Such programs are among the worst of TV’s portrayals of sexuality: they show eroticism as the focus of problems and impulsive decisions, as a dangerous form of energy that’s always on the verge of exploding and damaging people, families, and communities.
These shows lie about sex every week, stereotyping people who enjoy sex as voracious, depicting S/M as primarily about violence and humiliation, exaggerating any non-standard sex as terribly kinky.
But I gladly admit—a recent episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent really got it right. A guy was on trial for some sadistic rapes. When the defense claimed that “pornography made him do it,” the prosecutor responded “Haven’t you read Diamond’s work about Japan, and Kutchinsky’s work about Denmark—that high exposure to pornography is related to lower rates of sexual assault?”
That’s portraying sexual science at its finest—used accurately by the criminal justice system (in this case, to nail a guy). And it didn’t hurt the show’s flow at all.
Now that a network has proven it can entertain people while telling the truth about sex, here’s some other dialog we deserve to hear:
* “Sarge, you know that there’s no data connecting child porn and child molesting. No one knows how many people look at the stuff and never molest anybody, or how many people molest and never look at the stuff. But you figure it’s gotta be a significant number.”
* “Well, inspector, all those requirements that we publicize sex offenders’ addresses, and prevent them from living or working near churches and schools—you know they haven’t made anyone safer. All that money and effort—no one’s documented any benefit from it at all.”
* “Yeah, it’s a common idea that S/M is violence, that people are forced into it and it’s all about pain. And that only really nutty people do it. But that’s not true. Shrinks tell us all the time that millions of regular people do the spanking thing or the let’s-pretend-I-don’t-wanna-kiss-you thing.”
* “Sure there are some crazies out there on the internet. But almost all of the sexual invitations that young people get are from other kids, not from adults or predators.”
The stories on these shows are frightening enough as it is—violent, heart-pounding, aggressive. People then bring this fear into the real world—viewers, for example, believe there’s more sexual violence in the U.S. than non-viewers do. Let’s not fuel that fear about the real world by giving audiences false messages about sexual desires and decisions.
Again, hats off to the writers of this episode of Law & Order. Ditto to my dear friend Mickey Diamond, and our colleague Beryl Kutchinsky—who together have created almost a century of sex research.