Is Porn Culture Better Than Its Alternative?

 

Reading Sex and God at Yale by Ricochet’s very own Nathan Harden, I came across an interesting fact (two, actually) about porn consumption in the United States and abroad:

Porn advocates often cite the fact that Utah, one of the most religious and most politically conservative states in the United States, also has the highest rate of porn subscribers in the nation. Pakistan, a largely Muslim nation with extreme cultural restrictions on sex and public indecency, also ranks number one in the world Internet searches for pornographic content per person. A nation where women are commonly compelled to wear head coverings and head-to-toe robes in order to safeguard their “modesty” is the same nation that leads the world in Google searches for the terms “rape sex,” “donkey sex,” and “child sex.”

(This is particularly interesting to think about in light of the Taliban’s recent attempted assassination of the fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai, who was an outspoken proponent of education rights for young women.)

I find these porn statistics fascinating. Why is porn most highly consumed in very conservative cultures where promiscuous sexuality is most repressed? Harden offers his two cents: “Wherever there are severe cultural restrictions on pornography, people are all the more compelled to access it privately–without risk of cultural stigma–via the Internet. It begins to look like there is a pattern of hypocrisy: Those who condemn porn publicly consume it privately.”

Here’s another way to think about it: Whenever you make something taboo, it becomes even more desirable and sought after–it becomes risque and sexy. As Salman Rushdie recently said, “Terrible ideas, reprehensible ideas, do not disappear if you ban them. They go underground. They acquire a kind of glamour of taboo. In the harsh light of day, they are out there and, like vampires, they die in the sunlight.” He was talking about the anti-Muslim video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” but I think his point applies more broadly, and offers some insight into why porn is so popular in the very places where it is most restricted. Though I don’t like porn culture, I would agree that it’s better to let the culture exist unrestricted, and to criticize it, than to try to hide from it by restricting it.

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Members have made 46 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Douglas Member

    People do all kinds of things personally they’d never do publicly. There’s an element of hypocrisy in human beings that we’re born with. It doesn’t make moral teachings against bad behavior wrong, and if anything, reinforces the lesson: without controls of various sorts… especially strong social stigmas… people would start doing those nasty things openly and more often.

    The argument for “porn culture” is essentially the same kind of flawed argument that we should de-criminalize and tolerate vice. The argument is that “hey, if people can do it without stigma, it won’t be a big deal anymore, and there will actually be less of it”. The Netherlands embraced this idea for decades until they got tired of needles piling up on public streets and parks. Vice is like any other crime. You’re never going to be rid of it, but to stop resisting it is madness, and will only bring more if it, and more brazenly. In a free society, you have to make some allowances for the personal use of vice… to a point. But it’s insanity to embrace it as a virtue and not set limits on it.

    • #1
    • October 12, 2012 at 7:41 am
  2. Profile photo of Devereaux Inactive

    I have long felt that the principle that you define is true of most things.

    I am a shooter. I taught both my children to shoot at a young age. They view guns as merely things that they kind of like to shoot from time to time but have no other urges about them – much like any tool.

    Down the street there was a family that had 2 boys where the parents were vehemently antigun. The boys were not even allowed to have play guns. The result was that whenever THEY cam over to play, they were rabid about playing with my son’s toy guns and asked questions about mine incessantly. Other children, some of who I took to ranges to teach to shoot alongside my son, were like my children – not terribly impressed.

    It is, as you say, the rarity, the unavailability, of porn that makes it magic. Else it’s just grimy.

    • #2
    • October 12, 2012 at 7:41 am
  3. Profile photo of Mel Foil Inactive

    Porn advocates often cite the fact that Utah, one of the most religious and most politically conservative states in the United States, also has the highest rate of porn subscribers in the nation.

    Subscribers? If that indicates that they’re paying for it, and not getting it for free, maybe that implies that they’re novices–not “experts.” The experts trade it like others trade Hollywood movies and music online. If you’re paying, it either implies that you’re a novice, or you don’t approve of stealing. I’d guess, most porn consumers have no problem with stealing. That’s the only way it makes sense to me.

    • #3
    • October 12, 2012 at 7:45 am
  4. Profile photo of Devereaux Inactive
    Douglas: … The Netherlands embraced this idea for decades until they got tired of needles piling up on public streets and parks. Vice is like any other crime. You’re never going to be rid of it, but to stop resisting it is madness, and will only bring more if it, and more brazenly. In a free society, you have to make some allowances for the personal use of vice… to a point. But it’s insanity to embrace it as a virtue and not set limits on it. · 0 minutes ago

    Ah, but you do make a difference between legality and social acceptance. Recollect that in THIS nation we had legal prostitution for many years. It was viewed in varied ways, depending on where it was practiced. But it was never socially considered a great job choice. So you saw it a lot in places like mining camps, but not much in Philadelphia. And rape got you hung quickly, a more accurate assessment of social value.

    • #4
    • October 12, 2012 at 7:48 am
  5. Profile photo of Pseudodionysius Member

    I don’t think the analogy holds. When you forbid something by simply saying its forbidden, you haven’t gotten to the root of the vice. If, instead, you restrict something and explain that indulging in it will slowly, perhaps imperceptibly at first, damage your ability to form legitimate friendships, find and honor a spouse and raise your children in the image you wish to form them, I think you send a more powerful message.

    You also have to mention that Divine Grace is an aid to chastity and continence: we aren’t Pelagians.

    • #5
    • October 12, 2012 at 7:53 am
  6. Profile photo of Guruforhire Member

    Taboos are great things, and are meant to be violated. It sort of marks the boundaries of acceptable behavior. When adults are looking to push the boundaries a little bit, it keeps that kind of thrill seeking in a safe and reasonable territories. When you mainstream things like BDSM and the more perverse kinds of kink, where does the average have to go to be kinky and exciting? I want you to seriously consider what the 12 year old girl that was singing along with britney spears to songs about group sex, and Rhianna to songs about bondage and sadomasocism is going to have to do to be exciting and fun when she is in her thirties and forties? I mean holy hell what is a guy going to do to have to please HER? I mean my god, there is nowhere to go. So yeah, let adults engage in a little pornographic fantasy, and keep it something that should be done privately.

    I remember a time when getting to second base a heart bounding barely able to breathe event. Now. Meh. Normalizing things is BAD for human sexuality.

    • #6
    • October 12, 2012 at 7:59 am
  7. Profile photo of Illiniguy Member
    Devereaux: I have long felt that the principle that you define is true of most things.

    Including alcohol and tobacco. When I was about 6 or 7, I asked my mom, who smoked at the time, to let me take a puff on her cigarette. After I got up off the ground after gagging myself, to the sound of her laughter, I never touched a cigarette again. I’m also convinced that children who grow up with alcohol as a taboo, especially in homes where the adults drink, will overdo it at first opportunity.

    • #7
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:07 am
  8. Profile photo of Illiniguy Member
    Pseudodionysius: [W]e aren’t Pelagians. · 14 minutes ago

    No, we’ll leave that to the utopians of the progressive movement.

    • #8
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:11 am
  9. Profile photo of Guruforhire Member
    Mel Foil

    Porn advocates often cite the fact that Utah, one of the most religious and most politically conservative states in the United States, also has the highest rate of porn subscribers in the nation.

    Subscribers? If that indicates that they’re paying for it, and not getting it for free, maybe that implies that they’re novices–not “experts.” The experts trade it like others trade Hollywood movies and music online. If you’re paying, it either implies that you’re a novice, or you don’t approve of stealing. I’d guess, most porn consumers have no problem with stealing. That’s the only way it makes sense to me. · 23 minutes ago

    But there are people who put it online for free. Its a new facet of exhibitionism.

    • #9
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:11 am
  10. Profile photo of Sabrdance Member

    While in this case I think we might be able to take the statistics at face value, there is a third, methodological explanation which should always be kept in mind.

    Without individual data, we can’t make statements about individuals.

    So yes, Utah might have a lot of pornography subscribers. This does not indicate Utah is filled with hypocritical secret websurfers. It is entirely possible that 50%+1 of Utah has made other types of porn nearly impossible to get, driving the other 50%-1 to the Internet. (And my recollection of the report is that it was worse than that -the data used aggregated credit-card data, so we can’t even be sure that each data point represents a single person). Similar argument can be made about Pakistan.

    Howell’s Rule of Statistics #3, Aggregated data cannot be used to draw conclusions about its constituent parts individually.

    Rule #1 is also relevant, All statistics regarding sex, marriage, divorce, religion, and family are wrong until proven otherwise.

    (And Rule #2 is, Collect data such that your unit of analysis is the same as your unit of interest, which leads right into rule #3.)

    • #10
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:14 am
  11. Profile photo of Fred Cole Member
    Mel Foil

     The experts trade it like others trade Hollywood movies and music online. If you’re paying, it either implies that you’re a novice, or you don’t approve of stealing. I’d guess, most porn consumers have no problem with stealing. That’s the only way it makes sense to me. · 26 minutes ago

    Yeah, it’s not like that. If you’re paying for it, it just means you don’t know where to get it for free or choose not to. There’s tons of it out there for free.

    • #11
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:15 am
  12. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    Who is more tempted by a box of donuts — a person who eats whatever she wants or a person on a diet? The restriction needn’t be imposed by others to exaggerate temptation.

    Also, who do you think Satan is more eager to corrupt — the low-hanging fruit or role models? For every leader you can convert, you convert ten followers.

    • #12
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:19 am
  13. Profile photo of Clem Comly Inactive

    I wonder how much of Utah’s and Pakistan’s #1 rankings are due to lack of competitive substitutes? if you were to tell me that per capita beef consumption was highest in Muslim areas, I would ask if they still are highest if one ranks consumption of beef and pork combined.

    • #13
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:22 am
  14. Profile photo of Douglas Member
    Illiniguy
    Pseudodionysius: [W]e aren’t Pelagians. · 14 minutes ago

    No, we’ll leave that to the utopians of the progressive movement. · 11 minutes ago

    Libertarians are, in their own way, just as Utopian as progressives.

    • #14
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:24 am
  15. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    So jurisdictions that consume the most porn are also the jurisdictions that put the most restrictions on women?

    How is that a good thing?

    • #15
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:50 am
  16. Profile photo of Knell Inactive

    No matter the statistics we must never think to try and normalize porn. It is not and will never be normal. Pornography a big lie. It’s kind of like the contrast between Paul Ryan and Joe Biden last night — Earnest vs icky. Sure there’s a lot of porn out there and it’s easily available and it has “gotten by” all these years and people like it — it has superwhite teeth and smiles and laughs while people are dying. But it’s hiding something isn’t it? It got its start on false transcripts and plagiarism. 

    Just because the damage is overlooked by many (most?) it does not mean we should just turn it loose and see what happens. The existence of pornography demeans us all — we must never forget that.

    (Are you asking this because Camille Paglia is pro porn?)

    • #16
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:51 am
  17. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member

    It begins to look like there is a pattern of hypocrisy: Those who condemn porn publicly consume it privately.

    It isn’t necessarily true that those who did the forbidding and those who did the consuming are the same group.

    Now you might argue that if you live in a state, you vote for its representatives, and that surely they represent you. Not true.

    • I live in Maryland. But Maryland is abortion-friendly, and I am most certainly not.
    • The people who decided Maryland’s abortion policy don’t represent my views on that.

    By the same logic, you can’t say that the people who condemn pornography in Utah are the same ones who consume it privately, and are therefore hypocrites.

    After all, the USA is majority pro-life, and yet the Obama Administration is decidedly for abortion. Does that mean we’re all hypocrites? No. That conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.

    • #17
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:55 am
  18. Profile photo of tabula rasa Member

    Whatever your opinion of porn is and what we should do (or not do) about it, you should at least read the latest compilations of studies on the subject.

    In 2005, Dr. Jill Manning, working under the auspices of the Heritage Foundation, presented a paper to Congress entitled the “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research.” Here.

    In 2010, Mary Eberstadt and Mary Anne Layden prepared a damning indictment of pornography entitled “The Social Costs of Pornography.” Here.

    Their conclusions: porn destroys relationships between men and women, husbands and wives, and it destroys children.

    I’m not advocating prohibition, but let’s at least acknowledge that chronic porn consumption is not victimless.

    • #18
    • October 12, 2012 at 8:56 am
  19. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    It begins to look like there is a pattern of hypocrisy: Those who condemn porn publicly consume it privately.

    Has the author of this quote stopped to think that he might have the correlation backwards? Maybe those who consume porn privately are more likely to condemn porn publicly.

    • #19
    • October 12, 2012 at 9:05 am
  20. Profile photo of Schrodinger's Cat Inactive
    What is the alternative? Legalize all forms of pornography, including pedophilia? Isn’t this relative moralism which leads to chaos?
    • #20
    • October 12, 2012 at 9:08 am
  21. Profile photo of Foxman Inactive

    Which are you calling “Porn Culture”?

    Seems to me it applies more to Pakistan than to America.

    • #21
    • October 12, 2012 at 9:13 am
  22. Profile photo of Nathan Harden Contributor

    Emily, the passage you quote is little more than a brief aside in Sex & God at Yale, but it’s an idea that deserves further exploration and I’m glad you brought it up. To what extent our civil laws should be guided by moral law–that’s a hard question. Also, whether making harmful things illegal actually helps or not–that’s another hard one.

    I’m reminded of something the Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans:

    What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[b]But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting…In his case, Paul seems to be saying that knowledge of the law produced greater desire for what the law forbade. However, he also seems to say, if you keep reading the passage, that, in a deeper sense, the law did something important–it revealed to him his need for redemption.

    • #22
    • October 12, 2012 at 9:17 am
  23. Profile photo of Ray Kremer Inactive

    There’s another argument too, that asks does porn increase rape because it trivializes sex and makes men think rape is okay, or does porn reduce rape because it gives men an outlet for their pent-up sexual energy that does not involve forced activity with a flesh and blood woman?

    Being a male myself, with all the pent-up sexual energy that goes with that, I sometimes marvel at the unlimited and frankly sometimes vile porn that is available so very easily on the internet. Just twenty or thirty years ago, a teen boy’s introduction to porn was a few magazines with little more than nude photo spreads if his father had a stash and he was lucky enough to find it. Now all that teen needs is 10 seconds on a computer to find video clips with activities previous generations scarcely imagined.

    Is porn bad? No. Is THAT MUCH porn bad? It’s certainly more than necessary. But boys and men definitely always have and always will spend time seeking outlets for that pent-up sexual energy.

    • #23
    • October 12, 2012 at 9:40 am
  24. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    Porn is proof of the free market working even when we do everything in our power to restrict it. The most important question in this (in my opinion at least) is why is there such an enormous market for porn? Surely those who make it aren’t doing it for their health and spiritual well being. They make it because there is a market demand for it.

    • #24
    • October 12, 2012 at 9:57 am
  25. Profile photo of Illiniguy Member
    Douglas
    Illiniguy
    Pseudodionysius: [W]e aren’t Pelagians. · 14 minutes ago

    No, we’ll leave that to the utopians of the progressive movement. · 11 minutes ago

    Libertarians are, in their own way, just as Utopian as progressives. · 1 hour ago

    I don’t think Libertarians believe that man is a perfect or perfectible being so much as they believe that it’s none of society’s business to moderate or modify the exercise of their imperfections.

    • #25
    • October 12, 2012 at 10:07 am
  26. Profile photo of Mel Foil Inactive

    If there was a “gateway drug,” for me, when I used to have a fascination with porn–mild porn by modern standards–it was female immodesty. I’m not saying that’s true for everybody, but it was the bad spark for me. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, all of a sudden, there were lots of braless (and tanktopped) women walking around. Sometimes you prayed that up closer, they were ugly, so you could put them out of your mind. All I can say is, that sparked my teenage interest in porn. At this point in my life, I don’t know if it’s from old age or God’s grace, but I have little or no interest in porn. Now it just seems rather sad that so many men waste their time (and damage their souls) with it. Thank God, I’m easily able to, and desire to, leave it alone at this point. It’s not healthy.

    • #26
    • October 12, 2012 at 10:08 am
  27. Profile photo of EJHill Member

    I have two teenaged sons and we have a pretty good dialogue going about porn, sex and what’s healthy and what’s not. The amazing thing in today’s culture is what I refer to as the “spillover.”

    Pretty, young girls are now shooting pictures of themselves in various levels of undress, usually in front of the bathroom mirror with their phone cameras. It gets sent to a boyfriend and the next thing you know it’s on everyone else’s phone and in a twinkling of an eye on some porn-share website.

    This is also part and parcel of the ongoing and building culture war between the West and Islam. If the Muslims go overboard in forcing their women behind the modesty of the veil and burqa, it is reinforced by the permissive and lax views of our culture. We don’t need to be prudish about sex, but a little restraint would be welcomed.

    • #27
    • October 12, 2012 at 10:22 am
  28. Profile photo of Lavaux Inactive

    Smart people make things too complicated. Here’s the real deal: If your gig is a bore, you look to spice it up with things your gig doesn’t offer. In the American experience, at elementary school this spice is called daydreaming, at junior high and high school it’s called hormones, and adults say it appeals only to the prurient interests (you lawyers know what this phrase means). Every-time and always this spice is comprised mostly of banned stuff leavened with good stuff that could be artistic or otherwise literary if better refined and less corrupted, which is to say, less accessible to the refined prurient interests. 

    With faith the rubber meets the road where faith requires sacrifice. Most people balk at this point and reach for the spice.

    • #28
    • October 12, 2012 at 10:26 am
  29. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    Wait, what are we considering as “the alternative”?

    World of Warcraft culture?

    • #29
    • October 12, 2012 at 10:28 am
  30. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member
    The King Prawn: …. why is there such an enormous market for porn? ….

    In America, it’s completely predictable. There’s an ever widening gap between puberty (when sexual desire blooms) and marriage (when sexual desire is properly satisfied). Meanwhile, advertisers, entertainers and clothing companies capitalize on the temptation without any sense of responsibility.

    In Pakistan, arranged marriages at a young age are still the norm, are they not? So the problem is different. I don’t know enough about that culture to comment on it.

    • #30
    • October 12, 2012 at 10:41 am
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