vital feature of interpersonal relations is their emotional content. My stance toward self and other is reflected in my emotional life. Emotions such as shame, guilt, anger, remorse, gratitude, forgiveness, and rejoicing are essentially directed toward persons — whether self or other — and learning to feel these things is part of what it means to grow up, i.e., to pass from the animal to the personal condition.

Fundamental to all these emotions, and to the life of persons generally, are our beliefs about freedom and responsibility. No two philosophers agree as to what freedom and responsibility presuppose, but for our present purposes we can leave the philosophical controversies to one side; my sole concern is to examine how we actually envisage ourselves in our lives as persons. In all our conduct toward each other we treat both self and other as free. My responsibility is revealed in my shame, and my freedom in my forgiveness. The belief in freedom and responsibility is pre-supposed in anger and resentment, in gratitude and love. Take that belief away and little would remain of our emotional life and its rewards.

The heart of freedom is the self. Kant suggested, in his lectures on anthropology, that the distinctiveness of the human condition is contained in the fact that human beings can say”I.” Self-consciousness brings with it the condition of freedom, and the knowledge of both self and other as responsible. But there is a yet more remarkable fact about the use of “I.”

By my use of this word I create a new center of being: I set my body aside, as it were, and replace the organism with the self, and present to others another target of their interest and response. To know my mind, and also to change it, they do not examine my body: They look to my words, my opinions, my thoughts. They enter into dialogue with this thing called “I;’ and see it as standing in the arena of freedom, both part of the physical world and situated on its very edge.

Something like this is assumed in our ordinary human relations. Just think of your response, when your friend betrays your secrets. You don’t think of him as you would of a computer, in which you stored information that somehow got out. You don’t ask yourself about who hacked into his brain. You go to him and you address him in the second person, I to I: “You promised:’ you say, and your words are addressed to that very center of being where his “I” resides. In accusing him you are not trying to provoke some physical reaction. You are expecting a response from that I — a response from the center of freedom where he resides, one self-conscious subject among others.

You expect him, in other words, to take responsibility for what he did, to say “I am sorry,” and maybe to show how he is going to atone for his fault, to make amends, and in this way re-establish your relations in such a way that you will forgive him. There is a process here, in which one “I” faces another, both of them exercising their freedom, taking responsibility for their choices, and acting as the sovereign of the human animal.

This does not mean that there are two things here — person and animal. There is one thing — an organism, organized as a person. That is how we treat each other in all our free relations.

And Desire
Now for sexual desire. It is rooted in animal instincts, but in a person desire is re-centered, self-attributed to the I, so as to become part of the interpersonal dialogue. It is an interpersonal emotion, in which subject and object confront each other I to I. Hence sexual desire, as we know it, is peculiar to human beings.

In describing sexual desire, we are describing John’s desire for Mary, or Jane’s desire for Bill. And the people themselves will not merely describe their desires, but also experience them, as my desire for you. “I want you” is not a figure of speech but the true expression of what I feel. And here the pronouns identify that very center of free and responsible choice that constitutes the interpersonal reality of each of us. I want you as the free being who you are, and your freedom is wrapped up in the thing that I want.

You can easily verify this, as I show in my book Sexual Desire, by studying sexual arousal. This is not a state of the body, even though it involves certain bodily changes. It is a process in the soul, a steady awakening of one person to another, through touches, glances, and caresses. The exchange of glances is particularly important, and illustrates a general feature of personal relations.

People look at each other, as animals do. But they also look into each other, and do this in particular when mutually aroused. The look of desire is like a summons, a call to the other self to show itself in the eyes, to weave its own freedom and selfhood into the beam that calls to it. There is a famous description of this phenomenon by John Donne, who writes in “The Ecstasy”:

Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string.
So to engraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one;
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

The experience described by Donne is known to every sighted person who has ever been aroused. Likewise the caress and the touch of desire have an epistemic character: they are an exploration, not of a body, but of a free being in his or her embodiment. They too call to the other in his freedom, and are asking him to show himself.

All the phenomena of desire can be understood in that way, as parts of a mutual negotiation between free and responsible beings, who want each other as persons. And this has an important metaphysical consequence, which in turn has important moral consequences. Persons are individuals in the strong sense of being identified, both by themselves and by others, as unique, irreplaceable, not admitting of substitutes. This is something Kant tried to capture in his theory of persons as “ends in themselves.”

Somehow the free being is, in his own eyes and in the eyes of all those in a personal relation with him, the being who he is. He is never merely an instance of some useful attribute. To treat him merely instrumentally is always in a measure to abuse him; and while I can employ you for a job and in doing so recognize that someone else might have served my purpose just as well, I must, in employing you, respect your individuality, and not treat you as a tool or a slave. You are for me, even in this functional relation, the free being who meets me I to I.

It follows from this that, in those relations between persons in which self and other relate as subject and object, each views the other as unique, without a substitute, This has an immediate impact on sexual desire. John, frustrated in his desire for Mary, cannot be offered Jane as a substitute. Someone who says “Take Jane, she will do just as well” does not understand what John wants, in wanting Mary.

It follows also that desire requires complex, compromising, and potentially embarrassing negotiations, and that without these negotiations sexual intimacy is liable to induce self-disgust. When girls complain of date-rape, it is this kind of thing they have in mind. It is not necessarily that they didn’t consent to what happened. Outwardly maybe they did. But inwardly they did not, and didn’t realize, until too late, that this was so. Consent has to be prepared by elaborate games and intimacies, in which freedom and responsibility are alertly deployed by both parties to the transaction.

What I have said points at every juncture to difficult philosophical issues concerning the nature of persons, of freedom, of responsibility and self-awareness. I am consciously refusing to address those issues, because my task is simply to remind you of what you all know and what you all have experienced in moments of desire.

Arousal and desire are not bodily states or even states of individual persons: they form one pole of an I to I encounter, and involve a going out to the other, in which his or her freedom and responsibility are intimately involved in what is wanted. It is only in this way that we can explain some of our most immovable intuitions about sex.

Consider rape. On the instrumentalized view of sex surveyed earlier, rape is a crime of the same order as leaning on a woman without asking her permission and at the worst like spitting on her, doing something that disgusts her without caring what she feels. It involves using someone for a purpose that could have been achieved with any other instrument, but without troubling to seek her consent and even by ignoring her resistance.

As we know, however, rape is next in line to murder, by way of an assault. It is a violation of the other person in the very depths of her being. The view that I have offered immediately explains this. The rapist is not merely prepared to use his victim as a means: He steals her most precious possession, the thing that she wishes to offer only as a gift and in a condition of mutual surrender. He does not merely disregard her freedom: He poisons it, removes from it the most important thing for which it was made, which is the mutual self-giving of desire. And that is why rape is experienced as an annihilation and not just an abuse.

This account of desire explains why we feel disgust at pedophilia, impose a taboo on incest, and regard bestiality and necrophilia as perversions. It explains the role of modesty as an invitation to correct behavior, and shame as a protection against abuse — a point vividly made by Max Scheler in his long paper on shame. I do not think I need to spell these things out, since anyone who recognizes the core of truth in what I have said will be able to spell them out for himself.

Disowning The Myths
My purpose now is to sweep away the myths I began by enunciating. All of them, it seems to me, arise from a fundamental mistake about the intentionality of sexual arousal and sexual desire. These states of mind are not directed toward pleasure, orgasm, or any similar thing. They are directed toward one free being by another.

That last point is worth lingering over. You might think that the rapist is indifferent to the freedom of his victim. On the contrary, however. It is precisely her freedom that he wishes to seize, to overcome, to force to bow before him. For this reason you cannot rape an animal, even if you can sexually abuse it. The victim of rape is a free being, compelled to accept what she does not consent to.

The myths depend upon removing from the picture of sexual activity both the self-conception of the subject and the other-conception of the object. The subject regards the other as a tool with which to induce excitement and pleasure, and conceives himself as a sensory organism. The myths remove from the picture of desire both the person who feels it and the person toward whom it is felt. The myths, in other words, do not describe desire at all, but something else — something that we might observe in animals or children, or, as Socrates put it (according to Xenophon) in pigs rubbing against a post.

One thing that tempts people to endorse the myths is the very obvious fact that sexual activity involves bodily changes and bodily sensations, leading (though not always) to orgasm. This has made the caricature of desire believable, in the minds of those who take an accountant’s view of human satisfactions. It looks as though you could enumerate the benefits of sexual activity in terms of pleasure, and the costs in terms of the time and energy needed to find the person willing to stimulate you, and on that basis proceed to give a utilitarian morality of sexual behavior. If that sounds ridiculous, do not be deceived, It is ridiculous, so ridiculous that Judge Richard Posner has written a whole book, called Sex and Reason, devoted to treating the phenomena in this way.

There is a downside to such books, and to the myths they reinforce. Myths can work on reality in such a way that they cease to be myths and become true descriptions instead. Thinking of sex in the instrumentalized way that Judge Posner exemplifies you actually prepare yourself to experience it in this way.

Henry James had an inkling of this when he wrote, in the Preface to The Bostonians, of “the decline in the sentiment of sex;’ meaning the loss of that full-hearted, self-committing form of sexual desire which animates the heroines of Jane Austen, and its replacement by short-lived, titillating forms of seduction. And the more people think of sex as a means to the production of pleasure or a means for obtaining orgasm (as was famously believed by the madman Wilhelm Reich, who even invented a machine to help the orgasm-seeker to reach his goal), the more the other drops out of consideration as irrelevant, and the more sex ceases to be a form of interpersonal relation and retreats into narcissistic solitude.

Pornography And Self-Abuse
In conclusion I want to touch on the relation of pornography to a highly unfashionable idea, that of self-abuse, a term originally applied to all forms of masturbation, in ways that led to much ridicule and scorn of our ancestors and their puritan hang-ups. It is surely obvious from my account that sex, in what I would wish to describe as its normal form, involves a moving out from the self toward the other — an attempt to know and unite with the other in her body. It involves treating the other as a free subject, and enjoying the mutual arousal which is possible only through the reciprocal interest in each other as conscious and free.

The self is at risk in this: The other may refuse to cooperate, may turn away in disgust, may act in ways that elicit shame and humiliation. That is why you have to be ready for it, and one reason why it is such an injustice to inflict sexual relations on children. In the face of this risk people are tempted to retreat from the direct forms of sexual desire, and take refuge in fantasy objects — objects that cannot damage or threaten you, that cannot withhold consent since they cannot give it, that are without the capacity to embarrass or shame the one who watches them.

Such objects are provided by pornography. The people displayed in the pornographic film have no relation to the viewer, nor are they displayed as being in any other relation to each other than that of each using the other’s body as a machine à frotter. It is impossible to know what they are feeling, and in any case their feelings are in no way directed to the person who is using them and at the same time abusing himself.

The viewer’s pleasure is not the pleasure of desire, since there is no one he is desiring. Nor is he really aroused except in the purely physiological sense, since there is no mutual arousal of which he is a party. Everything is cold, bleak, objective, and also free of cost and personal risk.

Pornography exactly conforms to the myths about desire that I have rejected: it is a realization of those myths, a form of sexual pleasure from which the interpersonal intentionality has been surgically excised. Pornography takes hold of sexual desire and cuts away the desire. There is no real object, but only a fantasy, and no real subject, since there is nothing ventured of the self. To say that this is an abuse of the self is to express a literal truth — so it seems to me.

Like all cost-free forms of pleasure, pornography is habit-forming. It short-circuits that roundabout route to sexual satisfaction which passes through the streams and valleys of arousal, in which the self is always at risk from the other, and always motivated to give itself freely in desire. The short-circuiting mechanism here is in all probability not different from that researched by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Robert Kubey in their studies of gambling and TV addiction.

It exhibits in addition, however, a depersonalizing habit — a habit of viewing sex as something external to the human personality, to relationship, and to the arena of free encounters. Sex is reduced to the sexual organs, which are stuck on, in the imagination, like cutouts in a child’s picture. To think that this can be done, and the habit of doing it fully established, without damage to a person’s capacity to be a person, and to relate to other persons as one sexual being to others, is to make a large and naive assumption about the ability of the mind to compartmentalize.

Indeed, psychologists and psychotherapists are increasingly encountering the damage done by pornography, not to marriages and relationships only, but to the very capacity to engage in them. Sex, portrayed in the porno-image, is an affair of attractive people with every technical accomplishment. Most people are not attractive, and have only second-class equipment. Once they are led by their porn addiction to see sex in the instrumentalized way that pornography encourages, they begin to lose confidence in their capacity to enjoy sex in any other way than through fantasy. People who lose confidence in their ability to attract soon become unattractive.

And then the fear of desire arises, and from that fear the fear of love, 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.


Five Myths About Sex — Roger Scruton

May 17, 2012

When sexual gratification occurs in the context of pornography use, it can result in the formation of a virtual mistress of sorts. Dr. Victor Cline, in his essay, “Pornography’s Effects on Adult and Child,” describes this process as follows:

In my experience as a sexual therapist, any individual who regularly masturbates to pornography is at risk of becoming, in time, a sexual addict, as well as conditioning himself into having a sexual deviancy and/or disturbing a bonded relationship with a spouse or girlfriend.

A frequent side effect is that it also dramatically reduces their capacity to love (e.g., it results in a marked dissociation of sex from friendship, affection, caring, and other normal healthy emotions and traits which help marital relationships). Their sexual side becomes in a sense dehumanized. Many of them develop an “alien ego state” (or dark side), whose core is antisocial lust devoid of most values. In time, the “high” obtained from masturbating to pornography becomes more important than real life relationships. . . .

The process of masturbatory conditioning is inexorable and does not spontaneously remiss. The course of this illness may be slow and is nearly always hidden from view. It is usually a secret part of the man’s life, and like a cancer, it keeps growing and spreading. It rarely ever reverses itself, and it is also very difficult to treat and heal. Denial on the part of the male addict and refusal to confront the problem are typical and predictable, and this almost always leads to marital or couple disharmony, sometimes divorce and sometimes the breaking up of other intimate relationships.

Dr. Doidge notes,”Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and a release from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is addiction, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didn’t like it.” In the book Pornified, Pamela Paul gives numerous examples of this, and describes one person who decided to limit his pornography use, not from a moralist or guilt-based perspective, but out of a desire to again experience pleasure in actual physical relationships with women.

“Porn impotence,” where the man experiences sexuality preferentially with porn instead of a woman, is a real and growing phenomenon. When a man’s sex drive has been diverted away from his spouse in this way, writes Dr. Cline, the wife can “easily sense this, and often [feels] very lonely and rejected.”

The following is a Reading Selection from “The Abuse Of Sex.”  It could be subtitled Why Liberals Are Wrong About Sex.


We are a long way from the days when homosexuality was described as a perversion, pornography as an offense against public morals, and masturbation as “self-abuse.’ The old morality that condemned sex outside marriage and saw nothing wrong with treating homosexuality as a criminal offense, even if it has a following in the Muslim world, has few adherents in the West. We have moved on at such a pace in the last half-century that to many people any talk of sexual morality at all appears quaint. If there is sexual misconduct, it is only a special case of the more general sin of forcing, defrauding, or manipulating other people into doing something they do not really want to do. If they really do want to do it, and the feeling is mutual, then what on earth is wrong?

That is the view I wish to challenge. What I say may not persuade everyone; indeed, it may not persuade anyone. But I will have achieved half of my purpose if I convince you that the argument is not about consent but about the very nature of the sexual act and the desire expressed in it.

Some Modern Myths
This way of describing and in consequence experiencing sexual phenomena I believe to be founded in five myths. Some of the myths originate in wishful thinking, and some in scientific and pseudoscientific theories.

  1. The first myth is that sexual desire is desire for a particular kind of pleasure, ie sexual organs. On this view all sex is like masturbation — a manipulation of sexual organs for the sake of pleasure. The other person is a stimulus to the desire, but not an object of it. The desire is not for him or her but for a pleasure that could be obtained in other ways. The effect of this myth is to remove sexual pleasure from the realm of interpersonal- responses, and reconstitute them as purely sensory appetites, like the desire to scratch and the pleasure of scratching.Why should people believe that? There are two dominant reasons, I think.

    One is that it simplifies the phenomena of sex in a way that makes them intellectually manageable. Sex becomes like eating and drinking: the desire is for sensory gratification, and is part of the general pleasure-seeking character of the animal organism. The instinct on which this pleasure depends is aroused by the sight of or contact with another person: and that explains the function of sexual pleasure in the life of the human organism, and why it is usually aroused by a member of the opposite sex. This pleasure helps the reproductive process, in just the way that the pleasure of eating helps to keep the organism fed.The other reason for believing this myth is that it simplifies the phenomena of sex in ways that make them morally manageable. If sex is just like eating, then personal relationships, commitment, and the rest can be discounted from the moral point of view.  

    As long as the other person sits down with you voluntarily to enjoy the meal, the elementary requirements of morality are satisfied. Maybe you should be careful about the diet, but only for health reasons. All those old reasons for care, such as shame, honor, marital duty, and the rest, are as irrational as the Jewish dietary laws and a mere survival from an era in which “safe sex” was difficult to guarantee.

  2. The second myth is that sexual satisfaction depends upon such factors as the intensity and duration of sensory pleasure, culminating in orgasm, and that “good sex” is a matter of getting those things right.This is what lovers should aim at, and what ultimately cements the bond between them. Around the myth of “good sex” has grown an enormous literature, both popular and “scientific.Like the previous myth, this one serves to simplify the phenomena of sex, both factually and morally. It reduces to a technique what is more properly described as an art, and represents as a means what is understandable only as an end. In short, it “instrumentalizes” the sexual act.
  3. The third myth is of a different kind, since it involves an attempt at, or at any rate a pretense of, science. This is the myth that sexual urges need to be expressed, and that the attempt to “repress” them is psychologically harmful. The origins of this myth lie in the theories of Freud, who did not, however, endorse the view that repression is harmful. What Freud did do was to introduce the “hydraulic” imagery with which sexual desire is now so often understood. The urge welling up inside can be kept down for a while, but eventually will seek a channel to escape, and if not allowed to escape through one channel may escape through another. The longer it is kept down, the more dangerous might its inevitable eruption be, if it finds release in activities such as sadism or child abuse.

    The great apostle of this view was Wilhelm Reich, who saw orgasm as a kind of release, sex as the technique for securing it, and repression as the path to insanity.

  4. Associated with this third myth is a fourth, which is that sexual desire is the same kind of thing, whatever the nature of the partner who arouses it. The urge welling within me might be stimulated by a woman, or a man, or an animal, or an imaginary being. Convention and decency set limits to how a human being should satisfy his sexual urges. But nothing in the urge itself demands any particular kind of partner. Sexual `orientation,” as it is now called, is simply an ingrained habit of arousal, trained on a particular object. This myth goes naturally with the other three, but the motive for adopting it is rather different, namely the desire to revise and perhaps even abolish the traditional idea of sexual normality.

    For the fourth myth offers an easy path to the conclusion that there is no such thing as sexual normality, and that homosexuality (for example) is not in itself a perversion. Homosexual and heterosexual conduct use different instruments, but to the same end, and any argument for distinguishing right from wrong applies equally to both. There should be no coercion, no fraud, no trickery; and each partner must be open and honest with the other, but the sex of the partner is irrelevant to the morality of the act.

  5. Finally, the fifth and in many ways most important of the modern myths about sex tells us that attitudes such as shame, guilt, and disgust are unhealthy. What makes people feel bad is the “judgmental” attitude prevalent in the surrounding culture, which people interiorize, so that they accuse themselves in the very moment of sexual release. Hence we should strive to free ourselves from these hangovers from an old and discredited ethic of `pollution and taboo and learn to engage in sexual activity in full awareness that it is in essence no more guilty an activity than eating or drinking — a psychological benefit that need have no psychological cost.

    Much modern sex education is designed as a therapy for guilt and shame, a way of getting young people to accept their sexual urges and to find ways to express them without feeling bad about doing so. Moral progress means freeing ourselves from this internal judgment, learning to express our sexuality freely, and to overcome the irrational guilt that stems from others and not from our true inner selves.

Now, I agree with the view that we must find ways to express our sexual desires without feeling guilt and shame. But I also think that guilt and shame are often justified, and that what they demand of us is not therapy, in order to remove them, but right conduct, in order to avoid them.

Some Consequences Of The Myths
Not everyone adheres to these myths, and there are of course more and less subtle ways of upholding them. But they define a pattern of thinking in our society, which affects every aspect of the culture. Whenever people write of the “recreational” use of sex; whenever they suggest that there is no basis to sexual morality other than the rule that force and fraud are forbidden; whenever they describe “gay” sex as though it were a mere variation of an activity that exists also in a “straight” variety — they are usually leaning on those myths.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of the triumph of these myths is the growing indifference in our society toward the glut of pornography. For if these myths are true, it is impossible to condemn pornography or the practice of those who use it as a sexual stimulant. Indeed, pornography might even be regarded as the best form of sexual recreation, in that it is free from the dangers — medical, psychological, and personal — of sex with a partner. As Oscar Wilde said of masturbation: “It is cleaner, more efficient, and you meet a better class of person; by which he meant himself.


Reading Selections from “The Weight of Smut” by Mary Eberstadt

September 24, 2010

Mary Eberstadt is a contributing writer to First Things, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and author of The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism. The full article was printed in First Things this past June.

Sexual Obesity
[T]he 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 epidemic — and 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, and—no surprise here—more 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.

The Numbers
Parallels between the two epidemics are striking. Much like the more commonly understood obesity, the phenomenon of sexual obesity permeates the population — though 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 it — the 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 men — and one out of every ten women in the sample — viewed 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 pornography — and, given that pornography is something people lie “down” about in surveys as well as in life, it seems safe to say those numbers underestimate today’s actual consumption, perhaps even significantly….

Even young people who don’t go looking for pornography are now routinely exposed — largely 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.

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 user’s soul, if you believe in such a thing, what really is the social harm of smut?

This lackadaisical attitude — this entrenched refusal to look seriously at what the computer screen has really wrought — is 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 words — or any others potentially critical of pornography — for reasons of their own; such complicity is probably the deepest font of omertà (vocab: popular attitude and code of honor conspiracy of silence, common in areas of southern Italy) on the subject. And chronic users above all have their own fierce reasons for promoting the anything-goes-as-long-as-it’s-private patter — an interesting phenomenon about which more will be said further on.

And yet this hands-off approach to the matter of sexual obesity — this unwitting collusion of disparate interested parties masquerading as a social consensus — remains 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 (: “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations,” just published by the Witherspoon Institute of New Jersey), goes to show…

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 “Here’s what” — eight documented findings about the manifold risks of warping the sexual template with pornographic imagery.

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 nation’s 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 they’ve 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 book — the best yet written in laymen’s terms about the impact of Internet pornography on users themselves — is 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 didn’t like it.”

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 Paul’s 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 appalling — bestiality, 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….”

A Spiritual Descent
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 don’t like myself when I’m looking at porn. I don’t like the way I feel about myself when I’m 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.”

It’s Only Pictures Of Consenting Adults
Unless it is computer simulated, pornography is never only about pictures. Every single person on the screen is somebody’s 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 troubling — or what ought to be extremely troubling — connections 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 pornography — for 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, druggier — and younger — than 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 work — and then ask why it’s all right to have other people’s daughters and sons making it instead.

Malice And Venom Unique
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 person’s 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?

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 students — usually, though not only, girls — have 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 it’s hard to find girls on campus who have not themselves been drawn in to some form of the pornographic subculture — via “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 tobacco — a restigmatization based on the evolving record of fact. What’s needed is nothing less than the kind of leadership that turned smoking, in the course of a single generation, from cool to uncool — one 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.


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