Please respond:

I am a prevention education specialist for an agency that serves survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Oregon – I am writing because I am deeply concerned with your article/response to a reader of your article on men viewing pornography. My view is coming from a violence prevention standpoint, as well as a professional concerned with the practices and cultural influences of the porn industry and those who consume it.

As a person views pornography for sexual gratification, over time this shapes their desires and ability to become aroused in personal interactions with partners, as well as hinders a persons ability to climax unless they experience/fantasize in the moment about the pornographic material they watch regularly. Much like drug addiction, men who regularly watch porn continue to need “more” and increasingly intense/violent forms of pornography to experience the same satisfaction. Studies show regular watching of pornography also hinders men’s happiness and satisfaction in relationships, and prevents men’s ability to be connected to their partner.

Pornography is not focused on mutual relationships, respect, consent, etc., which are integral to healthy sexual relationships – it is focused on the degradation of women. It normalizes and sexualizes violence against women. It perpetuates unhealthy and dangerous attitudes about gender, including the belief that women are sexual objects to be used by men.

The porn industry and its consumption cause many other harms including the sexualization of children; inability of men to connect meaningfully within relationships; exploitation and abuse of those who are in the porn industry as “actors”; and causes unhealthy understandings and attitudes about sexuality, relationships, and gender roles.

There are numerous documentaries and studies that I recommend watching/reading that may be helpful in further explaining the harms of pornography on those who are exploited by it, as well as those who view it:

http://www.socialcostsofpornography.com/

http://thepriceofpleasure.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_Ytffu1WrI&feature=youtu.be

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125382361

Warning – some of these may contain graphic material.

There are also many others who have studied the ways in which watching porn change beliefs, attitudes, brain chemistry etc.

Responses

  • Michael Castleman says:

    You say “studies show” that porn causes so much harm, but you don’t cite any. Please cite research from the scientific literature, not breathless diatribes from spokespeople for the sex-panic industry.

    Here’s an article I wrote that explains my views about porn – Porn On The Internet: Is My Man A Porn Addict?

  • MGH says:

    I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me. I am also sorry to hear that you felt my response included “breathless diatribes from spokespeople for the sex-panic industry.” I included the NPR story for that purpose since it cites several studies; and especially http://www.socialcostsofpornography.com/ which includes many, many professors, professionals, and researchers speaking about the issue, as well as their writings and findings.
    I am a pro-healthy sexuality person – and while my views on pornography may be different than yours, it does not mean that my views are anti-sex or “sex-panic” induced. They come from years of experience, research and understanding through my educational and professional life here in the US as well as around the world in numerous other countries – this includes working with youth who have committed sexual offenses; educating individuals and groups about issues of oppression and the root causes of sexual violence and dating/domestic violence.
    I also wanted to assure you that I respectfully reviewed your writings before writing my own response to your site – I understand where you are coming from and can see your points. However, I feel that it is possibly missing some consideration of the larger context in which we live and learn and have relationships.
    For instance, my husband watching pornography doesn’t send me into a panic of insecurities or make me feel cheated on, though some people may experience that; I don’t want my husband, my son, or any other male watching pornography as it exists because simply put, it is dehumanizing, unhealthy, and promotes attitudes and cultural values that normalize, glamorize and endorse violence against women and children. The industry exploits hundreds and hundreds of men and women for profit. Buying pornography supports this exploitation and the misogynistic and violent values it promotes. It also damages men, who I care about deeply, and who deserve to have quality, equitable, and positive sexual and romantic relationships in their lives.
    I do not believe that telling men that they will experience better sex lives by watching pornography is helpful – and we human beings are much more complex than entities that can turn a switch on and off about what we see, feel and experience through pornography and then real life. Like other forms of media, we are deeply shaped by these influences – and since pornography exists in a world and cultural context that is still very much deep seated in rape culture, sexualized violence, and the dehumanization of men and women through restrictive and oppressive gender roles/expectations; I do not see how it can at all be a piece in healthy sexuality at this time.

    To read up on research which speaks to this I would recommend, again,

    http://www.socialcostsofpornography.com/

    which has a multitude of reputable sources including:

    Roger Scruton
    Institute for Psychological Sciences

    Hadley Arkes
    Amherst College

    Norman Doidge, M.D.
    Columbia University

    Jill C. Manning
    Licensed marriage and family
    therapist and author

    Ana Bridges
    University of Arkansas

    Pamela Paul
    Author and journalist

    Gerard V. Bradley,
    University of Notre Dame Law School

    James Stoner
    Louisiana State University

    K. Doran
    Notre Dame University

    Hamza Yusuf
    Zaytuna Institute

    Again, I am not anti-sex – nor am I into censorship, I am however deeply aware of the influences and root causes of violence in our society, including but not limited to, pornography. I wrote because I believe that having honest discussions about healthy sexuality are important in all stages of life – which it seems you obviously value as well, and I am really glad there are resources for people on this website. I also know that no matter how long we’ve been in the professional world, we all have room to grow, learn and understand deeper the things that contribute positively and negatively to us socially and individually. I hope that as you have asked me to have an open mind, you will be able to do the same – not only for yourself, but also for your loyal readers to whom you provide information and guidance to. Thank you.

  • Michael Castleman says:

    “Breathless diatribes” was a poor choice of words. I apologize. And I agree that some men’s compulsive porn viewing is a problem for them and their loved ones. But the folks on your side of this issue say that porn causes violence against women and destroys relationships. That’s demonstrably incorrect. The rise of ubiquitous Internet porn has not been accompanied by a rise in violence against women or destruction of relationships. In fact, the rate of sexual assault has declined since the mid-1990s, Same for teen pregnancies. Same for divorces. Do battering men who beat up women view porn? Sure, the vast majority of men view porn. But only a tiny fraction become batterers. The numbers show that porn is not associated with social harm. The main effect of porn is male masturbation, and I believe that men have a right to masturbate even if they’re coupled. I try to keep an open mind about all this, but we have very different perspectives. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. But I appreciate your participation in GSA40. Thank you.

  • MGH says:

    Thank you again for taking the time to respond again – I wanted to clarify a couple of things:

    I am glad that we can discuss these issues with one another even though we may have different view points.

    1. It has come up several times in your responses that somehow a problem with porn is connected to a problem with masturbation. I have absolutely no problem with masturbation – what ever gender you may be and whatever your relationship “status” may be. I do not see any issue in a husband masturbating, nor a wife. My issue is with the pornographic content – not personal sexual pleasure. There are many healthier ways to masturbate pleasurably that don’t include the use of pornography.

    2. I do not believe that pornography is the only piece to the complexity of sexual and domestic/dating violence. I do however see that deep connections between the culture it promotes (not one of equality and consent) and the ways in which rape culture exists. I agree with you that not all men who watch pornography rape and sexually violate women. I do however believe that we all play a part in either perpetuating rape culture or we work actively against it – I have yet to meet one man who is actively working against rape culture and misogyny who also watches porn on a regular basis (I am not talking about avid addicts here, just the general average user) on the basis on logic and argument, there could be men out there who fit this description – however I think anyone could agree that person would be by far in the minority of porn users.
    My point is that sexual violence and violence against women in general is a much larger issue than who actually rapes women (95% of the time rape is committed by men, coincidence? No, it is not.) It is about a overarching culture which supports the degradation of women and even children and promotes male dominance and unhealthy hyper-masculinity – it is the sexualization of violence against women and continued support for misogyny and sexism that pervades our society that continues to not only perpetuate the issue, but actually encourages it in many ways.

    On maybe at least a bit of that you can agree.

  • Michael Castleman says:

    You may be surprised, but I also have issues with the content of pornography. I suggest you read my article The Real Problem with Pornography: It’s Bad for Sex. Porn is fantasy, and as far as I’m concerned, fantasies are fine—as long as men don’t confuse them with reality.

    Now, what’s your solution to the problem you perceive? Ban porn? With 20 BILLION Web pages devoted to it and published all over the world, that’s clearly impossible. Demonize men for watching porn? That’s what folks who share your point of view have done and what has it accomplished? Nothing I can see. So what’s your program?

    You talk about the culture of sexual violence against women. Have you ever read any romance fiction? It’s the female counterpart of porn. In it, alpha males who usually have a strong tendency toward violence overwhelm innocent women who have a tendency toward submissiveness. See Fifty Shades of Gray, which is wildly popular among women. If porn is to blame for some of the culture of violence against women, shouldn’t we also blame romance fiction? Aren’t women who read it more likely to fall under the sway of violence-prone men? But you haven’t mentioned it. And if you dismiss the connection between romance fiction and porn, I urge you to read A Billion Wicked Thoughts by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, computer scientists who analyzed 1,000,000,000 Web searches to plumb the depths of both men’s and women’s erotic fantasies. They argue strongly that porn and romance fiction are two sides of the same erotic-fantasy coin.

    Like you, I abhor violence against women. I just think you’re blaming the wrong thing. Virtually every man in America has viewed porn, myself included. If porn causes violence against women, why am I not a batterer or rapist?

  • MGH says:

    I definitely agree with you that “romance novels” and others like the Twilight series teach extremely dangerous and unhealthy understandings of romance, love, sex, etc. No argument against that at all. The only reason why I did not mention it here (I do in my presentations with students) is because the conversation is centered around the porn industry, which generally speaking is directed toward and viewed by men.
    I also have no interest in shaming anyone – I do not think it is helpful, necessary, and it does not bring about positive, real and sustaining change. Like I said before – not all men who watch porn turn into maniac rapists violating every woman they meet – it is however possible that the well meaning, loving and great men are also playing a part in perpetuating rape culture; whether they intend to or not. Sexist jokes; ascribing to and encouraging strict and traditional gender roles; participating in victim blaming – all of which are also perpetrated by women, don’t get me wrong. Beyond that – viewing and/or paying for porn plays a part in the industry that exploits and violates so many people… that alone would hopefully cause someone to at least think twice before watching porn. At least one would hope…
    I did read your article before I wrote to you the first time – I just do not agree that it is so easy for us as complex beings to be able to compartmentalize as well and easily as you are asking men to do… Plus the fact that sexual violence and domestic violence are extremely complicated and doesn’t just have to do with “physical” violence we may see shown in the media/what’s usually talked about. It’s a complex cycle of power, control and numerous kinds of abuse tactics.
    I feel there are many more healthy and non-degrading ways for men and women to fantasize, enjoy sex, enjoy masturbation, etc. without the use of pornography.

  • Michael Castleman says:

    I think the nub of our difference of opinion is that I believe in total freedom of fantasy. If women want to fantasize about being carried off by Prince Charming on a white steed, that’s fine with me, even though in the real world, that’s kidnap and rape. If men want to fantasize about sex with any number of women in cars, boats, planes, whatever, that’s also fine with me, even though only a tiny fraction of men do this. To me fantasy is an safety valve, a way to play with situations you wouldn’t want to play out in real life. I believe in complete freedom of fantasy. In fantasy, everything is permitted and nothing is wrong—as long as you can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Apparently you do not believe in freedom of fantasy. Apparently you believe in “thought crimes” a la Orwell’s 1984. So when you have a fantasy you disapprove of, what do you do?

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