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Stopping Big Porno Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Thursday, 18 March 2010

Last month, with little or no fanfare, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it may add sex and pornography addiction to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by psychiatrists to recognize disease and treat patients. This is welcome news to the exploding number of those who suffer from such maladies, but also for those looking for a legal strategy to bring down Big Pornography.

The DSM would define what it calls “hypersexual disorder” as recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior. The definition includes spending a great deal of time planning and engaging in sexual behavior, repetitively engaging in these sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors, attempting and failing to control the urges, and disregarding physical or emotional harm to self and others in seeking such gratification. Masturbation, use of pornography, cybersex, telephone sex, and going to strip clubs among other things fall into this category.

This whole subject was discussed at a press conference hosted this week by the Princeton University-based Witherspoon Institute, which also released a new, multi-disciplinary study – the result of an extensive professional consultation – on the individual, familial, and societal harm caused by pornography.

Mary Anne Layden, Ph.D., who runs the Sex Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania, told the press she “spends all day, every day talking to rapists, and rape victims, pedophiles, incest survivors, sex addicts, prostitutes, strippers, and pornography models, and I had a sudden realization that I hadn’t treated one case of sexual violence that didn’t involve pornography.” Layden says:

Sex and pornography addicts show symptoms to other addicts. They engage in behaviors that damage them. . .they develop tolerance so that they need more and harder kinds of material or behaviors and begin using and doing things that. . .previously disgusted them.

One hears this and flinches, at least for a moment: Are moral failings being medicalized yet again? In this case, no. Norman Doidge M.D. of Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training, and a participant in the Princeton consultation, argues that pornography changes the user’s brain: “Pornography, by offering an endless harem of sexual objects hyper-activates the appetitive system.” Pornography users develop new brain maps and these maps need sometimes uncontrollable urges to keep them active, something of which the user is not consciously aware.

The Witherspoon consultation, which took place a year ago, brought together scholars from economics, psychology, sociology, and law “to present a rigorously argued overview of pornography in today’s society.” The hope is that new scientific, medical, and social science data will encourage a wide ranging societal response to the deleterious effects of pornography use.

The Catholic Thing’s own Mary Eberstadt wrote the final report: “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations”. She says that the findings show “pornography is now available and consumed widely in our society” and that “no one is untouched by it.” Also, “There is abundant evidence that this pornography is qualitatively different from any that has gone before, in several ways; its ubiquity, the use of increasingly realistic streaming images, and the increasingly ‘hard-core’ character of what is consumed.” The findings also suggest “today’s consumption of pornography can harm people not immediately connected to consumers of pornography.”

What the authors suggest is there exists a strong case – and it grows even stronger – that pornography is a public health hazard and can be approached in ways similar to the fight against tobacco. As with tobacco, medical science can now show that pornography harms the user and, similarly, that there are second-hand victims. The expected ruling on the psychiatrists manual will offer lawyers a very potent new tool in going after the makers of pornography as well as the distributors, which include America’s biggest corporations, those with the deepest pockets.

The fact is that, unlike the fight against abortion, the law is very much on the side of the pornography fighters. Obscene material is illegal and not protected by the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court has upheld this determination. Distributing it can be prosecuted criminally and sometimes is.

What retards these efforts is the fear of municipalities that they could lose and, if they lose a criminal pornography fight, they can lose very big. The pornographers claim First Amendment protection, of course, and if a city loses a First Amendment case, it can be liable to pay sometimes enormous sums. This means writing big checks to smut merchants and the ACLU.

The good news is that Layden and other psychiatrists will likely come across real victims of pornography who, backed up by a medical diagnosis, will be able to go after the big businesses that make and distribute pornography and do so under civil, not criminal, law. This means no more First Amendment defenses. It also means that, rather than being a pure cash cow for companies like Verizon and Marriott, pornography could once more become an embarrassing social stigma and a huge drain on corporate bank accounts. Big Pornography could go the way of Big Tobacco. It may still stick around, but with two black eyes and greatly reduced.

 

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washinton, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.


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