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Dr. Helen: Is Control over Porn Really about Control over Men’s Sexuality?

Does porn distort men's attitudes as much as romance novels and Lifetime TV distort women's?

by
Helen Smith

Bio

April 2, 2010 - 12:10 am

National Review Online recently ran an article entitled “Getting Serious About Pornography” with the following warning: “It is ravaging American families.” The author is “a psychologist who lives with her children in Virginia.” She wrote the piece anonymously. Anonymous states:

Imagine a drug so powerful it can destroy a family simply by distorting a man’s perception of his wife. Picture an addiction so lethal it has the potential to render an entire generation incapable of forming lasting marriages and so widespread that it produces more annual revenue — $97 billion worldwide in 2006 — than all of the leading technology companies combined. Consider a narcotic so insidious that it evades serious scientific study and legislative action for decades, thriving instead under the ever-expanding banner of the First Amendment.

“Hmmm,” I thought, “is the First Amendment really ever-expanding?” I don’t think so; it seems to be ever-shrinking, but that’s a topic for another article. My main problem with this piece is the insinuation that porn is to blame for an entire generation not being able to form lasting marriages and that it is damaging families and leading to rape and every other kind of ill in society.

The author of the article thinks that she lost her husband due to “porn” (he ran off with another woman). She mentions a number of reports that point to porn’s “harmful effects,” such as one released by the Witherspoon Institute. ”The Social Costs of Pornography” claims that pornography has negative effects on individuals and society. The ominous video on the report’s website, however, makes me wonder what its real motive is. Perhaps it’s controlling the sexuality of males?

Perhaps when Anonymous was writing this article, she should have taken a look at both sides of the porn issue. Had she been less emotionally distraught, she might have seen this study that found “all men watch porn” and that porn did not change the men’s perception of women or their relationships:

The study found that men watched pornography that matched their own image of sexuality, and quickly discarded material they found offensive or distasteful.

Prof Lajeunesse said pornography did not have a negative effect on men’s sexuality.

“Not one subject had a pathological sexuality,” he said. “In fact, all of their sexual practices were quite conventional.

“Pornography hasn’t changed their perception of women or their relationship, which they all want to be as harmonious and fulfilling as possible,” he added.

And although Anonymous suggests that porn viewership leads to rape, rape rates are plummeting even as porn becomes more pervasive.

I am very sorry that Anonymous’s marriage did not work out. However, while blaming porn for every social ill and for her marriage dissolving may make her feel better, crusading for laws to make other men pay for this failure will not lead to better marriages. It will lead to even more men going underground to view porn — and feeling resentful while they do.

I think there are many reasons that marriages are not working out, but porn seems to be the least of the problems. And I wonder — does porn distort men’s attitudes as much as romance novels and Lifetime TV distort women’s? Maybe we should discuss the many social institutions that are giving women unrealistic expectations of men and a sense that they have the right to control men, and men’s sexuality, in their own interest.

What do you think?

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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