Tobacco, Porn, and an Analogy

Today’s discussion arising from Monday’s link post, frequent commenter took exception to the linked analogy from Joe Carter’s Commonplace. Mr Carter quotes from a interesting essay in Policy Review. Mr Carter quotes:

Today’s prevailing social consensus about pornography is practically identical to the social consensus about tobacco in 1963: i.e., it is characterized by widespread tolerance, tinged with resignation about the notion that things could ever be otherwise.

My (liberal/progressive) commenters objected tacking two tacks. JA defended pornography as harmless (or a good?). What harm can pornography cause after all, it only “leads to erections.” However pornography is indeed harmful. It is harmful in that it corrupts our relationships. A young man may argue and perhaps even convince his lover that this habit of his is in no way harming his relationship with his young (beautiful) spouse or lover. After all he loves her but is only engaging in behavior that doesn’t touch their relationship by engaging in viewing pornography. However … that plays out a little differently 20 or 30 years down the road. When the images he views are of women 30 years younger than his beloved. When she views the women he views and sees differences between herself of her past and her present body image that can certainly cause pain … and damage relationships. Ms Eberstadt (the author of the Policy Review piece) notes:

Indirect evidence from other sources, such as divorce cases and reports by clergy and therapists, also suggest that pornography can cause harm. Consider the increasing role played by internet pornography in divorce proceedings. According to a meeting of the American Academy of atrimonial Lawyers, for example, 62 percent of the 350 attendees said that the internet had been a significant factor in cases handled that year — and that was in 2002, well behind today’s levels of pornography consumption. Numerous pastors and priests and ministers and therapists have reported that pornography use is now the leading cause of marital trouble and breakup they encounter as counselors.3  If we accept that marital breakup itself causes distress to both parties as well as to any children involved, then pornography’s potential cast of victims appears to widen significantly by virtue of that fact alone.

So it seems clear that far from being harmless it it seems clear that harm does come from porn.

The other commenter Mr Boonton offers a different tack. He views porn and tobacco as not analogous because:

I think the analogy breaks because tobacco is basically exogenous while porn is endogenous. Tobacco is a foreign substance introduced to a subject that causes the body and mind to create a physical addition and also generates long term health problems.

But one problem with that is that pornography and sex in general, like tobacco, certainly can become an addictive behavior.

For Christian readers, the very notion that many (possibly including commenter JA here) who would defend pornography as “a good thing” this short podcast by Khouria Matthews-Green is relevant.

43 Responses to Tobacco, Porn, and an Analogy

  1. But one problem with that is that pornography and sex in general, like tobacco, certainly can become an addictive behavior.

    True but sex is endogenous. We have sexual desire because it is part of our nature just as we have desire for food because our bodies are designed to get hungry.

    If the tobacco plant never evolved, none of us would be addicted to smoking. It remains a foreign substance whose introduction can either cause problems or possibly in some cases produce benefits.

    Sexual desire is endogenous. We would have sexual desire if we never saw a naked woman, never saw anything remotely pornographic….even if we were by ourselves stranded on an island. The problem, I think, is you are attributing to porn what is really a problem in managing sexual desire. The older man may and probably will lust after younger women. Even if he doesn’t look at porn will he live a life where no younger women will ever come into view? Or even just attractive women? Ditto for women. You are correct that if sexual desire is not properly managed, it can end up harming relationships and even an indivdiual.

    Here I think a better analogy might be with eating disorders. The problem is how we manage our relationship with food. Yes it might be the case that modern innovations have made it easier to fall into certain dysfunctional food relationships but the problem is still endogenous. We need food, we will not solve the problem by eliminating food, we must solve the problem by managing ourselves.

    I think conservatives are a little too eager to link porn up to tobacco. With it comes this idea that porn is the foreign substance and if it’s consumption could just be prohibited the problems would be resolved. But unlike tobacco we create porn with our own minds. When boys don’t have Playboy they turn to the underwear ads….for example. The problems that porn creates are coming from our own minds…the obsessions, the distractions from everyday life etc. In contrast, our lungs don’t get sick from tobacco because we get distracted. Our lungs get sick from tobacco no matter what our mental state is.

    Likewise, if we never smoke we never have to learn to give up tobacco. But since most of us have sexual desire…and a lot of it when young…learning to manage it is something all of us must go through. You may say commercial porn makes it easier not to learn, likewise I could say McDonald’s makes it easier to abuse food…nonetheless I’d ultimately say the responsibility must fall on us as individuals. I’m also going to say that like McDonalds the product is not bad in and of itself….in fact modest consumption is probably ok all things considered.

  2. Boonton,
    Sexual desire is not pornography. We have desire for food, yes. But we don’t spend countless hours drooling over pictures of food (cooking shows on network TV notwithstanding). We don’t develop sexual addiction to pornography sans pornography.

    Did you read the original piece?

  3. Boonton,
    I’d point out also that tobacco isn’t illegal (and conservatives typically don’t think making it illegal is the answer). The notion I’d think would be to move the public opinion about porn to be in line with the public opinions of tobacco.

  4. Sexual desire is not pornography. We have desire for food, yes. But we don’t spend countless hours drooling over pictures of food

    Unlike sex, we not only have a desire for food but a constant biological need for food so food is constantly available to us…unlike sex. So no we don’t really have ‘food porn’ to the degree we have ‘sex porn’ and let’s also be frank….porn is about sex since it facilitates masturbation. Looking a picture of a hamburger while you eat tofu simply doesn’t have the same simulation effect. If someone did develop technology to do that, though, we very well might end up with a more robust ‘food porn industry’.

    “Drooling over pictures” is an interesting thought here. Consider Playboy. Yes many boys and men spent hours drooling over the pictures. Yet oddly the magazine is mostly non-pictures. In fact, as far as porn goes it’s pretty…well non-pornish. In fact, I believe a surprisingly large portion of its subscribers are women (and not women who are into other women). So what is it? Porn, not porn or inbetween?

    The answer is it is what the reader is. If the reader is drooling over the pics its porn, if he is reading the articles its not (and the articles are often read), or in many cases both. (Note the recent trend in mens magazines away from nudity…magazines like FHM basically ditched nudity in favor of the sexy glamour shots). What is relevant here is that the problem is not the existence of this foreign substance you call porn but the creation and mismanagement of a mental state that we can call porn. This mental state may be facilitated by media but unlike tobacco it isn’t the external substance that’s the problem.

    The notion I’d think would be to move the public opinion about porn to be in line with the public opinions of tobacco.

    Since tobacco is exogenous it is easy to sway its use by using public opinion. Porn, though, is endogenous so it’s something that develops in all of us and needs to be addressed there. Like McDonalds, I suspect part of that learning for most people will include over indulging.

    A while ago I caught an interesting show on MTV….kind of a reality show. The premise is a girl has a choice of three guys to date. She must decide before she meets them but she does get to go through their rooms to learn as much as possible about them. Usual silliness….this guys messy…this guy has weights must be in shape etc. Well for one guy she found his stash of porn in his closet and she ribbed on him and also the other two guys (who watch from a tv room) also ribbed on him.

    What was interesting was the cultural meme about it. The discovery wasn’t shocking or offending (like it would be if she, say, found a bloody knife or say neo-nazi literature). It was treated more like a sign of immaturity….like if she found Star Wars toys or whatnot. We tend to have a similiar view to other vices…like food. Gorging yourself on White Castle, for example, is accepted as nonsense you might do in college but if you’re doing it every day at 40 people are going to wonder. Ditto for getting drunk. The experimentation and even getting a bit burned by the vice are accepted, although there are circumstances where you’d want to absolutely prohibit it like drunk driving etc.

    Tobacco simply is too different a creature to view this way.

  5. Boonton,
    If you really think “because its exo/endo-genous” makes a difference? … do you really deny that sexual attitudes were different than today in the 1950s or the Victorian era? Clearly culture can change attitudes. Clearly public opinion, your protestations to the contrary, is changeable.

    And frankly your noting that in the Victorian era it took far less to inspire desire … is a point not in your favor because in reality that’s a good thing, i.e., one of the problems with prevalent “hard and/or graphic” pornography. One of the problems with porn prevalence is that it saturates desire. As noted above, with ready availability to porn your “ordinary” spouse becomes less desired.

    A side note, at the break of the Great Fast on Pascha morning at my parish where our service ends at around 3am or so … we have a dinner together in the morning. One of our (middle aged) parishioners arranges that there will be White Castle sliders provided during our feast.

  6. Boonton,
    Furthermore … if it’s really not a problem, what do you have to say about the quoted piece above on the rise of it being a cause of marriage breakups (or is that non-problematic for you).

  7. Food is not a perfect but pretty productive analogy here. Is there some taste satuation going on with food? Probably. I suspect a little bit of sugar went a long way in a dish 200 years ago, now sugar and salt have been turned up to the max. Yet what I notice about food desires is that they tend to replenish themselves after getting depleted. Once in a blue moon I’ll do White Castle. For like a week or two the people in my house were getting it all the time. I got sick of their burgers pretty fast. Yet if I went to one today I’d probably enjoy a few of them.

    So part of this learning process involves how to avoid getting too numb. I think many marriages and relationships experience this as sex slows down for some periods and then picks up again. So while the potential is there to overdo things, it doesn’t seem to me like its a foregone conclusion.

    And frankly your noting that in the Victorian era it took far less to inspire desire … is a point not in your favor because in reality that’s a good thing

    Is it? Or does it mean the ‘porn mindset’ was simply easier to achieve. To be honest we don’t really know that inner lives of people from the Victorian era. Perhaps their preoccupation with modesty was partially driven by quite a bit more ‘porn on the brain’ than their demeur literature hints at.

    if it’s really not a problem, what do you have to say about the quoted piece above on the rise of it being a cause of marriage breakups (or is that non-problematic for you).

    A while ago I remember reading about a couple that were very obese….very very obese. Together they both got gastric bypass surgery and both lost a lot of weight. After becoming thin they ‘became new people’ and lost interest in each other. The marriage broke up and they both went in different directions.

    Kind of begs the question of whether the successful treatment caused the marriage breakup or revealed a pre-existing weakness in the marriage…doesn’t it?

  8. Boonton,
    “Tobacco simply is too different a creature to view this way.”

    Which begs a quesion.

    In part, where today porn infuses our culture, that view is normal. But 40-50 years ago, the tables were reversed. How much the opinion expressed in that statement arises from the zeitgeist and how much is a human constant?

  9. Look, cigarettes kill millions of people every year. This is an extraordinarily well-documented fact.

    When she views the women he views and sees differences between herself of her past and her present body image that can certainly cause pain … and damage relationships.

    This, on the other hand is a hypothesis. There is no attempt to quantify the “pain” or the “damage,” no scientific literature quoted, no attempt at objectivity. Just a supposition.

    I could just as easily, and with just as much authority, argue that capitalism damages relationships. After all, a man might notice that his wife sees other men making twice or ten times his salary and that can certainly cause pain… and damage relationships.

    Indirect evidence from other sources, such as divorce cases and reports by clergy and therapists, also suggest that pornography can cause harm.

    Again, no scientific survey quoted (surely many have been done!) “Clergy” of course come before “therapists,” and I suspect the latter are the uber-religious sort, if any were in fact consulted.

    So it seems clear that far from being harmless it it seems clear that harm does come from porn.

    If it’s clear, it should be relatively easy to design a real scientific study or survey demonstrating that fact. We shouldn’t have to rely on hearsay from clergy and therapists.

    Consider the increasing role played by internet pornography in divorce proceedings. According to a meeting of the American Academy of atrimonial Lawyers, for example, 62 percent of the 350 attendees said that the internet had been a significant factor in cases handled that year

    The majority of men look at porn. Does the fact that this is mentioned at divorce proceedings prove that the porn damaged their relationship? Or is it just an attempt to make the man look bad to people like you, whom the judge might happen to be like?

  10. Boonton,

    Kind of begs the question of whether the successful treatment caused the marriage breakup or revealed a pre-existing weakness in the marriage…doesn’t it?

    Not really. If today 60-70% of marriage breakups are cause by porn addiction (and it is indisputable that that porn is more accessible and prevalent than even 4 years ago) … why is that not relevant. Porn doesn’t destroy all marriages. It is harmful. It is source of discord and stress to a marital relationship. That doesn’t seem to be a controversial claim. Why do you see it as such.

    Your missing my point on the Victorian views on sex I think. A friend of mine remarked that Europe and their cultural practices have desexualized breasts. Seeing a woman’s breast was not a sexual stimulus. That is not necessarily a good thing. Similarly being sexually stimulated by a hint of knee may be a better thing than requiring one to view an extremely attractive woman in a hard core format.

    Pornography is not “the porn mindset” it is … hard core pornography that is at issue here.

  11. In other news, almost 100% of people killed in traffic accidents had eaten in the past 24 hours.

  12. If today 60-70% of marriage breakups are cause by porn addiction

    WTF?

  13. Not really. If today 60-70% of marriage breakups are cause by porn addiction (and it is indisputable that that porn is more accessible and prevalent than even 4 years ago) … why is that not relevant. Porn doesn’t destroy all marriages.

    Return again to the example I gave. The couple was able to become thin due to the surgery, which was not available years ago. Becoming thin appeared to trigger the breakup of their marriage. Is it proper then to say the innovation destroyed the marriage?

    Not really IMO. The innovation revealed a pre-existing weakness in the marriage. It is true the marriage may not have failed if the couple was forced to remain fat. Likewise, a building’s shoddy construction may never be revealed if an area never suffers an earthquake or hurricane. That doesn’t mean the hurricane caused the building to be poorly constructed.

    (And I hope the article you are citing isn’t claiming 60-70% of marriages are caused by porn addiction….I hope that’s just some wild number you’re tossing around for the sake of the hypothetical).

    Your missing my point on the Victorian views on sex I think. A friend of mine remarked that Europe and their cultural practices have desexualized breasts. Seeing a woman’s breast was not a sexual stimulus. That is not necessarily a good thing. Similarly being sexually stimulated by a hint of knee may be a better thing than requiring one to view an extremely attractive woman in a hard core format.

    But is it healthy to be able to achieve that drooling ‘porn mindset’ at a hint of knee? Sure maybe you will get your fix by just looking at the JC Penny Summer Catalog…maybe it is easier to hide your porn mindset than if you’re buying Huslter but IMO it seems like the dysfunction can still be there.

    This may be a personal observation but two things I noticed about desire:

    1. There’s a roughly steady stream of it. If unsatisfied for a while you notice more and more.

    2. It is also highly context specific. Short shorts may be very attention grabbing on a chilly day before summer has set in….but on a beach they don’t generate much notice. Strippers know this which is why successful ones know they have to provide more of a performance than simple nudity.

    Food seems to roughly follow this pattern too. Don’t have anything sweet in a while and you’ll start to crave it. But the context matters. A well crafted desert will be very enjoyable. A spoonful of raw sugar will probably not. The model you present would basically have a race to the bottom as each indulgence simply numbs us to the desire unless we ratchet up the ‘hard core’ element. In terms of food we should now be at the point where our diet consists of salt licks and sugar cubes and people who’ve been married for a few years should be the biggest pervs on earth. Yet reality doesn’t seem to work out that way….

    Which implies that there is some other mechanism that reverses the simplistic urge to go harder and harder core.

  14. The liberal obsession with material individualism and denial of ‘sin’ causes them to denigrate a pleasant social lubricant like smoking (yeh it may cause premature death but so does junk food and homosexuality) and be completely at ease with a soul destroying activity like porn.

  15. LOL,

    The conservative obsession with sex causes them to rate a form of entertainment which has not been shown to be the slightest bit harmful as worse than a substance which has WITHOUT QUESTION caused tens of millions of deaths. Don’t you realize how insane that is?

    Cigarettes are like Hitler. Porn is like Elton John. Only a religious right-winger could think Elton John is the more dangerous.

  16. If the measure of value is life represented by total lives (including potential life) and duration of life, cigarettes win hands do down.

    Porn and its consequences are naturally life inhibiting. A substituted procreational activity is the friggin antithesis of life.

  17. Boonton,
    How much fasting have you done? In my small experience your claim is false. There is a perception (which I claim to be false) that if you restrain yourself from partaking of a thing (food or sex for example) instead of becoming less and less of a matter at the front of your mind it is instead more important. That is true … for a short time. However habit and daily praxis can make the new routine the regular routine. If your routine includes much pining and yearning for the thing you lack … granted there will be little or no cessation of desire. However, if on the other hand (as more normally is the case) life and new desires rise to fill the gap then the thing from which you abstain becomes less important. What I’m saying is that in my experience your point #1 is not true, but exactly the opposite.

    he model you present would basically have a race to the bottom as each indulgence simply numbs us to the desire unless we ratchet up the ‘hard core’ element. In terms of food we should now be at the point where our diet consists of salt licks and sugar cubes …

    Are you suggesting that obesity might be a leading health problem … if what I suggest is true. Because, if you haven’t noticed … it is.

    and people who’ve been married for a few years should be the biggest pervs on earth. Yet reality doesn’t seem to work out that way….

    Well, you may of heard of one reason. We call them children. :D Seriously though, children are a blessing and do really change the relationship. Seriously though if eros/erotic desire is the only thing on which a relationship is based … I think your description is accurate. However, that rarely is the case.

    JA,
    I am conservative. I do not often as you might note discuss sex qua sex or have an “obsession” with sex. I think as a blogger your proportion of essays on sex, porn, masturbation and so on is higher than mine. Is that your “liberal obsession” with sex on parade?

    Porn doesn’t invariably irrevocably damage relationships. Yet, neither does tobacco. My great grandfather smoked and lived to be 94. Look pornography changes relationships between men and women. It promotes a change in the view of the sexual relationship to a mechanical or athletic one and away from one in which the emotional/personal connection and exchange between the lover and the beloved. It changes your view of the opposite sex in causal social exchange, what the feminist literature (used to?) identify as “objectifying” the other. Do you truly think that is neutral or good? It seems to me clearly harmful.

  18. Niko:

    If the measure of value is life represented by total lives (including potential life) and duration of life, cigarettes win hands do down.

    Thank you. Quality of life, too, by the way. Lung cancer’s an awful way to go. Emphysema and wrinkled skin kind of suck too.

    Porn and its consequences are naturally life inhibiting. A substituted procreational activity is the friggin antithesis of life.

    But it’s not substituted. It’s supplemental. I agree it’s a problem if people use porn to the exclusion of actual sex, but I don’t think that’s often the case.

    Mark,

    I am conservative. I do not often as you might note discuss sex qua sex or have an “obsession” with sex. I think as a blogger your proportion of essays on sex, porn, masturbation and so on is higher than mine. Is that your “liberal obsession” with sex on parade?

    Haha, good point. There are two reasons I blog about sex a lot — one is a response to the Christian/Jewish right, which has so much influence in America and in my life. The other is that sex is an enormously important part of life in general.

    The difference is that I’m not obsessed with the supposed immorality of sex acts. I mean, I’m opposed to rape, but I don’t worry about what consenting adults do with each other.

    Look pornography changes relationships between men and women. It promotes a change in the view of the sexual relationship to a mechanical or athletic one and away from one in which the emotional/personal connection and exchange between the lover and the beloved.

    That’s not true. Just because it emphasizes one aspect of it, it doesn’t mean that it changes one’s view of the other aspects.

    Just because the food network emphasizes the taste and presentation of food doesn’t me you have to stop considering its nutritional value!

    It changes your view of the opposite sex in causal social exchange, what the feminist literature (used to?) identify as “objectifying” the other. Do you truly think that is neutral or good? It seems to me clearly harmful.

    I don’t accept your premise. I don’t think my view of the opposite sex as people is affected in the slightest by porn. In fact, I think I have a more accurate and less objectifying view of women than do men who subscribe to religions that won’t let women hold positions of power or have the right to contraception or abortion. You are the ones objectifying women!

  19. Niko, cleary you have never watched someone die of emphazima in a hospital. I’ve thankfully have never had to deal with a person I know getting lung cancer but I’d imagine it would be worse.

    Junk food does in a sense also cause deaths but as I pointed out food is endogenous. In the right context, some junk food might even become a lifesaver (i.e. a candy bar for someone suffering from low bloog sugar). For the most part it isn’t the food that’s really causing the problem but out relationship to it. For tobacco the physical addiction makes it hard to have a relationship with it…although there are examples of the occassional cigar smoker risk is trivial.

    Mark
    There is a perception (which I claim to be false) that if you restrain yourself from partaking of a thing (food or sex for example) instead of becoming less and less of a matter at the front of your mind it is instead more important.

    Ohhh I do agree with you on this. If you make it a project to deny yourself the ‘pressure’ of desire will decrease. I think this can even happen by accident (how many marriages evolve into a relationship where sex is rare?). I suppose I should reword #1…..I guess what I’m trying to say is that desire is roughly constant. If you oversatisfy it for a while it will come back if you leave it alone. If you understasify it it will become annoying but manageable. And if you manage it for a while it will get easier to do so. I didn’t mean to present the ‘ticking time bomb’ model where desire just keeps building and building until it explodes.

    Are you suggesting that obesity might be a leading health problem … if what I suggest is true.

    Of course it is, but yet we are not at the point where our diet is sugar cubes and salt licks and while it’s clear the food industry has inflicted quite a bit on us it is also clear we are not headed there. Amazingly cheap and easy food has faciliated obesity problems. Problems that people might not have had in a world where food was more dear. Yet this goes back to the example of the fat married couple who broke up when they got thin. Did the innovation cause the problem or reveal it? It’s not the porn that is changing the relationship between men and women, it’s the men and women (if they are changing it).

    Let’s go back to your ‘just so’ story about the marriage harmed by porn.

    However … that plays out a little differently 20 or 30 years down the road. When the images he views are of women 30 years younger than his beloved. When she views the women he views and sees differences between herself of her past and her present body image that can certainly cause pain … and damage relationships.

    So you’re saying the man is into porn of women who look like his wife did 30 years ago. You are also saying that he is comparing his wife and finding her wanting. What exactly is going on in this marriage? Has the woman let herself go because she feels secure in marriage but he is feeling unattracted to her? Is the man feeling his life is a failure and pins for his youth when everything seemed to have so much more possibility? While tossing out the computer may get rid of the expression of the underlying problem there does seem to be other issues at play besides the porn.

    If this couple showed up for serious therapy the therapist might advise ditching the porn, but she would say the problem needs to be examined from the various angles above. In contrast, if you show up at the doctors with a nagging cough he is going to tell you to stop smoking period.

  20. Boonton,

    So you’re saying the man is into porn of women who look like his wife did 30 years ago. You are also saying that he is comparing his wife and finding her wanting.

    I think that is only part of it. The perhaps more important side is on the other side, the wife. It is that the wife is going to compare herself (today at 50+) with the person he is admiring, with whom she likely never compared favorably even when younger by some standards. She hasn’t necessarily “let herself go”. Age affects us all irrespective of whether you’ve let yourself go or not.

  21. I notice in this both Mark and Niko use a lot of authoritative verbs with little real evidence to back them up.

    “It destroys marriages”….yet from the article the ‘evidence’ for this is:

    ccording to a meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, for example, 62 percent of the 350 attendees said that the internet had been a significant factor in cases handled that year — and that was in 2002, well behind today’s levels of pornography consumption.

    Errr, well kind of a strange assumption that internet=porn….at least from the POV of divorce lawyers I would suspect that many cases would involved adultery where the evidence was uncovered on the internet

    And

    Numerous pastors and priests and ministers and therapists have reported that pornography use is now the leading cause of marital trouble and breakup they encounter as counselors.

    The ‘numerous pastors’ cited are exactly one, Albert Mohler.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._Albert_Mohler,_Jr. has a bio of him. Now there’s nothing wrong with the chair of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary opining on the subject but I see nothing in his bio that indicates he does any serious work counseling couples. I do see from his bio that he has a radio show and positions himself as a hard right Christian with a taste for the political.

    What should be said is “may”…..”may change your attitude towards women” “May disrupt your marriage”….But there’s a big difference between “may harm your attitude towards women” and “tobacco may cause cancer”. Your attitude can’t change without you being complicit in the change. The free will element cannot be so easily extracted and all the blame pinned on the Playboy. The tobacco, though, may cause cancer no matter what your free will decides to do (aside from choosing not to smoke of course).

    The authors other pieces of evidence of harm:

    1. Bosses fire employees for looking at porn on company time.

    2. “Third, the claim that pornography causes harm to at least some users can be also be inferred from the fact that some people will go out of their way to avoid encountering pornography, including by paying for software that blocks it.”

    3. “Fourth, it is important to understand that the debate over “harm” is shaped by interested corporate parties and others. Pornography interests today, like tobacco interests, actively enlist the testimony of “experts” I love it when conservatives go low grade Marxist. Because there’s money in porn, it is bad and ‘they’ shape the media to pretend it isn’t……. But this cuts multiple ways. There’s money in anti-porn (what, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary gets no donations when they go on an anti-porn crusade?). There’s corporate self-interest in anti-porn…(the dirty secret of the porn ‘industry’ is that there’s no profit in it. Playboy has tettered near bankruptcy for years. As the author acknowledges elsewhere, most porn is produced by small outfits on slim profit margins….whose hiring these ‘experts’?)….whatever definition of porn is used to ban it, those corporate interests that are near the edge of legality will profit. Playboy is/was not harmed by anti-porn laws getting tougher, it was harmed by them getting looser. Ban nudity and ‘pin up’ type magazines which tend to be less mom&pop and more ‘corporate interests’ pick up the traffic.

    Imagine for a moment that it was discovered there were no biological hazzards to smoking. Imagine the studies had gone the other way and it turned out cancer, wrinkly skin etc. was not caused by smoking. Ok maybe smoking isn’t healthy like the old time ads liked to imply but there’s no serious health risk to smoking. Could you imagine how conservatives would react to an anti-smoking campaign premised on the above ‘harms’? They would say:

    1. If you boss doesn’t want you to smoke on the job either don’t smoke or quit.

    2. The market works if people can buy products that keep smoke away from them.

    3. That’s just Marxism! Back to Russia hippie!

  22. JA,

    I don’t think my view of the opposite sex as people is affected in the slightest by porn. In fact, I think I have a more accurate and less objectifying view of women than do men who subscribe to religions that won’t let women hold positions of power or have the right to contraception or abortion. You are the ones objectifying women!

    Defend that accusation. How am I objectifying women?

    And just because you don’t think porn has changed your viewpoint doesn’t mean its true. Give it up for a month, cold turkey. Stop masturbating as well. See if and how that changes your relationship with your beloved and the women in your social intercourse.

    The difference is that I’m not obsessed with the supposed immorality of sex acts.

    And you think I am? Is that your accusation. Be serious. What evidence do you have for that?

    Just because it emphasizes one aspect of it, it doesn’t mean that it changes one’s view of the other aspects.

    That is illogical. If you emphasize an aspect of a thing that changes your view of the thing necessarily.

  23. The perhaps more important side is on the other side, the wife. It is that the wife is going to compare herself (today at 50+) with the person he is admiring, with whom she likely never compared favorably even when younger by some standards. She hasn’t necessarily “let herself go”.

    True but this isn’t the porn. Younger women are going to be generally more physically attractive. That’s unavoidable. And it happens with men too (although I suspect women approach desire from a slightly different perspective than men…I would be interested in hearing their take on it). This is a fact of life, it is a necessity. What isn’t a necessity, though, is how both sides approach it and therein seems to be the problem in your hypothetical.

  24. Boonton,
    Yes it is the porn, it’s specifically her comparison of herself to the images which he is seeing and being aroused by.

  25. OK break it down. What exactly is the problem?

    1. He is aroused by other women than his wife?
    2. He is not aroused by his wife?
    3. She finds the porn to be an implicit criticism (i.e. ‘you should look/do this’)
    4. She finds the porn takes attention she would want

    Add other possibilities if you can think of them. All these factors, even #4, appears to be non-porn in root. They seem to come down to how the marriage structures itself between competiting wants and desires by both parties. All marriages, even ones with a committment to no porn, have to settle questions like this at some point.

    Now if you take the porn away you may cover up problems 1-3 but it’s not clear they have been addressed. This may not matter to you. The marriage, for example, may never break up just like that fat married couple may have gone on being married if they stayed fat. Then again the shoddy building may never fall down if the earthquake never comes. That doesn’t make the building a good one.

    #4 I think spawns two more sub-problems that may be at issue:

    4a She is not getting enough attention from her husband.
    4b She is demanding too much attention from her husband.

    Taking the porn away might resolve the problem in an inefficient manner. It seems healthier to address the problem itself, though. Why does he not provide enough attention? Is he distracted? Unhappy? Depressed? Feels put upon? Why does she want so much attention? Is she suffering from low self-esteem? Is she insecure about herself or her marriage?

    As we circle round and round what is clear is that we are taking an endogenous issue and pretending an exterior action (consuming porn) is an exogenous cause. Compare this with a simple hypothetical on smoking:

    Patient: “I Keep waking up with this cough”
    Doctor: “Stop smoking”

    That’s it. The tobacco is an exogenous cause of the cough, the solution is to remove it. Now maybe this patient has some endogenous need to smoke…

    Patient: “I won’t fit in with my fiends”
    or
    Patient: “I get so nervous when I don’t smoke”

    These might be other endogenous problems but the cough is caused by the smoking pure and simple. Above the marriage isn’t being harmed by the porn, the marriage is being harmed by some underlying weakness of which the porn is used as a manifestation.

  26. Mark,

    Defend that accusation. How am I objectifying women?

    I’m not necessarily saying you personally, but a system which apparently values women only for their abilities as mothers and not, for example, for their capabilities as leaders or thinkers or decision-makers very much objectifies them.

    And just because you don’t think porn has changed your viewpoint doesn’t mean its true. Give it up for a month, cold turkey. Stop masturbating as well. See if and how that changes your relationship with your beloved and the women in your social intercourse.

    Only if you promise to look at porn and masturbate a few times a week for a month and see if that changes your relationships. This will make great blogging! :)

    And you think I am? Is that your accusation. Be serious. What evidence do you have for that?

    My original comment was addressed to Niko, who implied that porn is much worse than tobacco.

    That is illogical. If you emphasize an aspect of a thing that changes your view of the thing necessarily.

    But *I* am not emphasizing an aspect of a thing. Porn emphasizes the physical aspects of women and men. If I read medical textbooks for fun or work, that would emphasize the biological aspects of women and men. Both may “change my view” of people but neither “objectifies” them. I don’t have to start seeing other people only as a collection of bones and organs.

  27. I’d like to note for the record that ‘objectification’ is an essentially Marxist idea. It’s underlying assumption is that you are a powerless pawn whose will is shaped by vast, impersonal economic forces over which you have little or not control or influence. It’s funny how quickly the right will embrace it against porn even when it’s pretty clear if you’re going down that road it’s pretty hard to keep the concept from being applies to every other facet of economic life.

  28. JA,

    Only if you promise to look at porn and masturbate a few times a week for a month and see if that changes your relationships.

    I’ve been down that road. Stopping did change my relationships and how I view/interact with women.

    Boonton,
    I”m unclear how seeing women as not a person and instead focusing on her sexual attributes implies any economic theory or notion.

  29. “seeing” Not the object of that verb. You are seeing, not the porn. JA’s point is very clear and good. Neither you nor the article explains why porn should be considered different. If someone, after reading some religious tracts, saw women as objects to obey men, bear children and do housework you’d say his view was wrong. You wouldn’t put up with an assertion that ‘religious tracts objectify women’. To use JA’s example, if a doctor, after reading medical textbooks, sees people as nothing more than interesting medical questions (sort of like Dr. House on TV)…it isn’t the textbook that is objectifying but the doctor. Where is the case made that porn is exceptional in that it causes this by its very nature rather than choice by the user?

  30. I’ve been down that road. Stopping did change my relationships and how I view/interact with women.

    Ok, so *that* is interesting. How exactly did it change those things?

  31. As for it implying an economic idea, I suggest you read the article. Supposedly we think porn is ok because ‘the industry’ has hired ‘experts’ to tell us it is. Vast sums of money are spent on charitable activities to lull us into thinking pornsters are great people. Crafty marketing is fooling men and even some women into thinking its cool. The industry transforms the culture and we take the culture to be the ‘natural’ order of things….it becomes hard to even imagine that this order is manufactured and artificial.

    Sorry Mark, for better or worse this is right out of Marx’s book. And keep in mind on Tuesday’s list you wrote:

    When I was in Grad school in the 80s the number of liberals in that community who were soft on Marxism approached unity.

    It would seem you were right, it came even closer to unity than you knew!

    Now just because this is Marxist doesn’t make it automatically worthless. The man spent his life putting together ideas so odds are he had to get at least a few worthy points. I wrote before on the ‘economics of belief’. I do believe we tend to shape our beliefs by economic self interest. For example, a lot of our ‘logic’ would lead us to a conclusion that we shouldn’t eat animals. Yet people not only reject this in great measure but even get angry at the few people who try to follow through. Adopting such a belief, even if its a logical conclusion to premises we accept, is expensive so many people simply won’t do it and will leave the job to someone else to figure out logical ‘reasons’ why. A belief that is inexpensive, though, will have an easier time getting adopted. So we ban dog fighting, no one here is all that into it to begin with. Now go to Spain or Mexico and float a bill to ban bull fighting?!

    Likewise she has a point about tobacco. If many people were addicted to it, if quiting were easy or its only use was as some type of obscure and easily replaced food additive it would have been easily banned decades ago when the first studies started coming out.

    But you don’t get to go down this road unless you’re going to go all the way or you’re going to explain why this applies to one thing but not everything else?

  32. Boonton,
    I’m not disputing that the author of the article connected to economics. I’m disputing that my reference to porn objectifying women (sexually) is based on economics.

    I think that economics have some influence on beliefs but it is less than Marx (or perhaps you as well) imagine.

    JA,
    Briefly, in normal social interactions I observe that my “eye tracking” or where my focus is drawn is far less to “check points” or sexual visual aspects of women I meet. With relations with my spouse I find that is has changed our relationship and intimacy (for the better I might add … and in ways outside of the purely sexual). It helps me and us that my desire has only one resolution.

  33. Mark,

    Okay, that sounds reasonable. :-) And maybe that’s where you should start, instead of blanket declarations about porn damaging relationships and analogies to tobacco. I’m entirely prepared to believe that there are some (mildly) bad side-effects to porn… but the way it was presented originally was ridiculous.

  34. Mark,

    In regards to your changes, they do seem worthy but at the same time somewhat underwhelming if we are talking about public policy or even public morals. I think what you’re illustrating a normal process of becoming more mature. How would this differ from someone who, say, stopped eating junk food and found not only did they feel better but also learned to deepen their appreciation for cooking?

    I’m not disputing that the author of the article connected to economics. I’m disputing that my reference to porn objectifying women (sexually) is based on economics.

    Economics, especially if we go back to Marx’s time and before, blurs with philosophy quite often. Where your objectification complaint dives into Marxism is who you place as the verb’s subject. Is the porn doing the objectifying or is it the viewer of the porn? If its the former, then you’re in Marxist territory. If it’s the latter you haven’t made the case that the viewer simply *may* be objectifying.

  35. Speaking of objectification, you should also think about why only one type of consumption is badly objectifying. Why is it not also objectification to, say, watch sports on TV? Or actors or any other type of model, entertainer etc? Or if it is objectification why is it only one type (for porn) leads automatically to negative behavior elsewhere in life?

  36. Boonton,
    I am for myself not speaking of public policy or public morals. I’m speaking of cultural attitudes. I’m pushing that we need to view porn today, like we do today with tobacco (and like we used to with porn and not with tobacco). Regarding food, I think it would be a good thing if “junk food” were regarded a shameful or embarrassing habit as well.

    My point is that porn is harmful. Giving up is and was helpful.

    Actually the point made about Doctors and their view of the human body changing during their training is, I think, wrong. It does change your view of others. This in fact does take place and in that sense is harmful. But it is counterbalanced by the good that the Doctor expects to employ with the knowledge gained. There is no such good gained via a porn addiction, only the harmful change in the picture.

    And to the “one type of consumption”, objectifying women with whom you interact is different than objectifying a sports or entertainment person. They are not affected personally by your interaction (except perhaps to profit thereby). Fabian Cancellara doesn’t know I think he’s the best bike rider in the pro-peloton or that “I’m a fan.” He is not injured by my objectification of him. Those with whom you interact, the women I meet, my wife, my two young daughters on the other hand … are.

    On the other hand, when I watch, for example, a replay of the 2008 Tour of France race and see Jens Voight and Fabian Cancellara rip the race apart in the Pyrenees the objectification I’m doing is to try to fix them as an example in my mind. A thing for me to remember when my legs are screaming for relief in a race. To translate their resistance to pain as an example for mine. They are an example of virtue to be emulated … not so much for pornography, in no virtue is being expressed or to be emulated.

  37. He is not injured by my objectification of him. Those with whom you interact, the women I meet, my wife, my two young daughters on the other hand … are.

    And the wit would reply your daughters or wife are not pornstars. But even if they were isn’t this still an individual issue? Fabian may be indifferent to your fandom but he probably would find it a bit concerning if your fandom lead you to stalk his family, break into his house, and call his phone every hour. Any type of ‘objectification’ can and does sometimes lead to problems but we don’t usually think of the media itself as the issue. In the case of Fabian it isn’t the magazines and shows that are cuasing the problem but your (hypothetical) inability to keep it in perspective. Yes in an older age before 24-7 live sports journalism your problem may not have manifested itself….but it is still *your* problem while many others can consume sports journalism without developing any such issues.

    To translate their resistance to pain as an example for mine. They are an example of virtue to be emulated … not so much for pornography, in no virtue is being expressed or to be emulated.

    OK so it would seem like porn would then be ok if used for some type of virtuous activity (say to generate ideas in a marriage whose sex life is in a lull). But is all your TV viewing seeking out virtue? Do you ever simply enjoy wasting some time on some mindless entertainment (i.e. Family Guy)? (Alternatively, is wasting time in itself sometimes a virtue???? possibly).

  38. Boonton,
    Alas, virtually all my TV watching is aimed at seeking out virtue. I do watch relatively empty stuff … to keep me distracted while riding for hours on the stationary bike downstairs. I don’t keep a “high standard” for all that watching because of various criteria which comprise something good for viewing in that situation. It can’t require too much attention, otherwise I don’t pay attention to my workout, it should have subtitling available so I have two “channels” (audio and visual) to keep track of dialog, and “tv series” work best because I eat up a lot of time needing about 90 minutes a day during the long periods of inclement weather in the winter. But even there, fitness as virtue, is the overriding reason.

    I don’t think you’ll generate a porn addiction trying to get ideas to spark your sex life in marriage. And I think in fact, there are better ways than porn to do that.

    I’m unclear how my notion that objectification isn’t an issue unless it is affecting interpersonal intercourse is countered by your reply, i.e., I’m personally interacting with one whom I objectify.

  39. This raises a question then…..what is pushing what around here? Did your decision to stop with the porn result in you becomming a better person or did you sense that you needed to be a better person and realized the porn wasn’t going to help you with that so you ditched it.

    Using the example you gave, it seems like you’ve choosen to employ objectification for a positive end. It’s easy to imagine a person using the same media you consume using objectification for a negative one. Is the media the cause (exogenous) or the individual’s decisions on what to do with it (endogenous)?

  40. Mark,

    It seems that you are conflating “porn addiction” with “porn usage.” I think we all agree that “porn addiction” would be a problem (although I suspect you believe it far more prevalent than I would) but it doesn’t follow that “porn usage” is.

    Also, it’s not fair to say that porn has no virtue. It can and is used to spice up people’s sex lives. It provides an outlet for a member of a committed relationship where the partners have different sex drives. It helps people overcome hangups they have. There might even be people who use it as a substitute for unhealthy behavior. (For example, watching rape fantasies rather than raping. There was a study recently that showed a negative correlation between porn and rape.) There’s a vast number of people for whom making porn is part of their sex life, as well.

    Oh, and it’s really enjoyable, too. That seems to be something religious people too often ignore as a virtue.

    One final point: maybe porn’s changed since you stopped looking at it, but now the “mature” or “milf” categories are huge. So the hypothetical husband is not necessarily looking at younger women. He might be looking at women who look as much like his wife as he can find. (Again, maybe she doesn’t want to have sex as often as he does.)

  41. I don’t think it will be easy to argue the case that porn is a good thing. I would associate it more with junk food or unproductive past times (such as the Rod Schneider movie ‘The Hot Chick’ which I just had to watch since my wife wanted to see it). Most of the time I think it is a bit silly and a bit immature. Like junk food it’s something many people indulge in on occasion but there’s good reason not to be too proud in making it a nonstop habit. I do think it is quite possible to get stuck in a ‘bad funk’ with porn but where I would differ from Mark is in what exactly is the problem. The problem is the person and porn becomes the tool he uses. Again junk food is a good analogy here, eating disorders are about the person and the food is simply the tool they use for self-destructive behavior.

  42. JA,
    I’d offer that your replace the words porn with tobacco in that paragraph on conflation of usage and addiction … and you’d arrive at the point being made in the article noted.

    It’s interesting, some time ago I might have agreed with your notion defending the notion that porn has virtues. But, I no longer suspect that’s the case. For example, that study assumes and exists within a porn drenched culture. I’d bet that, say, Puritan New England has less instances of rape than a economically and educationally similar but permissive culture.

    Boonton,
    Which came first? Well, I’d offer that it was really the stopping that came first. I think that ultimately I had been in the “it’s neutral or even good for some people” camp and thinking it really was no harm. However, the religious tradition I’ve recently joined is against it and I was instructed (at confession) to stop. I tried that and have (somewhat to my surprise) if I’m being honest have to report that nothing but good has come from putting it aside.

  43. Well let me share a bit too…. I haven’t done fasting in any serious way (growing up we had limited fasting in the Catholic Church….not meat on Friday’s during lent (fish ok though)). I have done some Zen meditation for about a year or two and I’ll say something about desire, food, sex, all these pale in comparision to the urge to scratch your nose if you have to sit very still for even a few minutes.

    I won’t describe this as religious because there was no doctrines or theological assumptions involved. At most I’d consider it psychological observation and also training (don’t get me wrong, though, there are those who take it as a religion bringing into it a host of cosmological assumptions and beliefs which I don’t share).

    Now one observation I was able to make first hand is that desires tend to be very arbitrary. Because you’re trying to sit still your brain tosses all these urges at you to scratch, to shift, to get your stance ‘just right’ and so on. At the end of the day, though, these desires throw you into a rut. You’ll never sit ‘just right’ and constantly feel urges to do something to make it better. When you let the urges come and go, though, they do become quieter and while they are there you tend not to be dominated by them.

    Now I notice with most bodily desires we have the pattern is quite similiar. Like a dog chasing its tail but never catching it, your brain will, if you allow it, put you in an endless circle of always chasing some new desire (actually not a new desire, an old desire but with flavors changing). A lot of our consumption behavior depends on this. Billions are spent promising us that this or that food will be better than anything we had before, for example. It never really is because once you eat it, it becomes routine and your brain wants something new.

    So I don’t really share JA’s enthusism for ‘new porn’. Porn is in this respect worse than food. At least from the male POV it entails an endless chasing of images and fantasies. I wouldn’t agree with Mark’s model of always looking for more and more ‘hardcore’. No, it’s more about looking for something different and, once you find it, wanting yet something else. Unlike food the cost of production and consumption is close to zero so you can churn through thousands of images before getting sick. With food, well your stomach fills and your wallet empties a lot faster. From my own youthful (and not so youthful) excursions into the pornworld, I can tell you interest never moves in a predictable direction. You’ll chase hardcore one day, then look for less hardcore ‘pinup’ type stuff, then onto something else….etc.

    The ‘urges’ though are not really the problem. Take the simple urge to twitch, move your legs around etc. My mother-in-law was very overweight and had trouble walking before she died. She had problems up to the end with sores. The cause was that normally when circulation is cut off from one part our body, we feel uncomfortable after a while and shift position. She, though, couldn’t move without effort so she would just sit there and the result was she would get sores that would not heal. So the ‘urges’, all of them, do serve a useful purpose IMO and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying them. But let yourself become dominated by them and they cease becoming enjoyable because you’ll forever be chasing a satisfaction that you can never achieve.

    So I’m not disagreeing with Mark that ditching the porn might yield excellent benefits. I noticed with the meditation that not only did the ‘twitch urge’ get under control but a lot of other ones did as well and I paid more attention to my life than I did before….which is always a good idea IMO. And I understand a bit of eye-rolling at assertions, backed up with little real evidence, that porn stops rapes or boosts sex lifes. I’m sure it may but this sounds like the food industry telling us that the endless array of new fast food places and processed foods in our stores is increasing our standard of living by giving us more choices. The choices are only enjoyable in the case of a person who has mastered control of his desires. To the person who hasn’t, it is just more torture by adding yet another distraction to consume more time from them. And how do you do that? Well I think the most pragmatic technique has been to take control of your desires head on by restricting your consumption of some target desire, observing your reaction to it and learning from it. We have done this with food by developing the idea that you eat in 3 or 4 time periods called meals with certain types and proportions of food as proper for each one. Eating inbetween is not considered criminal but is discouraged. By doing this we not only learn the negative (‘don’t overeat’) but we also learn to appreciate food when we do eat. It tastes better to sit down to dinner with some hunger than to sit down after spending the day gorging. Fasting then is a method that simply takes that to the next level, sort of like athletics takes normal healthy exercise to the next level.

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