I remember Playboy in its glory days. Lithe, busty, gorgeous young women gracing the centerfold of a magazine people admitted reading “only for the articles.” In truth, in a pre-Internet age, Playboy was one of the few sources for its kind of literature and journalism, but oh, the young ladies! Imagine my disappointment when I learned of airbrushing.
But the world was changing. Following the lead of less respectable publications, Playboy began depicting pubic hair, mere wisps at first, but eventually, entire rain forests. The imminent downfall of civilization was forecast, yet civilization survived.
Playboy continues to hang on, but recently announced it will no longer publish nudity. Anyone still subscribing will be doing it for the articles.
The subject of this article is one I broached in The Porn Paradox in 2014. In the 60s and 70s, those seeking XXX-rated movies found themselves, with like-minded souls—mostly male–in tiny, sordid little theaters where popcorn sales were not a major money-maker. And then came VCR technology, which, in a span of a few years, ended the XXX theater industry, replacing it with the XXX video industry. DVD’s increased the convenience of distribution and ownership, and expanded the specialized offerings available in the porn industry. The imminent downfall of civilization was forecast, yet civilization survived.
Then came the Internet, and the potential was obvious, but not fully realized until high speed Internet service became widespread. By then, the porn magazine market, of all kinds, was all but dead. Now, any sexual diversion one might prefer is available with the click of a mouse. The imminent downfall of civilization is still being forecast, and one state is doing something about it:
Utah became the first state in the country to declare pornography a public health crisis, and called on the industry and businesses Tuesday to help keep ‘evil, degrading, addictive’ materials away from children.
Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution the state Legislature unanimously passed earlier this year calling for education, prevention, research and policy changes to address the pornography ‘epidemic.’
‘We realize this is a bold assertion,’ the governor said, acknowledging some would disagree that it has become a health crisis. ‘It is, in fact, the full-fledged truth.
Why would some disagree? One can certainly make a compelling moral case against pornography, but proving it to be actually, provably harmful is a Holy Grail that has, to date, escaped anti-porn activists and researchers, and not for a lack of trying.
And by the way, what of the “gun violence” epidemic? Isn’t that a pressing public health issue? Should we let the Second Amendment get in the way of saving the life of even one child?
In 1970, the report of Richard Nixon’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography was published. It actually commissioned some research and concluding that legal restriction on pornography should be loosened.
In 1986, the Meese Commission (Edwin Meese, Attorney General under Ronald Reagan) published its report. The commission did no actual research, and commissioned none, but concluded that porn was harmful and ought to be restricted in some nebulous ways consistent with the First Amendment. Its “proofs” were equally nebulous and came in for justified criticism among not only actual researchers, but specialists in psychology, etc.
A substantial part of the problem is defining pornography. Perhaps the most well-known example of that problem came from US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in Jacobellis v Ohio (1968) when he said he could not describe or define obscenity (essentially, pornography), but he knew it when he saw it:
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
Circa 2016, with nudity and depictions of intercourse and home DVDs, including unconcealed public hair, genitals in full flower and glorious color, and of course, with virtually any specialized sexual practice available on the Internet, the definition of pornography is even more elusive. Judging by commonly accepted standards of most places (perhaps not Utah), for example, full nudity and intercourse are not porn.
Again, for example, perhaps a larger segment of society might think bondage depictions, to mention only one common sexual interest of many, to be porn, but they tend to involve intercourse much less often than more mainstream porn—the draw seems to be tied up pretty women–and what do we make of movies like Fifty Shades of Grey (a topic I addressed in On Fifty Shades Of Women in 2015), and its attendant novel? Is the movie porn? The book? In this case would a finding of porn be contingent on a few islands of bondage among a sea of sex, or for such a finding, would the primary focus have to be on bondage? If everyone does it, it’s not porn, but if only say, 25% of the population does it, it’s porn? Oh, but it’s porn because it depicts women in perilous situations! Uh, right. No other kind of literature/art has ever done that.
Again, one can make an effective anti-porn moral case, but decades of properly done research have found no reproducible, provable link to criminality or other social destruction. Dr. James Dobson, of the Meese Commission, for example, made something of a cottage industry of linking porn to the murders of Ted Bundy. Actual scholarship discovered that Bundy’s motivations had no such linkage. The only “porn” found in his possession at the time of his final arrest was brochures for cheerleading camps.
Herbert also signed a bill requiring computer technicians to report to authorities finding child pornography in the course of their work.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said his resolution doesn’t ban anything or infringe on freedom of speech.
Weiler, who says he was ‘mocked and scorned’ in some major publications for raising the issue, said he wants to safeguard children from exposure to sexually explicit images.
Child porn is obviously beyond the legal and moral pale, and obviously, exposure to sexuality of any kind is inappropriate for young children. Such materials must always be carefully vetted for age appropriateness, which, if one is to profess conservative principles, is the individual responsibility of parents.
He said he’s not advocating any new laws but is asking businesses and government agencies ‘to do the right thing.’
‘We have restaurants, fast-food restaurants, some of which cater to children, who are providing free and unfiltered Wi-Fi as well as public libraries,’ Weiler said. ‘If a library or McDonald’s or anyone else was giving out cigarettes to our children we would be picketing them.’
The senator said state and federal leaders need to encourage internet service providers to make default settings porn free and make people opt in to pornography.
Weiler also called on the multibillion dollar pornography industry to ‘help us protect children from your evil, degrading, addictive harmful substances. If adults want to do that, that’s their choice.
Ah. Now we see the difficulty. Adults already “opt in,” by their individual choices. No one is forced to view Internet porn or buy video porn. But of course the problem is that particular freedom. Children can use the Internet too, and many parents don’t want to be responsible for policing their children’s Internet usage, so the easy, and constitutionally dubious, solution is to ban the material, or as a first step, to “encourage” de facto banning. As we know all too well, government “encouragement” is often indistinguishable from mandates. Ask any college male about “dear colleague” letters from the Federal Education Department.
In 2013, the Legislature passed a Weiler resolution saying soft-core or ‘gateway’ pornography hurts brain development in young people.
Several researchers and anti-pornography advocates joined Herbert for the ceremonial bill signings.
And what would “gateway” pornography be, exactly? There is, of course, no such definition, so those working toward censorship have hit on the tactic of equating porn—whatever it might be—with illegal drugs:
Clay Olsen, co-founder of Fight the New Drug, called it [Weiler’s resolution] a “historic” moment for Utah and a step in the right direction.
‘This is a challenge young people are dealing with at a level we have never seen’ said Olsen, wearing a ‘Porn Kills Love’ T-shirt.
Still, perhaps there is new research that unquestionably proves the porn/harm linkage?
BYU family life professor Brian Willoughby said he believes there’s now enough research to suggest pornography is a significant health crisis. Numerous studies, he said, connect pornography use to lower mental health outcomes and relationship well-being and detrimental expectations about sex.
Well then. It’s a significant health crisis! “Lower mental health outcomes”—whatever that might be, and lower “relationship well-being”—whatever that might be, and “detrimental expectations about sex”—whatever those might be, sound serious, until Willoughby is compelled, apparently by his own sense of ethics, to be more scientific and honest:
Still, he said more research is needed on the short-term and long-term effects of pornography.
‘We’re far from being able to make definitive causal statements about what pornography does and how it influences everyone who views it. However, the circumstantial research evidence that we do have all point to and suggest pornography is not harmless,’ Willoughby said.
But is pornography, however one defines it, truly and provably “not harmless?” Dr. Helen Smith, wife of Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame, explains:
Last month, the Republican-led Utah House of Representatives became the first legislative body in the United States to pass a resolution declaring pornography ‘a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.’
The liberal backlash criticized the measure as an antiquated bit of conservative moralizing, with the Daily Beast calling it ‘hypocritical’ and ‘short-sighted.’ ‘The science just isn’t there,’ wrote Rewire, an online journal dedicated to dispelling ‘falsehoods and misinformation.’
The thing is, no matter what you think of pornography (whether it’s harmful or harmless fantasy), the science is there. After 40 years of peer-reviewed research, scholars can say with confidence that porn is an industrial product that shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality — for the worse. By taking a health-focused view of porn and recognizing its radiating impact not only on consumers but also on society at large, Utah’s resolution simply reflects the latest research.
When leftist professors are agreeing with the Utah legislature, you know nothing good can come from it. The bottom line (no pun intended) is that men enjoy porn and kill-joy feminist types and hardcore conservative white knights want to put an end to it. When these two dangerous groups agree on something, men’s liberties are always at stake.
Dr. Smith seems to agree to a less than convincing finding of harms, but not on Utah’s ultimate solution. The problem is thinking a “product” “shapes how we think” about a variety of social issues a basis for highly specific and consequential legislation. Mere thinking, and the attitudes it might or might not engender, is not action, and action is the baseline trigger for law, unless we wish to legislate thought crime, as far too many on the Left and Right wish to do these perilous days. A compelling question is do people view porn because they have an interest in it, or does viewing porn engender an interest? Does it “shape[s] how we think,” or does how we think shape our preferences in sexual imagery? Which should be censored and/or criminalized? Either? Both? Neither?
A strain of conservative thinking allows, even demands, censoring porn in the name of public health, safety, or even using one of the most dishonest tactics of the Left: doing it for “the children.” Remember that something less than half the population might well be willing to consider mere conservative thought to be harmful, and to criminalize it. Who, a decade ago, would have believed that multiple attorneys general of the several states would be trying to criminalize opinions contrary to the global warming hypothesis scam? Who would have believed actual American courts would have so much as entertained such lunacy and abuse of the law?
Cautious, conservative thinking demands we allow consenting adults–absent criminality–to do as they please. The principle of being simply left alone by government should always be foremost in the thoughts of free men. In this time of governmental lawlessness at all levels, it is unwise, at best, to contemplate, and certainly to allow, any infringement on the Bill of Rights. Too many would take advantage of that kind of precedent.
Err, if believing in liberty is error, on the side of liberty.
PS: This article, speaking to the common charge that female porn actresses in particular are inevitably harmed and/or abused, may be enlightening.