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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Are We Losing Ground In The War On Porn?

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We may have never been very effective in combatting this evil to begin with, but there can be little doubt that an ever darker and more pervasive porn industry is gaining ground. Along with new internet porn sites springing up constantly, high tech means to access them are multiplying as well. Our children and teens can find ways to view almost anything they want on their cell phones, ipads, and other devices. Even some eleven and twelve-year-old boys are becoming addicted, making one wonder how they will ever experience healthy wedded-for-life relationships.

Over time we have become ever more jaded by indecency in general. We have failed to celebrate and hallow our own God-given gift of sexuality and have helplessly watched it being exploited and cheapened on every side. Over the past years network television, for example, has seen an increase of over four times the number of scenes involving nudity and promiscuous sex, according to a report by the Parents Television Council

As a nation and even in our churches we are strangely divided over how to deal with this issue. Oddly, it is folks on the political left I hear saying, “Let the market rule. Let individuals decide and let’s keep government out of this.” Meanwhile, those on the right who are urging more government intervention to drive porn out of our communities, to force libraries to protect children by filtering Internet sites and by requiring retailers to keep sexually explicit magazines out of the reach of children.

What can we do?

We could begin by recognizing that this is not just a question about restricting some kinds of speech (outright obscenity is already not protected by law) but whether we can reasonably regulate some forms of commerce. Since pornography has become a multi-billion dollar industry, should it be exempt from some minimal safety, health and marketing standards? Most of this new “speech” is, after all, anything but “free.” People are hired to submit to demeaning and even hurtful acts simply for money, not because they enjoy what they’re doing. The resulting “product” is marketed aggressively and reaps phenomenal profits, not so much for its “actors,” but for its producers and promoters, mostly money-grubbing white males. 

Likewise, we could start by recognizing pornography as not like just any other kind of adult entertainment, but as a product that results in varying degrees of addiction for millions who use it. By way of comparison, it was years before we recognized nicotine addiction as a health problem. Or before we understood the nature of addiction itself as a serious disruption of the reward mechanism in our brains. It was only after we realized some of the social and health care costs of tobacco addiction (for smokers and non-smokers alike) that we began to set strict age limits on who can purchase nicotine products. We also began to regulate how and where these products could be marketed, and even put warning labels on tobacco products. 

The National Council on Sex Addiction and Compulsivity estimates that some two million Americans have become addicted to cybersex alone, costing the economy millions in lost productivity and jeopardizing the ability of users to maintain healthy real-life relationships that benefit us all. Researchers like feminist Dr. Diane E. H. Russell of Mills College (Oakland, CA) point out that the industry not only degrades women but is subjecting more and more of them to outright violence, both in the production of much of today’s pornographic material and in the rape fantasies it creates in men who regularly get pleasure from seeing images of women being used--and even criminally abused--on screen. There are few signs of “safe sex” anywhere in this picture.

So at the very least we need to exercise our good First Amendment rights to urge our becoming a porn-discouraging, rather than a porn-encouraging, society. After many years, we finally did that with tobacco, through a combination of education and some reasonable forms of government regulation.

Without resorting to Prohibition or to heavy handed Taliban tactics, we the people decided we would be better off having more smoke free environments in which we all can work, eat and shop. We began investing millions in promoting the benefits of not using tobacco, and in offering help for overcoming nicotine and other addictions. And we did most of this not just for moral or religious reasons but because common sense led us to believe it was in everyone’s best interest. 

Consider the benefits of uniting our efforts--women and men, religious and non-religious, liberals, conservatives and everyone between--to actively discourage and de-popularize supporting this demeaning industry. I know some will object that we’ll never be able to define exactly what pornography is, but as someone once said, just because there is something called dusk shouldn’t keep us from being able to distinguish light from darkness.

And there is enough real darkness out there that should cause us all concern.
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