Why porn is bad for you

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Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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72 Responses

  1. Avatar Cascadian says:

    Um, when I think of realistic sexual information, NRO isn’t the first place I’d turn. Both pieces sound like a sexual version of reefer madness. Show me something from The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and I’ll take it seriously.Report

  2. Avatar RTod says:

    I don’t want to bang on the woman from the second article, but her assertion – that her husband grew to be disinterested in her and had an affair with a blonde woman being the fault of pornography, seems a little bit of a leap, which is overshadowed by it being so sad as to be cringe-worthy.Report

  3. Does anyone argue that porn is good for you? Does that make it any more or less resistible or controllable? It’s universally acknowledged to be powerfully addictive, and it is protected by the Constitution. But mores against it remain strong. Not many people just walk into the break room and say, “Hey I watched some really great porn last night.” It seems like everything that can be done, societally and legally, is being done. What’s the policy upshot here? A tax? Awareness campaigns?Report

  4. Avatar trumwill says:

    Seems to me you have a cause-correllation problem on some of these things. How surprising would it be that men that like to look at violent porn have different and more accepting attitudes towards violent sex than those that have no interest in porn?

    Talk about how porn “is associated with” can be pretty useless when viewing pornography is a sort of self-selecting thing. Is the use of the passive voice (as though the pornography approached them on the street and slapped them silly) because they exposed men that otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to it? If not, it strikes me as a sort of deliberate attempt to paint porn-viewers as victims rather than consumers. Or at least sidestep the self-selection factor.

    I am also curious about how they determine how attractive men who viewed pornography would have found their wives had they not viewed the pornography. Do they have a multiverse window? Was it a before-and-after thing?

    On the other hand, that part about men sentencing rapists before and after violent porn is quite interesting and potentially disturbing.Report

    • Avatar trumwill in reply to trumwill says:

      None of this is to say that I reject the idea that pornography has harmful effect. Particularly when consumed in large amounts and also when someone has to veer further and further away from sex of the more conventional sort in order to get revved up.

      But, as presented in these pieces, it doesn’t make all that convincing of an argument. Not sure if I should shell down the money without learning a bit more of the methodology and that it’s not relying too heavily on “is associated with”.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to trumwill says:

      And also, while I too do not reject the thesis that porn is bad for people in some ways, it is quite a jump to start out an article saying you are going to explore the social costs of “porn,” and then have the very first example be the effects of “violent porn.” If “violent films” desensitize us to violence in society, does that mean that “films” do?Report

  5. Avatar db says:

    If porn consumption contributes to divorce why have divorce rates been falling for the last 30 years?Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    This just in, the use of porn in excess can have harmful effects of the user. This places porn in the same category as depraved goods and activities like: fats, sugars, water, video games, work, leisure, sex, abstinence, darkness, light and on and on.Report

  7. If porn had any serious negative effects — as opposed to isolated, anecdotal ones — we would surely have seen these negative effects on a massive scale by now, correlated with the rise of the Internet. We haven’t. Porn is harmless. So there. Rape rates are down, divorce rates are down, teen pregnancy rates are down, and if the worst people can come up with is a single case of adultery, well, I’d call that a fair trade.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, Alarmism about the connection between porn and sexual violence is overstated, but the second article raises some real concerns. The idea that consuming a lot of porn deadens our erotic sensibilities and hurts adult relationships does not strike me as outlandish.Report

      • Avatar Sam M in reply to Will says:

        “The idea that consuming a lot of porn deadens our erotic sensibilities and hurts adult relationships does not strike me as outlandish.”

        What’s “a lot”? And what’s “porn”? Is the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue porn? Is a Beyonce video? Our cable has weird HBO channels that, late at night, show what appears to be hard-core porn with people actually having sex, but cuts out the really graphic parts. Is that porn? Is Porky’s porn? American Pie? Playboy? Does watching Porky’s 200 times equal one viewing of “Deep Throat”? If quantifying is important, and the idea that viewing “a lot of porn” is a problem, we are going to need to define out terms.

        More broadly, is “porn” the problem, or is “unrealistic fantasy” the problem? There are other kinds of unrealistic fantasies. My wife occasionally looks at the Nieman Marcus catalog and wants the stuff in there. It can be ind of a fun diversion for her. Of course, if she was scouring the catalog online for 15 hours a day, and her fascination with the stuff made her completely unsatisfied with our lives, and created emotional distance between us, that would be a problem.

        But that’s not to say that high-end merchandising catalogs are universally decadent. A lot of people get caught up with them (look at the bankruptcy rates for Americans!) but for most people, engaging in the fantasy is a harmless diversion.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will says:

        Hey Will, I don’t necessarily disagree but I would say that if porn is harmful it is harmful probably to the same degree that rude behavior is harmful or that insufficient body hygiene is harmful. That is to say that it is harmful but not on any level that would merit forceful intervention by outside bodies.

        I found the realclear article interesting with some thought provoking points but the National review article was pure bull. I sympathize with women who have been wronged by their husbands but I don’t see how NR is doing the poor woman a favor by letting her vent and air her dirty laundry in such a public manner.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Will says:

        @Will, But Jason’s larger point is that over the past, oh, 20 years or so, we’ve seen a massive natural experiment. Porn is much, much easier to find and more readily available than it had been, and yet any of the effects you’d predict haven’t shown up, although I’m not sure how you would measure if our erotic sensibilities are deader than those of people in 1960. Doesn’t that kind of poke a hole in the argument?Report

        • Avatar Will in reply to Dan Miller says:

          @Dan Miller, As you say, these things are hard to quantify. But the Witherspoon Institute study the articles refer to does suggest that porn imposes certain social costs.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Will says:

            @Will,

            Even if these things were very hard to quantify, the massive amount of pornography that’s out there (and the well-documented rise in porn consumption) guarantees to us that by now the differences would be entirely clear. There aren’t any, except perhaps that people are waiting to have sex as teens, people are getting divorced less, and people are getting raped less.

            I feel utterly certain that if these social trends had gone in the opposite direction, porn and porn alone would have been to blame. By like reasoning, we have porn to thank for our many advantages over the society of just a few years ago. Hooray for porn, I say.Report

            • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              @Jason Kuznicki,

              I’m sorry, Jason, do you really think that looking at only the broadest social indicators totally settles this question?

              I mean, there maybe, just maybe are a few other significant social changes that have occurred over the past few decades other than the rise of internet pornography. Just because an apocalyptic scenario hasn’t occurred doesn’t mean that everything’s fine move along nothing to see here. Right?

              I’m amused but not at all surprised to see the reaction this report has provoked here at the League.Report

              • @Matthew Schmitz,

                I’m sorry, Jason, do you really think that looking at only the broadest social indicators totally settles this question?

                The broadest indicators aren’t necessarily determinative, but I do know what people would say if they had gone in the other direction — blame porn. And virtually no one would have questioned it.

                We really have seen an incredibly strong natural experiment falsifying the hypothesis that porn causes social harms. It’s far from perfect; natural experiments seldom are. But still, I’d like to see social conservatives at least come to terms with it. If you’re looking for harm after the porn revolution of the last couple of decades, and if this is the best you can do…Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

                @Matthew Schmitz,

                Just because an apocalyptic scenario hasn’t occurred doesn’t mean that everything’s fine move along nothing to see here. Right?

                I am not suggesting that at all. Although the parade of horribles social conservatives projected to happen didn’t happen, I fully acknowledge that the use of pornography has had damaging effects on some individuals, effects that have spilled over into their families as well. You and I do not disagree on this.

                However, where we may part ways is that I don’t see this as evidence of a broader social problem. This sort of reminds me a bit of alcohol in that the social costs are incurred by a very small percentage of drinkers. It is the same situation here, the majority of users do not commit crimes, watch enough porn to satisfy and urge and are then done with it (while I don’t have a link, I recall reading somewhere that the average viewing time for a pay-per-view porno movie in a hotel was less than 10 minutes).

                Yes, a habit may be an issue and the more violent forms of pornography are more accessible, but the issues that Maggie Gallagher associated with porn (views on sex, family, children) probably have causes that have nothing to do with the adult film industry.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

                @Matthew Schmitz, I’m amused but not at all surprised to see the reaction this report has provoked here at the League.

                You mean a fairly libertine free-speech above everything else yet kinda square despite that kinda response?Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Will says:

        @Will,

        The idea that consuming a lot of porn deadens our erotic sensibilities and hurts adult relationships does not strike me as outlandish.

        It does not strike me as outlandish either. However, as others have mentioned, given the increase in availability and other factors not moving the direction that the alarmists predicted (i.e. increase in rapes), I do not see this as a widespread issue and not one where someone can suggest that porn has anything close to a social cost that is significant.

        In the anonymous author’s case, who is to say that there weren’t other causes that led to their marriage falling apart? If the guy cheated on her and left her for some trashy blonde bimbo, I’d attribute that to him being a complete asshole. Porn seems to be a convenient excuse to avoid the bigger issue which was that she married an asshole.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Will says:

        @Will,

        The second article is mostly anecdotal (and anonymous, so no more research can be done). I do think it’s true, though. For at least some people. There’s a commenter here and there named David Alexander that exemplifies everything potentially dangerous about pornography (he finds non-porn girls to be kind of dull, as long as he has porn he is not motivated to go out and meet people, etc).

        I also have a friend from high school whose porn needs grew with time in a sort of alarming way. He was satisfied with suggestive pictures at first, then needed nude pictures, then intercourse pictures, then videos, then wacked out videos to get stimulated. On one hand, that just strikes me as unhealthy and it’s hard to see how that wouldn’t affect one’s real-life sex life. On the other hand, he has a healthy sex life apart from periodic relationship (as opposed to marital) infidelity.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The argument that the people on the other side of the computer screen are being damaged by the lifestyle that you are subsidizing is a tough one. Chris Rock has a schtick where he says something like “they don’t give out grades for being a father but if your daughter is a stripper, you f’ed up.” I daresay that this extends out to, ahem, actresses as well.

    “But Jaybird!”, I hear you say. “Why aren’t you dealing with the male, ahem, actors?”

    Because I have been twisted by the patriarchy.

    Anyway, I don’t know of that many healthy, well-rounded, folks who happen to find themselves in that line of work. Sure. You can point me to a wiki page devoted to a, no pun intended, handful. For the most part, the folks involved with the “industry” are harmed thereby.

    That cost ought be taken into account as well.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      @Jaybird, I’ve seen probably four porn films in my life, but what struck me as bizarre about them was that they took one of the most emotional experiences in many people’s lives and depicted it in a totally unemotional way. It seemed almost pathological in a way. This could be related to what you’re saying about the sort of already-damaged people who end up in porn.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

      @Jaybird, Do you see a policy upshot from this, Jaybird, or are you just answering the factual question, is there a cost/harm?Report

    • Avatar lukas in reply to Jaybird says:

      @Jaybird, so how many, ahem, actors do you know intimately enough to judge their well-roundedness? Your assertiveness seems to indicate that it is quite the sample…

      That notwithstanding, how do you know which came first with these folks, the crazy or the industry? And anyway, doesn’t all show business do that to its performers?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to lukas says:

        @lukas, none at all.

        And yet I am willing to stand by my intuition.Report

        • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

          @Jaybird,

          I know a few, or in some cases “knew” would be more accurate as we haven’t spoken in years, but…

          As far as I could tell, they were no more harmed by sex work than they would have been by selling any other once-meaningful stuff turned to crap by commercialization. Any dysfunction that led them to that career was there long before it started.

          Of course I tend to be highly suspicious of arguments to the Good in general, even beyond this – but my point is that I’ve never met someone working in the sex industry who’d be “flourishing” if only they had a more respectable job, but aren’t specifically because they sell images of their body, as opposed to say, cell phones.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to JosephFM says:

            @JosephFM, Any dysfunction that led them to that career was there long before it started.

            Indeed.

            And to take advantage of such a person strikes me as something worth not doing.Report

            • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

              @Jaybird,

              I just don’t really see how that’s qualitatively different from any other industry. They’re all exploitative to some degree. The hustle is the hustle.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to JosephFM says:

                @JosephFM, a difference of degree, if large enough, becomes a difference in kind.Report

              • Avatar JosephFM in reply to JosephFM says:

                @Jaybird,

                Well that, I suppose, is where we disagree: I don’t think the difference actually is that big (or rather, I think that there are many “respectable” jobs that are more degrading.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to JosephFM says:

                @JosephFM, perhaps things are different now… but the 90’s had a lot of, ahem, actresses who ended up demonstrating severe dysfunction (I almost said “crashing/burning” but remembered Savannah). Maybe the internet has created a new paradigm for a type of mumblecore pornography that allows people to just, yaknow, whatever without having to get on a bus and go to California. The folks inclined to do so can do so without everybody else knowing that they were, effectively, runaways. If so, good.

                It wasn’t always this way.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to JosephFM says:

                @ Jaybird and on the other side we have preachers, politicians and management side lawyers. I have more respect for honest prostitutes.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to JosephFM says:

                I hope that I’m not giving the impression that I’m condemning the actresses themselves… merely pointing out that they have been damaged either by life or by the business that they are in and that taking advantage of that ought to feel icky.

                I’m not condemning those who provide the supply. I have more of an issue with the demand side of the equation.Report

  9. Both of these articles are premised on a single study from the Witherspoon Institute. Given the obvious ideological tilt of said institute, there is a pretty high risk of observer bias. I also suspect that there are a lot of confounding factors that make the power of the study itself weaker than these articles indicate.

    Finally, these articles would be a great deal more convincing if one weren’t written by a wronged wife (who is only sharing her side of the story) and the other by Maggie Gallagher (who is… Maggie Gallagher).Report

    • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Dan Summers says:

      @Dan Summers,

      Dan, it’s probably worth saying here that I work for Witherspoon. Now, if you don’t care for a report, I’m not inclined to take it personally. Same if you automatically discount work done by any thinktank because, well, Cato is libertarian and AEI is neo-conservative. That would be a shame, though, because all those places do some work that is good and some work that is bad, not unlike universities.

      I don’t doubt you’ll disagree with some of the report’s recommendations. Even so, I’d encourage you to look at the facts that inform those recommendations. Your call, though.Report

      • @Matthew Schmitz,

        That would be easier to do if I didn’t have to buy a book or DVD to find out what those facts are. Of course, I recognize that Witherspoon has bills to pay, so I’m not blaming them. I just wish I knew more about the substantive arguments so I don’t purchase it and find out that they’re relying primarily on correlation which could be attributable to self-selection. It’s a bit of a catch-22 for them, I guess. I am disinclined to pay for it until I know what’s in it, but if I know what’s in it, I have no incentive to pay for it. Hmmm.Report

      • @Matthew Schmitz, Let me offer, perhaps, a more nuanced take. I am a member of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. It is, ostensibly, a medical/scientific society dedicated to the health and well-being of teenagers. As such, it is meant to be as unbiased as possible in its approach to the science of medicine as it pertains to related issues. However, after several years of active membership, I can tell you that it has its distinct biases, which influence what papers are presented and what issues are discussed. I don’t endorse this, and find that its biases mean we hear about the same damn thing every year at its conference, but do accept that this is probably par for the course with organizations of this kind.

        Witherspoon has a pretty obvious ideological tilt. This is not to say that its work has no value, and I do not mean to imply that findings presented at its conference should be dismissed out of hand. However, without shelling out the cash to review the study itself, I have little information with which to interpret its findings. Part of the little information I do have is the nature of the sponsoring institution, and it does at least heighten my suspicion of observer bias.

        Conversely, I have my own biases, which will make me more likely to question the merit of the findings. Certainly, anything that Maggie Gallagher likes is going to have a big hurdle in front of it, from my perspective. It’s not necessarily fair, but there’s the frame of my reference.Report

  10. Avatar Michael Ströck says:

    Porn, Alcohol and other Drugs, Gambling, Sports, Actual Sex, Crappy Food, Work, Computer Games, Social Networks, Blogging…

    All af these things can be wholesome and beneficial if enjoyed in moderation by a person in the appropriate mental and physical condition.

    All of these things can turn into very serious addictions and destroy you, the ones you love and innocent bystanders.

    None of these things can ever be controlled in meaningful ways. Prohibition didn’t work. The War on Drugs is the biggest fuck-up ever. Sex – don’t even get me started. Evolution has made sure that the urge to procreate (which, in a state of arousal, gets reduced to an urge to simply fuck) can significantly outweigh long-term self-preservation under the right circumstances. Porn will never go away.

    Notice that the above list also contains the go-to items for people decrying the general state of the world. One of them, or any combination, can be blamed for pretty much any problem. But when you look deeper into these problems, usually you find that other factors likely play a much larger role.

    If you think that “traditional family values” are in decline and want to prove that in your newest study, you first need to define what the hell you mean. Then, you have to establish a base-line (the late 50s, say) and produce accurate measures of whatever you are comparing it to in today’s society. The thing is – you can’t.

    That’s also why it makes more sense to complete forget about these things (they are never going away, anyway) and look into deeper issues. An example that I came across today: One in nine(!) young black men is currently incarcerated in the United States. What is that going to do to families? Wholesale destruction: A self-reinforcing spiral of women accomodating men, and men being lazy assholes, because the competition is now fierce, and there are no real moral boundaries in modern society.

    Suddenly, the world is not so simple any more – where do you even start with a problem like that? But that’s so fucking complicated, let’s just concentrate on those filthy websites…Report

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