Predictably, the Kansas Senate has been ridiculed for its recent resolution proclaiming porn a public health hazard. “Kansas Uses Fake Science” said a Huffington Post headline, to suggest that pornography “promotes violence against women and sexually deviant children, among other societal harms.” Ha, how crazy is that?
Not very. There’s nothing sex-positive about porn, which does glorify violence against women. And as for “deviant children,” let’s hear from some of the kids in the not-fake and not-prim recent New York Times Magazine piece on “What Teenagers Are Learning from Online Porn.” (Spoiler alert: It’s distorting their ideas about sex, relationships and women in ways that no parent and no feminist, male or female, could possibly find healthy.)
One high school student, a boy whose nickname is Drew, relayed to the author of the piece that “From porn, he learned that guys need to be buff and dominant in bed, doing things like flipping girls over on their stomach during sex. Girls moan a lot and are turned on by pretty much everything a confident guy does. One particular porn scene stuck with him: A woman was bored by a man who approached sex gently but became ecstatic with a far more aggressive guy.”
Another kid said he’d gleaned from porn that “I would just do it” — anal sex, that is — without asking. “He assumed that girls like it, because the women in porn do.” In short, pornography and the #MeToo movement are seriously at odds.
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An outright ban would not pass constitutional muster, and First Amendment protections apply to the most poisonous speech, which this is. But the Kansas Senate measure is not a ban.
And we need to at least examine the kind of commercial regulation that we use to limit tobacco and alcohol use, and that at least reduces consumption by kids.
That’s what the conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat proposes in his provocatively headlined, “Let’s ban porn.”
“In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine,” it begins, “there is a long profile of a new kind of pedagogy unique to our particular stage of civilization. It’s called ‘porn literacy,’ and it involves explaining to young people whose sexual coming-of-age is being mediated by watching online gangbangs that actually hard-core pornography is not an appropriate guide to how the sexes should relate.”
He notes we’re in the middle of “a great sexual reassessment, a clearing-out of assumptions that serve misogyny and impose bad sex on semi-willing women. And such a reassessment will be incomplete if it never reconsiders our surrender to the idea that many teenagers, most young men especially, will get their sex education from online smut.”
Yes, the Kansas resolution does go too far in the straight causal lines it draws between porn and more child abuse, or porn and less “desire in young men and women to marry.” But if you don’t think its consumption, as the resolution says, “perpetuates a sexually toxic environment” or “often serves as a child’s and a teen’s sex education and shapes their sexual understanding” or “treats women and children as objects,” then perhaps you’re purer of such exposure than Kansas lawmakers. But you’re also wrong.