Counter-Point: Pornography Isn’t a “Moral Threat” to Society

No, Pornography Isn’t a “Moral Threat” to Society.

No, Pornography Isn’t a “Moral Threat” to Society.

Five years ago, the Republican Party released their revised party platform that markedly differed in a number of ways from their 2012 platform. One of the ways in which the platform differed was its increased fearmongering about pornography, labeling it a “public health crisis.” In addition to the usual “this time it’s different” diatribes and moral pearl-clutching, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) recently called for the Department of Justice to investigate the website OnlyFans.com (a content subscription site that is known for and is used most often for buying and selling adult content) for supposed “immoral” and “illegal” activity related to its services. And so begins yet another right-wing crusade against pornography and the desperation for government intervention into an outgrowth of the world’s oldest profession.

While pornography is hardly a modern invention, I will grant that perhaps there is something different this time around. Ever since the advent of the Internet, pornography has become largely democratized: the people who make up the porn industry have become more diverse while access to and use of porn has skyrocketed, especially after the world went into lockdown after COVID-19 began to spread across the world. Anyone with a webcam or camera can make porn while anyone with a decent Internet connection can find it. In articulating the libertarian view about pornography, I will not comment on the morality of pornography as I don’t think it is germane. Rather, I want to focus on the typical arguments against pornography, that it encourages/enables/normalizes violence, that it is responsible for the sexual dysfunctions in our society, and that it is inherently tied at the hip to human trafficking, before suggesting some solutions that will alleviate some of the problems that conservatives are really concerned about.

One common argument against pornography is that it has been supposedly linked to interpersonal violence and other social ills. The argument is that pornography depicting violent treatment of porn actors–usually women–leads some people–usually men–to replicate this violence in real life. With this argument, we would expect to see rape rates increase along with the accessibility and usage of porn. While pornography usage has skyrocketed (one report found that 77% of Americans view porn at least once a month), rape rates have actually decreased in the last 30 years. A meta-analysis from UTSA and Stetson University failed to find any strong link between nonviolent and violent porn and sexual violence over the past 50 years. Ironically, some researchers have found that increased porn consumption has been linked to decreased sexual violence. Some researchers have theorized that this link is due to individuals using porn and not rape as their “release.” Interestingly, in a 2006 study from Northwestern University, states with the least Internet access (and therefore, limited access to online porn) saw increases in reported rapes between 1980 and 2000, while states with the most Internet access saw decreases in reported rapes.

While some would point out that correlation does not equal causation, I think I can safely say that pornography is not responsible for increasing sexual violence because the evidence suggests otherwise. I’ll go a step further and point out that other issues that some conservatives worry about–sexual irresponsibility, abortion rates, STD transmission, teen sex, and divorce rates–have seen decreases as well. The CDC has documented a 41% decline in abortions and even steeper declines in syphilis (74%) and gonorrhea (57%) since 1991. Additionally, since 1991, teen sex has declined by 7%, teen condom use has increased by 16%, and the teen birth rate has fallen by 33%. Lastly, since 1990, the divorce rate has decreased by 23%. Given this volume of data, one might conclude that we’re actually doing much better when it comes to porn and sex, even though the former has proliferated by leaps and bounds in recent years. Elizabeth Nolan Brown from Reason even went as far as to argue that “today’s teens seem poised to take safe sex and sexual consent even more seriously than [previous generations] did.”

But what about porn’s effects on relationships? Conservatives and other anti-porn activists argue that the relationship between men and women can be damaged from porn use, that porn increases sexism and raises beauty standards to ridiculous highs. Elaborating on the first point, there have been some arguments (mainly from the fringes of the conservative movement and the alt-right) that have pointed to some studies that have found that a sizable majority of women have rape fantasies and that some women act out these fantasies through violent porn. It is then argued that this is proof of the “decline of Western masculinity” as well as showing that women have an inherent need to be dominated, which is not being fulfilled. I find this to be one of the most ridiculous arguments put forth from the right, as it blindly ignores more plausible reasons for this phenomenon, such as coping with trauma associated with actual incidents of rape and sexual assault and that increased sexual openness–particularly for women–has led to fantasizing about violent and coerced sex (the reasoning being that, “I’m free, I can fantasize about whatever I want.”). 

Additionally, some have argued that porn objectifies and sexualizes women, and that it contributes to more sexist attitudes. A study from Queensland University of Technology could not find a link between consumption of porn and increased negative attitudes toward women (though later research indicated that this overlooked benevolent sexism). Another study from the University of Zagreb found that users of nonviolent porn were “neither more nor less sexually satisfied than nonusers” and “felt the same degree of intimacy in their current or recent relationships and shared the same range of sexual experiences,” though this differed for consumers of violent porn, who tended to masturbate more often, have more sexual partners, and felt slightly less relationship intimacy than their nonviolent compatriots (though I would circle back to my argument about violent porn users using porn as a substitute for sexual crimes). Lastly, I want to briefly comment on the blaming of porn for the reduced birth rate in the United States. I also find this argument ridiculous as there has been numerous scholarship that has pointed to greater work opportunities for women, higher educational attainment, accessible birth control, improved sex education, and lower child mortality that comes with industrialization as reasons for the declining birth rate. In other words, economic conditions better explains why people are postponing having children until much later in life. 

The last point I want to address is the dicey issue of human and sex trafficking, which anti-porn activists argue is fueled by the demand for porn, making both industries closely interlinked. I find human trafficking to be fraught with issues, and in doing research for this article, it’s very maddening to see that the very definition of human trafficking differs markedly from organization to organization. What I found to be common was that some definitions tended to lump together so many different activities and classify it as “human trafficking” when clearly these things did not carry the same moral weight. For example, I do not think that an individual who gets paid to fly overseas to become employed in the porn industry is a victim of trafficking or exploitation (assuming they are of age and fully consent to the activity) and should not be classified in the same group of people that are actually victims of slavery and forced labor. Such an assumption otherwise would indicate that someone would not voluntarily enter the porn industry, that if given the choice, that individual would choose another profession. But here is where I think conservatives show their anti-market colors because this assumption flies in the face of asymmetric information theory, which posits that there is an imbalance of information that favors the seller and leaves the buyer vulnerable to exploitation. This existence of this imbalance has led some to argue that asymmetric information is a token market failure and that this imbalance can only and should be rectified through government fiat. 

However, this argument is deeply flawed as it ignores the very basis for which our economy is successful in the first place: the division of labor. If we just assumed that everyone had perfect information when it comes to market transactions, there would be no need for any social cooperation, i.e., if we could be entirely self-sufficient, we would have no need for any market system whatsoever. But this is not the reality that we live in: we have to have individuals who specialize in specific tasks to make social cooperation possible. Ludwig von Mises argued that this is actually desirable for several reasons: that it is more productive and efficient for people to cooperate rather than be self-sufficient, that people can benefit from talents that they don’t possess, and that almost all production processes require some kind of teamwork. 

The idea that the government, as deeply flawed as it already is, can somehow fix the information imbalances between buyers and sellers is a utopian one at best and a naive one at worst. We should learn to respect the choices that people make, even if they are made in undesirable circumstances, barring any uses of force, fraud, or aggression. Trying to limit the migration of sex workers will only exacerbate the problems of human trafficking as it will further drive black market smugglers underground and leave sex workers vulnerable to actual exploitation and coercion. Additionally, we need to recognize that the sex industry is full of people with diverse motivations: some are using it as a stepping stone to something larger, others are there to make a career, while others want to make some quick bucks and move on. One need only to look through the revenue statistics for content creators on OnlyFans to conclude that a lot of sex workers come from the working class, and that any government action against sex workers is likely to be harmful rather than helpful.

I would be remiss if I did not propose some solutions. This article is not meant to argue that there are risks to porn usage, especially if it becomes addictive. I have no problem with people who seek help for porn addiction, be it psychological or spiritual. As for actual policy solutions, we should start by loosening immigration laws so as to provide alternate means for potential sex workers to migrate without having to go through a smuggler or trafficker. We should also stress the importance of sex education, which would involve recognizing that we should not be treating sex with kiddie gloves as well as providing a suitable alternative for those who go to porn to learn about sex. I will leave open the possibility for those who want to provide moral education through churches and other groups that aims to reduce the demand for porn (as opposed to reducing the supply through legislative restrictions, which will have a trade-off through the increase in sex crimes). Lastly, we should not forget that the easiest solution lies at home with the parents and letting them determine what kind of moral and sexual education their kids should be receiving, providing guidance around a topic that some kids may find intriguing or frightening.

Point: Pornography Poses a Danger to Society

It is within the powers of a state government to protect its citizens from the dangers porn and the porn industry present. States should protect citizens, and right now, citizens need protection from porn.

Pornography is a danger to our society, and it should be highly regulated, if not banned entirely. Not only is it bad for the consumer, but it also preys on vulnerable members of society. The porn industry and consumers of porn are not simply engaging in a bad habit that doesn’t harm anyone. The production and consumption of porn actively does evil both to those taken advantage of by the industry and to the consumer and his or her interpersonal relationships. Because of the negative effects of porn, it is within the power of the state to regulate it to protect its citizens from further harm and exploitation.

The porn industry is linked to human trafficking. Although porn does not cause human trafficking and human trafficking existed before pornography, the two are related crimes. First, though, we have to establish what constitutes human trafficking. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on sex trafficking, but there are two other subcategories of human trafficking–organ trafficking and forced labor. Sex trafficking can take many forms and is defined as any commercial sex act which an individual engages in as a result of force, coercion, or fraud by Human Trafficking Search.  Any minor working in the sex industry, according to the US Department of Justice, is a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence–or lack thereof–of force, coercion, or fraud. Force is a kind of human trafficking that many people first think of when they think of sex trafficking. Usually, that is when someone is taken and physically forced to engage in commercial sexual activities. Fraud is when someone is misled or deceived into engaging in such activities, such as being told that partaking in commercial sexual acts will help them advance a career in acting or dancing, or that in exchange for doing this one act, the trafficker will get them a job or a promotion, depending on the circumstance. According to the US Department of Justice, “the coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological.” In an article by Beautiful Dream Society, the kinds of coercion tactics that sex traffickers employ can include “threats, lies, blackmail, intimidation, humiliation, and debt bondage.” While a person may agree to participate in commercial sex activities, they are doing so only out of fear of the trafficker or because they have been coerced into doing so. To recap, sex trafficking is when an individual engages in a commercial sex act as a direct result of force, coercion, or fraud. 

According to a study from the Journal of Counselor Practice, the porn industry creates increased demand for trafficked individuals. In addition, according to the study, much of pornography that is legally available online is produced illegally through force, coercion, or fraud, which takes advantage of trafficked individuals. In an interview with NBC-2, Julie Franklin, the chief operating officer of the Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples, FL, said that “Those taking part in watching porn, which they believe is something passive and private in their own home, do not know the background of the performers and are not educated on the very fact that many are being coerced or forced to act out these sexual scenes.” 

Franklin also said that many individuals who are trafficked into the porn industry had been sexually assaulted since they were children, and this makes them especially vulnerable to predators in the porn and human trafficking industries. The porn industry and sex traffickers both prey on already vulnerable individuals, as they are easier to traffick. 

There are many instances of anecdotal evidence of the porn industry taking advantage of women by publishing and profiting from videos of young girls and women being raped or otherwise exploited. Traffickinghub is one of the largest and most well-known entities fighting against the porn industry for “enabling, hosting, and profiting from videos of child rape, sex trafficking, and other forms of non-consensual content exploiting women and minors,” according to their petition. On Traffickinghub’s website, countless stories have been shared of children being taken advantage of by the porn industry and the link between human trafficking and pornography. 

On stoptraffickingdemand.com, they report that even porn actresses who initially consented to being filmed in porn movies had their contracts violated and were sexually and physically abused on set. These are not the marks of an industry that does its best not to take advantage of those who work in it. Although women are the most vocal about their experiences in the porn industry, I’m sure that there are cases of men also being abused. Vulnerable members of our society are being taken advantage of and abused, and the porn industry profits off that abuse by selling porn to consumers. 

Porn isn’t bad only because of its ties to sex trafficking. Its influence on the way porn-viewers interact with others and view others also make porn and its widespread consumption a danger to society. Porn commodifies sex and the people participating in sex. It encourages viewers to see actors and actresses on-screen as sex objects existing only for the viewer’s own sexual pleasure. By routinely consuming content in which people are turned into mere objects of sexual gratification, it stands to reason that viewers of porn may eventually view people around them as objects of sexual pleasure as well, rather than independent human beings. This is problematic because we should view human beings outside of how useful they are to us, and especially outside of what sexual gratification they can give to us. 

Viewing individuals only as sexual objects leads to problems in which people do not care about one another as human beings. In a 2010 study conducted by G.M. Hald et al., they found a positive correlation between “pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in nonexperimental studies” (Hald et al.). The study also found that there are statistically significant correlations between attitudes supporting violence against women and the use of both sexually violent porn and non-violent porn. The study found that there is a stronger correlation between attitudes supporting violence against women and the consumption of sexually violent porn than between such attitudes and the consumption of non-violent porn. The consumption of porn is correlated to attitudes supporting violence and aggression towards women. While porn may not be the sole cause of these attitudes, it does offer a commodity and a space in which such attitudes are allowed, if not encouraged. 

Porn can also negatively influence romantic relationships. There have been many studies linking porn consumption to reduced satisfaction and function in romantic relationships, both in married and unmarried couples. In a 2009 study conducted by Maddox, Rhoades, and Markman, they found that couples who have never viewed porn had lower rates of infidelity than couples who only watch pornography together. In addition, the study found that individuals who did not view pornography had better communication and higher dedication to their partner than individuals who did view porn either by themselves or with their partner. 

Beyond the harmful effects porn has on society and interpersonal relationships, it also affects the individual viewer negatively. In Sam Black’s The Porn Circuit, he explains the chemicals which are released while having sex or watching porn. Black explains how when couples have sex, they can “experience a high, an alertness of sexual pleasure, and the deep calm afterwards (norepinephrine, endorphins, and serotonin). With each sexual embrace [they] are emotionally bonding to [their partner] (oxytocin and vasopressin). Over time a craving for sex is transformed into a desire for one another (dopamine).” When viewing porn, a person has no other individual to connect with, so they connect with the pornographic content they’ve just viewed. This chemical process encourages porn viewers to connect with porn and to continue to view more and more porn rather than to connect with a new non-porn individual.

But worse than the problems porn can cause to individuals and interpersonal relationships is the problem of how easily accessible porn is on the internet. On average, a child’s first exposure to porn is at the age of eleven. Oftentimes children accidentally find porn sites by accidentally typing a URL incorrectly or clicking on the wrong link. That happened multiple times in one of my classes my freshman year of high school when students were trying to find Kahoot.it to play a Kahoot as a review session. Porn is widespread and easy to find on the internet for free. It’s too easy to find, so easy to find that children are being exposed to porn. CHILDREN. Even if you argue that porn is okay for adults to watch as we must allow people to use free will and make their own decisions, I think we can all agree that it is unacceptable that children can so easily watch porn, especially if it’s an accident.

But just because porn is bad doesn’t mean that the government has any business banning it, or so one might be inclined to think. Some might argue that the publication and viewing of pornography is an expression of free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. However, there are several kinds of speech which the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has ruled exempt from free speech protections. One of these is obscenity. 

In Miller v. California, the SCOTUS ruled that obscene speech if 1) the average person, with contemporary values, considers the content to be appealing to “prurient interests,” meaning that the content has or encourages an excessive interest in sexual matters 2)  the material depicts or describes “in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law” and 3) the material as a whole “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” 

Pornography is “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” By its own definition, pornography fails the first part of the obscenity test established in Miller v. California

Since we are in the state of Texas, I will refer to the Texas Penal Code for the second part of the test. According to the state of Texas, something is considered obscene if there are “patently offensive representations or descriptions of ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including sexual intercourse, sodomy, and sexual bestiality;” or if there are “patently offensive representations or descriptions of masturbation, excretory functions, sadism, masochism, lewd exhibition of the genitals, the male or female genitals in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal, covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state or a device designed and marketed as useful primarily for stimulation of the human genital organs.” Pornography is, again, a material containing “the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimlate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” Pornography is obscene material because that is the point of porn, and thus porn fails the second part of the test.

The third part of the test is another one in which porn fails. Porn is meant to be viewed and enjoyed for erotic feelings and sexual gratification. It is not meant to be an expression of art or aesthetically pleasing. Let’s be honest; no one watches porn for the plot or the greater value it adds to their life, other than its potential necessity for sexual gratification. Porn doesn’t belong in an art museum because of its inherent value, and it isn’t being used in biology or anatomy classrooms to aid in education or scientific research. Porn doesn’t add serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value to anyone’s life, and thus it fails the third part of the test SCOTUS established in Miller v. California

And yet, the Supreme Court has refrained from considering porn obscenity. So perhaps an argument on the First Amendment is not the one to make for stricter regulations on porn. Instead, let’s think about the porn issue in terms of state police powers. Utah recently passed a bill requiring cellphones to have a built-in block on pornography in an effort to protect children from accidentally exposing themselves to porn. At the federal level, a similar bill was ruled unconstitutional. However, it might be within Utah’s state police powers to enact such a bill within the state. States are supposed to have more power than the federal government to enact laws and protect their citizens because states are better equipped to attend to state needs than the federal government. 

I would argue that it is within a state’s police powers to severely restrict access to pornography. The highest burden on the state in cases involving infringement on individual liberties is Strict Scrutiny, in which 1) there is a sufficiently important governmental interest and 2) there is no more infringement upon liberty than strictly necessary. 

The majority of this article has been spent discussing how bad porn and the porn industry is. The porn industry takes advantage of women and children and profits off exploiting them. Porn itself is damaging to relationships and to the people that watch it. Porn is easily accessible by children, oftentimes by accident. Because of these major problems porn causes, the state has a sufficiently important governmental interest in regulating porn and limiting access to it. 

Now, the best way to completely get rid of porn and the negative impact it has on our society is to completely ban it. But that won’t happen anytime soon, and something even worse would probably take its place if the federal government decided to ban porn completely. Besides, it would be impossible to simply ban porn, as the government has no business snooping into people’s private lives to make sure no one is watching any porn in the privacy of their own homes. But what the state can do is regulate the sale of porn and the websites which profit off it through sales or advertisements. The state can and should impose regulations making it far more difficult to produce porn, and it should impose regulations making it more difficult to access porn. Users should have to prove that they are over 18 before being able to access porn sites. Depending on the state and the citizens living there, it would be within the state’s power to create a law like Utah’s, which compels phones and other technology to have a built-in restriction to keep users from accessing porn sites. 

Some might say that a crackdown on the porn industry and viewers of porn is harsh and an infringement on individual liberties. But a crucial part of government is protecting its citizens. That’s why we have laws regulating the sale of alcohol and tobacco products, as well as something as commonplace as driving. It is within the powers of a state government to protect its citizens from the dangers porn and the porn industry present. States should protect citizens, and right now, citizens need protection from porn.

Sexting and Selfishness

Wellness Services of Trinity University raised eyebrows in the first week of the spring semester when students received the latest article from Student Health 101, the online campus wellness magazine, entitled: “Smarter Sexting: Thoughtful and respectful approaches to sexual messages.”

The article itself is nothing particularly groundbreaking. It rightfully warns of the risks of sending nude photos, advises to “leave something to the imagination” for more fun, and mentions a few crafty ways of responding to unsolicited sexual messages. The article also describes sexting as “a common way to flirt and express sexuality” and “a pleasurable part of a healthy sexual encounter.” At first glance, the article seems to be more or less a well-meaning attempt to caution students against the perils of sexting gone wrong.

It comes as no surprise that at a university which hosts a “Sex Week” (which in the past year involved a display table of sex toys in the student center), we discuss sexting as casually as the cafeteria menu. Within the last decade, American college campuses have come to embody a culture of toleration, where ideas of acceptance, inclusion and expression, including sexual expression, are boasted virtues alongside the quality of the academics. Sexuality, gender, and race have become the issues. If it is not at least mentioned, the trend of toleration culture can sometimes frame entire academic disciplines, from sociology to English to philosophy. And unsurprisingly, the constructivist, socially progressive worldview extends to the grave matter of sex—a lesson eagerly consumed by the impressionable on campus.

In an era of readily accessible technology and instant messaging, where Hollywood celebrities and Instagram models earn recognition through sexually suggestive photographs, where media enthusiastically glorifies the pleasures of casual sex, where casual sexual behavior is advocated by professionals as a “healthy form of self-expression,” it should not shock us to find that children are sending dirty messages to each other. And truly they are children—for most of Trinity’s freshman class, a nude photo taken less than a year ago would be considered child pornography under Texas law. These are girls and boys who have not yet grown into their bodies and who are not psychologically mature enough for a sexual encounter and all it entails. Many are driven by hormones and instinct, have no intimate understanding of their own fertility and biology, and have yet to learn what sex is as a meaningful expression of love. Yet the article treats sexting with the same gravity as a student’s exercise or sleeping habits, encouraging the young to view sexual encounters as a matter of personal preference for one’s pleasure rather than a serious physical, psychological, and moral decision, the impact of which is difficult to exaggerate. And most unfortunately, it will be young students, not the university, who will suffer as a result of such a casual public take on sexual ethics.

Selfish pleasure—not love—is at the core of sexting. The purpose of such an act is to derive arousal and excitement from the other, using them as means for one’s own gratification.

Both parties may consent in a sexting exchange, but mutuality and consent are not all that render a relationship healthy and nontoxic—prostitution can be a perfectly consensual and mutual act. In fact, sometimes a loving relationship requires respectful criticism and saying “no” at the right times. Love means willing the good of the other. Entertaining erotic fantasies over text messages and sending “sexy” selfies are hardly that. When we exchange these messages, we don’t begin to learn each other’s quirks, personalities, histories, or any of the traits that make up their personhood. Others simply become objects of pleasure.

Here is a better way to express it: sexting is sexuality expressed at the other rather than with them, and the difference is apparent in the medium of virtual text alone. When someone sends a sexual message, the recipient can postpone their reply or fail to reciprocate the message altogether. In a live, person-to-person interaction, every act and response is immediate, vulnerable and current, requiring both parties to be completely present for everything. The nature of the moment is fleeting and therefore precious; the act has respect for the regular movement of time, and no pictures are saved to be exploited later. (In such a case, these images are inevitably used for arousal and excitement when alone, selfishly disregarding the other from the interaction.) Such a real experience is intimidating but raw, with no ability to doctor one’s image with posing, lighting, or filters.

Here lies that other aspect of love which is void from sexting: a sexual expression founded in love pays less attention to visual appeal. Scars, stretch marks, cellulite, age, or physical deformities matter next to nothing to healthy sexual love, because the focus of the encounter is with the person rather than at their body. And while it is true that both sexting and healthy sexual expressions require a certain level of vulnerability, the people who send nudes and risque texts are not exposing themselves naked like a newborn babe to the mortifying experience of being known and therefore loved. Instead, they render themselves vulnerable in a fundamentally different way, like a hooker for her client—to be subjected to use.

This hardly touches upon the devastating consequences that come from such use and misuse. Beside the irreparable damage that can happen to one’s reputation if he or she trusts the wrong person, there are the subconscious teachings they absorb. Girls learn how to use the power of their bodies to please a man’s sexual appetites, then mistake that for being loved. Boys learn that viewing pornography and confronting women sexually is acceptable so long as she says she consents, regardless if either party is mentally prepared. In every case, a lewd sexual dynamic is misunderstood as necessary in a loving relationship—possibly becoming what a romantic relationship means. Sincere love is conflated with desire.

As these persons grow and mature, they learn better and more efficient ways to use one another to achieve the same “high,” falsely believing that such expressions are part of “identity” and “freedom of self-expression.” They use apps like Tinder and become serial monogamists (or sometimes date multiple people at once), flirt meaninglessly with a rotating circle of people, mistake gestures of kindness for sexual advances, and spend exorbitant amounts of time on the Internet with people they have never met in the flesh. There are clubs and crowded, sexually-charged parties filled with people dancing at one another, simulating sexual acts and advertising their body as the object of erotic fantasy.

Unsurprisingly, these habits will develop into porn addictions. More than that, they warp what it means to date a person—rather than investing in a person with hope for a future together, people become hobbies with sex as a number on their to-do list. Sex itself is no longer intimate, but routine. The goal? Certainly not concern for the other’s dignity, or helping one another to live good, healthy lives, but personal satisfaction at the other’s expense. Having so harmfully misused their sexuality for pleasure rather than love, the same people find themselves struggling to bond with their future spouse, tolerating borderline toxic or abusive behavior, or resorting to riskier, thrilling yet dangerous sexual acts to regain their sensation for what sexual excitement used to be. And when someone commits a far more heinous crime of use, an act of sexual assault, we wonder where they ever got the notion it was acceptable to use another human being.

It used to be that casual sexual behavior like sexting was embarrassing and shameful. It certainly was not always sponsored by universities as normal behavior or “healthy” expressions of self. But now such habits are not only discussed openly, but they are unabashedly celebrated. The article from Trinity’s Wellness Services is only a microcosm of the culture at large, where the subject of “self” has become an idol, consequently justifying a hedonist morality based primarily on pleasing the self. Like art, the measured value of sex is no longer rooted in its true loveliness, but instead what it relatively means as self-expression. It is not about creating something beautiful, but how it serves oneself personally. Persons commit sacrilege with their bodies, the good and beauty of sex becomes void of its original sacredness, and selfishness becomes virtue. One can only hope that the young will see through such a lie before all dignity, respect, and love is lost completely.

We Wanted to be Surprised by #MeToo

This article was co-written by Luke Ayers

When the stories of sexual assault, harassment, and general impropriety began to surface, often with #MeToo, neither of us were particularly surprised. We really, really wanted to be. We wanted to be shocked that figures representing films and television series we enjoyed could be guilty of such horrendous offenses, but we weren’t, not in the slightest.

It’s difficult to be surprised about #MeToo when we are living in a culture which does not encourage a respect for human dignity in sexuality. A culture which is saturated with things such as pornography and casual sex, diminishing the value of intimate relationships. This has led to people, especially men in positions of power, believing that they have the right to sexually take advantage of women without repercussions. If we don’t expect people to stand for human dignity in public, why should we expect them to do so in private?

By this point, if you’re someone who consumes pornography or has casual sexual relationships, or at least don’t think there’s anything wrong with these, you’re probably getting a little peeved (at the very least) and thinking we’re a couple of prudes who need to get our minds out of the 1300’s. While you aren’t entirely wrong on our preferred century, the problems with the attitudes that accompany a flippant use of pornography or consistent participation in casual sex are well documented. The harmful effects of pornography in particular are well documented by psychologists and behavioural scientists.

In case you’re doubting the truthfulness of this claim, we’ve selected just three of the worst effects that pornography has been shown to have. There are many, many more to be found.

1. Even non-violent porn makes men more likely to use violence, drugs, and alcohol to coerce women into having sex with them.

2. Porn is addictive in the same way that drugs are, because of the release of dopamine in the brain, sending users on a destructive path towards more and more dehumanizing porn to satisfy their addiction.

3. Porn contributes heavily to the sex trafficking business, with even many of the women who do consent often being coerced into doing things they don’t feel comfortable doing.*

These numbers do not represent fringe research. In light of this growing body of research, four states (Utah, South Dakota, Arkansas and Tennessee) have declared pornography a public health crisis, and Florida has similar legislation introduced at the moment. Virginia has passed a resolution recognizing porn as having harmful effects. Similar efforts are being discussed in Texas and other states.

The second attitude that contributes to the acceptability of sexual offenses like those highlighted by #MeToo is the prevalence of hookup culture and an assumption that sex can or should be casual. Admittedly, some of our issues with extramarital sex are religious in nature, and to hide that would be disingenuous. However, even allowing for sex outside the context of marriage, the fact remains that hookup culture approaches a person as a mere means to an end. It degrades a human person to simply a tool that provides sexual pleasure. While these fleeting relationships do have the important aspect of consent, no amount of consent to an activity can change the attitude with which one or both parties approach it.

There is a whole host of issues that come with our generation’s hookup culture, in which 80% of today’s college students take part. According to the Kinsey Institute, having a high amount of previous sexual partners is one of the top five factors leading to infidelity in adults. It also increases your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, which is one of the reasons that 23% of American adults have some form of HPV. Consequences of having casual sex spill out into your emotional life as well—as a study from Durham University shows that 80% of men had overall positive feelings the morning after a one night stand, while only 54% of women felt satisfied.

By participating in this culture, young men and women open themselves up to brokenness and falling away from the original purpose of sex. “Lust and sin increase the rupture between body and spirit. When we use our own and others bodies as objects for pleasure or to fill the emptiness inside us, there is an increased break,” says Katrina Zero, who is the coordinator of the John Paul II Resource Center for Theology of the Body and Culture.

It is for this reason that hookup culture has frankly eroded the morals of our generation. It has created an environment in which one night stands are not only viewed as normal but also as healthy, as was shown in a popular article from babe.net, an up and coming young women’s lifestyle site. The same site that, ironically, that posted the non-sexual assault story about Aziz Ansari. It is true cognitive dissonance that a publication can discuss the negative consequences of a poorly thought out hookup, while at the same time lauding casual sex as a necessary and positive thing for women.

Rape and other violations of a person’s bodily autonomy ultimately originate because the perpetrator does not truly believe in the dignity of the person they are attacking. This is not to say that everyone who uses porn or has casual sex will be a rapist—neither logic nor the statistics supports this. However, the prevalence of these two things, among our age group and in society as a whole, certainly do not help decrease the number of these violations. Moreover, the statistics surrounding the higher propensity towards a lack of concern for consent among men who use porn, and the commodification of the human person that occurs with pornography and hookups make it clear how someone could go down the road to justifying more and more egregious offenses against the individual.

Offenses against the dignity of one person are offenses against the dignity of all—we should all take issue with the way that women and men are portrayed as mere vehicles of sexual pleasure, if we wish to truly be a society that cares about the rights of each person. One of our country’s founding values is individual liberty, which means that respecting the basic human decency of our fellow man is paramount to who we are as Americans. This must extend to our culture in regards to casual sex and pornography, as these are the things that are holding us back from eradicating the problems of sexual abuse and harassment in the times of #MeToo.

*Sources for Pornography Statistics:

  • Boeringer, S. B. (1994). Pornography and Sexual Aggression: Associations of Violent and Nonviolent Depictions with Rape and Rape Proclivity. Deviant Behavior 15, 3: 289–304
  • Check, J. and Guloien, T. (1989). The Effects of Repeated Exposure to Sexually Violent Pornography, Nonviolent Dehumanizing Pornography, and Erotica. In D. Zillmann and J. Bryant (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (pp. 159–84). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  • Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., and Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting the Relationship in Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression and Behavior 36, 1: 14–20
  • Berridge, K. C., & Robinson, T. E. (2016). Liking, Wanting, And The Incentive-Sensitization Theory Of Addiction. American Psychologist, 71(8), 670-679. Doi:10.1037/Amp0000059; Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered In The Context Of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 20767. Doi:10.3402/Snp.V3i0.20767; Pitchers, K. K., Et Al. (2013). Natural And Drug Rewards Act On Common Neural Plasticity Mechanisms With DeltaFosB As A Key Mediator. Journal Of Neuroscience, 33(8) 3434-3442. Doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4881-12.2013; Salamone, J. D., & Correa, M. (2012). The Mysterious Motivational Functions Of Mesolimbic Dopamine. Neuron, 76, 470-485. Doi:10.1016/J.Neuron.2012.10.021
  • Peters, R. W., Lederer, L. J., and Kelly, S. (2012). The Slave and the Porn Star: Sexual Trafficking and Pornography. In M. Mattar and J. Braunmiller (Eds.) Journal of Human Rights and Civil Society 5: 1-21.
  • U.S. Department of Justice. (2012). Two Men Sentenced to Multiple Life Sentences for Enticing Women to South Florida to Engage in Commercial Sex Acts and Distributing Date Rape Pills. Press Release, Feb. 17.