Are there social costs to pornography?
Libertarians rush to avoid the question by preemptively declaring that the law should not regulate pornography. OK, let's take the question of outlawing porn off the table and ask again: Does porn hurt people?
The Witherspoon Institute recently gathered a groundbreaking conference of social scientists, psychiatrists, philosophers, neuroscientists and legal scholars to discuss that question, and the results have been released in a new book, "The Social Costs of Pornography" (available at socialcostsofpornography.org).
Professor Mary Anne Layden, director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania, submitted a paper for this conference reviewing the scientific evidence on porn use and sexual violence. The vast majority of men who use porn are not sex offenders. Yet, men viewing sexually violent porn are more likely to say that a "rape victim suffered less and that she enjoyed it, and that women in general enjoy rape. ... Those reporting higher exposure to violent pornography are six times more likely to report having raped than those reporting low exposure," writes Layden. Ordinary men after viewing violent porn, urged sentences for rapists only half those of men shown other kinds of images.
Layden further states: "The large body of research on pornography reveals that it functions as a teacher of, a permission-giver for, and a trigger of many negative behaviors and attitudes that can severely damage not only the users but many others, including strangers."
But to me the most important potential cost of porn is its effects on ordinary men and their ordinary relationships. According to Layden: "Exposure to pornography leads men to rate their female partners as less attractive than they would have had they not been exposed and to be less satisfied with their partners' attractiveness, sexual performance, and level of affection, and expressed a greater desire for sex without emotional involvement."
She concludes: "For males, more pornography use was associated with greater acceptance of sex outside of marriage for married individuals, greater acceptance of sex before marriage and less child-centeredness during marriage. The reduced desire for children is especially pronounced in a reduced desire for female children."
Over at National Review, one young man testified: "As a 20-year-old male college student, I am familiar with, first, the very high use of Internet pornography within my demographic (even on fairly conservative campuses), and, second, porn's powerful effects after even light exposure." One husband added: "Since I gave up porn my sex life with my wife has improved greatly. ... To make a long story short, I found myself working harder to woo my wife, and the result is we've been together more, and the times have been better, than (in) quite some time. I think she feels more loved, and that is what has translated into more physical loving. I wonder why I was never told this before. I've read a great deal about the harms of porn, but little about the benefits of giving it up."
Porn disconnects the reward system of the male sex drive from the drive to master reality. Porn is nowhere near as satisfying as a real relationship with a woman, but it is a lot easier and much less fraught with the possibility of failure or humiliation. Porn use thus is an aid to sexual failure in men, and a contributor to our ongoing failure to create a culture that connects men and women, parents and children, sex and love.