Pornography

Anti-Porn Summit on Capitol Hill Mixes Moralist, Feminist, and Public Health Rhetoric With Insane Results

Everything old is new again!

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modified from Steve Rhodes/Flickr

If you thought good old-fashioned Moral Majoritarians were just going to concede Puritanism to fourth-wave feminists, think again. Today, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE)—a group founded in 1962 as Morality in Media (the name was changed this year)—is holding an anti-pornography summit on Capitol Hill titled "Pornography: A Public Health Crisis." The event aims to educate lawmakers on "how porn fuels sex trafficking, child exploitation, and sexual violence" and features a who's who of anti-sex-work, anti-science, and anti-free-speech zealots, along with the father of famous kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart. 

For a taste, here's what NCSE offers as "background information" on the issue: 

Never before have so many children and teenagers been exposed to such sexually violent content, which by default has served as their sex education. Hyper-sexualized mainstream media and pornography are a social issue of concern to many parents and professionals. Once a social issue involves problems that affect individuals or groups beyond their capacity to correct –responsibility needs to shift from individual accountability to holding the forces and influences that cause it accountable. While educating individual parents to guide and protect their children is always part of any prevention plan, the problem is well beyond what individual parents and children can do to protect themselves.

However, for many, repeated exposure and use is correlated to problematic attitudes and behaviors that can lead to sexual aggression and violence. Pornography fuels demand for child sexual exploitation and prostituted/trafficked women and children. Substantiated research also shows correlations to domestic violence against women, increased Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), and increased sexual dysfunction in young men. 

Please note the lack of any citations for this "substantiated research."

NCSE/Twitter

NCSE goes on to compare the pornography "crisis" to "other major health crises including lead poisoning, asbestos exposure, smoking and HIV/AIDS," suggesting that "leadership, commitment and investment is required at the private and public sector" to combat this scourge. 

Several recent studies have offered results opposite those NCSE claims. The first, published in the academic journal Sexual Medicine, found no correlation between increased porn consumption and either male erectile dysfuntion or decreased desire for sex with a partner. "Many clinicians claim that watching erotica makes men unable to respond sexually to 'normal' sexual situations with a partner," said study co-author Nicole Prause, an associate research scientist at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, but that was not the case in her research.

"These data suggest that inventing a new problem—porn causing erectile problems—for which there is no tested treatment, may be a disservice to patients," she added, noting that the main causes of erection issues among respondents were performance anxiety, poor heart health, and drug side-effects. 

The second study, published in Biological Psychology, challenges the very premise of "porn addiction," at least as any sort of biological phenomenon.

@NCSE/Twitter

For the study—also conducted by Prause, along with a team of other researchers—scientists recruited 55 self-professed porn addicts and 67 respondents with no porn problem. All respondents viewed photographs, some sexy, while hooked up to an EEG machine. Unlike other types of addicts, whose brain activity increases in certain regions with exposure to the problematic stimuli, respondents who claimed porn addiction showed decreased activity in these brain regions when viewing the more erotic imagery. This means "these porn users do not look like any other addiction," said Prause, and "by extension, this means it is not appropriate to call porn addicting from a scientific perspective."

Rather than re-debunking the rest of the junk-science NCSE is spouting, I'll point you to some Reason staffers' previous bashing of bad claims about pornography: 

As Reason has previously pointed out, "every conceivable social indicator over the last 20 years obliterates the idea that porn is causing widespread societal harm." Over the course of what NCSE describes as an "unprecedented and unregulated social experiment" with online pornography over the past few decades, crimes from rape to domestic violence to sex offenses against children are all down drastically in the United States. The forcible rape rate, for instance, dropped from 41.1 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 28.7 per 100,000 in 2009. Incidents of domestic violence, meanwhile, dropped 50 percent between 1993 and 2004. 

And crimes against children have decreased across most categories since the 1990s, with especially large drops in sex crimes. The rate of CPS-certified sexual abuse between 1992 and 2011 dropped by 63 percent, according to a 2014 study from JAMA Pediatrics. Between 2003 and 2011—arguably the period when Internet pornography came into its own—overall sexual victimization of children dropped 25 percent, with "rates of rape, flashing, and statutory sex offenses [all] reduced significantly." 

Some researchers even suggest that the link between the rise of online porn and the decline in sex-crime rates is not random. 

The 2015 anti-porn summit from NCSE marks the second one it has organized on the Hill following a 27-year-hiatus. In a sign that they're better-skilled at reading the zeitgeist than scientific research, NCSE and its allies have now updated their anti-pornography focus from porn's immorality to the alleged social-ills it causes, including buzz-worthy worries such as sex-trafficking and campus and military sexual assault. NCSE leaders are using recent attention to these issus as a hook for their tired old platform, suggesting that these things could be reduced by addressing their "root cause": pornography.

"We're addressing sexual violence in the military and sex trafficking, but you have to address what attracts a man to enslave a woman or a man to have sex with an enslaved woman, and that's pornography," NCSE President and COO Patrick Trueman told The Hill

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is the honorary sponsor of the today's event. I'll leave you with a few of the "highlights" NCSE and other attendees have been tweeting out: 

NCSE/Twitter