Ok, so the last time I talked about porn, a lot of people seemed to think that I don’t have any problems with porn, or that I think that porn is always ok and having negative thoughts/feelings about porn makes you a prude or something. So let me clarify something up front: I have a problem with a lot of porn, but I do my best to limit my discussions about porn to arguments that are reliable in the sense that I have more than anecdotal evidence to back me up.
Many people have reported having “addictive” reactions to viewing pornography; however, hard-science researchers don’t have much (if anything) to substantiate that. Sociological researchers can speculate about such definitions as “it’s an addiction when it starts interfering in relationships,” for example, but for every researcher saying stuff like that I can find one that argues that porn is awesome because it lowers rape rates (not that I personally find that at all compelling).
What Mark Driscoll does in this chapter– and what basically every evangelical I’ve ever heard talk about this does– is create an argument based on scare tactics. I’ve found that those arguments just don’t work because if you go to a ridiculous and unsubstantiated level of rhetoric, eventually someone (like me, ha) is going to investigate your claims and find out that they’re mostly bunk, and there goes your argument.
The biggest thing I have against this chapter is the way that Mark Driscoll (and many other evangelical leaders) define porn:
We do include as pornography such things as porno movies, magazines, Web sites, online sexual chat, romance novels, phone sex with paid operators, explicit movies, lingerie catalogs, and even the swimsuit issues of sports magazines, and the increasingly base men’s and women’s magazines. (142)
He goes on to talk about how they only have one computer in the kitchen and the TV is in the most visible part of the house, and how they have Nanny net and never watch a movie with nudity in it. So, basically anything where people (and probably just women, let’s be honest) are showing an amount of skin that Mark thinks is “nudity” is porn. This is what I see as the primary problem: women’s bodies are sexualized to the point where we’re not seen as fully human beings, but a collection of sexual parts. To Mark, though, a woman’s body is inherently sexualized, and seeing us undressed can always be porn, because that’s “just the way it is.” Instead of attacking the problem of sexualization, Mark thinks that sexualization is natural: we are just limited to sexualizing (his phrase: “lusting after”) our spouses.
Another problem with this definition is that it’s incomprehensibly large: literally anything that could be considered “immodest” (so pretty much every single cover of Shape) all the way up through hardcore porn counts (which he says is called “gonzo porn” but that doesn’t seem to reflect reality). When your definition is that big, it seems almost inevitable that you’re going to have to go to fundamentalist extremes to avoid it.
But then he gets into the arguments. And this is where we take the train to crazy town.
Argument #1: porn creates neural pathways and mirror neurons. (140-144)
His presentation is rooted in a layman’s understanding of nueroplasticity, and he builds upon the argument made by William Struthers in Wired for Intimacy, a book I’m familiar with because it’s mostly horseshit. Struthers doesn’t say anything the entire book that doesn’t conflate correlation with causation (which, seriously?), so I have my doubts about this argument, especially when every variation of “porn neural pathways” I could Google got me exclusively Christian pages as a result. So I’m … skeptical. I suppose it’s possible, but I’m not a neuroscientist, so I don’t have a definitive way of evaluating this claim.
Argument #2: watching/reading/seeing porn will result in All of the Most Awful Bad Things. (144-152)
- You will always want sex that degrades women. (145)
- You are guaranteed to “act out in extreme, dangerous, and self-destructive behavior.” (146)
- You will never care about your wife’s sexual pleasure. (147)
- You could become a serial killer, like Ted Bundy. (148)
- You will do nothing but objectify women always. (148)
- You will become lazy and selfish in your sex life. (149)
- Porn is prostitution, and prostitution is the always the same thing as sex trafficking. (150)
- You will form incestuous desires and fantasize about raping your daughters. (151)
- You will inevitably end up watching children being raped. (151)
- You will also probably become a child rapist. (151) (Based on an unsubstantiated claim Gail Dines has made, which… bleh)
See what I mean about scare tactics? None of these things are even realistic.
I do agree with Mark about the basic facts: a lot of porn– an overwhelming amount of porn– depicts violence against women, or shows them being humiliated or degraded, or expects the women to have an anything goes attitude. Porn tends not to center the necessity of consent– in fact, a lot of it actively fights that. That is a problem, and I understand the concern that porn is serving as a form of sexual education for people. If a person thinks that most porn is what sex should be like, then yeah… problems. However, in the conversations that I’ve had about this, most people seem to be happily aware that a lot of porn (there are things like MakeLoveNotPorn, as an exception) isn’t what healthy sex looks like, that it’s a performance.
I’ve talked to the girlfriends and wives of men who have struggled with porn, and I’ve heard a variety of things– it hasn’t really affected their sex life, to their sex-life is now non-existent, to they started expecting them to act like porn stars. That last one I’ve personally experienced, and it’s extremely unpleasant. So I get why there are a lot of really heated emotions about porn.
But, at the same time, I don’t think talking about porn this way is really helpful. I’ve watched marriages fall apart because one spouse discovered the other’s porn habit, and part of me has always wondered– was it the porn, or was it the lies? Was it that one felt that they had to hide something so big, that they felt trapped and like they couldn’t communicate honestly? I’ve never been sure, but I lean toward the latter. Making porn into this ominous boogie man to where it is so horrifically awful how could a good person ever struggle with this seems like it’s just going to make the problem worse.
Anyway … I don’t have any really settled opinions about porn at the moment, but I honestly don’t think I have to. I don’t think we sexualize and degrade women because porn exists: I think most porn sexualizes and degrades women because that’s what our culture does. I think I can talk about those broader problems without committing to either “all porn is bad” or “porn is fine.”