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Banning Porn Is a Bad Idea. Half a Century of Science Shows It.

Is porn fueling a "public health crisis?" That's the breathless and baseless worry spreading from Utah's legislature to other statehouses (most recently, Florida and Kansas) and the pages of papers like The New York Times. These latest legislative freakouts are part of a rich history of government ignoring science and common sense in an emotional crusade against pornography, be it in the form of photos or cable movies or internet clips.

I talked with Fox News correspondent Ellison Barber about the issue last night on Fox News @ Night:

I also wrote last week for Buzzfeed about how would-be porn prohibitionists such as Times columnist Ross Douthat are part of a long, dumb, and dishonorable tradition—one that always tries to claim that

this time it's different—that whatever new medium exists for producing or distributing porn is uniquely dangerous to the youth and degrading to good women.

For decades now, this supposed difference has been chalked up to the proliferation of online pornography. Though the 1970s and '80s panic over porn had begun to simmer down by the early '90s, the advent of the internet fueled its slow burn back into a full-scale boogeyman.

A 1997 op-ed from Cox News Services fretted over "cybersmut" being easily accessible to teens on their home computers. "For the first time, collectors of deviant material" have a "free place to trade and barter," cautioned one activist. And the new wave of amateur porn was "especially dangerous for children."

Just as earlier fears that novels, nudie mags, and Skinemax would ruin our youth have proved unfounded, there's no evidence that internet porn has been destroying millennials—some of whom now have two decades of post-high-school (and first-porn-viewing) data to offer.

Read the whole thing here. Two presidential study commissions have found no reason to panic about porn. "Exposure to pornography during adolescence had little effect on persons who later became rapists and child molesters," reported the Associated Press, 48 years ago, on the first commission's findings.

"One's family background and his current attitudes...seem much more likely to determine his sexual behavior" than access to porn, reported researchers Harold S. Kant and Michael J. Goldstein in a Psychology Today piece about their work. In fact, "normal adults...reported more experience with pornography as teenagers than any deviant group we studied and, as adults, they continue to see more erotica than sex offenders do."

The AP explained that "sexual deviates generally came from homes where pornography was restricted and sex was never discussed," and "most deviates had been severely punished as teenagers by their parents when caught with pornographic material."

The federal commission recommended against a porn ban. But the Nixon administration disavowed the report, and the Senate voted on a resolution condemning it as "unscientific." Neither offered any substantive critique of the scientists' work or any reasons to think the research was deficient; it simply didn't fit with their political aims and was thus reflexively rejected as fake news. A Reagan-era commission also found few links between porn consumption and social harm, concluding that watching pornography is "predominantly harmless"; it too was ignored by officials who found its conclusions inconvenient.

Again and again, the power of scientific study seems no match for the power of political propaganda. But as Reason's Peter Suderman wrote last week, "prohibition never works, and internet smut is no exception."

A new paper from psychologist David Ley tackles "the pseudoscience" behind porn health crisis legislation. "There are people who are experiencing challenges integrating pornography into their life," writes Ley. "Unfortunately, the label of porn addiction is commonly thrown at these individuals in a manner which feeds moral panic, diverts attention and resources from effective, evidence-based strategies to support these individuals," and "pathologizes otherwise-benign behaviours."

Labeling people "porn addicts" (and, presumably, collectivizing this pathology to spell the sexual doom of entire generations) "increases the sense of hopelessness that individuals struggling with their porn use experience," concludes Ley.

It takes our focus away from the person, places it on pornography, and ignores the user's social, religious, and personal contexts. Alternative strategies for supporting these individuals include: providing greater sexual education; helping them to understand the origin of their struggles; assisting them to evaluate and reconcile their moral beliefs with their sexual behaviours; assisting them in learning how to communicate and negotiate around sexual needs and desires; addressing empathy within relationships; enhancing impulse control and mindfulness; and educating them about ways to achieve sexual health. To assist most effectively, we must evaluate and consider those contextual variables, and allow them to guide our individual, therapeutic, and public responses.

We talked to Republican National Convention delegates in 2016 about their party's official platform declaring porn a public health crisis. Almost without exception, those we talked to said they wished elected officials would spend less grandstanding about social issues like this and more time on fixing problems with our health care system and economy.

Photo Credit: screenshot/Fox News

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  • sarcasmic||

    I'd like to make some porn with ENB, and then spread it across the world. Just to be sure.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Porn spread, the libertarian Nutella.

  • sarcasmic||

    More like anchovy paste.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    and then spread it across the world.

    Like fresh marmalade on your grandmother's early morning English Muffin?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Crusty, this is a vile euphemism, even for you.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Like, work on production design? Sound mixer?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    She's going to produce, he's going to star. Solo.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Hands free orgasms are in these days.

  • Libertarian||

    tl;dr, but with so much porn now being home-made and not distributed through the old channels, I wonder how our betters plan on fighting it.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The same way they fight everything: so ineffectively that it becomes actively counterproductive, and without regard to the individual lives wrecked in the process.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Don't forget about killing dogs, too.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I mean, that's just sort of assumed at this point, isn't it?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Threadwinner. Fact.

  • John||

    We ban child porn and punish those who even possessing it much less produce it often more than we do people who actually molest children. How is that working out for us? Is child porn any less available? Not that I can tell. The internet and the darknet are supposed to be rife with the stuff.

    Understand, that child porn appeals ot a select group of perverts. The vast majority of adults have no interest in possessing child porn even if it were legal and available. In contrast, most adults enjoy some form of porn. So we can't stop child porn even though it is only desired by a very small percentage of the population and we resort to utterly draconian punishments such that a single picture will ruin a person's life, but these people think we can ban regular porn.

    How exactly does someone get that far detached from reality that they can believe such a thing?

  • sarcasmic||

    Most child porn is peddled by the feds. Honey trap style. But you know this.

  • John||

    I think you are probably right about that. If the feds would stop storing all of it in databases and stop running honey traps and make a real effort to destroy it wherever they found it, my guess is that the amount of child porn in the world would reduce dramatically. In the same way that it is easy to copy huge amounts of information, it is just as easy to delete huge amounts of information. You could also do things like send out pictures that contained embedded viruses and that would eat all of the images on any harddrive they were stored.

    It is pretty clear that the feds are interested in making cases and careers and have no interest in actually stopping child porn or doing anything about the problem of its existence.

  • sarcasmic||

    You could also do things like send out pictures that contained embedded viruses and that would eat all of the images on any harddrive they were stored.

    I don't think that is as easy as you might think, and the implications of such a weapon would not be good.

    It is pretty clear that the feds are interested in making cases and careers and have no interest in actually stopping child porn or doing anything about the problem of its existence.

    You mean that the people who are given the power to flout the law actually care about the law? They don't give a shit about anything other than having the power to do whatever they want. If they stop child porn then so what. All that they care about is hurting people and making lives miserable.

  • ||

    In the same way that it is easy to copy huge amounts of information, it is just as easy to delete huge amounts of information.

    Actually, technically and for pretty obvious reasons, it's far easier to delete huge amounts of information than it is to copy it.

  • ||

    Whoops, thread fail, that was meant in reply to John's comment.

  • Griffin3||

    You could also do things like send out pictures that contained embedded viruses and that would eat all of the images on any harddrive they were stored.

    Within weeks, every grandmother's computer in America would be wiped, instead of lightly malware infested. With minimal effect on the intended target.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    "How exactly does someone get that far detached from reality that they can believe such a thing?"

    I'll take a wild guess and say religions.

  • John||

    If you call Feminism a religion, sure. Remember, first wave feminists are just as bigger supporters of banning porn as any social conservative. In fact, they are more likely to support its outright criminalization rather than its control.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    First wave feminism is 100 yrs old. Abrahamic religion and it's obsession with sex has been around a bit longer. The link to FL implicates the Catholic church, and the KS has a Team Red woman making moralistic noises common to the YHWH cult. And UT, well, who knows what they really believe.

  • Agammamon||

    First wave feminists are all dead.

    2nd wavers either don't care or are for it. Unfortunately they don't have much longer either.

    3rd wavers are for whatever gets them the most power.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Science is not always the route to Enlightenment on this topic. The DSM still includes cross-dressing as a mental illness. Ironically BDSM is also listed as a mental illness in the DSM, which means someone who is into BDSM could end up getting strapped to a bed by a nurse in a psych ward who is so kinky she doesn't offer a safe word.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    How exactly does someone get that far detached from reality that they can believe such a thing?

    Years of "government service."

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Is child porn any less available? Not that I can tell.

    John verifies this fact every night while in bed.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Reagan and Ed Meese are rolling over in their cribs.

  • Thomas O.||

    The federal commission recommended against a porn ban. But the Nixon administration disavowed the report, and the Senate voted on a resolution condemning it as "unscientific."

    Hmmm, sounds familiar. Kinda makes you wonder why Nixon didn't just go ahead and classify porn as "Schedule 1 media".

  • John||

    The other thing that should be pointed out is that Saudi Arabia is more or less a police state and punishes possessing pornography in grotesque and draconian ways. Yet, IP addresses from Saudi Arabia are some of the largest consumers of online porn in the world. What exactly do these people plan to do over and above chopping people's heads off and stoning them to death?

  • DajjaI||

    Porn is the gateway drug to sex trafficking. If you watch even a single video, you will stop doing your homework and fight with your parents and teachers and end up getting pimped out from a hotel room in Kenosha. Just say no.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Thanks for finally revealing BUCS's origin story.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I ain't ever been to Kenosha.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    BUCS is from Michigan? This is the most disturbing thing about BUCS so far.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    AZ by way of Massachusetts.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Porn is an addition tbh.

  • Griffin3||

    Addition? Addition?
    There is obscure and fundamental insight behind this typo, I suspect.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Alt text: Here we see Elizabeth Nolan Brown watching as Hazmat crews perform their nightly scrubbing of the Fox & Friends set.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    This fully explains the disconnect between the smile on her face and the horror in her eyes.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    If it wasn't for porn I wouldn't be the man I am today.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I've always found that my imagination is more powerful than anything I can find on the Internet.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Ah yes, this is exhibit number #1 to my argument that there is virtually zero difference between the authoritarian statists who identify as Democrats and the ones that identify as Republicans.

    There was a time when people figured, "Democrats might like high taxes and spending, but at least they don't care what adults do behind closed doors. Republicans may want to shrink government, but at the price of controlling your sex life."

    Yeah, no... When you have republicans running enormous deficits and the New York Times writing about banning porn, I'd say those distinctions, if they ever were truly credible, are long since gone.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Pretty much spot on.

    The bigger danger is the GOP since they have duped many of their voters that they support smaller government. Democrats didn't pretend to want such.

  • John||

    Except that some of the biggest proponents of banning porn are feminists. So if you think electing Democrats is going to keep porn legal, you are as dumb as shreek.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    ^^^^^^ Speaking of the dupes that actually believe the GOP wants smaller government. ^^^^^^^^

  • John||

    You are not a REpublican Shreek. You are a retarded Democrat. Tell us more about how Hillary is sure to win the election until the Evil Russkies stole it from her.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    And I can't think of an actual nationally elected Democrat that has proposed a porn ban much less something like the Meese Commission.

  • Brian||

    You're forgetting political speech porn.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Wow, there really is a subgenre for everything, isn't there?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    It's called RULE 34, not SUGGESTION 34.

  • Mickey Rat||

    I understand that you would like to forget about Al Gore, who would not.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Al Gore never proposed a porn ban but this nutty GA GOP Congressman Paul Broun did want to ban sales of Playboy on military bases a few years back.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Let's not forget Tipper Gore's crusade against explicit lyrics.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Of course, the big Tipper Gore clean lyrics campaign that became part of the Dem platform and the Tipper Gore Commission?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    You mean the PMRC? That led to actual Senate hearings, but the RIAA self-censored before it could get to far. You can see video of Dee Snyder, Frank Zappa, and John Denver testifying before the Senate on it.

    If your only statement is that it wasn't real enough than that's a pretty silly statement.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I wish we had some heridi parties in the USA to diversify the mix. Sure they thought Hillary Clinton's campaign photos were too immodest to publish, but they did fight tooth and nail in a failed attempt to keep prostitution legal in Israel.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    would-be porn prohibitionists such as Times columnist Ross Douthat are part of a long, dumb, and dishonorable tradition

    How many times a day does he have to change his pants?

  • John||

    Come on Douthat may support banning porn and the police state, but he makes up for it by supporting virtually any foreign war for any reason and calling anyone who doesn't a terrorist. So there is that.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    So you're saying the man takes his clown shoes off and there's another pair of clown shoes on underneath.

  • John||

    It is clowns all the way down. He is to the pundit class what Shreek is to Hit and Run.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Douthat commutes to work in a brightly painted VW Beetle with 15 other dumb busybodies.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    AKA the NYT editorial board car pool.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Oh, but the songs they all sing while adriving or groovy as hell.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Sure, but i can only take so much slide whistle and kazoo.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Where the music stinks and they water the drinks: at the nudie bar...

  • EscherEnigma||

    Almost without exception, those we talked to said they wished elected officials would spend less grandstanding about social issues like this and more time on fixing problems with our health care system and economy


    They then proceeded to grandstand about social issues, because it was easier and less politically dangerous then trying to fix problems with our health care systems and economy

  • Tony||

    It's adorable how these folks think we're all in, or potentially in, a 50s sitcom family. It's also hilarious that this anti-porn thing is popping back up now that there's no physical way in the universe to rid society of it short of un-inventing the internet.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's also hilarious that people like you take these things seriously, as if they have a chance of having any influence on anyone or anything. Tempest in a teapot. Mountain of a mole hill. Blah diddy blah blah blah.

  • Tony||

    Do I look like I'm taking it seriously?

    Not that you shouldn't always keep an eye on the Christofascists.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    it short of un-inventing the internet.

    Well, we're working on that too.

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

    The illegality of porn is a big factor in the plot of Raymond Chandler's novel THE BIG SLEEP. Amazing reading.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    National statistics show that, compared to earlier generations, Millennials have fewer job prospects, must pay more for homes, live with their parents longer, watch more pornography, stay virgins longer, have more anal sex, and delayed parenthood. Perhaps there is some association between these correlated trends.

  • m.EK||

    Just "curious", but where in the Constitution does the federal government, their employees, or contractors have the authority to declare personal behaviour either Legal or Illegal?
    With the 9th and 10th Amendments, would this not be a STATE issue, if a governmental issue at all?

    I sure feel better knowing that if woman or man wishes to rent their body to another, that this is illegal unless they film it and claim 1st Amendment protection. Makes sense to me... well, actually government does not make sense so I'll just remain "curious".

  • Nominalis||

    As a young gay man in the 1980s if it wasn't for porn, pot and masturbation I would have been out crusing the bars and most likely would have died from AIDS long ago, like dozens of my friends, neighbours and co-workers.To make it clear, porn saved my life.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    You can have my porn when you pry it from my sticky, dead hands!

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