In an op-ed today at the Wall Street Journal, Pamela Anderson and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach decry what they describe as pornography’s “corrosive effects” on a “man’s soul,” and, as a result, porn’s negative impact on fatherhood and the institution of the family. The two are friends, apparently.
Using Anthony Weiner’s most recent sexting scandal as the point of departure, Anderson and Boteach rehash familiar arguments about the immeasurable devastation that porn will inevitably wreak on culture and society. Weiner, they argue, typifies a certain kind of successful American man: one so deeply unfilled that he is willing to self-destruct over a few cheap thrills. They are particularly concerned with the easy availability of porn on the internet which, they speculate, was the source of Weiner’s behavior, though pornography and sexting seem like two very different genres.
In a series of ostensibly rhetorical questions, Anderson and Boteach ask:
How many families will suffer? How many marriages will implode? How many talented men will scrap their most important relationships and careers for a brief onanistic thrill? How many children will propel, warp-speed, into the dark side of adult sexuality by forced exposure to their fathers’ profanations?
How many, indeed.
They continue with some misleading statistics as evidence that big pornography is coming for your children, your marriage, and your clarity of mind:
The statistics already available are terrifying. According to the data by the American Psychological Association, porn consumption rates are between 50% and 99% among men and 30% to 86% among women, with the former group often reporting less satisfactory intimate lives with their wives or girlfriends as a result of the consumption. By contrast, many female fans of pornography tend to prefer a less explicit variety, and report that it improves their sexual relationships.
Nine percent of porn users said they had tried unsuccessfully to stop—an indication of addiction that is all the more startling when you consider that the dependency rate among people who try marijuana is the same—9%—and not much higher among those who try cocaine (15%), according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Implicit in Anderson and Boteach’s argument here, is that porn addiction is both measurable and treatable. In the op-ed, they draw a parallel between drug addiction and porn addiction, they even conjure up the ghosts of the phrase “crack babies.” The statistics from the American Psychological Association are correct, but the odd couple of moral crusaders leave out an important caveat in their discussion: pornography addiction, that specter haunting men, is not is a recognized disorder and is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
The research on so-called porn addiction is contradictory and experts disagree about what precisely constitutes pornography addiction or if it even exists. Anderson and Boteach conveniently sidestep a research that shows no corollary between chemical addiction and behavioral addictions. In other words, porn addiction is still controversial in the field, as is hypersexual disorder. That’s in part because definitions of addiction rely on establishing a norm and pornography is still bound to the kind of moral concerns laid out by Anderson and Boteach. What’s normal, then, is still determined more by culture and less by observable guidelines. By Anderson and Boteach’s account, the only “normal” consumption of porn is none at all.
What’s clear, however, is that the language of porn addiction, particularly the one employed here by Anderson and Boteach, is quite literally a puritanical one, drawn from groups like Focus on the Family. It’s literature that’s particularly aimed at men and written with the understanding that men’s innate vulnerabilities make them susceptible to porn. There’s a reliance here on a host of old stereotypes: that women aren’t sexual, that fathers are the moral linchpin of the family, and that the family relies on the appropriate expression of sex according to gender roles. Anderson and Boteach call for a “sensual revolution” in which “orgasmic release” is done within “binding relationships.” Porn, in this framing, has no room apparently in long-term relationships or marriage
They conclude, “porn is for losers,” and reiterate that “healthy sexuality,” and porn consumption are inherently at odds.