Pornography Harms Society

Robert Showers

The horribly destructive impact of pornography on individuals and society has been the subject of much discourse, particularly since the U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography released its findings in June of 1986 on the production, distribution, content and impact of hard-core and child pornography. The Meese Commission made 92 recommendations for federal, state and local governmental action and for citizen involvement. The recommendations included legislative action for obscenity and child pornography; involved executive branch and law enforcement activity to enhance investigative and prosecutorial activities; and recommended that the judiciary impose appropriate sentences.

After receiving the Commission’s report, the Attorney General’s office studied its recommendations and developed a seven-point plan of action. Every aspect of that plan went into effect. Congress adopted every recommendation for federal criminal law. A task force was formed within the U.S. Department of Justice, now called the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, to wage a full-time offensive against illegal pornography.

As a result of these efforts, indictments rose dramatically against distributors, mail order distribution of pornography decreased and prosecution of child pornographers increased. These advances, though, have suffered in the last several years under Bill Clinton’s administration beginning with a Justice Department attempt to re-define criteria for judging child obscenity. In addition, the Department has not aggressively pursued child obscenity violations.

However, in Alabama, state prosecutors are deftly targeting child obscenity. On February 18, 1998, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor announced the indictment of Barnes & Noble Booksellers on charges of selling child pornography in its stores. The books in question, The Age of Innocence by David Hamilton and Radiant Identities by Jock Sturges have caused concern nationwide because of their blatant, explicit use of children for sexual purposes. Yet despite the state’s efforts, another mounting threat to children state- and nationwide is the pornography available through computer online services. Much of the pornography business has now gone online because of easy access and the difficulty of tracing both users and distributors.

Last year (1992- ed.), the U.S. sex industry generated revenues of $9 billion—outperforming many other entertainment businesses in the U.S. As the biggest producer of porn material in the world, the U.S. is building on that momentum with Web sex sites counting among the biggest money-earners in online entertainment.

Unfortunately, attempts to regulate and outlaw pornography within a community are frequently criticized as censorship and a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. For example, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed into law on February 8, was intended to help fight pornographers and pedophiles who prey on children through the Internet.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit seeking to strike the entire section of the Telecommunications Act banning dissemination of pornographic materials to minors [the Communications Decency Act]. Unfortunately, the law was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997, citing vagueness about several of the provisions. However, the bill was rewritten to pass constitutional muster, and as of the writing, has been reintroduced in a Senate committee. In addition, a bill has been introduced in the Senate which would require public libraries receiving federal funding for online access to install filtering software on at least one internet terminal. Public schools receiving subsidies would be required to install the filtering software on all terminals [neither bill has passed].

In contrast, on another front, in June 1998 the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed claims of pornography purveyors and supported the constitutionality of a federal law banning the sale or rental of pornographic material at military installations.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment (Roth v. United States, 1957), yet there are several popular myths that keep the public from regarding illegal pornography, namely child pornography and obscenity, in its true light.

Myth No. 1: Obscenity Is in the Eye of the Beholder; It Cannot Be Defined

Obscenity is defined as the illegal form of pornography. Pornography is defined as “all sexually oriented material, primarily designed to arouse the reader or viewer.” Commonly known as “hard-core” pornography, obscenity was given a clear legal definition in U.S. v. Roth and Miller v. California (1973), which states:

  1. Whether patently offensive sexual conduct (ultimate sex acts, masturbation, sadomasochism, bestiality, excretory functions or lewd exhibitions of the genitals) is depicted substantially throughout the material such that;
  2. It is directed toward an unhealthy, abnormal, morbid or shameful interest in sex; and
  3. Taken as a whole, it lacks serious value.

Despite this straightforward language, individuals in favor of pornography often cite “vagueness” of definition as an excuse to escape prosecution. However, 29 major cities and one whole state (Utah) have completely eradicated hard-core pornography from their communities by enforcing these laws. Citizens of these areas have obviously found the existing definitions clear and the laws enforceable.

Myth No. 2: Obscenity and Child Pornography Are Protected Free Speech under the First Amendment

Neither English common law nor the framers of the Constitution intended to protect obscene materials that exploit and degrade women and children. When the U.S. Supreme Court first examined the legal background of pornography in U.S. v. Roth, the Court concluded “there is sufficiently contemporaneous evidence with the Constitution to show that obscenity . . . was outside the protection intended for speech and press at the time during which the First Amendment was written.” In fact, 13 of the 14 original states ratifying the Constitution and Bill of Rights in 1792 provided for prosecution of obscene libel, a less offensive form of expression. Repeatedly, the U.S. Supreme Court has emphatically confirmed that obscenity, child pornography and materials harmful to minors fall far below First Amendment protection.

Myth No. 3: Pornography Is a Victimless Crime

Historically, courts have recognized, and Congress has concluded, that pornography greatly harms individuals and society. In Paris Adult Theatre v. Slaton, the U.S. Supreme Court noted:

The sum of experience affords an ample basis . . . to conclude that a sensitive, key relationship of human  existency, centered to family life, community welfare, and the development of human personality, can be debased and distorted by crass, commercial exploitation of sex.

The most direct victims of illegal pornography are children. Out of 240,000 customs seizures over a five-year period, over 70 percent were child pornography.

Even adult pornography takes minors as its victims. Of 1,400 child sexual molestation cases in Louisville, Kentucky, between July 1980 and February 1984, adult pornography was connected with each major case and child pornography with the majority of them. In addition, when children view or hear adult pornography, they not only receive sexual disinformation, but they model it. Just one example of this occurred in California where young children sexually molested a four-year-old girl after listening to “dial-a-porn” telephone messages promoting deviant sexual behavior and rape.

After children, women are obscenity’s next victims, because pornography consumption is one of the most common profile characteristics of serial murderers and rapists. Obscenity takes other, more silent victims, too: marriages are torn apart; pornography-inflamed sexual abuse places families in crisis; and communities with pornographic outlets face devastating public health and safety concerns. In sum, as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren emphasized, pornography jeopardizes the States’ “right . . . to maintain a decent democratic society.”

Federal and state leaders should take strong stands against the production and distribution of obscene material. In particular, they should strongly support cyber-porn regulations as a significant step toward protecting America’s children.

Masturbation and Pornography

In my experience as a sexual therapist, any individual who regularly masturbates to pornography is at risk of becoming, in time, a sexual addict, as well as conditioning himself into having a sexual deviancy and/or disturbing a bonded relationship with a spouse or girlfriend.

A frequent side effect is that it also dramatically reduces their capacity to love (e.g., it results in a marked dissociation of sex from friendship, affection, caring, and other normal healthy emotions and traits which help marital relationships). Their sexual side becomes in a sense dehumanized. Many of them develop an “alien ego state” (or dark side), whose core is antisocial lust devoid of most values. In time, the “high” obtained from masturbating to pornography becomes more important than real life relationships. It has been commonly thought by health educators that masturbation has negligible consequences, other than reducing sexual tension. Moral objections aside, this may be generally true, but one exception would appear to be in the area of repeatedly masturbating to deviant pornographic imagery (either as memories in the mind or as explicit pornographic stimuli), which risks (via conditioning) the acquiring of sexual addictions and/or other sexual pathology.

It makes no difference if one is an eminent physician, attorney, minister, athlete, corporate executive college president, unskilled laborer, or an average 15-year-old boy. All can be conditioned into deviancy.


* Robert Showers is legal counsel to the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, an organization that works to stop the harm caused by obscenity and child pornography.


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