People who feel victimized by porn: Let’s give them sympathy, not a Congressional hearing

Share This Article

The plural of “anecdote” is not “data.”

But people who believe that America is loaded with victims of porn have no data. All they have is anecdotes.

Pornography, like Brussels sprouts and plaid slacks, is something to be chosen (or not) and consumed (or not). It is also something to have opinions about. This is, after all, a free country. But public policy based on opinion rather than fact is bad public policy. And a vocal minority is demanding that their strong opinions about porn be enshrined in law.

I am a person of faith: I have faith in science. And I have faith in the vision of America as a place where adults can make their own private choices. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said that the ultimate freedom is the freedom to be left alone. This freedom is now under attack by those who lack faith. They lack faith in science, and they lack faith in their neighbors.

Our federal government now finds it convenient to listen to people who claim to be victims of pornography. Instead of facts they have fear, and they demand that the law comfort them. Our congressmen are listening to their stories this week, making generalizations and drawing conclusions that even a high school science student would be criticized for.

The so-called victims of porn trot out each new rapist or unfaithful husband as “proof” of the damage pornography causes. They point to rapists with porn in their pockets, and husbands making love to their computers instead of their wives. As a psychologist, I can verify that there are tens of thousands of such rapists and husbands.

A compelling argument against pornography? Not at all. Everyone agrees that tens of millions of Americans consume porn. That’s more people than watch CSI, or go to pro basketball games, or own an iPod. When you drive down your street tonight, every fourth or fifth house you pass has someone in it who enjoyed porn last month. The overwhelming majority of them don’t rape strangers or emotionally abandon their wives.

In reality, knowing that a man uses porn doesn’t help us predict anything else about him–not his income, education, marital behavior, religiosity, or personal hygiene. The 50 million Americans who use porn include far more ministers, PTA members, policemen, teachers, soldiers, dentists, and Boy Scout leaders combined than rapists or abusive husbands.

To properly evaluate the role of porn in criminal or abusive behavior, we would have to look at the porn behavior of non-criminals and non-abusers. Groups that drive anti-porn hysteria have never done that. They don’t want to know about the porn habits of law-abiding, loving, productive citizens.

The argument that “this sex criminal was found with a cache of pornography–his victims are victims of porn” is simply false. Every sex criminal in America started with milk. Virtually all drive cars. Neither milk nor cars make people sex criminals, and neither does porn. There has never been a validated scientific study showing that adults who use porn are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior than adults who don’t use porn.

Of course there are people who feel harmed by porn. There are also people who feel harmed by giving women the vote, fluoridating water, and racially integrating schools. We could easily find articulate people to tell their stories about the personal pain caused by these things. That doesn’t mean that these choices actually create danger for the public, or that they should be unavailable to the larger population.

Deciding social harm based on pleas made by people who have been harmed is a terrible approach to public policy. In order to decide if porn is really harming communities, the government is obligated to 1) hear from porn consumers who say their use has been benign or positive, and 2) consult a range of actual sex experts. To find highly credentialed experts who believe porn is benign or positive for most adults and communities, the government has only to contact professional sexologists (we have several national organizations). At hearing after hearing, including two this spring, it has never done so. Similarly, lawmakers have repeatedly rejected the Adult Freedom Foundation’s offers to provide expert witnesses to present the Adult Entertainment Industry’s side of the story.

Those who claim that communities or neighborhoods with strip shows, sex clubs, and adult bookstores suffer from crime and distress should be required to show their data. They can’t, because there are no such “secondary effects” of porn and related activities. The police departments of New York City and Phoenix couldn’t provide it when challenged in court-because it doesn’t exist. Porn doesn’t destroy communities; if it did, there would be no America.

The new concept of “porn addiction” is another example of the harm supposedly caused by porn. This idea has never been accepted by the psychiatric, psychological, marital counseling, or sexological professions. There is no DSMIV or ICD9 (that is, professional) diagnosis of “porn addiction.” Just because people feel addicted doesn’t mean they are. And as every psychologist-conservative and progressive-knows, the true sources of people’s dysfunctions are rarely what people think they are. That’s why men and women find psychotherapy and marriage counseling so necessary and valuable.

Finally, aren’t children victims of porn? Don’t they suffer every time spam offers them bigger penises or orgasms? Aren’t they traumatized when they can find a picture of a bare breast or pubic hair?

No. In America’s thousands of professional publications and scientific proceedings, there is no peer-reviewed data showing that access to sexual imagery harms kids. The really young ones ignore it, older teens are already sexual, and kids in between do what they’ve always done–they look, giggle, blush, and move on to more interesting things. It’s only adults obsessed with sexuality who imagine otherwise.

So are there no victims of porn? That’s actually the wrong question, since porn itself doesn’t do anything.

Are there people who use porn inappropriately, even self-destructively? Of course. The same is true of cars, money, and food. Are the majority of porn users, their families, or their marriages damaged? Like the majority of those who drive, spend, and eat, of course not.

We should all be full of sympathy for those who have been genuinely hurt by others. Similarly, people terrified of the sexuality of those around them deserve our sympathy as well. If only they weren’t trying to take away our right to be left alone, we could give them our compassion much more easily.

Share This Article

0 Comments
Previous Post
Next Post