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Naomi Wolf is at it again

What do I mean by at it? Oh… well… blowing a lot of hot air in service of a myth, presumably to create hype around her brand. Last time it was The End of America comparing the modern United States to Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Germany based on ten, arbitrarily defined “steps”. Even the loony liberals at Rotten Tomatoes couldn’t rate it more than a 6/10. Today, it’s Is Pornography Driving Men Crazy.

Let’s start with her argument, basically captured by this paragraph:

There is an increasing body of scientific evidence to support this idea. Six years ago, I wrote an essay called “The Porn Myth,” which pointed out that therapists and sexual counselors were anecdotally connecting the rise in pornography consumption among young men with an increase in impotence and premature ejaculation among the same population. These were healthy young men who had no organic or psychological pathology that would disrupt normal sexual function.

Okay, so, as a member of modern society, I presume Naomi has access to a tool near and dear to all of us, Google. And, after reading her claim to “evidence”, I can’t believe she spent more than a few minutes selectively searching for proof (based on my prior that she possesses a slightly above-average level of intelligence and Googling skills). I say “claim” because there isn’t a single link to the papers to which she refers, absurd for a Project Syndicate link. Indeed, her argument hides behind the veracity of said “researchers”.

So, I spent two minutes Googling terms like “porn cause no harm”, “porn good”, “porn research evidence” – testimony to my value as a groundbreaking researcher and found real evidence to this effect:

  • The New Scientist: Porn: Good for us? As would be expected of such a publication, this article is peppered with high-quality references, links, limitations, questions and, most importantly, doubt – a characteristic Naomi ignores with gay abandon…
  • In terms of the use of pornography by sex offenders, the police sometimes suggest that a high percentage of sex offenders are found to have used pornography. This is meaningless, since most men have at some time used pornography. Looking closer, Michael Goldstein and Harold Kant found that rapists were more likely than nonrapists in the prison population to have been punished for looking at pornography while a youngster, while other research has shown that incarcerated nonrapists had seen more pornography, and seen it at an earlier age, than rapists. What does correlate highly with sex offense is a strict, repressive religious upbringing. Richard Green too has reported that both rapists and child molesters use less pornography than a control group of “normal” males.

Okay, okay, I’ll stop – you get my point! I can use Google to my will to derive basically any result I want (which is basically all she did, there’s no new insight – positive or normative – in her piece). Unlike Naomi, however, I’ve taken the time to link my sources and, now, will take the time to express quite a bit of doubt regarding the message of the above studies. Indeed, I fully appreciate the suspicion of degrading pornography in the age of technology where rough sex is available at the click of my button. I’ve been far more aggressive about regulating aspects of pornography than many other liberals would be, and I do believe that traditional institutions of sex and marriage are probably for the better. No, I don’t think pornography “desensitizes men” and causes rape. But hey, don’t I live in Communist Russia, or something?

Overwhelming evidence not only from scientists, but also sociologists, feminists, and investigative journalists seems to vindicate this belief.

Even assuming everything Naomi says is true, her logic is… well… non-existent. Here’s how she starts:

It is hard to ignore how many highly visible men in recent years (indeed, months) have behaved in sexually self-destructive ways. Some powerful men have long been sexually voracious; unlike today, though, they were far more discreet and generally used much better judgment in order to cover their tracks […] so many of the men caught up in sex-tinged scandals of late have exposed themselves – sometimes literally – through their own willing embrace of text messages, Twitter, and other indiscreet media.

What is driving this weirdly disinhibited decision-making? Could the widespread availability and consumption of pornography in recent years actually be rewiring the male brain, affecting men’s judgment about sex and causing them to have more difficulty controlling their impulses?

Okay, so basically, Naomi is blames Anthony Weiner boxer’s on porn. Somehow, the degrading, sexual effects of pornography are manifest in the benign, if irresponsibly communicated, sexual practices of powerful men. Huh? Is she saying that irresponsible “sexting” is a phenomenon not from the preponderance of modern technology but the evil, dark, con of Man?

Has she even read the love letters between famous lovers in the pre-Internet era? The beautiful erotica that lines ancient Indian caves? The Kama Sutra which is probably far more “rough” than Naomi might expect… (warning: it has biting)

Her conclusion is a little more palatable, though not insightful:

This is not to say that they are not responsible for their behavior. But I would argue that it is a different kind of responsibility: the responsibility to understand the powerfully addictive potential of pornography use, and to seek counseling and medication if the addiction starts to affect one’s spouse, family, professional life, or judgment.

By now, there is an effective and detailed model for weaning porn-addicted men and restoring them to a more balanced mental state, one less at the mercy of their compulsions. Understanding how pornography affects the brain and wreaks havoc on male virility permits people to make better-informed choices – rather than engage in pointless self-loathing or reactive collective judgments – in a world that has become more and more addictively hardcore.

Marital sex therapy is already a huge industry, formally, in the West. And, I would venture, it’s a pretty big informal process among friends elsewhere. The titular claim ascribes a certain causality to pornography that is entirely irrelevant from her conclusion. That pornography is “powerfully addictive” is yet to be proven. That modern sexual practices are a result thereof, even more so.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, I believe there is a lot of room for improvement in how we deal with the porn industry. That much of it is available free just seems blatantly unfair to the actresses porn stars. That only by referendum in 2013 were condoms required, too. Porn is an industry that is often-cited to be a “quick escape” for young girls in debt. Selling yourself should be a choice, not a necessity from poverty.

This is an argument for stronger social insurance and a more evolved attitude towards marginalized members of society. However, just as she did for The End of America, Naomi has shifted the sphere of debate from that which is actually important (Dick Cheney’s curtailment of civil liberties… marginalized, young, girls) to pure, senseless hype (America as Communist Russia… Weiner’s weiner on the World Wide Web a result of porn).

This does no justice to her compatriots who, too, want a better society without the evils of the Bush administration or exploited girls. But when our journalists derive all authority and profit from generating hype, what else can we expect?

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2 comments
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