Sexytime: Pamela Anderson Says Porn Is A ‘Public Hazard’
Rich Cromwell and Mollie Hemingway
By

Anthony Weiner was back in the news this week. He continues to send sexual pictures and texts to women he’s not married to and, in the latest batch to be recovered, he did it while his young son lay next to him.

Using the Weiner news as a hook, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Pamela Anderson published an op-ed with the Wall Street Journal headlined: “Take the Pledge: No More Indulging Porn.”

From our respective positions of rabbi-counselor and former Playboy model and actress, we have often warned about pornography’s corrosive effects on a man’s soul and on his ability to function as husband and, by extension, as father. This is a public hazard of unprecedented seriousness given how freely available, anonymously accessible and easily disseminated pornography is nowadays.

MOLLIE: The media reaction to this op-ed was swift and fierce. The Daily Beast called it “retrograde” and “bizarre” and based in “hysteria.” New York Magazine said it was “silly” and “half-baked.” Reason found it “overwrought.”

As you might expect from a quickly drafted piece by a celebrity rabbi and a former Playboy model, there were serious problems with it. But much of the nit-picking was itself overwrought. The authors above took issue with Boteach and Anderson’s description of sexting as pornography. Pornography is defined as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.” There are many varieties of pornography, including child porn, sexting, and foot fetish erotica — but they are all porn.

More than that, though, the defensive reaction was yet another example of media inability to acknowledge any downside to porn. The Daily Beast writer tried to say that problems with porn are nothing more than a figment of religious imagination. Reason quoted a vague claim over at the Washington Post about sexting being “considered by many to be a safe form of sexual expression.” And the New York Magazine piece made light of people who had tried to stop using porn and yet were unable to.

Critics of Boteach and Anderson say that the science on problems caused by porn is unsettled. That’s absolutely true — part of that is simply that academics studying the issue are unable to find men who haven’t been affected by porn to use as a control group. This popular Tedx video on some of the research about the effect of porn on the brain is pretty interesting:

Setting aside larger ethics questions about the use of porn, porn is absolutely a problem for many people and there’s no reason to pretend otherwise. And contrary to what overly defensive journalists might say, you don’t have to be religious to recognize that use of porn can leave you unfocused, unmotivated, or unable to form or maintain a physical relationship with a woman.

For some people, masturbation affects career, parenting responsibilities, spousal responsibilities, general happiness, and psychological help. It’s definitely not helping many of these people have actual sex or healthy relationships. They usually suffer in secret. Terry Crews — the actor from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Idiocracy” — put out a video series on Facebook about his “dirty little secret.” He said that the shame of his porn addiction kept him quiet about it but when his wife couldn’t take it anymore, he went to rehab to get help. The video has been watched by more than 4,000,000 people.

Boteach and Anderson wrote:

The march of technology is irreversible and we aren’t so naive as to believe that any kind of imposed regulation could ever reseal the Pandora’s box of pornography. What is required is an honest dialogue about what we are witnessing—the true nature and danger of porn—and an honor code to tamp it down in the collective interests of our well-being as individuals, as families and as communities.

One of the more interesting Reddit communities is called NoFap. It has nearly 200,000 users (“Fapstronauts”) who abstain from porn and masturbation and help each other do the same. It’s rather obviously not full of religious people — the man who started the group says it’s 60 percent irreligious — and is simply for people who say that porn has become a problem in their life. Masturbation addicts post questions and others answer. It’s somehow both tough and non-judgmental and a really inspiring effort. You can read more about it here.

The people in the community report the joy they feel as they find real-life women attractive again for the first time in years, or how they are able to focus on projects to completion. Again, this is just one corner of the Internet where people are beginning to deal with the problems caused by porn and masturbation.

There’s a lot of language thrown around about porn addiction in the op-ed and elsewhere. And people get hung up on debating whether people do or don’t have actual addictions to porn. At the very least we can all acknowledge that some people make habits out of activities that are not necessarily healthy. You might be one of those people. You might not be. But kudos to Boteach and Anderson for suggesting that people simply be honest about how destructive porn is for some people.

RICH: Even if you’re a supporter of the genre it must be admitted that porn is junk food. It doesn’t nourish us in any meaningful way, but it instead temporarily sates a base yearning. Moreover, even as it sates it, it can make us even hungrier, and not for something more elegant. Rather, it tends to make us crave raunchier and raunchier junk food.

If only it were actually the problem. Whether discussing Weiner or the countless men who retreat to their computers rather than daring to say hello to a woman and see where that leads, we must examine whether the salacious images traveling across the wires are the problem or whether the problem is actually us.

See, we were once able to interact, as humans and in person, and enjoy actual relationships because we saw ourselves as worthy of one another. Ease of access, it seems, became the bigger issue, the one that’s keeping too many focused on masturbation rather than on a meaningful relationship with a person located at least near one’s area code. Why bother when you can just stay home and achieve a reasonable facsimile of your goals?

Boteach and Anderson address this in their piece. “This is a public hazard of unprecedented seriousness given how freely available, anonymously accessible and easily disseminated pornography is nowadays.”

Not so fast, though. Because porn, even if it is junk food, isn’t the problem. Availability and anonymous accessibility weren’t exactly markets that went in search of customers, but rather a response to demand. That is a trickier issue since the problem, you see, is us and those of us who choose, daily, to gorge ourselves on the dollar menu rather than seeking out something more satisfying.

It’s not a huge number, particularly when discussing those who cannot stay away from the drive-thru. The Wall Street Journal piece shows us that only 9 percent of porn consumers had tried to stop but were unable to. Insofar as crises go, 9 percent isn’t nothing, but that small number suggest the problem isn’t the medium with which people are satisfying their appetites. Rather, it’s the attitude that all that matters are the caricatures of people that come through the screen and orgasms.

Whether or not you like to watch a porn, those stats suggest that little bit of junk food is fine in moderation. It isn’t something that’s going to become an all-consuming activity that leads us away from the flesh-and-blood people in our real lives, just as perfectly coiffed and made-up celebrities of the non-adult variety don’t lead us to abandoning the flesh-and-blood people in our lives.

Nevertheless, when sex becomes purely about sex, those befuddled by addiction, perversity, decadence, ennui, generalized power mania disorder, or any and all of the above, show us how the ability to digitally guzzle it changes our relationships with one another, and with ourselves. In coupling that easy access with other less-illuminating aspects of modernity, darkness arises.

The rabbi and the former Playboy bunny (a feature and not a bug, as she can speak to the subject with some authority) do offer one plausible solution, one that doesn’t relegate sex to a hidden, dirty place, but rather embraces it.

“The sensual revolution would replace pornography with eroticism—the alloying of sex with love, of physicality with personality, of the body’s mechanics with imagination, of orgasmic release with binding relationships. In an age where public disapproval is no longer an obstacle to personal disgrace, we must turn instead to the appeal of self-interest.”

Who knows if it will work, but given the headlines of the week, it’s worth a shot. After all, it’s in the shadows that we store the images and messages that destroy lives.

Rich Cromwell is a senior contributor to The Federalist, where Mollie Hemingway is a senior editor.
Photo By PinkMoose/Flickr, cropped.

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