We want our kids to be s.e.xually healthy, but we don't know how to talk with them-and the s.e.xualized media scare us. We want our s.e.xual relationships to be enjoyable and nourishing, but we don't know how to talk with our mates, and what we're told about everyone else's s.e.x lives scares us.
In this context of emotional vulnerability, people welcome simple explanations that identify clear vil ains, and give clear solutions. The clergy, our government, the media, and "morality groups" insist that p.o.r.n is the vil ain, and fighting p.o.r.n is the answer. You've observed that many Americans love this. People in pain love knowing that there's a "them" to blame and an "it" to attack.
The war on p.o.r.n is a psychologically perfect solution to the confusion, anger, self-criticism, and shame that many Americans feel about s.e.xuality and modern life. It's short-sighted, futile, self-destructive, undignified, and disempowering. But it provides an explanation, a target, and hope. It It' s a public policy s a public policy Battleground: The War on "p.o.r.nography" 125 The War on "p.o.r.nography" 125 solution to a private emotional problem. And it empowers and emboldens leaders and inst.i.tutions who manipulate the public into thinking that s.e.xuality is the And it empowers and emboldens leaders and inst.i.tutions who manipulate the public into thinking that s.e.xuality is the problem, problem, when s.e.xual self-acceptance, flexibility, skills, and knowledge are the when s.e.xual self-acceptance, flexibility, skills, and knowledge are the answer. answer.
p.o.r.nography is the repository of our culture's ambivalence and negativity about s.e.x (e.g., Americans watch p.o.r.n, but pretend they don't). p.o.r.n is, for the most part, portrayals of conventional (many would say normal) s.e.x-intercourse, oral s.e.x, masturbation, vibrators, a.n.a.l s.e.x. Nevertheless, our society d.a.m.ns these portrayals, the record of, record of, the the acknowledgement of, acknowledgement of, our fantasy, desire, partic.i.p.ation. our fantasy, desire, partic.i.p.ation.
p.o.r.n is the opposite of the closet, of our culture's shame about s.e.xuality. And so those who speak from ambivalence or negativity angrily confront those who use p.o.r.n: "It's bad enough that you enjoy l.u.s.ty s.e.x. If you can't have the decency to feel guilty about your s.e.xuality, you certainly don't have to celebrate it, much less deliberately inflame your desire!"
It's not simply that so many of us are uncomfortable about s.e.xuality. It It' s s the relationship that individuals and the culture have with that discomfort. the relationship that individuals and the culture have with that discomfort. The discomfort does not get discussed honestly, nor do most people feel in any way obligated to resolve these feelings. Instead, the discomfort is considered normal and fixed, and the objects of the discomfort-p.o.r.nography, along with s.e.xual words, music, art, and expression-are the things considered expendable. The discomfort does not get discussed honestly, nor do most people feel in any way obligated to resolve these feelings. Instead, the discomfort is considered normal and fixed, and the objects of the discomfort-p.o.r.nography, along with s.e.xual words, music, art, and expression-are the things considered expendable.
This is one reason that p.o.r.nography is demonized. It has to be conceptualized and described as being far enough away from what's "normal," so that there's no question about which has to change-the objects objects of the discomfort, not the discomfort of the discomfort, not the discomfort itself. itself.
The demonization of p.o.r.nography is a way of ending the dialogue before it really starts. If p.o.r.nography is horrible, there's no conversation; if there is one, the only position left is, "I'm selfish, ignorant, and perverted, and I defend p.o.r.nography."
There should be room in America's ongoing discourse for discussing people's pain about p.o.r.nography, and the negative things that some others do with it.
But it is unacceptable to make that the only only conversation about p.o.r.nography. conversation about p.o.r.nography.
The government has taken that position strongly, which is cynical, dishonest, and destructive. It would be like making anorexia and bulimia the center of every discussion about nutrition and weight control.
To put it another way, if we have the wrong conversation about p.o.r.nography, we end up eliminating a lot of s.e.xual expression, at a social, psychological, and const.i.tutional cost that's unacceptable. It's the equivalent of burning down a house to fumigate it.
THE WAR ON p.o.r.n.
Here are some of the ways government and antip.o.r.n forces are warring on p.o.r.nography and those who view it. and those who view it. Most of the following have been done; others have been recently tried, or are about to be attempted. Most of the following have been done; others have been recently tried, or are about to be attempted.
* Limiting what can be downloaded/uploaded from/to the Internet, and what can be e-mailed. The federal government has been attempting to legislate this since 1996; Arizona, New York, and Michigan have also tried. The federal case is still pending.
* Local groups picketing stores that sel p.o.r.n DVDs; they often photograph patrons or their license plates to discourage them from entering. The latest campaign like this is being instigated by actor Stephen Baldwin in Nyack, New York.
* Limiting sales of popular magazines like Cosmopolitan Cosmopolitan and and Glamour Glamour in 7Eleven stores and supermarkets. The nation's 7Elevens stopped sel - in 7Eleven stores and supermarkets. The nation's 7Elevens stopped sel - ing Playboy, Penthouse, Playboy, Penthouse, and other soft-core magazines in 1986 when the Meese Commission threatened to list the parent Southland Corporation (and two dozen other convenience store chains) as a "distributor of p.o.r.nography" in its report. Although the threat was clearly il egal (and was declared so by a federal judge), the censorship was accomplished; to this day, such magazines are unavailable at 7Eleven.3 and other soft-core magazines in 1986 when the Meese Commission threatened to list the parent Southland Corporation (and two dozen other convenience store chains) as a "distributor of p.o.r.nography" in its report. Although the threat was clearly il egal (and was declared so by a federal judge), the censorship was accomplished; to this day, such magazines are unavailable at 7Eleven.3 * Internet filtering-now mandatory for public libraries that want federal funds; encouraged by nervous lawyers in universities, hospitals, businesses, and other inst.i.tutions; demanded by "morality groups"
afraid of s.e.xual information; and marketed to parents across the United States concerned about Internet predators and the destructive power of the F word or a naked female breast.
* Expanding the definition of "obscenity" in order to criminalize more depictions and activities-despite everyone's agreement that American s.e.xual mores are getting looser and more inclusive.
* Expecting computer repair shops, photo developing shops, and other businesses to report "suspicious" material to police. Not surprisingly, grandmothers have been arrested for bathtub photos of their grand-children, and computers have been confiscated by untrained people.
* Demanding that pay-for-p.o.r.n channels be removed from hotel room televisions. In 2000, the Omni hotel chain discontinued in-room p.o.r.n, and in 2002, several Cincinnati hotels, including the Marriott, withdrew their adult movies. The domestic erotic terror group Citizens for Community Values then organized a coalition to urge the Justice Department to eliminate all hotel p.o.r.n in the United States.
* Pressuring Visa and MasterCard to stop accepting payments from p.o.r.n transactions.
* "2257 Regulations," which require that anyone who exhibits s.e.xually explicit pictures, even of performers who are elderly or deceased, be able to prove that each performer is over 18. This would apply to even the smallest amateur Web sites and publications as well as to large commercial outfits.
* Using zoning laws to eliminate places where stores that sell p.o.r.n or offer video booths can legally operate.
Battleground: The War on "p.o.r.nography" 127 The War on "p.o.r.nography" 127 * Congressional hearings that start with the a.s.sumption that p.o.r.nography is bad for individuals and society. Testimony from antip.o.r.n ideologues and "morality" groups is solicited to validate this view; s.e.xologists, social scientists, and consumers are specifically excluded.
* Churches around the country are offering "p.o.r.n recovery" programs to congregations. Hundreds of $400 kits to help them do this have been sold.
* For people trying to quit watching p.o.r.n, x.x.xchurch.com offers "accountability software," which will send a biweekly listing of Web sites one has accessed to a chosen accountability partner. The software has been downloaded over 150,000 times.4 * The invention of "p.o.r.n addiction," which was a logical extension of the ridiculous invention of "s.e.x addiction," by prison addictionologist Patrick Carnes. Various psychologists, clergy, and "morality leaders"
claim that men become addicted to p.o.r.n and have to be cured by discontinuing use altogether.
* Establishing "Victims of p.o.r.nography Month" (each May). President Bush himself endorsed it, saying that "p.o.r.nography is now instantly available to any child who has a computer. And in the hands of incredibly wicked people, the Internet is a tool that lures children into real danger." And the relevance of this to adult p.o.r.n creation and use is . . . what?5 * The myth of activist judges: The idea that p.o.r.n could be limited or banned "if only" certain judges would stop "creating" law to tolerate p.o.r.n. This completely misses the point that America has two centuries of laws protecting free expression (even if it offends someone), which judges are supposed to enforce when legislators or police break them.
The Traditional Values Coalition even has a "battle plan to take back the courts from the ACLU and the anti-G.o.d Left."6 * Legislators pa.s.s laws they know are not allowed under the American system, trusting courts to challenge them. But then they get to tell const.i.tuents and financial backers, "Look, I tried."
* The lack of training for marriage counselors, psychologists, physicians, social workers, and others who counsel those who view adult material. Without training, these clinicians can only fall back on the antip.o.r.n myths saturating the media and their professions' s.e.x-negative traditions. Unfortunately, many professionals believe that being trained to treat "p.o.r.n addiction" is the same as learning about p.o.r.n use in the general population.
* When the government decides to bust a store that sells adult material, it typically seizes a large percentage or even all of the store's inventory so the defendant can't pay the legal costs of fighting the arrest. Remember, authorities cannot simply declare this inventory obscene-that is, potentially illegal. Only a jury can do that.7 128.
* Increasing the number of laws restricting where you can view s.e.xually explicit material-for example, private cars. Six different states have criminalized viewing s.e.xually explicit material in a car. In Virginia, it's even against the law to play material that is "harmful to minors"
(a deliberately deliberately vague expression) if it can be seen outside the vehicle. vague expression) if it can be seen outside the vehicle.
* Establishing a p.o.r.n tax: singling out s.e.xually oriented products for special, very high (10%25%) taxes. Enabling legislation is currently being reviewed by courts in at least three states (Utah, Washington, Kansas). The idea is to discourage consumption of what can't be legally banned.
A federal p.o.r.n tax bill was introduced by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) in 2005. Cosponsored by nine Democrats, it's making little progress in the Republican-controlled Senate. A Republican-sponsored version, however, is now coalescing.
A tax on private recreation is gal ing enough (how about a comparable tax on guns?). But the proceeds of proposed p.o.r.n taxes go to s.e.x offender or victim programs, implying that there's a connection between p.o.r.n and s.e.xual coercion. Every p.o.r.n consumer (and every victim of a s.e.x offender who can't get treatment because tax money is wasted fighting p.o.r.n) should be insulted.
WHAT ABOUT KIDDIE p.o.r.n?.
The American p.o.r.n industry neither makes nor distributes erotic material featuring underage performers. The underage material available today is either (1) amateur stuff made by individuals and distributed surrept.i.tiously, or (2) made by foreign producers in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Asia, with no affiliation to American businesses. Thus, further regulating the American adult industry will have no effect whatsoever on the amount of underage p.o.r.n available in the United States It may make legislators look good and const.i.tuents feel good, but it will not decrease the availability of, nor the appet.i.te for, the material that everyone agrees is illegal and unconscionable.
In fact, in 1996, the American adult industry established the a.s.sociation of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP), a nonprofit organization dedi-cated to eliminating child p.o.r.nography from the Internet. ASACP's efforts include a reporting hotline for websurfers and webmasters, rewards for accurate reporting/conviction of those responsible for child p.o.r.n, strict standards for American adult Web sites, and proactive educational campaigns about age verification and other topics. Over the last two years, ASACP has received over 150,000 reports of suspected child p.o.r.nography sites. Virtually all (99.9%) of these reports can be attributed to non-adult webmasters or pedophiles, not professional adult companies.8 Battleground: The War on "p.o.r.nography" 129 The War on "p.o.r.nography" 129 Given today's political and economic realities, no one could be more interested in the elimination of child p.o.r.n than the U.S. adult industry. It is fascinating to observe how the most ridiculous rumors to the contrary are so persistent, for example, that p.o.r.n is marketed to children. Since children have no credit cards with which to purchase p.o.r.n, why on earth would marketing target them?
THE PUBLIC HEALTH MODEL- A CLEVER MANIPULATION.
Those who wish to limit or ban p.o.r.nography have cleverly positioned it (and thus, fighting it) as a public health issue. We hear, for example, about its supposed comorbidities (fear of intimacy, low self-esteem, perversion); supposed effects on consumers (addiction, depression, isolation, disrespect for women); supposed impact on communities (increased violence, divorce, tumbling morals)-and the ultimate health issue, that it's supposedly bad for kids.9 It's a familiar model, general y accompanied by a familiar imperative: do what's necessary to clean up the threat and protect our kids and communities, even if it costs a bundle and involves curtailing a few rights. As an-thropologist Carole Vance says, "Every right-winger agrees that p.o.r.n leads to women's inequality-an inequality that doesn't bother him in any other way."10 In this context, discussing p.o.r.nography as a free speech or civil rights issue can sound rather unconvincing and even naive to many people. In some ways, this reflects a deeper problem with our society; while health and safety problems easily acquire special public policy cachet, many Americans seem to feel that free expression and civil rights are less important than almost anything else under discussion.11 For starters, the manipulative, extreme claims of the public health model should be challenged. Instead of apologizing or rolling our eyes, we must loudly say that for the most part, adult material does not cause does not cause these awful consequences. In the same way that coffee often these awful consequences. In the same way that coffee often accompanies accompanies divorce, it's true that many personal and community difficulties divorce, it's true that many personal and community difficulties coexist coexist with adult material. That's because the use of adult material is so widespread, not because it typically causes problems. with adult material. That's because the use of adult material is so widespread, not because it typically causes problems.
And just like there's healthy food and unhealthy food, safe beaches and beaches dangerous for inexperienced swimmers, there's healthy p.o.r.n and p.o.r.n that might not be good for someone. Of course, a lot depends on the consumer; just like green peppers are hard for a few people to digest and easy for most everyone else, most p.o.r.n consumers have no trouble "digesting" what they view. The fact that a very small percentage of viewers have personality disorders is no more reason to banish p.o.r.n from everyone than the fact that some people can't digest dairy products is good enough reason to remove half-and-half and Haagen-Dazs from supermarkets.
We need to remind everyone that just like there's such a thing as moderate drinking, there's such a thing as moderate p.o.r.n use. And while some people can't handle even one or two drinks, most adults can-and we let them. We must challenge the idea that all use of p.o.r.n is abuse of p.o.r.n (and therefore dangerous). It isn't.
Having said that firmly, even the staunchest anticensorship activist should be sympathetic about people's fear of p.o.r.n. The American public of non-p.o.r.n viewers has been traumatized by repet.i.tive, lurid stories of children molested at psychotic orgies; women raped, enslaved, and trafficked; normal men who become drooling, unproductive idiots; loving families destroyed-al because somebody watched an X-rated video. Let's agree that such stories, although untrue, are scary, and that the fear they engender natural y demands action. Let's appreciate the psychological and citizenship skil s it would take to resist that demand-from oneself, one's neighbors, or one's civic or religious leaders.
Realistical y, only after that can we expect that a conversation about rights wil be taken seriously. We must say over and over that we're talking about our our rights, not just "p.o.r.nographers' rights"; that the right to look at p.o.r.n is directly related to the right to criticize the government, choose your own religion, and raise your kids free of interference, and how the wrong approach to p.o.r.n wil inevitably undermine everyone's rights, not just "p.o.r.nographers' rights"; that the right to look at p.o.r.n is directly related to the right to criticize the government, choose your own religion, and raise your kids free of interference, and how the wrong approach to p.o.r.n wil inevitably undermine everyone's non-p.o.r.n non-p.o.r.n rights. We've already seen this with attempts to censor network TV airings of rights. We've already seen this with attempts to censor network TV airings of Schindler's List Schindler's List and and Saving Private Ryan, Saving Private Ryan, and with attempts to remove Harry Potter books from public school libraries because of their so-cal ed satanic influence. and with attempts to remove Harry Potter books from public school libraries because of their so-cal ed satanic influence.
In India, people starve while cows roam the streets. It isn't because they think steak is unhealthy, it's because their religion forbids them to kill or consume animals they consider sacred. We may make fun of this. But at least they don't pretend it's a public health issue.
Continuing with the public health model, we do have limits on consumer product availability: expiration dates on milk, inspection of meat, warning labels on fish. Certain foreign products don't meet our standards, and so are denied entry. All of this depends on science-not consumer discomfort, not vague "holistic" or political ideas. When everyone was miffed at the French a few years ago (remember Freedom Fries?), no one proposed that French cui-sine be banned, only boycotted. And that only lasted a few weeks, and it was mostly tongue-in-cheek.
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Framing the war on p.o.r.n as a health issue makes it easy to drive people to near-hysteria about this alleged dangerous epidemic. The government (supported by conservative feminists and the Religious Right) can then deflect attention from how how it limits p.o.r.n's "bad effects" (i.e., how it limits p.o.r.n), because "nothing's too good for our kids," and "we need to do whatever it takes to secure the health of America." it limits p.o.r.n's "bad effects" (i.e., how it limits p.o.r.n), because "nothing's too good for our kids," and "we need to do whatever it takes to secure the health of America."
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