“The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations” is a booklet, edited by Mary Eberstadt and Mary Ann Layden and published last year by the Witherspoon Institute. The booklet summarizes a consultation of 54 scholars held in Princeton, N.J. in December 2008 sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute and co-sponsored by the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. A sampling of participating scholars includes Hadley Arkes of Amherst University, Gerard V. Bradley of Notre Dame University’s Law School, J. Budziszewski of the University of Texas, Mary Eberstadt of the Hoover Foundation, Jean Bethke Elshrain of the University of Chicago, John Finnis of Oxford University, Robert George of Princeton University, William Hurlbut, M.D., of Stanford University Medical School, Mary Ann Layden of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychiatry, Margarita Mooney of the University of North Carolina, David Novak of the University of Toronto, Roger Scruton of Oxford University, Gladys Sweeney of the Institute for the Psychological Studies, and W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia.
The consultation yielded 8 key findings and several recommendations.
In summary, the 8 key findings are as follows:
1. Pornography is available and consumed widely in our society in large part because of the internet.
2. Pornography today differs qualitatively from pornography in the past: it is found everywhere and is increasingly hardcore.
Consumption of internet pornography can harm
5. persons not immediately connected to its consumers.
6. its consumers.
7. Pornography consumption is philosophically and morally problematic.
8. Although not everyone is harmed by pornography, this does not mean that it ought not be regulated.
Some Revealing Comments on Findings
1. More people than ever before—children, adolescents, adults—are consuming pornography with powerful effects on them and on the entire society (p. 15).
2. Internet pornography elicits addictive behavior in some users, and this addiction can become compulsive despite its negative consequences on users’ work and relationships. Such compulsive behavior regarding consumption of pornography was rare until the internet made instantaneous acquisition of pornographic images possible (p. 18). It has in fact affected the brain’s neurology so that, as one scientist, N. Dodge, puts it, “men at their computers [addicted to] looking at porn are uncannily like the rats in the cages of NIH, pressing the bar to get a drop of dopamine or its equivalent” (p.19). Moreover, 80% of internet porn users are men, and these men, as Pamela Paul observes, “have trouble being turned on by ‘real’ women, and their sex lives… collapse…many admit they have trouble cutting down their use [of internet porn]…and find themselves seeking out harder and harder pornography” (p. 20). Most alarmingly is the evidence that many users admit moving from porn featuring adults to that featuring children (p. 21).
3. Researchers, among them A. J. Bridges, R. M. Bergner, and M. Hessin-McInniss, report that “women typically feel betrayal, mistrust, loss, devastation, and anger as a result of the discovery of a partner’s pornography use and/or online sexual activity” (p.23). There are psychic costs, increased likelihood of divorce and family break-up. The wives and girlfriends of pornography consumers have serious health risks resulting from increased likelihood of the porn consumer’s exposure to other partners. One study, for example, showed that persons who had engaged in paid sex or prostitution were almost 4 times more likely to have consumed porn on the internet than those who had not engaged in paid sex (p. 24). Evidence shows that although men constitute the highest number of internet porn consumers, increasing numbers of women, about 30% and growing, are swelling its ranks (p. 25).
4. There is no doubt that children and adolescents are now far more exposed to internet pornography than ever before, with boys significantly more likely than girls to have friends who view online porn—one study showed that 65% of boys aged 16-17 had friends who regularly viewed and downloaded internet pornography (p. 27). Moreover, there are no effective filtering systems widely in place on cell phones with internet access or iPods that can transmit “podnography” despite the popularity of these media with teens (p. 28). This exposure of children and teens to the hard core kind of pornography displayed on the internet, iPods,etc. is also extremely harmful to children and adolescents. For instance, studies in Italy, Australia, and the US showed increased aggressiveness in boys who consumed such porn, a dramatic increase in boys’ forcing girls to have sex, and that 29 out of 30 juvenile sex offenders had as children been exposed to X-rated magazines, videos, etc. (pp. 30-31).
5. Not only are the consumers of porn harmed by such consumption but so too are those on the “supply side,” that is, the persons whose bodies are used to portray the pornography. Among these “suppliers,” “women of all ages comprise 80% of those trafficked, children comprise 50%, and of these women and children 70% are used for sexual exploitation.” The lives of these “performers” in the sex industry are often “beset with exploitation, drug use, disease, and other afflictions” (p. 33). Pornography has been implicated in sexual assaults. Particularly at risk of harm are female adolescents. As one scholar, J. Manning, says: “[Because of] modern trends in pornography consumption and production, sexualzed media, sex crime, sexually transmitted diseases, online sexual predators, internet dating services, and sexualized cyber bullying” today’s woman “lives in a world more sexually distorting, daunting, and aggressive than ever before” (pp. 34-35).
Academic studies by scholars such as L. M. Ward, Susan Fiske, and others show that adolescent boys and girls exposed to sexualized media are more likely to view women as “sexual objects” than those not so exposed and that after viewing pornographic images men looked at women more as objects than as humans. This obviously harms women who themselves do not consume porn but who are now viewed not as human persons to be respected but as things or objects to be used (p. 35). Widespread consumption of internet pornography thus harms the entire society (p. 36).
6. Since men are by far the predominant users of internet porn empirical evidence of the harmful effects of such use on males is more abundant and available than evidence of such effects on women. The harmful effects on the wives and girlfriends of these male consumers, as noted already, can be catastrophic but it easily extends to the male users. Men who routinely consume porn are less attractive to potential female partners. Moreover such consumption frequently makes them incapable of getting sexual satisfaction with real women because they are so dependent on pornographic images to become aroused that they are no longer attracted enough to their own wives to engage in intercourse with them (pp. 37-38). Chronic porn consumption is associated with depression and unhappiness. This is the evidence given by psychiatrists, e.g., N. Dodge, and in many ways explained by philosopher R. Scruton, who wrote: “Once they [men] have been led by their porn addiction to see sex in the instrumentalized way that pornography encourages, they begin to lose confidence in their ability to enjoy sex in any other way than through fantasy…And then the fear of desire arises, and from that fear the fear of love” (p.38). Porn consumption and addiction desensitizes its viewers. Habituated to being stimulated by images that at one time would have repulsed them, they now find that in order to be aroused the images must become more and more disgusting—bestiality, S&M, genital torture, and on and on, as journalist Pamela Paul has described in her interviews with those obsessed with the kind of porn now so available (p. 39). This has led to the creation of a series of “cottage industries as some users [of internet porn] attempt to curtail or cease their consumption. These industries prove that some users perceive themselves to be harmed by such consumption” (p. 40).
7. Although pornography consumption is philosophically and morally problematic, the signatories of this report emphasize that “throughout history this phenomenon has more often than not been stigmatized and circumscribed by law and custom” (p. 43).
8. Despite recent efforts to make it more and more difficult to prosecute purveyors of obscenity and pornography (a recent trend contrary to prior efforts to do so), the signatories of this report note: “It remains sound First Amendment doctrine that truly obscene material is not protected by the Constitution, and that even legally protected materials can be regulated as to the time, place, and manner of their distribution and use” and that “courts could reverse their precedents if faced with cases that force them to confront the emerging evidence about pornography consumption and its effects” (pp. 45-46).
Recommendations (pp. 47-51)
Although the signatories were not unanimous in their recommendations, they regarded the following as “guidelines” for the kinds of initiatives needed to reduce the current harms caused by consumption of pornography, particularly via the internet.
1. The therapeutic community, which already has much evidence to show the harmful effects of internet pornography consumption, should “take the lead both in amassing new evidence and in disseminating that evidence at the highest levels of public opinion and governance. The signatories urge as a minimum that therapists who actually encourage use of pornography as a “marital aid” in counseling couples refrain from doing so. In light of the empirical evidence showing pornography’s harmful effects they regard such inappropriate “therapy” similar to the free distribution of tobacco to troops by the Red Cross. They also recommend to the therapeutic community pressing areas of future research suggested by current research: the relationship between pornography and prostitution; the factors that heighten risk for dependency and addiction; the effects of pornography on children and adolescents.
2. Educators and other teachers should be attentive to on-going research into the effects of pornography consumption and integrate those findings into their curricula as appropriate.
3. Journalists, Editors and Bloggers along with others influential in forming public opinion, are called on to lead in the investigation into the effects of pornography.
4. Private Industry can also take a lead in this. First of all corporations should make clear there is no tolerance for pornography in the workplace, helping employees who have become addicted and dependent on porn to break their habits, etc. The hospitality industry in particular is called upon to be mindful of its civic responsibilities by not allowing television movies of pornographic material.
5. Popular Culture and Celebrities should use their bully pulpit to discourage the popularization and acceptance of pornography and the banal justification that “everybody does it.” Especially helpful would be a public service campaign in which celebrities and others influential with adolescents take issue with today’s “so what” attitude toward pornography.
6. Government at various levels can do much. For instance, the government (1) should legislate to make pornography no more legal on standard servers used by ordinary people than it is in the mail; (2) make it a condition for operating an internet server that service is not offered to sites that propagate obscenity. Political leaders should use their bully pulpit for campaigning showing that pornography is not the “free speech” protected by the Constitution. All “adult” material (print and digital) should carry a warning about the addictive potential of pornography and consequent possible psychological harm to the consumer. The Justice Department unit dedicated to the prosecution of obscenity should be redeveloped and redeployed to address the phenomenon of pornography. Legislatures are asked to create a new, private (civil, not criminal) right of action called the “negligent exposure of a minor or an unwilling adult to obscene materials.”
This brief but substantive report is a most valuable help in combating the “plague of pornography.” In my judgment, it shows how internet and other new media for viewing and disseminating pornography illustrate the insight of John Paul II, noted in my earlier piece on “The Plague of Pornography,” on the qualitative difference between portraying the human body in painting and sculpture and in doing so in film, videos, etc.
**This issue was first published in May of 2010.
(c) 2010 Culture of Life Foundation. Reproduction granted with attribution required.