Mona Charen
What do you suppose are the chances that the Secret Service agents who embarrassed themselves, possibly endangered the life of the president of the United States, and very likely damaged their marriages and the lives of their children by engaging prostitutes in Cartagena, were consumers of pornography?

I'd guess 100 percent. Not that watching porn completely accounts for the behavior. But pornography undermines sexual restraint. It offers a distorted image of what "everybody" is doing, and it grants permission for indulging every conceivable urge. Porn is mainstream now, offered in nearly every hotel room and ubiquitous on the Internet. The stigma that once attached to porn is gone. You can take college courses in it. Is it surprising that its corrupting influence is felt everywhere?

As Pamela Paul documented in Pornified, "Men look at pornography online more than they look at any other subject. And 66 percent of 18- to 34-year-old men visit a pornographic site every month."

Mary Eberstadt, who has a flair for juxtaposition, offers a brilliant comparison of American attitudes toward tobacco and pornography in her new book "Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution."

She asks us to imagine two women, one a 30-year-old 1958 housewife named Betty and the other her 30-year-old granddaughter Jennifer today. "Betty would never dream of putting even a few minutes of Internet pornography as we now know it before her eyes. She would feel degraded, polluted, even sick. ... She thinks that pornography is morally wrong and that the people who create it are borderline evil."

Jennifer, by contrast, "may not greet pornography with quite the gusto that her boyfriend does. But she has no such passionate feelings about it as Betty would, let alone any . . . impulse to make a sweeping moral claim about it. On the other hand, Jennifer would never dream of putting a cigarette into her mouth. She would feel degraded, polluted, even sick. She thinks that tobacco is morally wrong and that the people who create it are borderline evil."

With hindsight, we know that smoking causes a variety of ills. But with regard to porn, Eberstadt proposes, we are in the 1950s or early 1960s moment -- the industry denies that its product causes harm or is addictive and for a variety of reasons, we accept that evasion.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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