Twenty-one years ago today, the “Meese Commission”—the U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography—released its 2,000-page report.
President Reagan set up the Commission to reverse the findings of the 1970 report on pornography released under Richard Nixon, which recommended that legislation “should not seek to interfere with the right of adults to read, obtain or view explicit sexual materials.”
Although it was supposed to document the damage caused by using pornography, the Commission could find no such thing. It admitted that “The contribution of pornography to sexual deviance remains an open question.” It noted their data “do not support any causal link between readership of [‘men’s’] magazines and sexually aggressive behavior.” And it sourly acknowledged that “what role pornography plays in the construction of [aggressive sexual] fantasies remains to be answered.”
Nevertheless, the Commission was supposed to find damage and perversion, and it did. It concluded that pornography depicts sexual activities “talking place outside the context of marriage, love, commitment, or even affection. None of us believes this to be a good thing.”
In fact, even if porn depicts sex within that idealized state, it is still suspect for the Commission: “The very publicness of what is commonly taken to be private is cause for concern. Even if we hypothesize a sexually explicit film of a loving married couple engaged in mutually pleasurable and procreative vaginal intercourse, the depiction of that act on a screen or in a magazine may constitute a harm in its own right…solely by virtue of being shown.”
Who needs science when you already know what’s morally wrong for people? This prejudice continued to rule the wealthiest, most powerful government in the history of the world, and still does.
To this day, most policy makers believe that the Meese Commission proved that porn causes personal and social damage. In fact, in its inability to document this, it strongly suggested the opposite. If the Commission had found anything of substance, lobbyists like “Morality in Media” would be quoting it constantly.
Fast forward 21 years to 2007. Despite ever more money and political determination pouring into the project, there is still no documentation that consuming sexually explicit material or adult entertainment causes widespread damage. Of course, there are plenty of anecdotes that Mr. Smith is a porn “addict” or Ms. Jones hated her job as a porn actress, but as Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science says, “the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data.’” After all, there are plenty of people who are lactose (milk) intolerant or allergic to penicillin, but no one suggests that either one is dangerous for the public.
For decades, fearful people have demanded that pornography be limited because they believe that it’s dangerous. Recently, Congress and so-called decency groups have made the simple-minded leap that because divorce and early sexual activity have increased since porn became common on the internet, they are obviously caused by pornography. They fail to mention that whatever social and sexual pathology increases they decry have occurred at the same time that Church attendance and Bible study have increased dramatically.
Shall we draw the “obvious” conclusion, or rely on science?
The entire report is available at www.Porn-Report.com.
Happy Birthday, misunderstood Meese Commission.