America's War On Sex

Marty Klein

Part 12

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Antip.o.r.n forces continually pontificate about p.o.r.n viewers and the p.o.r.n viewing experience. They tell us p.o.r.n viewers are addicted, immature, antiwoman, intimacy-fearing, selfish, gullible, and of course, dangerous to children.

Perhaps these are the qualities nonviewers would have if they viewed p.o.r.n.

But characterizing America's 50 million p.o.r.n consumers this way is just nuts.

What's even crazier is the way this has become accepted as truth.


p.o.r.nography is not a love story, but it does tell some some truths. Not literal truths-few of us look like p.o.r.n actors-but more philosophical, eternal truths. Politically relevant truths. That's why p.o.r.n is ultimately subversive, a key reason that it's under siege. truths. Not literal truths-few of us look like p.o.r.n actors-but more philosophical, eternal truths. Politically relevant truths. That's why p.o.r.n is ultimately subversive, a key reason that it's under siege.

Although American media and culture obsess about s.e.x, most of us live with simplistic, superst.i.tious, anhedonic, fear- and danger-based concepts of eroticism. Many obvious s.e.xual facts are denied, tabooed, and distorted. Examples include: virtually all children m.a.s.t.u.r.b.a.t.e, virtually everyone has s.e.xual interests, most people fantasize s.e.xually, primarily about "inappropriate" partners or activities, and most people are curious about others' bodies and s.e.x lives.

p.o.r.nography tells a variety of truths about s.e.x and gender to viewers who decipher what they're seeing (that is, the vast majority of consumers). These truths are far more important than the surgically enhanced b.r.e.a.s.t.s, abnor- Battleground: The War on "p.o.r.nography" 137 The War on "p.o.r.nography" 137 mally big, and casual group s.e.x that are staples of the genre (which, when taken literally, are misleading). These truths include: * Anyone can feel (and thus be) s.e.xy.

* Nothing is inherently nons.e.xual or non-erotic.

* The only rules in s.e.x are arbitrary.

* Many, many people love s.e.x.

* The erotically "nasty" can be life-affirming.

* Even "nice" people enjoy "nasty" fantasies and games.

* Neither intercourse nor o.r.g.a.s.m are the center of s.e.xuality.

* Focusing on s.e.xuality for its own sake is legitimate.

* Women and men who feel secure in their dignity and admit that they love s.e.x can enthusiastically submit erotically, because they don't fear judgment (others' or their own).

These truths, of course, defy America's dominant paradigm about s.e.xuality.

In the traditional view external rules are important; body parts are clearly either s.e.xual or nons.e.xual; "nice" and "nasty" eroticism are clearly distinguishable from each other; different, non-overlapping groups of people indulge in each; and eroticism is dangerous if people don't control their arousal.

Consumers of p.o.r.nography regularly visit an erotic world quite different than this.

The truth that p.o.r.n tells is that all people have the option of conceptualizing their s.e.xuality any way they like. Social norms regarding age and beauty, religious norms about G.o.dly and unG.o.dly s.e.x, personal fears about acceptance, cultural myths about the human body, all of these are ignorable; none are inevitable. Each of us can triumph over the ways social inst.i.tutions attempt to control our s.e.xual experience.

Ironically, this paradigm of p.o.r.nography's truths is what s.e.x therapists try to get couples to understand and install in their own lives. These professionals know that the keys to satisfying s.e.xual relationships are self-acceptance and self-empowerment, not losing a few pounds, buying flowers, going away on vacation, or wild positions.

p.o.r.n's subtexts of abundance and validation are as responsible for contemporary cultural resistance-that is, the war on p.o.r.n-as its explicit presentations of s.e.xual activity.


A new way in which p.o.r.nography tells the truth even more radically is amateur p.o.r.n, which has exploded via the democratic frenzy of the Internet. Several million people across the globe are now photographing themselves during various s.e.xual activities, uploading these photos onto personal and commercial Web sites, and inviting the entire computerized world to enjoy them.23 138.

In contrast to most commercial p.o.r.nography, common features of amateur p.o.r.n include: * a wide range of bodies, including ordinary and even conventional y unattractive ones; * a wide range of ages, including adults conventionally considered way past the prime of their attractiveness or s.e.xuality; * a mostly unproduced physical environment (poor lighting, composi-tion, etc); * a heightened sense of mundane reality (shots with unkempt kitchens or kids' toys in the background, scenes filmed in Motel 6, etc.); * a sense of humor and even parody.

Conventional criticism of p.o.r.nography would not predict amateur p.o.r.n's meteoric popularity. These criticisms a.s.sert that the supernatural beauty of actresses is central, that the desultory domination of actress by actor is crucial, that spectacular genital friction is what viewers most envy and desire.

Amateur p.o.r.nography turns these a.s.sumptions upside down. There are no actresses, only real women. These women aren't pretending to be excited, they are are excited. They aren't flaunting impossibly perfect bodies, they are enjoying their bodies as they are-some of them gorgeous, most of them imperfect and attractive, some appealing only insofar as they are enthusiastic. Virtually all the women in amateur p.o.r.n share that quality-enthusiasm. They are actually enjoying themselves: the activities, the violation of taboos, the exhibitionism. excited. They aren't flaunting impossibly perfect bodies, they are enjoying their bodies as they are-some of them gorgeous, most of them imperfect and attractive, some appealing only insofar as they are enthusiastic. Virtually all the women in amateur p.o.r.n share that quality-enthusiasm. They are actually enjoying themselves: the activities, the violation of taboos, the exhibitionism.

Clearly, there's no coercion here.

In contrast to the typically grim, ideological antip.o.r.n critique, our a.n.a.lysis of p.o.r.n's attraction and value would would predict and predict and can can explain why amateur p.o.r.n is such a rapidly growing genre. If the keys to p.o.r.n's popularity are validation of the viewer's vision of erotic abundance, female l.u.s.t, and the reasonableness of erotic focus, a viewer can experience those even more intensely when this validation comes not from actors but from real people. Rather than actors explain why amateur p.o.r.n is such a rapidly growing genre. If the keys to p.o.r.n's popularity are validation of the viewer's vision of erotic abundance, female l.u.s.t, and the reasonableness of erotic focus, a viewer can experience those even more intensely when this validation comes not from actors but from real people. Rather than actors implying implying that the viewer isn't alone, amateur photos and video show real people that the viewer isn't alone, amateur photos and video show real people proving proving the viewer isn't alone. the viewer isn't alone.

So what does the viewer of amateur p.o.r.n see? Everyday folks being l.u.s.ty, exhibiting themselves, and partic.i.p.ating in an erotic community. It's a community where s.e.xuality is understood as wholesome even when it's expressed in taboo ways.

p.o.r.nOGRAPHY'S TRUTHS AS SUBVERSIVE And why does our culture resist these truths? Because the revolutionary implications of empowering people s.e.xually challenge the cultural status quo.

p.o.r.nography does this without even portraying s.e.x exactly as most people experience it.

Battleground: The War on "p.o.r.nography" 139 The War on "p.o.r.nography" 139 p.o.r.nography is an admission that human beings feel, imagine, and do what they do. In a culture committed to both hiding and pathologizing (and therefore shaming) s.e.x as it real y is, this admission isn't polite. It's subversive.

Ultimately, p.o.r.nography's truths are subversive because they claim that we can empower ourselves and create our own erotic norms. Political structures just hate when ideas or cultural products empower people. This is the recurring lesson of Copernicus, Guttenberg, Margaret Sanger, Lenny Bruce, Timothy Leary, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the conventional fear/danger model, the genders are adversaries.

p.o.r.nography shows a reconciliation of the war of the s.e.xes, as it contains no adversaries. In most of it, everyone shares the same interests: pa.s.sion, unselfconsciousness, self-acceptance, pleasure, and mutuality. p.o.r.n undermines the conventional scarcity-themed s.e.xual economy and gender hierarchy; this is one of its most radical features, and is a big reason it attracts political opposition.

The ma.s.sive popularity of p.o.r.nography, and its consistent themes of female l.u.s.t and male-female mutuality, testify to our pain about the conventional s.e.xual economy. Taking p.o.r.n on its own terms would require society to acknowledge this pain; such a cultural challenge makes p.o.r.nography subversive.

p.o.r.n is subversive because it says that s.e.x is not dangerous.


The format of America's cultural conversation about p.o.r.nography reveals a great deal.

* It focuses almost exclusively on negativity.

* It depends on misinformation and mythology.

* Critics claim they don't use the product, but claim expertise on the product's content (and its effects on users and the community).

* Almost no one will stand up for mainstream p.o.r.nography.

* People who do stand up for it are perceived as immoral, antifamily, antichild, and antiwoman.

What does this mean? Doesn't anyone notice that there is an activity done by 50 million people that practically no one will stand up and defend? And that anyone who does defend it is personally attacked? Gun ownership is contro-versial, but its pract.i.tioners defend it pa.s.sionately-they actually proselytize, hoping to convert nonowners. Drinking alcohol is demonstrably harmful for a percentage of drinkers and for innocent bystanders, yet alcohol distributors extol their product enthusiastically, no one ever suggests banning it for adults, and all but the most destructive drinkers are considered normal or even cool.


So what does the current one-sided "dialogue" mean? mean? What does it mean when one part of society discusses the behavior (and consciousness) of the other, and the voice of that other is missing? What does it mean when one part of society discusses the behavior (and consciousness) of the other, and the voice of that other is missing?

It means that we hear only about p.o.r.n's "victims." It means antip.o.r.n activists can maintain the illusion that p.o.r.n is a pathetic activity for marginalized people. This isn't healthy for our Republic's integrity.

Every antip.o.r.n fundraising appeal, every government hearing, every op-ed piece shouts that p.o.r.n is everywhere, that it's taken over, that it's a multi-billion dollar industry. Then they say p.o.r.n is "attempting" to be mainstream-as if it isn't. They say p.o.r.n is on the margins of our culture trying to get in and infect "normal" society. They say we have to stop it.

But to say that it's everywhere and that it's marginalized is a willfully distorted interpretation of the reality they themselves describe. With 50 million viewers, half of all Internet searches, $12 billion spent annually (more than all the tickets to professional baseball, basketball, and football combined), p.o.r.n is the mainstream entertainment choice of America. The fact that most people won't talk about their choice, and that nonviewers d.a.m.n this choice, doesn't change the fact. Viewing p.o.r.n is a central American activity.

Why don't p.o.r.n consumers speak up when they hear themselves mocked, pitied, attacked, feared, dehumanized? When the fury of enraged neighbors is whipped up by the bully pulpits of the ignorant and authoritarian, and supported by the legal machinery of city and state-all arrayed against their choice of entertainment, which they experience as harmless?

It's because people who consume p.o.r.n have learned to hide it. You mention it to your neighbor, and maybe your kids can't play there anymore. Your neighbor mentions it to his poker buddy, and maybe you lose a customer, or a promotion. If you suggest it to your wife and she watches Oprah, or Maury, Montell, Tyra, Nancy, or Katie, you may regret it for the rest of your life.

Religious training has instilled a tremendous shame in many p.o.r.n consumers. That doesn't stop them from using it (guilt can actually drive usage),24 only from feeling comfortable about it-and feeling they have a legitimate right to it.

The unending (and escalating) propaganda about p.o.r.n leading to violence and child endangerment means that defending the right to use p.o.r.n (say, in a letter to the editor about a local vigilante group) invites the wrath of a righteous mob that no sane person wants. And with the successful demonization of "p.o.r.nographers," no one wants to be a.s.sociated with those subhumans.

Americans have had so many rights of expression, economic choice, and privacy for so long, that most have trouble envisioning their world without them. For people who enjoy a little p.o.r.n once a week, it's hard to imagine our country's const.i.tutional structure turning on such a seemingly trivial thing.

The righteous anger of the Right, enthroned in federal and state government, clearly sees what the average p.o.r.n consumer still doesn't-the profound connection between the personal and the political.

Battleground: The War on "p.o.r.nography" 141 The War on "p.o.r.nography" 141 DEFENDING DEMOCRACY.

Final y, we have to say that there's more at stake in the war on p.o.r.n than the right to look at a friendly lady's nipples. It just so happens that s.e.xuality/p.o.r.nography is the vehicle of the moment in the eternal tug-of-war about the nature and meaning of the American system. At various times, that vehicle has been race (separate-but-equal; j.a.panese internment camps); age (child labor law, mandatory education); and private property rights (eminent domain, antidiscrimination law). Similarly, religion is another contemporary vehicle in this tug-of-war (stem cell research, right-to-die, school vouchers, school prayer, Christmas displays).

p.o.r.nography might not be the battlefield on which you or I would choose to defend secular pluralism, free expression, and science-based (as opposed to emotion-based) public policy. But as this is the battlefield that has been chosen for us, we must respond with energy and vision, neither apologizing nor acquiescing to manipulative descriptions of what p.o.r.n is, who p.o.r.n consumers are, or what the fight over p.o.r.n is about.

The increasingly aggressive and confident attacks on p.o.r.n are based on the following a.s.sumptions: * The right to look at p.o.r.n is trivial.

* The social benefits from limiting/banning p.o.r.n are huge.

* The social and personal costs of limiting/banning p.o.r.n are virtually zero.

* Limiting/banning p.o.r.n doesn't harm the American system.

Resisting the War on s.e.x requires articulating these a.s.sumptions, discussing their importance to all Americans, and then challenging every single one.

Those who want to eliminate p.o.r.n justify their extreme proposals by saying that the stakes are too high for halfway measures or fey concerns about free expression. They're absolutely right-the stakes are very, very high.

Chapter Thirteen.

Extreme Religion and Public Policy I am pro-life. So are you.

So is Osama Bin Laden. So was. .h.i.tler.

So were Lincoln and the guy who killed him.

And John Lennon and the guy who killed him.

Every ma.s.s murderer is pro-life.

The question is-which life, or lives, does a person mean by "pro-life"?

Who gets to decide? Why? The American system is not allowed to a.s.sume that one person's ideas about "life" are more legitimate than anyone else's, even if that person is "religious." The idea that government policy should reflect any religious belief is rejected by our Const.i.tution.

Our system creates a civic paradox that some find uncomfortable: * The government is forbidden to dictate what you believe, so . . .

* you're allowed to believe anything you want, so . . .

* you can join with your fellow believers and influence public policy, but . . .

* only to the extent that it doesn't intrude on the private beliefs of others-especially their nonreligious beliefs.

That's the genius of America, the feature that has enabled our country to prosper while functioning as a multicultural melting pot: give everyone the same chance, and don't let officials or groups dictate what citizens believe in private. This allows everyone to have dignity and personal power, no matter how poor they are or how idiosyncratic their beliefs. This is exactly what was missing from multicultural societies that imploded in the last 20 years, from Yugoslavia to Iraq.

When Iran issued its infamous 1990 fatwa against Salman Rushdie, many in the West were indignant about a political regime pa.s.sing a death sentence on someone simply for articulating a "blasphemous" thought.1 144.

Western Europe is now struggling with the early breakdown of their social contract of pluralism and tolerance. The 2004 of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh for criticizing Islam's treatment of women was a shocking challenge to the principle that people with contradictory religious ideas can coexist in civil society. Early in 2006, Denmark grappled with its Islamic community's reaction to newspaper cartoons they said insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

Local Muslims said they were "mental y tortured" by the images, and wanted the public expression of certain ideas forbidden. The newspaper, of course, was wel within the West's normal rights of free expression, but the artist received death threats. In subsequent months, over a mil ion Muslims in dozens of countries marched in protest, almost always resulting in violence and, to date, hundreds of deaths.2 Islamic preachers throughout the world are now explicitly calling for the destruction of the Western political system. They do not want those who believe differently to have the rights that they do. In February 2006, Sheikh Ha.s.san Nasrallah told hundreds of thousands of Shia followers in Beirut that, "We want the European parliament to draft laws that ban newspapers from insulting the Prophet."3 The stark irony that it is precisely in the West that Muslims may express their ideas more fully than in any Muslim country on earth, of course, completely escapes these religious zealots.

It seems clear that more, accompanied by increasing numbers of people inhibiting what they say, write, and draw will surely follow. While While pluralism makes room for religious fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism pluralism makes room for religious fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism wishes to destroy pluralism. wishes to destroy pluralism. This asymmetry is an enormous political advantage for religious fundamentalism. This asymmetry is an enormous political advantage for religious fundamentalism.

Similarly, zealous American Christians believe they are called upon to shape the public policy of the country in which they live. They believe that everyone should follow the word of the Christian G.o.d, even those who don't believe in that G.o.d, or who interpret that G.o.d's word differently. They might be called the Christian-American Taliban.

The ferocity, the lying, the emotional and physical violence in which these people are wil ing to engage make it clear that they are involved in a fundamental y different struggle than the daily civic strife of healthy democracy.

Indeed, political animosity in America goes al the way back to Founders such as Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Paine, who pa.s.sionately and publicly hated their rivals' positions. But they al agreed on the rules of the game, and sought to manifest the same American dream for their countrymen.

American Christianity is extremely heterogeneous. Many Christians celebrate pluralism and the reality of different beliefs-including non-belief-in their communities and the world. But today's religious zealots, like James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly, Brent Bozell, Pat Robertson, Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback, and yes, George W. Bush, do not agree with their Extreme Religion and Public Policy 145 Extreme Religion and Public Policy 145 opponents on the rules of the game. They do not want to govern a pluralistic, secular democracy; they want to govern a country whose goals are fundamentally different than America's have ever been, whose citizens have fundamentally different rights than we have today.

They see a powerful connection between non-believers' s.e.xuality and their own. They believe their world is being polluted by the s.e.xuality of nonbelievers. Conceptualizing their world as being vulnerable to others' s.e.xual sin almost inevitably leads to warring on the s.e.xuality of nonbelievers in order to take care of themselves.

And most importantly, they see this battle as far bigger than mere earthly issues of pluralism, democracy, and individual rights. And so legal, cultural, social, even spiritual appeals to traditional American pluralism can't succeed, because they don't live in a world in which they can be safe if others are not like them. And so Randall Terry will go to jail 40 times, James Kopp will murder physicians, and other religious terrorists-individually, in groups, or as elected officials-will pursue an America equally theocratic (no more, no less) than Iran.

Americans can no longer count on elected officials to uphold the single most important principle of American government and society-that everyone has the right to their own opinion, and has the right to live their own nonviolent life as they please. This war is no metaphor. The struggle is tangible, and s.e.xual expression is a key battlefield on which the war for the American covenant is being fought.

If these people did not claim to be devoutly religious-if, say, they were inspired by alcoholism, or visions of King Tut, or a desire to return the Louisiana Purchase to France-their demands would receive little serious consideration (and wouldn't be tax-exempt). But because they say their program is driven by religious considerations, they get a seat at America's public policy table.

And so their bizarre demand that, for example, every American be prevented from using contraceptives or having abortions is taken seriously, included as a legitimate voice in public debate-because they claim this is the demand of their G.o.d.

The very idea that s.e.xuality is a religious issue, that public policy about s.e.xuality requires the input of religious leaders, that religious leaders have special expertise about s.e.xuality and public policy (because it involves what they call morality), is just an opinion-primarily the opinion of religious believers. The fact that so many people now accept the pragmatic inevitability of this linkage is itself another antis.e.x victory in the War on s.e.x. (Once again validating the peculiar idea that "morality" is about limiting s.e.xual expression.) Given the high visibility and political influence afforded religious leaders today, which voices wil be heard in the public square? For two decades, it has primarily been the least tolerant, most antis.e.x figures. If moderate or s.e.x-positive religious leaders and laypeople cannot recapture their organizations from radicals 146 146 BREAKING THE LAW TO PROTECT G.o.d.

The following has been summarized from Joshua Green's fine article in The The Atlantic, Atlantic, which appeared in October 2005. which appeared in October 2005.

Soon after taking office as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2001, Roy Moore caused a national uproar by commissioning and installing a granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the state Supreme Court building and refusing to remove it. In the summer of 2003, "Roy's Rock" was the focus of intense debate about the government's proper relationship to religion. When Moore defied a federal court order to remove the monument, supporters from across the country descended on Montgomery, living on the steps of the Supreme Court building, and praying, singing, threatening, blowing ram's horns-all to protect G.o.d from the government's latest a.s.sault. After the conflict went to the U.S. Supreme Court, Moore was removed from office for disobeying the federal court order.

Here's the climax of Attorney General Bill Pryor's 2003 cross-examination of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, on trial for disregarding a federal court order preventing him from displaying a 5,000-pound religious sculpture of the Ten Commandments in his courthouse: PRYOR: And your understanding is that the federal court ordered that you could not acknowledge G.o.d; isn't that right?


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