Keep Porn Legal: The Moderate Voice

Apr 11, 2013
Legal
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The European Union recently voted down an ill-advised ban on pornography (but maintained the rest of the bill (to improve the portrayal of women in media); here in the United States, the question has been raised quite a few times, most recently by Rick Santorum.

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Banning pornography is popular with some feminists on the left and fringe fundamentalists on the right, but it would be terrible public policy.

The arguments for banning pornography center around a few key premises: 1) that pornography is inherently addictive 2) that pornography harmfully portrays women 3) that pornography leads to lascivious men.

Is pornography addictive? There’s a pretty heated debate among experts on whether or not excessive use of pornography can be described as “addiction.”

Those who caution against the word argue that calling pornography “addictive” could also describe doughnuts as addictive. Unlike desiring heroin, desiring orgasms and food is natural. Glenn Wilson argues:

The original idea of addiction was that you had a chemical hijacking of the circuits of the brain built to give you pleasure as reward for doing things of a survival value, such as eating or having sex.

But to turn round and argue that one is addicted to chocolate or sex, which are activities you would expect to be rewarded in survival terms, strikes me as hijacking the concept of addiction.

Still, pornography can make men anti-social (to what extent I’ll explore later), however, many men and women view pornography responsibly and using an “addiction” framework to deal with pornography could do more harm than good. There’s another claim that anti-pornography crusaders will use (Santorum recently did): that pornography somehow rewires the brain. First, everything rewires your brain – synapses are constantly making new connections, further, the brain hardly needs significant rewiring to enjoy sexual stimulation.

So does this particular re-wiring produce negative effects? Rory Reid of UCLA argues no, and in a letter with Bruce N. Carpenter and Timothy W. Fong to the National Institute of Health writes,

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