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Bondage, Porn, and Free Speech (Just Another Monday)

RowrComing soon to a theater near you: Bettie Page. She’s the sexy S&M pin-up girl of the ’50s who has found a new audience in present-day hipsters the world over, appearing on t-shirts, buttons, magnets, and even lunchboxes. Now she has a new movie all about her life, starring Gretchen Mol.

This is sure to inspire a whole new rehashing of the ever popular pornography/women’s rights debate. Is it insulting or empowering? Beneficial or dangerous? As a woman, should I be critical of this objectification?

I’m sure you can guess my feelings on the issue, considering that I published a calendar of nude and nearly nude skeptical women. That doesn’t mean that I’m not open to the other side of the debate, though. I once dated someone who may have had an addiction to pornography — an entire hard drive of images, videos, and links, along with an expansive library of unmarked VHS tapes. It was a bit disturbing, though to be honest that was the least of his problems. Was he screwed up because he watched so much porn, or did he watch so much porn because he was so screwed up? I’m no psychologist, but I’d be willing to bet it was the latter.

Here’s a recent article about the issue: Activists Lament Porn’s Move to Mainstream.

Harmer is part of a cadre of anti-porn activists seeking new tactics to fight an unprecedented deluge of porn which they see as wrecking countless marriages and warping human sexuality. They are urging federal prosecutors to pursue more obscenity cases and raising funds for high-tech brain research that they hope will fuel lawsuits against porn magnates.

Whether porn is a good thing or a bad thing for society may be debateable, but these guys actually want to fine people for producing it — and maybe eventually for possessing it. We’re talking about a video of two consenting adults having sex. Not child pornography, not rape — even if everyone involved in the transaction is happy to play their part, these activists say that they should not be allowed. Their scientific expert:

“The Internet is the perfect delivery system for anti-social behavior — it’s free, it’s piped into your house,” said Mary Anne Layden, a psychologist and addiction expert at the University of Pennsylvania. “Internet porn is probably the biggest miseducation system we can devise in terms of sexuality, misuse of women.”

She says many of her patients, rather than improving their sex lives with porn, suffer sexual dysfunction.

Imagine that — a psychologist and addiction expert says that many of her patients suffer sexual dysfunction. No kidding? I just conducted a study concluding that cold temperatures cause abnormal levels of aggression in adult males. My sample? The starting line-up of the 1974 Flyers.

Interest in porn is age-old and normal, says psychologist David Greenfield of West Hartford, Conn., an expert on Internet behaviors, but it can become a destructive obsession for a minority who indulge in it at the expense of healthy relationships. Easy availability is part of the issue.

“It’s not your father’s porn,” he said.

Okay, can we not discuss my father and porn in the same sentence? Thanks.

“With little or no effort, as long as you have a computer, you can access some of the most stimulating content on the planet. There’s no delay, no person watching. It’s designed to very quickly get to a point where you’re not in full control.”

If the activists have their way, there will be someone watching. Someone who thinks he knows better than you how to live your life.

He estimates that for up to 10 percent of porn users, relationships suffer — with many husbands spending so much time online that they cease to have sex with their wives.

Divorce lawyers report that porn use is an increasingly common factor in marriage breakups: It can cause immense pain when a wife discovers her husband’s porn habit.

Antichrist?Nearly every “expert” quoted or referenced in this article could do well by grabbing their dictionary and flipping to the “C”s — notably, correlation and causation. Then, for homework, they can try to figure out the difference between the two and discuss how they may or may not be related.

So come on; we’re talking about pleasing pictures of sexy people. Like anything, if you overdo it you may have a problem — like sugar, alcohol, or episodes of Mama’s Family. But that doesn’t mean that every Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is another sign of the impending doom of society any more than it would mean Carol Burnett is the antichrist. Wait, maybe that’s not the best example…

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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10 Comments

  1. "Divorce lawyers report that porn use is an increasingly common factor in marriage breakups: It can cause immense pain when a wife discovers her husband’s porn habit."

    I hope my husband won't be too upset if he ever discovers my masturbation habit!

    I find it incredibly ironic that it's only men who are accused of being porn addicts. It's a total reversal of traditional and historical stereotypes. I mean, the reason women have to wear tents instead of clothes in Islamic cultures is that the men claim that the women are so promiscuous that they can't be let loose in society or they will constantly be seducing men. This type of stereotype was also quite common in Western society when the Catholic Church was in its hey-day in Europe, part of the reason for the witch hunts and all. Now we say the men are the ones who can't go 15 seconds without thinking about sex.

    Really though, both men and women like sex. Hey, it's human nature! Aren't there any couples that watch porn together? How about celebrating human nature and sexuality instead of trying to supress it?

  2. The definition of addiction is

    "Continuing to do a particular behavior despite negative life consequneces."

    So yes, SOME people are addicted to porn and for those that are addicted it is a bad thing. There are people that are addicted to clenliness, tobacco, alchol, food, all sort of things. By definition addiction is bad. That does not mean all porn causes addiction. (more likely there are people with addictive personalities and they become addictive.)

    I think some women get upset when their husband views porn becuase they don't (at a gut level) understand that their husband views the porn a stimulating or pleasing picture not as someone to actually have sex with.

    Let's take it one step further. Is going to a strip club and watching women take their clothes off cheating? Most strip clubs don't allow physical contact between the performers and the audience. You can only watch.

    I haven't frequented that many, but all the ones I have been to don't allow any touching. You have more chance of getting lucky at a normal bar than at a strip club. Remember at a strip club it is mainly guys watching women perform. The few times I have been I have seen only a few women in the place as patrons and they were with someone – probably their boyfriend. In a normal bar there is a greater potential to meet a woman. In my opinion you are safer letting your boyfriend of husband go to a strip club than to a bar. I am making the assumption that he isn't one to frequent a prostitute.

    What I don't understand is all those women who participate in making pornography. I don't think in the majority of cases they have a gun to their head, but the whole thing isn't something I would do. (I don't think it should be illegial, I just don't understand it.)

  3. The point of attacking porn, et many al, is to establish control over other people's sex lives. Leading people "by the short hairs" has been a major theme in Christianity for a very long time….

  4. Well, how did Bettie Page feel about her life?

    I would say that it would be nice if the porn industry was nicer to the "stars". There was a special on tv showing the work the C.Everett Koop was doing trying to "clean up" the porn industry by at least "guilting" the producers into make safe sex the norm. Also, the "use them and then dump them" thought process of the producers was pretty sad. The pushing of drugs, so that the women would comply with increasingly abusive sexual conduct wasn't too nice. But honestly, I think a woman would have to use drugs to just deal with the pain of some of the scenes shown. After one scene the woman appeared to be quite battered, and shook up. But the money is so good, and she WAS a consenting adult. I guess the thing is that porn is porn. Really hard porn is very lucrative porn, for the producer at least. It's sort of like thinking, "well, if I use a prostitute she'll make a lot of money" when it's the pimp that is getting the big cut. College boys that make "stars" of hard core porn women, and then invite them to campus, and act like these women aren't being taken advantage of by the industry, are a little in a dream world. Porn isn't going to be nice, or clean, or really sweet. It's porn! So let it be porn! But don't make it into "what fun for everyone". It's a seedy business, which for many is part of it's appeal.

  5. While I agree that there are some underhanded practices in the porn industry, I think it's unfair to the women involved to say that they're being taken advantage of by the industry. It's very likely that there is some of that going on, but I would like to see some statistics before jumping to the conclusion that it's a large percentage. Many of these women know exactly what they're doing and have made a decision to take money in exchange for having sex. Implying that they are victims only serves to demean them further by suggesting that they are unable to make decisions for themselves.

    And Phil, this post wasn't necessarily due to your recent run-in with the Bunny, but it certainly inspired me!

  6. "Divorce lawyers report that porn use is an increasingly common factor in marriage breakups: It can cause immense pain when a wife discovers her husband’s porn habit."

    Imagine changing that statement to

    "Divorce lawyers report that football is an increasingly common factor in marriage breakups: It can cause immense pain when a wife discovers her husband’s football watching habit."

    Would any sane person argue that football's to blame there?

  7. Pornography brings a lot of issues to the table, but with respect to the "exploitation" issue, I'd say it acts like a subset of prostitution. (Note that a lot of porn actors are also strippers, which I also consider a subset of prostitution.) Specifically, there are (wrt this issue) three general classes of prostitutes:

    1) The "Happy Hooker" types, who have freely chosen the work, commonly on the basis of "you mean I get to fuck all the time and get paid for it too?" Some of the fundies et al would like you to believe that all prostitutes fall in this category, their actions rising from their sinful nature". (Which is also why prostitution is considered a crime in itself, usually punishable by jail and "Scarlet Letter" criminal records.) In fact, I'm pretty sure this is a small minority, even including those women using it to pay their way through college et al.

    2) At the other end are "slave whores". The classic cases are overt, such as the Asian and Mexican women who are (still) being imported to American brothels, and runaways captured by "chickenhawks". Probably more common are women being pimped by abusive or domineering husbands/boyfriends. There are also a fair number of "drug whores". Some folks would lump those in with the first group, saying "if they just quit the drugs they wouldn't have to whore." Having some experience with drug habits myself, I prefer to consider them as "slaves" to their addiction. Even including all three of these subgroups, I suspect these are probably a minority too.

    3) The third case, and IMHO the most common, are women who are prostituting themselves to support themselves and (often) their children. These commonly (not always) have little education, but the real point is that they simply cannot earn enough from "legitimate" work (or welfare) to support their family. Outlawing prostitution (et al) is equivalent to telling all these women, "we'd rather see your kids starve than let you do that."

    By this point, it should be pretty obvious where my sympathies are. The first group is not being exploited by any consensual standard. The second group clearly are being exploited. In fact, they could be considered crime victims in their own right — if they weren't "illegal people", subject to arrest at any time. (Beyond the stigma of sex work and possible drug use, many of these are also illegal immigrants.) The third group is the tricky one. As a determinedly secular libertine, I say that they are exploiting *themselves*, in a fashion which damn well ought to be legal, for all the reasons implied by their situation.

    All these cases apply equally well to pornographic actors, and so do my sentiments….

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