Thursday, December 6, 2012

The "evils" of porn

I occasionally read articles on, If you have never read it, it's pretty much a mill for conspiracy theories and rants against "liberal plots" like science and measurable data. 

I don't often write criticism of things I find there, but this series of articles caught my attention.

He is writing about the "evils" of porn, but his argument ends up sounding strange, creepy and anti-sex.  Now before I get into the criticisms let me say a few things about my own view so there is no confusion.  I do, in fact, watch porn on occasion.  I say this without the slightest bit of shame, sexuality is an important part of our nature and I think it is unrealistic to expect people to simply turn this part of themselves off until they get married.  Even most Fundamentalists admit this, since they are well aware of how many people watch porn and have premarital sex despite the general injunctions against both.  Think about it for a second, the church forbids both murder and premarital sex.  However, few people have a problem resisting the urge to murder but almost everyone has a problem resisting the urge to have sex.  This should tell us right away that these are very different things.

Now, to be clear I am not saying that the use of porn is a totally great thing without any potential negative consequences.  STD risks, and abuse are both potential risk for people who work in porn.  And there are studies that connect high amounts of porn use to erectile dysfunction, which, from what I've read seems to be caused by an over stimulation of the dopamine receptors, causing them to loose sensitivity.  However, risk is in everything we do.  Many people join the military even though that job carries with the potential risk of being dead or permanently maimed yet people do it proudly.

This brings me to the articles in question.  I'm going to be criticizing parts 2 and 3 primarily.   In the second part of his article he seems to want to discuss the topic reasonably, and shows that he has at least a passing familiarity the way pornography is dealt with in modern psychology.  However, like most apologists his reasonableness does not last, he quickly descends into pseudo-science and preachy claims, even ones that are a detriment to his article.

Take this quote:
Porn, for all of its carefully constructed storylines designed to satisfy every fantasy and fetish, for all of its mood lighting and music and costumes and elaborate camera angles, for all of its representations of a sanitized casual sex free from any fears of disease or pregnancy, and for all of its airbrushed and “enhanced” actors and actresses, will never be one thousandth as beautiful as the real thing. Because the lie, no matter how dolled up, is never as beautiful and convincing as the truth.
This is not only preachy, it is inaccurate from a neurological perspective.  One of the reasons porn is so effective at doing what it does is because the simulated experience is fooling the brain.  There is actually part of your brain that can't fully distinguish the difference between real and simulated experiences.  In fact, it is likely that this inability is part of what actually makes too much pornography use harmful to sexual performance.

He continues just a bit later:
No, not every porn user will become a rapist. Not every porn user will completely destroy their lives or their marriages through addiction. Not every porn user will follow the temptation to seek out the most extreme high, ending up in the darker and seedier districts of the world of porn.
But every porn user will inevitably, to one degree or another, lose his or her capacity to love.
Now we are far outside the realm of science, how exactly are we supposed to quantify an exact capacity to love?  Of course apologists love these sort of statements because they can sound deep without saying anything definitive.  If we could turn this statement into a question that is measurable it might be interesting, but the reality is that there isn't really any strong evidence pornography has any drastic effect on divorce rates, domestic abuse, rape or any factor we might be able to actually measure. 

The 2nd article ends with this:
This list only scratches the surface, for, though it may sound extreme, porn poses a threat to the very structures of a functioning civilization. Porn essentially habituates people to take, without any thought of giving. It habituates people to look upon others as mere vehicles for pleasure, and not as fellow, equal human beings to love. It is essentially an axe laid to the very root of community. And with whole cities of people now hooked on porn, it is hard to overstate the profound ways porn is transforming the hearts of our citizens, and ultimately, our civilization.
I found this particularly absurd.  For all his discussions about how the internet is destroying us with its easy access to porn it is not as if this is really a new trade, of course thanks to technologies like T.V. and Internet it is easier to access than in previous cultures, but in many cultures visiting a brothel was practically a religious experience, and in Roman civilization it actually was a religious experience.  Temples to Aphrodite often served as such, and though Rome did fall, it's fall was not caused because of too much sex.  Rather it was caused by too many wars.  He wants to set apart the current as something wholly different, but we have found "porn" drawn on cave walls by humans before we had written language.  Porn has not made humans more sex obsessed, it exists because we already are obsessed by it.  Evolution has made sure we would be, because if we weren't our species wouldn't exist.

In the third installment he writes about how to beat ones addiction to porn.  It was here that I found one of the more disturbingly bad relationship advice.
The first period of reprieve came when I was 17, when I first went to college – a small private Catholic liberal arts college located in Michigan. As soon as I arrived I fell madly in love with a girl from California, whom I will call Christine. This love had about it all the vehemence and ardor of a first love, and, as Christine professed to return the sentiment, it was not long before we were dating. Like most adolescent relationships, it didn’t last. But what I find instructive looking back is that, in the first place, my love was so vehement and sincere that I honestly could not imagine even wanting to use Christine in any way, and so our relationship was thoroughly chaste. But, even more interesting and to the point, is that this love killed all desire for any sort of illicit sexual pleasure
Now, the perception that some Christians seem to have of atheists is that we have one continuous orgy.  However, I'll admit my total experience in relationships is actually fairly limited, but I can't imagine any of the women I have dated being all that enamored with me if I told them I loved them so much that they totally killed all of my sexual desire.  If this is how you think relationships work, even at 17, then you are doing it wrong.  It is as if sex is something dirty, and that having those desires makes you dirty. 

He ends the article with this:
We must always be climbing upwards. So, don’t be afraid to take drastic actions to get your own problem under control. Extreme times call for extreme measures. And when it comes to the battle for sexual sanity
Ironically I agree, we need a lot more sanity regarding sexuality in this culture, but it isn't the pornographers who are destroying this sanity, but puritanical people who feel it is their duty to make sure everyone else enjoys sexuality in the manner proscribed under a narrow interpretation of their religion.  I used to live this way, I knew many others who lived this way.  Always afraid of temptation, Christians who would avert their eyes from a television program if they even saw a whiff of "side boob."  So desperately afraid that being exposed to the smallest glimpse of a scantily clad female would cause them to "backslide" into porn.

For all their insistence that non-believers are obsessed with sex, the truth is if you want to find a the most sex obsessed person around go find a 20 year old Christian college student who has spent months fighting urges to masturbate.  I should know because I used to be that guy.  He will tell you he isn't thinking about sex, and he is lying.

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