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October 05, 2016

War on Porn: We Have Met the Enemy

Next month, American voters will go to the polls, choosing a new president. Will they support a party that considers porn a “public health crisis”? And in California the electorate will vote on Proposition 60. Will they strike a fatal blow against the adult industry by supporting this dangerous initiative? And are YOU registered to vote? The deadline to register is October 24. This month’s issue of AVN magazine features various articles on the war against porn. In the story below, Mark Kernes details the main combatants in the war. Check back daily on AVN.com for more “war stories” from industry leaders. Or read all the articles now in the digital edition of the October AVN magazine. For those paying attention to current events, 2016 has proven to be a mixed bag for Americans’ sexual rights. Even as the public becomes more and more comfortable with adult content in just about all media, repressive governmental groups like the Dallas City Council and anti-adult activists like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation prevented Exxxotica from putting on a show at Dallas’ publicly owned convention center, and got the fledgling TeXXXas show bounced from two venues before it finally found a home in a strip club. And while the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has ordered his subordinates to refuse to issue such licenses—and now he's been suspended from his job for it, though that suspension is under appeal. Though one of the most talked-about adult movies of last year was Kaitlyn Gender: Based on a Not So True Story (Trans500/Pure Play Media), legislators in North Carolina passed HB2, which not only prohibits transgender students and others from using restrooms that match their gender identities, it also allows for anti-gay discrimination in multiple venues—and they’re hardly the only state to have passed or is considering passing one of these. And let’s not forget the American Family Association’s targeting of Target stores for allowing its patrons to make similar bathroom choices. Also, we’re guessing that most people don’t even want to know how bent out of shape religious pro-censorship groups have been in targeting anything remotely sex-positive on TV—like the “lesbian kiss” on ABC’s fairytale show Once Upon a Time (used to wake the heroine from a “sleeping curse”), not to mention the mere existence of shows like Black Jesus (featuring Jesus as a poor black man who helps tend a marijuana garden), Lucifer (where The Devil, a snappy dresser who also owns a hip nightclub, takes a vacation to Los Angeles and winds up helping a lady cop solve crimes), and Angel From Hell (featuring a real-life lesbian, Jane Lynch, portraying a hard-drinking, pill-popping, swearing Guardian Angel). And don’t even get them started on the recent commercial for Carl’s Jr.’s “Bacon Three-Way Burger,” which features three bikini-clad models acting sexy around ground beef. But for some reason, the big news in early September was an op-ed published in the (ultra-conservative) Wall Street Journal on August 31 by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and sex symbol Pamela Anderson titled “Take the Pledge: No More Indulging Porn.” Longtime adult industry watchers will remember Boteach as a pal of anti-porn blogger Luke Ford, but the real mystery was why Anderson signed onto the screed. After all, she first came to fame as lifeguard C.J. Parker on the babe-centric TV show Baywatch—and then to even more fame as the “female lead” in the 1995 internet (and later DVD) short video Pam & Tommy Lee: Hardcore and Uncensored, a sex tape the then-married couple had made which was stolen and put online for the world to see—but the point is, she and her husband made porn for their own enjoyment. (She’d also created an earlier sex tape with musician Bret Michaels, frames of which appeared in Penthouse in March of 1998, but it was never released in full.) Anderson has also appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine 14 times, first in October 1989 and most recently its January/February 2016 issue, the last issue to feature nudity, copies of which she autographs and sells for $500 each, the Washington Times reported, to benefit her Pamela Anderson Foundation. And the latest reports have her returning to her roots by appearing in a Baywatch movie scheduled to debut in 2017. Also, a week after her anti-porn op-ed appeared in print, she posted a nude photo of herself on Instagram. Or as Dr. Marty Klein observed, “Apparently she only opposes porn that she’s not in.” While it’s unclear how much of the piece was authored by Anderson, its purpose was to bash former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who once again had been caught sexting to an unidentified young woman—but from there, Boteach and Anderson go on to rant about “porn addiction” and how easy access to sexually explicit material will turn today’s kids into “crack babies of porn.” They also call for a “sensual revolution” that would “replace pornography with eroticism,” even as “we must educate ourselves and our children to understand that porn is for losers—a boring, wasteful and dead-end outlet for people too lazy to reap the ample rewards of healthy sexuality.” And it seems that just about every news outlet in the country has found this horseshit to be worth reporting, both in print/internet postings and on TV. And speaking of boring, wasteful, dead-end outlets, there’s the modern-day Republican Party! Admittedly, they were a bit slow getting out of the gate, but as expected, the party has stepped up its calls for persecution of the adult industry—and just in time for election season! Frankly, we were a bit worried that the religio-conservatives had forgotten how much they hate sexual freedom in general, and porn in particular. One of the few early attempts was last November’s “Presidential Questionnaire” from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), where the organization tried to get the then-voluminous gaggle of candidates to promise to “allocate the law enforcement resources necessary to aggressively combat the demand for commercial sex”; “amend the Communications Decency Act of 1996”; “direct the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services to ... abate the effects of pornography addiction”; “direct the U.S. Department of Justice to vigorously enforce federal obscenity laws”; and “insist that the FCC vigorously enforce the federal indecency law designed to protect children from damaging sexual content.” In other words, use the spectre of human trafficking and child exploitation (none of whose victims show up in adult industry porn) to basically gut the First Amendment when it comes to sexual speech. And NCOSE members have been busy little beavers (!) ever since then, having been the authors of Utah’s “Continuing Resolution 9,” signed into law on March 10, that made Utah the only legislature in the country to declare pornography to be a “public health crisis.” And so a new meme was born: Porn was no longer simply immoral and sinful to view (let alone to actually make and sell), because that doesn’t fly anymore with today’s media-savvy, mostly non-church-going millennials. Instead, according to the Resolution, porn “perpetuates a sexually toxic environment” because it contributes to a host of ills from “the hypersexualization of teens” to objectifying women and equating “violence towards women” with sex. And what’s more, they deem it “potentially biologically addictive.” Let’s take a moment and talk about some of the things porn actually does: 1) It shows people—straight men and women, gay men and women, transgender men and women, and combinations thereof—not being ashamed of their naked bodies, having sex without feeling guilt, most often with the lights on, and often in places other than a bedroom. 2) It shows that vanilla man-on-woman sex is hardly the only type of sexual satisfaction available to adults. Porn also embraces purely oral sex (which disgusts many conservatives), anal sex  (ditto), choking fantasies, passion-inspired slaps on the ass and elsewhere, bondage, domination and even sado-masochism as long as it’s consensual between the participants. 3) While the vast majority of porn is not intended to educate anyone about sex, many couples watch it to learn new positions to try, and sadly, what with the abominable state of sex education in many states (like Utah), and the abject fear some parents feel about broaching the subject with their kids, porn has become the de facto sex educator of far too many teens and tweens. 4) Porn allows people to see their own sexual fantasies, some of which they would not want to experience in their personal lives, depicted by actors in a safe environment. 5) And perhaps most important of all, sex/porn often is the primary indicator of many people’s—conservatives’ and liberals’—hypocrisy, whether it’s a political candidate sneaking looks at porn on his office computer, a sitting congressional legislator frequenting a dominatrix or regularly patronizing a prostitute—or perhaps a presidential candidate, one of whose wives has appeared on the cover of Penthouse; who himself has appeared on the cover of Playboy and been interviewed by them; whose current wife appeared nude and in girl/girl action in 1996 in the French magazine Max—and who actually made his penis size a campaign issue! As most people have observed, Donald Trump has no particular love for the Religious Right, and his early campaign (not to mention his lifestyle in general) made that pretty clear. But then, after he won enough delegates to assure his becoming the Republican presidential nominee, he started paying a bit more attention to religious conservatives—and the plank of the Republican Party platform which mirrors NCOSE’s Utah resolution. “The internet must not become a safe haven for predators,” the platform states. “Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography, which is closely linked to human trafficking.” Note that the platform itself doesn’t call for a new “war on porn,” but just about every conservative politician and activist views it as calling for such anyway. “We know how big of a problem it is,” said Mary Frances Forrester, wife of North Caroline State Sen. James Forrester, who wrote that platform section with help from the religio-conservative Concerned Women for America. “It is an insidious epidemic, and everyone knows that and that is not a controversy.” “It's bad for you. It takes you down. Pornography is poison," stated famous pastor Rick Warren, who compared porn to "junk food." "You should not be reading Fifty Shades of any color! Some people are so open-minded their brains fall out. They say, 'I can watch that stuff. It doesn't bother me anymore.' That's the problem! When you can watch and read stuff that is profane, blasphemous, evil, vile, and abusive and it doesn't bother you, you have a problem. You have become a fool." The latest right-wing claims about porn, aside from it supposedly being addictive, is that it creates erectile dysfunction and causes divorce, neither of which position has any peer-reviewed scientific research to back it up—but that’s never stopped a religious anti-porn group with a mission! “Porn’s highly addictive nature is just one of many detrimental effects that give it the deserved description as a public health crisis,” claimed Arina Grossu of the ultra-conservative Family Research Council. “In MRI and other brain scans, the brains of compulsive pornography users look just like the brains of alcoholics and drug addicts, showing the same reward centers (ventral striatum) lighting up ... those who choose to ignore the actual science, evidenced by MRI and other brain scans, want to trade out reality for a ‘porn-defending’ ideology, because the reality is inconvenient.” What’s “inconvenient” is the fact that those “reward centers” light up pretty much any time a human being does something pleasurable, from eating a hearty meal to watching their favorite sports team win a game. And then there’s Enough Is Enough, the anti-porn group founded by former party girl Donna Rice Hughes, which created the "Children’s Internet Safety Presidential Pledge" just in time to goose Trump’s Q-rating among the religious anti-porn crowd by having him publicly sign it. Among other censorious actions, the Pledge would have the Trump administration “aggressively enforce existing federal laws to prevent the sexual exploitation of children online, including the federal obscenity laws, child pornography laws, sexual predation laws and the sex trafficking laws” by appointing an Attorney General who’ll make such prosecutions a “top priority” and by making plenty of federal money available to “the intelligence community and law enforcement” for future sting operations like those that targeted Max Hardcore, John Stagliano and Rob Black. Also, in what must seem like a throwback to the Reagan administration’s Ed Meese, the Enough Is Enough pledge would have Trump “give serious consideration to appointing a Presidential Commission to examine the harmful public health impact of Internet pornography on youth, families and the American culture” and to fund anti-porn groups by “establish[ing] public-private partnerships with Corporate America to step up voluntary efforts to reduce the threat of the Internet-enabled sexual exploitation of children by the implementation of updated corporate policies and viable technology tools and solutions.” (Wow! Maybe they could take a top-level domain like, for instance, .xxx, and require that all sexual content on the Web be under that domain, making it all the easier for ISPs to block access—just as former Prime Minister David Cameron wants to do in the United Kingdom!) But as legitimately worried as most might be about a Trump presidency, its main problem may not be Trump himself but rather his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana. In his early life, Pence, an attorney, worked for a right-wing think tank before becoming a radio host in the style of Rush Limbaugh. He spent a couple of years in Indiana’s House of Representatives before managing a decade in Congress, toward the end of which he was the chair of the House Republican Conference. A Tea Party supporter, Family Research Council rated him “True Blue” as a legislator, meaning that he supported all of FRC’s reactionary political agenda. He’s also a frequent speaker at right-wing events such as the Values Voter Summit, where he told attendees, “Our present crisis is not merely economic and political but spiritual,” and the Faith & Freedom Coalition, where he made similar comments. Pence has long been an opponent of abortion rights, sponsoring a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges—and to bury or cremate aborted fetuses—and of church/state separation: he actually tried to get a bill through Congress that would take away the Supreme Court’s power to hear cases involving certain favored winger religious issues. He is perhaps best known of late as a supporter of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would allow anyone to discriminate against gay, bi and transgendered people in everyday commerce. That little piece of business lost Indiana 12 large conventions that were to be held in the state, and an estimated $250 million in revenue. Considering all that, it’s particularly troubling that Donald Trump Jr., who is said to have vetted all of the potential vice-presidential candidates for his father, reportedly told an advisor of John Kasich, who by then had dropped out of the presidential race and was angling for the VP slot, that while The Donald was busy “making America great again,” the elder Trump would be putting the VP choice in charge of all “domestic and foreign policy.” Of course, that VP choice is Pence. And remember: If anything happens to Trump while he’s in office, Pence becomes the official presidential office-holder rather than just a virtual one. And while we’re taking about people not to support, guess who’s running for Congress in California’s 44th Congressional District? Yep, it’s Isadore Hall, the guy who went to the mat for AIDS Healthcare Foundation with AB 1576, yet another in a string of mandatory condom bills that California legislators were too smart to pass. (Now, if the voters can just demonstrate the same intelligence with Prop 60...) But lest anyone get the idea that only Republicans pose a threat to the sex-positive speech community, let’s not forget the other side of the aisle, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. By upbringing, Clinton is a Methodist, and when younger, she taught Methodist Sunday school, as did her mother before her. The church she attended in D.C. was the Foundry United Methodist Church, which describes itself as a “reconciling congregation,” but although it invites the LGBT community to attend, Methodism considers homosexuality to be “incompatible with Christian teaching”; likewise abortion, gambling and alcohol use. During her college days, Clinton was a Republican, working for the election of Barry Goldwater as president in ’64. She also attended biweekly anticommunist meetings and later served as president of Wellesley’s Young Republicans chapter. Of course, people do change, and it’s probably not fair to hold all that against her at present. Most troubling, however, was Clinton’s participation in “conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship,” according to Jeff Sharlet, author of the important study of right-wing religious politics, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. The Fellowship was “a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to ‘spiritual war’ on behalf of Christ. ... The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God’s plan. ... The Fellowship’s long-term goal is ‘a leadership led by God—leaders of all levels of society who direct projects as they are led by the spirit.’” Clinton’s D.C. Bible study group, which she joined even as her husband took high office in 1993, had as members the wives of conservative senators Jack Kemp and Bill Nelson (though Nelson was nominally a Democrat). “Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection,” Sharlet wrote in an article for Mother Jones in 2007. All of that should be very troubling to the sex-positive/pro-porn community—but sadly, for that community, she’s the only game in town, since neither Libertarian Gary Johnson nor Green Jill Stein stand any chance of winning—and the Dallas Morning News, for the first time in 75 years, and the Arizona Republic, for the first ever, are endorsing a Democrat: her. Many conservative groups and blogs claim to have taken their “scientific” data from a book-length report issued this past spring by the Barna Research Group, titled The Porn Phenomenon—which in fact contains little science but one hell of a lot of surveys. In fact, the scare headline on the book’s back cover—”THE PORN CRISIS IS NOT COMING... IT IS HERE”—may easily have been the genesis of the new “porn is a health crisis” meme. Indeed, this quote from the chapter "Porn & Morality" makes it pretty clear: "Insofar as Christians rely on shame-based arguments against porn use, we may find it increasingly difficult to gain a hearing in the wider culture as sex-positive views proliferate. The sex-positive message aligns seamlessly with the morality of self-fulfillment, and is thus more culturally resonant than traditional Judeo-Christian morals—especially when those morals are presented in terms of shame and guilt, rather than in terms of God's good intentions for human flourishing." Considering that Barna describes itself as an "evangelical Christian polling firm," as expected, the report doesn't do the adult industry any favors. Parts of it read like a roadmap for clergy to steer their flocks away from the material, and it's not surprising that the only "academics" it quotes are people like anti-porn activists Gail Dines, Pamela Paul, Mary Anne Layden and Diana Russell (both of whom claim that boys exposed to porn early are more likely to become rapists), and Robert Jensen (who asked the burning question, "What does it say about a 'civilized' society that accepts and promotes a mass media genre that is overtly cruel to women and explicitly racist?") But even Barna can’t help but admit that viewing porn is incredibly popular with one hell of a lot of people, with one-third of the 3,000 Americans they surveyed (some of whom were under 12 years of age) viewing it at least once a month, and with 72 percent of “not-practicing Christian” males 13-24 and 55 percent of the same over age 25 using it “regularly”—and 41 percent and 23 percent of practicing Christian males of the same age groupings also using it. And guess what? More than two-thirds of those who do use it are doing so for “personal arousal.” What a surprise! Barna also conflates the porn produced by the legal adult industry with child porn, and claims “use of pornography is the primary gateway to the purchase of humans for sex.” All in all, The Porn Phenomenon is on a par with the Witherspoon Institute’s The Social Cost of Pornography—in other words, complete crap from page 1. NCOSE, however, remains the most prolific purveyor of horseshit about the adult industry, and sex in general. Its website, PornHarms.com, features non-peer-reviewed treatises on why porn is bad, as well as videos by self-described “experts” on porn and the law such as Dani Pinter, who claimed in her short video “Is Distributing Pornography Illegal? Obscenity Law Explained,” that “When we say ‘hardcore pornography,’ we know that that is synonymous with ‘obscenity.’ ... What that practically means today is that all of the hardcore pornography that is being, you know, streamed all over the internet is most likely illegal, and at the very least cases could be brought by the Department of Justice.” Somewhat related to the anti-porn fight has been the American Family Association’s (AFA) war on the VH1 show Dating Naked, which features couples in exotic locations swimming, eating, playing games and generally getting to know each other, including sexually—while naked. And it doesn’t matter that the show’s editors have computer-masked the participants’ nipples and genitalia; The Godly know what’s under there! "Imagine the worst, most inappropriate, adult-oriented program on television that you can think of," wrote Monica Cole, director of the misnamed One Million Moms (1MM), who claims to leave out vowels in order to get around filtering programs. "Imagine it is being marketed and promoted to teens. VH1 has rated the content of the program, Dating N-ked, appropriate for children as young as 14-years-old! It is imperative that parents be warned about Dating N-ked, a program targeted directly to our youth with a TV-14 rating." In other words, if a TV show can be seen by teens, then of course it's being marketed to teens! Before Dating Naked, AFA and 1MM waged a campaign to get advertisers to withdraw their support from another TV program, this time The Real O’Neals, loosely based on the life of gay sex advice columnist Dan Savage. It’s a simple story about a Catholic couple in the midst of a divorce (but trying to hide same from the neighbors), whose 14-year-old son has just come out as gay, and whose slightly younger daughter has just come out as an atheist. “The Real O’Neals mocks Christianity and insults Catholicism,” wrote Cole last March. “1MM recognizes this show ridicules people of faith, and Christians across America are offended by it. Almost every scene is filled with s-xual innuendos, implications, or mockery of faith.” Among Cole's problems? "Brothers view p-rn on laptop. Gay p-rn made to appear normal and acceptable. Comments between brothers and between father and sons show no form of guilt in watching p-rn." Also, "The daughter skips church, doubts God, disrespects priest as she verbally backs him into a corner, and he (the head of their church) fails at answering her questions." What most people need to understand is that repression of sex and its media expression, pornography, has little to do with the content itself. Since time immemorial, rulers (church and otherwise) have understood that the best way to control an individual is to control his/her sex life. People as a general rule enjoy sex, and when the opportunity to have it presents itself, they are not necessarily all that picky about the particulars. Sex can easily be an end in itself; for most people, its “purpose” is not—as Barna and many, many others claim—to produce offspring. But religions flourish in large part due to the number of adherents they can draw to their philosophies—and people who have sex for enjoyment rather than procreation work against that goal by not adding to the potential pool of followers. So this whole notion that “God” only condones sex in the context of making babies clearly benefits the church leadership, not the flock. This focus on maintaining power through procreation also explains most religions’ stance on the “sin” of homosexuality: Gay unions, generally speaking, don’t produce biological offspring—and many ultra-religious types don’t even want gay couples adopting, lest they spread “the gay disease” by close contact. And as for abortion, that also doesn’t add to the congregation. Contraception, same thing. “Morning after” pills, ditto. This mania to stop virtually anything viewed as sex-positive is leading to some interesting potential disasters. On September 6, a bill to fund research to stop the spread of the Zika virus was voted down by Senate Democrats because Republicans insisted on attaching an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood—and that’s hardly the first time good legislation has failed because of Republicans’ attempts to make anti-sex social policy part of proposed laws, and it won't be the last. And speaking of Planned Parenthood, another development that’s driven a lot of right-wing legislation at both the federal and state levels was the “revelation” by faux “citizen journalist” David Daleiden that the women’s health agency had been selling aborted fetus parts at a profit. The proof? Daleiden and his cronies secretly video-recorded their meetings with Planned Parenthood employees, then edited pieces of the videos together out of context to make it appear that PP had committed the crime. People who’ve seen the unedited interviews overwhelmingly agree that Daleiden’s finished product paints a completely inaccurate picture of what actually happened—but to this day, right-wing groups continue to cite Daleiden’s work as though it were factual. But repression of sexuality sometimes finds the weirdest outlets. Former adult director Cash Markman recently had his page on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) removed because although Markman, under his real name, had written scripts for several mainstream TV shows, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, the site's editors recently decided to include on that page all of the XXX movies attributed to Markman, even though he didn't direct many of them. Markman has pleaded with the Amazon.com-owned IMBD to separate his porn from his non-porn work, since aside from making potential employers unable to view his mainstream résumé, being tagged as a "porn director" has cost him several mainstream business opportunities and even affected sales of his books about both Star Trek and Lost In Space. (Want to know what's even weirder? Now, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's IMDB page also lists every XXX Star Trek parody ever created, suggesting that Roddenberry had something to do with them beyond having created the characters the adult movies parody!) To conclude with a bit of good news, however, it appears that Prenda Law is finally out of business, and some of the firm’s principals face heavy fines and possible jail time for their underhanded practices. Prenda supposedly represented Lightspeed Media Corp, and the firm sued thousands of internet users for allegedly using hacked passwords to gain unpaid access to various pay sites operated by Lightspeed. However, Lightspeed was discovered to be entirely a creation of Prenda, and many of the people sued had in fact never had any contact with Lightspeed sites. So far, Prenda attorney John Steele and his associates have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by judges in several jurisdictions. So ... where are we? With conservatives at the helms of a multitude of municipalities, and currently having a strong majority in the U.S. House, not to mention enough senators to break filibusters, the adult entertainment industry in all its many forms is under increasing attack, even as more and more Americans seek out just such entertainment. Strip clubs and adult retailers still face zoning battles in towns across the country, and AIDS Healthcare and Cal/OSHA seem determined to drive the industry out of California, while activists of many stripes seek to cause the industry as much pain, legally, financially and otherwise, as they can. But the point is, the fight for sexual sanity goes on, and the adult industry is playing an ever-increasing role in that fight, so good on all of you!

 
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