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February 12, 2018

NYT Columnist Calls for Ban on Porn, Reason.org Pushes Back

CYBERSPACE—After a lengthy article in last week’s New York Times Magazine purporting to document how porn is affecting attitudes toward sexuality among contemporary teens, a Times columnist on Saturday used his space in the “paper of record” to call for a complete ban on porn. But Ross Douthat’s piece calling for a porn ban received immediate pushback not only from a prominent commentator within the porn community, but from a leading political journal as well. Conservative writer Douthat, 38, author of the book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, titled his February 10 column “Let’s Ban Porn,” and used his 1,000-word allotment to argue that the logical conclusion of the #MeToo movement should be the eradication of porn, which Douthat opines will help create “better men.” The thesis of the New York Times Magazine article by writer Maggie Jones appears to be that teenagers circa 2018 receive their primary education about sexual behavior, practices and norms from online pornography—and that the best antidote is something called “porn literacy.” That is, not actual sex education for teens, but education in how to “read” the semiotics of porn, though that will undoubtedly involve some exposure to biology and possibly even morality. But Douthat takes Jones’ apparent theme a step further, saying that many incidents of sexual abuse, harassment and just plain bad behavior against women are perpetrated by men with “the very different sort of male personality that a pornographic education seems to produce: a breed at once entitled and resentful, angry and undermotivated, ‘woke’ and caddish, shaped by unprecedented possibilities for sexual gratification and frustrated that real women are less available and more complicated than the version on their screen.” The solution, Douthat believes, is to get rid of porn altogether—a step he sees not as censorship of free expression, but as regulation of a commercial product, “something made and distributed and sold, and therefore subject to regulation and restriction if we so desire. The belief that it should not be restricted is a mistake; the belief that it cannot be censored is a superstition,” Douthat, who's apparently unfamiliar with the First Amendment and several Supreme Court decisions, writes. In other words, Douthat appears to say, the only barrier to banning porn is the political will to do it. But the 50-year-old “libertarian” political magazine Reason quickly shot down Douthat’s point, arguing in an essay published on Monday afternoon that a porn ban would not only fail, but would actually itself create dangers beyond those imagined by Douthat—who cites no empirical evidence in his column to support his belief that porn viewing leads to inappropriate sexual behavior in teens. “Attempting to ban porn would at best be a foolish, expensive, and futile project, and at worst a path to a new and radically expanded police state devoted to punishing people for engaging in acts of consensual self-expression,” wrote Reason Managing Editor Peter Suderman. “A federal war on porn would be just as winnable as the federal wars on drugs and alcohol—in other words, not winnable at all.” Douthat’s column, along with the Jones article on teen porn consumption, has sparked alarm among some advocates for the industry. Author, performer and sex worker rights advocate Conner Habib posted a lengthy thread on his Twitter account in which he declared that “a cultural movement to ban pornography is building right now. ... If you don't think there is a war on porn, sex workers, and freedom to create/access sexual expression going on, you're not paying attention.” “Yes, you read that right: The New York Times published an opinion piece by a conservative anti-porn activist saying ‘let's ban porn’ to affirm the worth of their article about how teen sexuality is messed up by porn,” Habib wrote. Even a failed attempt to ban or restrict porn could do long-term damage to the industry, however, if history provides an analogy. A crackdown on comic books in the early 1950s led to the creation of the “Comics Code,” a set of self-censorship rules for the comic book publishing industry. More than 60 years later, the Comics Code, in somewhat modified form, still exists today—and is largely ignored by mainstream comic book publishers. And porn producers already have their own version of the Comics Code: It's federal and state obscenity laws. AVN Senior Editor Mark Kernes also commented on the Douthat article here. He pointed out that it is exactly the type of "porn literacy" that is the subject of Jones' article that American teens (and even pre-teens) need, since A) their parents seem reticent or are possibly simply too ignorant to provide that necessary education, and 2) such courses encourage the students to discuss what they've seen on the screen, and allow instructors to set the kids straight on what porn is, and perhaps more importantly, what it isn't: a guidebook for sexual relationships. And for a glimpse of how actual porn stars view their own craft and its implications/consequences, click here.

 
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