JGR: Bad Catholic’s Bad Reasons for Opposing Porn

Marc Barnes over at Bad Catholic thinks there are [good] secular reasons to oppose pornography. Let’s watch, shall we?

1. Sex Trafficking

The word pornography comes from pornos, prostitute, and grapho, to depict or write, meaning “depicting prostitutes.” We seem to be waking up to the possibility that the word’s etymology may very well be a description of reality. Pornography is fundamentally an experience of bought sex.

Safe for work porn

Safe for work porn

Arguments from etymology are always fun. They assume that 1) the meaning of words haven’t changed, and 2) in this case, it assumes that the meaning shows some sort of clear admonishment against pornography. You seem to think your audience should just assume that “bought sex” is bad.

In the purchase of pornography, we pay for sexual arousal. We do not simply pay money for a video— though it is precisely this idea that allows us to remove ourselves from the possibility that we are engaging in sex trafficking — we also pay for the incidence of sexual use that the video depicts.

Yes, I think everybody knows that we’re paying for sexual arousal. Again, you seem to be assuming that this is somehow bad, or that people who buy porn don’t know that this is what they are doing. When I buy a vibrator, I’m also “buying sex.” Is this also wrong? And then you equate pornography to sex trafficking right out of the gate. Not all prostitution or porn can be accurately labeled “sex trafficking.” Those who willingly become a sex worker are not being “trafficked for sex” anymore than a construction worker can be labeled “slave labor.”

The money spent on pornography does not disappear, it goes to pornographers, thus supplying and encouraging those who’s [sic]  job it is to get men and women to have sex for money, that is, to prostitute themselves. In this regard, there is very little difference between the pornographer and the pimp. He arranges the experience of sexual gratification for a client by paying a woman the client doesn’t know to have sex.

Actually in the United States there is a bit of a difference between the directors and producers of pornography and pimps. Making and selling pornography is legal and regulated in the United States. If a porn star is ripped off by a producer or abused, s/he has the legal ability to take the producers to court and demand justice. I’m not saying the system is perfect, or that the regulations are always obeyed, but at least there is some protection. I’m not arguing that pornography isn’t prostitution. I agree with you that it is. However, I disagree with your assertions that prostitution is always wrong. The pimp in the United States is different in that his/her business is illegal. S/he can abuse his/her workers all they want and mostly get away with it. The workers have no legal recourse. Making porn illegal or pushing sex workers even more into the dark is not the way to fix the many problems that the mainstream industry has. Pushing sex work into the dark merely intensifies abuse and makes impossible any attempts at legal redress for such abuse.

She doesn’t mention the objectification of these men

She doesn’t mention the objectification of these men

The American feminist Catherine MacKinnon, in a 2005 speech, made some very indicting claims regarding the relationship between pornography and sex trafficking:

Pornography then further creates demand for prostitution, hence for trafficking, through its consumption.Consuming pornography is an experience of bought sex, of sexually using a woman or a girl or a boy as an object who has been purchased. As such, it stimulates demand for buying women and girls and boys as sexual objects in the flesh in the same way it stimulates the viewer to act out on other live women and girls and boys the specific acts that are sexualized and consumed in the pornography. Social science evidence, converging with testimonial evidence of real people, has long shown the latter. As observed…in the hearings on the anti-pornography civil rights ordinance that Andrea Dworkin and I organized for the Minneapolis City Council at its request: “Men witness the abuse of women in pornography constantly, and if they can’t engage in that behavior with their wives, girlfriends, or children, they force a whore to do it.” On the basis of the experiences of a group of women survivors of prostitution and pornography, she told how pornography was used to train and season young girls in prostitution and how men would bring photographs of women in pornography being abused, say, in effect, “I want you to do this,” and demand that the acts being inflicted on the women in the materials be specifically duplicated. Research by Mimi Silbert and Ayala Pines on prostituted women in San Francisco also reported that the women spontaneously mentioned being raped by johns [those who purchase prostitutes] who said, essentially, “I [have] seen it in all the movies … . You know you love it,” referring to a specific pornography “flick.” Melissa Farley and her colleagues found that forty-seven percent of prostituted women in nine countries were upset by someone asking them to perform a sex act that had been seen in pornography. Forty-nine percent reported that pornography was made of them in prostitution. Mary Sullivan’s research in Victoria, Australia, where prostitution has been legalized for a decade, reports women describing pornography videos running constantly in brothels – to set the tone and mood, apparently – making safe sex more difficult. Pornography is documented to create demand for specific acts, including dangerous and demeaning ones inflicted on prostituted people, as well as for bought sex in general. If this is right – and Melissa Farley’s preliminary results show that it is – the more men use pornography, the more they use prostitutes.

Mackinnon here is ignoring the very real category of  ”gay male” porn. Why is she only mentioning the objectification of women, boys and girls and not worried about the objectification of these young gay men? This is the problem I have with the whole philosophy behind objectification. Anybody can objectify anybody else. Sometimes it can be harmful and sometimes it’s not. When I’m told to “take a number” at a bakery and made to sit there until they call my number, I am being objectified. I’m being reduced to a number and an cake order. This objectification does not harm me or anybody else. Mackinnon’s second wave feminist fixation on objectification is missing the point entirely behind the idea. It is not always wrong or harmful to objectify somebody. Not only this, but she is herself denying the agency of the women who want to be sex workers. There are some women who really love the job and wouldn’t want to do anything else. I’m also a little appalled that she would lump women in with boys and girls. Children do not have the mental or psychological ability to consent to sexual acts of this nature. By lumping women in with children, she is essentially equating female sex workers with children.

She then goes on to say that “the more men use pornography, the more they use prostitutes.” No. Just no. There are millions of men (and women) who watch porn and don’t ever hire or use a prostitute or engage the employment of any other kind of sex worker. The statistics Mackinnon cites seem to be only of men who are already hiring prostitutes. Does she have any statistics for the average porn consumer? The sampling here seems to be inherently biased toward men who are already inclined to abuse sex workers.

Back to Marc:

In shortening the word “pornography” to “porn,” or “porno,” we are performing etymologically what arguably occurs in reality — moving from “depicting prostitutes” to an engagement with just “prostitutes.” In essence, pornography is associated with prostitution because pornography — insofar as it is the purchase of a person for sexual gratification — is already is a form of prostitution.

Other than some American politicians, I don’t know who Marc thinks is arguing that porn isn’t a form of prostitution.

Christmas with sex workers looks pretty awesome to me

Christmas with sex workers looks pretty awesome to me

In watching pornography, we cannot pretend that the consequences of our actions are limited to us and our browsing history, for we are supporting an industry, creating a demand for the exploitation of human beings, creating jobs for pornographers, and thereby creating incidences of sexual use.

You say all this, and yet you fail to actually talk about where the problem lies. You also don’t seem to be able to distinguish the main stream porn industry from the indie/amateur/feminist/lgbtq industry.

Hey Marc, here’s some non-coerciveconsensual porn.

(And to be absolutely clear, there is no such thing as free porn. If you are not directly giving money to a pornographer, you are giving it to him through an advertiser.)

As somebody who has (as Dori puts it) sailed the seven seas of the internet for quite some time, yes, there is such a thing as free porn.

But surely — I imagine a complaint could go — this is only a problem if you take as an a priori the idea that porn is abusive and bad. Then yes, it is bad to watch pornography and thereby fund an industry that sells sexual acts for gratification. But what if you take the enlightened, modern view that the only morally limiting factor of a sexual act is that it be between “consenting adults”? Pornography, after all, is consensual. Women and men perform sexual acts for pornographers out of their own free will, flaunting their lifestyle, calling themselves “pornstars.” Why then, is it any evil to fund an industry which people join by choice?

2. The Illusion of Consent

For all the ladies loving ladies out there

For all the ladies loving ladies out there

From the point of view of the person watching pornography, there is no way to establish that any of its members are consenting to the act reproduced. How could you possibly know? From the point of view of the person watching pornography, there is likewise no way to know that it’s members are all legal adults. Could you with certainty distinguish a 16-year-old girl, the trafficking of whom is an incidence of child pornography, condemned by the law and by society, with an 18-year-old, the trafficking of whom is supposedly harmless, consensual, and absolutely legal? Given that there is no way we can affirm that the already inadequate moral minimum of “consenting adults” is being adhered to, we should shake from ourselves any semblance of confidence in the “consensual” nature of pornography.

Your assertion that there is no way to tell if these are all consenting adults could also be used for any other film. There is no way to know if the stunt man performing dangerous acts on the movie screen actually consented. Maybe he was coerced due to monetary or drug-related reasons? Maybe he was forced to do it by the producers? You don’t know. You should shake from yourself any semblance of confidence in the “consensual” nature of action movies.

MacKinnon notes that: ‘as with all prostitution, the women and children in pornography are, in the main, not there by choice but because of a lack of choices. They usually “consent” to the acts only in the degraded and demented sense of the word (common also to the law of rape) in which a person who despairs at stopping what is happening, sees no escape, has no real alternative, was often sexually abused before as a child, may be addicted to drugs, is homeless, hopeless, is often trying to avoid being beaten or killed, is almost always economically desperate, acquiesces in being sexually abused for payment, even if, in most instances, it is payment to someone else.’

Again, you quote MacKinnon equating women to children and ignoring the agency of women who do choose to be sex workers. She is basically saying that one cannot, by definition, choose to be a sex worker. Again, some of those women beg to differ.

This is not consent. Furthermore, even if there is some semblance of consent in regards to an initial entrance into the pornography, it is not informed consent. Truly informed consent would allow a woman to consent not only to a life of having pornography made of her, but to the content of that life. Two ex-porn-actors Shelley Lubben and Jenni Case bravely detailed the fact that should probably seem obvious — women are lied to about the content of their lives as porn actors. They are told that they will be given attention, safety, glamour and money. In reality, they are made to work in filthy conditions, they are constantly exposed to disease, they are pressured into sexual acts that they do not want to perform, and the vast majority of “pornstars” must resort to drugs and alcohol to numb both the physical and emotional pain of their ‘work.’

Many movie stars and rock stars are also lied to about the content of their lives as movie and rock stars. In fact there are many instances of movie stars and rock stars resorting to alcohol and drugs in order to cope with the physical and emotional pain of their work. Think: Curt Cobain, Janet Jackson, Amy Winehouse. Those are but a few who struggled with mental illness and drug/alcohol abuse and lost. The answer is not to eschew in and all movies and music. The answer is not to force movie stars and rock stars into the dark world of illegal movies and music. The answer is to find out why they have these problems. Create better alternatives for those with mental illnesses. Show more compassion for those who struggle and create better support networks and facilities for treatment. I say the same thing goes for sex workers. The answer to helping sex workers who struggle economically, or who struggle with drug/alcohol abuse, who struggle with mental illness is not to make their work illegal or stigmatize it more with articles such as yours. The answer is to find out what the problems are. Root out those problems. Bring them into the light. Stigmatizing their work by equating it with sexual slavery and child abuse merely serves to stigmatize their work, and consequently push their problems into the dark.

Sex workers forced to work in filthy conditions? Make their jobs regulated by OSHA, the same way all other jobs are. Exposed to disease? Same thing. Create an industry that cares for their workers. Create a climate where the workers are not stigmatized and afraid to speak up. Legalize sex work and create avenues for redress of grievances. Sure, this won’t eliminate all abuse. But hell, every employer/employee relationship is fraught with potential for abuse.

A 2012 thesis paper by Chelsea Thompson looks at multiple studies and confirms this fact:

Many enter the industry with a distorted view of what it will be like, and many producers and agents take advantage of this innocence (Hughes, 2000). New performers are thrown right into brutal and traumatic scenes and performances. Even if one initially consents and has signed a contract, if he/she is not allowed to back out, this can be considered trafficking. Additionally, if one ignores a participant’s request to stop and uses force to make one finish a scene or continue working in the industry, then this is sex trafficking. Also, preying on an addiction, either from before one’s entrance into the industry or after, can be classified as psychological coercion according to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), child pornography is always seen as coercive in nature even if it is not for commercial purposes because it is preying on vulnerabilities and the inability to consent to something as an adult. The third prong is fraud, which Hughes (2010) states is “tricking someone into something she didn’t anticipate” (p. 4). Therefore, it can be argued that fraud occurs in most, if not all, instances of pornography (Hughes, 2010).

All of the same things can be said about those young men and women who enter into professional/college sports. The same thing can be said about some of the men and women who enter the military. More and more of those signing up for the military are men and women from economically limiting backgrounds. They are people searching for a way to escape that by any means possible. Even if it means strapping a gun to themselves or having sex for money. If fraud is occuring then the answer is to sniff out the fraud and provide legal redress for this type of behavior. The answer is not to decry the entire industry for the actions of some. Again, go look into the list of non-coercive, consensual porn I gave earlier.

Consider this: In watching pornography, you do not know that a participant is an adult, mature enough to fully consent. Even if you could know this, you have no way of knowing whether that “legal age” is appropriate to the person. (There are 18 year olds, for instance, who are nevertheless not mature enough to fully consent.) Even if you knew a participant was of a legal age and of a level of maturity in which the life of a pornography could be freely chosen, you do not know whether she consented with full knowledge of the consequences, that is, whether she gave informed consent to her working conditions and the sexual acts she is exposed to. Also, given the massive use of drugs and alcohol, you have no way of knowing that a participant had the capacity to consent to a particular pornographic scene. I suppose one could argue that if a porn actor consents to taking drugs and getting high in order to better handle the pain of the pornographic shoot, she implies a consent to the pornographic shoot, but annihilating your ability to feel out of a fear of being fully present for a pornographic scene is not choosing in true, human freedom. And underlying all these objective uncertainties is the knowledge everyone watching pornography must have, that those women displayed in pornography are — in all likelihood — there out of desperation and poverty. To call a grasp at survival “consent” might satisfy the law, but it should not satisfy us.

If all these uncertainties are valid, this means that every time we sit down to watch pornography, we are willfully watching what has every possibility of being rape — a scenario of nonconsensual sex. Perhaps the ex-porn-stars exaggerate. Perhaps there’s not really so many possibilities of a porn video being a display of non-consensual sex. But to this I would ask my readers to imagine the following scenario:

You are walking in alley, when you see in the darkness a tussle of bodies that is probably not rape, rather it is probably real, earnest, sexual passion. Is this probability enough to justify ignoring the possibility that it is rape? Would you be comfortable going to sleep that night, on the basis that you ignored what only might have been rape? Of course not. The mere possibility that a porn video could be a document of rape — coupled with the impossibility for us to discern whether that is the case — should be enough to make us abandon watching all porn, for it is precisely in all porn that the rape-possibility is contained.

And to those who would argue you can “tell” the women involved in pornography are consenting, I would simply point out that the “actress” part of “porn actress” is no misnomer, and that my research into this matter has revealed that, after a while, the majority of female porn actresses are faking the pleasure they display.

All of these concerns could be directly addressed to regular movies, the music industry, sports industry, and the military. You want to talk about non-consenual movie-making and using children? Go look into the lives of child movie stars. There’s your child abuse. You keep going on and on about not being able to be certain of consent, and yet you don’t seem to have the same concern for any of those other industries. I’m in school right now, learning to do a job that I probably won’t enjoy much, but it will pay the bills. Is that economic coercion? I know people who wanted to be doctors or lawyers, but they could never pay for the schooling, so they settled for construction work, driving taxis or delivering pizzas. Is this also coercion? They’re not really consenting to do this job of their own free will. Where is your concern for them? Why is it different if I use my vagina for money rather than my hands?

3. Novelty

 

Novelty, it’s so dark and twisted

Novelty, it’s so dark and twisted

The idea that we can avoid the darkness of pornography and its underbelly of coercion and dominance by only dabbing our toes in

porn which looks nothing like rape — making sure we aren’t watching anyone near the minimum age and using only porn that doesn’t seem to support an industry that makes it impossible for women to give informed consent — is a stupid idea, for two reasons. First, this certainty cannot be attained. Secondly, the act of watching pornography lends itself to wanting to watch “dark” pornography.

Oh slippery slopes are fun! I like mine to be covered in pudding or jello! Or is that getting too dark? Is that a novelty that could lead to abuse?

Scientists have been happily documenting what’s known as the Coolidge Effect, in which our brain releases dopamine — a chemical that causes pleasure in the brain — in response to a novel sexual scenario.

Yes, when I see a new sexual scenario, it often is better than if I watch the same video over and over again.

Watching the same “safe” pornography will be arousing at first, but as it becomes habit, the brain will respond by producing less and less dopamine until that pornography no longer arouses. What’s needed to get the dopamine hit that the porn-viewer seeks is novelty — something new.

I can get that “something new” by switching from watching a blond and brunette make out to watching a red-head make out with a blond. I can get it by switching from lesbian porn to straight porn, then to group lesbian sex and then to male porn. I don’t have to get into any “kink” in order to achieve novelty.

And as an article in Psychology Today points out, the internet provides us with seemingly endless opportunities for pornographic novelty:

Today’s Internet porn…offers endless fireworks at the click of a mouse. You can hunt (another dopamine-releasing activity) for hours, and experience more novel sex partners every ten minutes than your hunter-gatherer ancestors experienced in a lifetime. Dopamine hit after dopamine hit can induce a drug-like altered state. (Cocaine, for example, owes its high to excess dopamine circulating in the brain.) It’s powerful enough to override your brain’s normal sexual satiation mechanisms after orgasm.

This can lead to

…increased restlessness, irritability and dissatisfaction, desire for kinkier sex, finding your mate less attractive or compelling than the Internet, or a need [for] more extreme material. Experts call such effects “tolerance.” They can indicate an addiction process at work in the brain.

Something having the capacity to be addicting does not make it morally wrong. Shopping has the capacity to be addicting. Caffeine is addicting. Eating chocolate is addicting. This does not mean that shopping, drinking coffee or eating chocolate ice cream are all immoral activities.

Because of the Coolidge Effect, watching “safe” porn lends itself to a need for more “extreme” material. More extreme material is usually more violent, more dominating, more painful for women, and more degrading. In short, it is far more likely to be an incident of rape.

As I said before, one does not have to go down any “dark” avenues in order to find novel porn. With that being said, you seem to have a real problem getting that some women like kink. Some women like the fantasy of dominance, shame and violence. Go check out Greta Christina‘s erotica. There is a difference between fantasy and reality. Those in the kink community are some of the biggest proponents of vocal, enthusiastic consent and safe sex. Your assumption that because somebody is into kink, or because the scene deals with kink, that it is somehow automatically, or more likely, to be rape is simply ignorant.

Men manufacture an artificial desire for porn that from the outset seeks [to?] arouse its viewers by injuring, humiliating, degrading and even endangering the life of women, not because they began by wanting to see women humiliated and hurt, but because they developed an addiction that urges them on to ‘extreme pornography.’

Not all things that can be addicting are immoral. Not all slippery slopes lead to the same place. Not all ends to slippery slopes are necessarily undesirable. This is sounding dangerously close to the “violent video games create violent children/teenagers” argument.

“ A testimony from the website Your Brain on Porn shows what I’m talking about:

The relationship I have with every woman in my life (even just friendly coworkers) has improved since getting off porn. Porn corrupts and brainwashes what you think about women. It got to the point to where I would search for rape scenes because regular porn wasn’t enough anymore, and I would daydream about rape/torture all day long. Obviously I would never do something like that to another human being, it was just a fantasy. But I finally realized how disgusting that lifestyle is, and as much as I may have fooled myself into believing I enjoyed it, it won’t be something I’m returning to.

I look at women like human beings now, as opposed to sex toys, and they respond positively.

Whether or not watching porn will cause a man (or anyone) to view women in real life as mere sexual objects is entirely dependent on the person. Much the same as whether or not playing violent video games will cause a person to be violent is dependent on the person.

The support of pornography is a support of extreme pornography. To watch “light” porn is to open yourself up to the possibility of an addiction that will needle you into delighting over the humiliation and torture of women. To watch “light” porn is to give money to the pornographers who are in no way limited to making “light” porn. To watch “light” porn is to contribute to a society in which people are initiated and invited into watching extreme porn, for by paying for any and all porn you a) allow those who look up to you to consider watching porn excusable, b) contribute to the overall desensitization of your society, in which a child may be initiated into the world of hardcore porn because we passively use soft-core porn as advertisement in his presence c) help to create a demand and a market for pornography which has pornographers supplying, marketing, advertising and promoting pornography, thereby increasing the likelihood of an individual’s initiation into watching pornography, which includes a possibility of his eventually becoming hooked on extreme pornography.

You have given no valid reasons why we should oppose light porn, let alone “dark” porn. You have given no valid data to support your continued assertions that porn is rape, or that porn fuels rape. Pornography and rape are not linked to each other. No respectable psychological organization links the two. In fact, here’s a study that spanned two decades across four different countries that showed no causal link between sexual crimes and the abundance or use of pornography (“dark” or otherwise).

In conclusion, even if we drastically limit our ethical responsibility to a mere “don’t support rape,” we should — guided by reason — still come to the conclusion that watching pornography is objectionable.

You have given us no data to support your assertions that porn is rape or that porn leads to rape. All you’ve demonstrated is that people like new things. So no, this doesn’t seem to be guided by reason.

This is an inditement [sic], of course, of super-hip sexual health organizations that support a pornographic culture. Planned Parenthood, in their guide for discussing pornography with kids, are only concerned with “unrealism” in pornography, ultimately arguing that watching porn can be a benign, harmless and healthy issue, saying that ‘any healthy, caring adults use pornography. Most of them use it to enhance their sex lives knowing that it is much more about fantasy than it is about reality.’

Well, thanks for showing me this. Now I can support Planned Parenthood even more.

But given the above, I would argue that now is the time for the religious and the irreligious alike to stop watching pornography. By refusing to be a slave to pornographers and a market for the sale, humiliation, and degradation of women, we starve those who make their living by exploiting the weak. By repenting of our involvement in the pornography industry, and doing penance to amend the harm pornography has wrecked on our culture, we can be free.

You have given me no valid reason to stop watching porn. You have ignored the many, many sex-positive organizations that seek to end some of the valid criticisms against the main stream porn industry. All your article does is seek to further stigmatize sex workers–stigmatization which makes it even more difficult for them to fight for their rights and have their valid concerns actually addressed. Admonishing people to stop watching porn is not going to get them to stop watching it. It will merely get them to stick their head in the sand about it. Treating the watching of porn as the equivalent to supporting rape trivializes actual rape and makes it harder for those who are trying to actually fix the problems in the industry.

As for all of your anecdotes from ex-porn stars and those who were allegedly hurt because of porn, please read what Dr. Marty Klein has to say about the issue: http://www.martyklein.com/people-who-feel-victimized-by-porn-lets-give-them-sympathy-not-a-congressional-hearing/

I also find it more than a little disingenuous that you would try to use feminism here when you have spent more than a few words on how terrible feminism is. Your crusade against birth control using the OneFlesh site, your trivializing of the concerns of Catholic women in regards to how even women of your own faith are treated by your church, and your crusade against a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body is a testament to the fact that you are simply using “feminism” when you think it helps your cause and abandoning it’s precept (that women are people and should be treated as such) when it hurts your cause. Secular View has a policy of attacking ideas, not people, but I felt it was necessary to call you out for your apparent sudden support of feminism here, when you have vehemently opposed it in the past.

Caitlin commented directly on the blog. I’m including it here because I thought it was so awesome:

You know, you’re absolutely right. We can never be sure, so we should never partake in pornography. For that matter, we can never be sure that our own sexual partner is truly consenting. Maybe they’re lying about their age, or are strung out on drugs or alcohol. Maybe they’re having a psychotic episode and are unable to make an informed decision due to their delusions. We should all stop having sex right now!

And don’t get me started on the dark stuff. Women getting beaten with crops or forced to eat from the floor by men (or even other women!), it’s horrifying! No one would ever consent to such acts. We need to gather together, go down to our local dungeons, and survey all the participants to see if they’re actually consenting. While there, we should stick around to, ahem, observe the situation, for feminism’s sake of course. Maybe do a little research into this so we can better fight it. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Won’t someone think of the children, who aren’t legally allowed to participate in or view pornography? I mean, why can’t we set up some government organization to protect them from this stuff? We can call it the Policies Against Rape and Exploitation Now for Today’s Students! PARENTS will look after the kids!

By never knowing, the only way we can fight it is to abolish it. Don’t bother with trying to improve conditions, that’ll never work, and even if it did, we couldn’t prove it. It’s not like there’s some industry or organization out there trying to improve things and fight for sex worker’s rights. We’re doomed to a world where we must restrain our libidos forever, lest we contribute to the problem!

I for one will join you in this fight! I’m off to do research!

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