I. Pornography And Health

Part: 
One
Chapter: 
3
  1. Abuse of Persons Used in Production.

    Pornography is a medical and public health problem because people, particularly women and children, are abused in the production of certain pornographic materials. People have been beaten, forced to engage in sexual acts, held prisoner, bound and gagged, and tortured for purposes of producing pornography. In the course of these events they have been exposed to the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. Some have been supplied with narcotics. Of course, these crimes could have been prosecuted in their own right, even if there were no obscenity or child pornography laws. Moreover, the market for pornography is, after all, but one of several motives for the commission of these crimes, all of which also occurred before the invention of photography. If these were the only adverse health consequences of pornography, the most straightforward remedy would be regulation of the pornography industry to assure safe and fair labor practices. But these are not the only adverse health consequences of pornography.

     

  2. Injurious Products.

    Pornography is a medical and public health problem because pornographic retail outlets of the "adults only" variety sell products under the pretext of health and recreation that are the instruments of injury, both intentional and unintentional. People have suffocated in bondage hoods. People have asphyxiated and burned to death in handcuffs and bondage restraints. People have been raped and lacerated with dildos. People have had "sexual aid" devices entrapped in body cavities, requiring extraction at hospital emergency wards. People have died from orally ingesting volatile nitrites and have suffered cerebrovascular injury from inhaling these same chemicals, sold as aphrodisiacs under various pretext labels in these establishments. People have been abducted and have been conned into exiting their vehicles or allowing strangers into their homes when offenders have shown them phony police badges, sold as "novelties" in some of these establishments. People have been robbed and put in fear of their life by offenders who have wielded phony guns, also sold as "novelties" in some of these establishments. If these were the only adverse health consequences of pornography, the most straightforward remedies would be public education, regulation of some of these products through food and drug law and others through criminal sanctions, and tort actions by the injured against producers and distributors of inherently dangerous products and products that were negligently designed, marketed, labeled, and sold. But these are not the only adverse health consequences of pornography.

     

  3. Vice Centers.

    Pornography is a medical and public health problem because pornographic retail outlets of the "adults only" variety are the most visible service stations of the vice industry. The peep-show booths, with their locking doors, are the self-service pumps, as evidenced by the body fluids on their floors and walls. The openings in the walls of the booths allow anonymous and casual sexual contact, making it impossible to trace the donors and recipients of sexually transmitted diseases. These establishments draw muggers to a pool of victims who are somewhat disinclined to report a robbery to the police. These establishments signal members of the community and visitors that full vice services may be available nearby through prostitutes and drug dealers and, if not so directly available, are a phone call away through the advertisements found in tabloids, periodicals, and sex-for-sale guides. If these were the only adverse health consequences of pornography, the most straightforward remedy would be to prohibit retail sales except through the mail. But these are not the only adverse health consequences of pornography.

     

  4. Sexual Disinformation.

    Pornography is a medical and public health problem because so much of it teaches false, misleading, and even dangerous information about human sexuality. A person who learned about human sexuality in the "adults only" pornography outlets of America would be a person who had never conceived of a man and woman marrying or even falling in love before having intercourse, who had never conceived of two people making love in privacy without guilt or fear of discovery, who had never conceived of tender foreplay, who had never conceived of vaginal intercourse with ejaculation during intromission, and who had never conceived of procreation as a purpose of sexual union. Instead, such a person would be one who had learned that sex at home meant sex with one's children, stepchildren, parents, stepparents, siblings, cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and pets, and with neighbors, milkmen, plumbers, salesmen, burglars, and peepers, who had learned that people take off their clothes and have sex within the first five minutes of meeting one another, who had learned to misjudge the percentage of women who prepare for sex by shaving their pubic hair, having their breasts, buttocks, or legs tattooed, having their nipples or labia pierced, or donning leather, latex, rubber, or child-like costumes, who had learned to misjudge the proportion of men who prepare for sex by having their genitals or nipples pierced, wearing women's clothing, or growing breasts, who had learned that about one out of every five sexual encounters involves spanking, whipping, fighting, wrestling, tying, chaining, gagging, or torture, who had learned that more than one in ten sexual acts involves a party of more than two, who had learned that the purpose of ejaculation is that of soiling the mouths, faces, breasts, abdomens, backs, and food at which it is always aimed, who had learned that body cavities were designed for the insertion of foreign objects, who had learned that the anus was a genital to be licked and penetrated, who had learned that urine and excrement are erotic materials, who had learned that the instruments of sex are chemicals, handcuffs, gags, hoods, restraints, harnesses, police badges, knives, guns, whips, paddles, toilets, diapers, enema bags, inflatable rubber women, and disembodied vaginas, breasts, and penises, and who had learned that except with the children, where secrecy was required, photographers and cameras were supposed to be present to capture the action so that it could be spread abroad. If these were the only adverse health consequences of pornography, the most straightforward remedy would be to provide factually accurate information on human sexuality to people before they are exposed to pornography, if only we could agree on what that information is, on who should provide it to the many children whose parents are incapable of doing so, and on effective and acceptable means by which to ensure that exposure not precede education. In the absence of such a remedy, the probable health consequences in this area alone are sufficient to support recommendations that would reduce the dissemination of that pornography which teaches false, misleading, or dangerous information about human sexuality. And these are not the only adverse health consequences of pornography.

     

  5. Encouraging Social Behavior with Adverse Health Consequences.

    Pornography is a medical and public health problem because it encourages patterns of social behavior which have adverse health consequences. The person who follows the patterns of social behavior promoted by pornography is a person for whom love, affection, marriage, procreation, and responsibility are absolutely irrelevant to sexual conduct. We do not need research to tell us that such persons on the average contribute more than other persons to rates of illegitimacy, teenage pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases. If these were the only adverse health consequences of pornography, the most straightforward remedy would be to more effectively encourage responsible sexual behavior, if only we knew how. In the absence of such a remedy, the probable health consequences in this area alone are sufficient to support recommendations that would reduce the dissemination of pornography. And these are not the only adverse health consequences of pornography.

     

  6. Fostering Attitudes with Adverse Health Consequences.

    Pornography is a medical and public health problem because it increases the probability that members of the exposed population will acquire attitudes that are detrimental to the physical and mental health of both those exposed and those around them. The social science evidence adequately demonstrates that even in experimental samples of mentally stable male college students, exposure to violent pornography leads to measurable, negative changes in the content of sexual fantasies, attitudes toward women, attitudes toward rape, and aggressive behavior within the experimental setting. Analogous results of exposure to nonsexual media violence have been well-documented for even longer. Although too few experiments have clearly tested the effects of degrading pornography, there are suggestions in the few existing studies that exposure to degrading pornography has negative effects in the experimental setting, including eliciting anxiety, depression, and hostility. Biographical accounts of individuals go beyond the experimental evidence in attributing changes in male sexual attitudes and demands to pornography, including nonviolent pornography, and in documenting adverse consequences to women and children of the behavior of these men. Some of these accounts include persuasive examples of direct and immediate imitation and of long-term modeling effects. Moreover, the existing population-based evidence for the United States shows a correlation between circulation rates of magazines containing pornography (primarily of a nonviolent type) and rates of reported rape in the fifty states during the same time period, even after many other factors were statistically controlled. In my opinion, we know enough now to be confident in asserting that a population exposed to violent pornography is a population that commits more acts of sexual brutality than it otherwise would and to suggest somewhat less confidently that the same is probably true of a population exposed to degrading pornography. Even if these were the only adverse health consequences of pornography, there would be no straightforward remedies for these consequences short of reducing the exposure of the population to violent and degrading pornography. And these are not the only adverse health consequences of pornography.

     

  7. Instruments of Sexual Abuse.

    Pornography is a medical and public health problem because it is used as an instrument of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Pornography of all types is used in the sexual abuse of children to instruct them on particular sexual acts and to overcome their resistance by showing them what adults do and by intimidating them about the painful things that might be done to them if they fail to comply. Pornography of all types is used to instruct women in the sexual behaviors that men desire of them but which they have "failed" to provide, forcing women who have or see no other options to choose between the feelings of inadequacy that accompany refusal and the feelings of self-loathing that accompany compliance. Pornography of all types is used to harass women in the workplace and to remind them into whose world they are intruding, leading to feelings of shame, disgust, and powerlessness. Even if these were the only adverse health consequences of pornography, there would be no straightforward remedies for these consequences short of reducing the quantity of pornography in circulation. And these are not the only adverse health consequences of pornography.

     

  8. Presumed Corruption of Children.

    Pornography is a medical and public health problem because it falls into the hands of children, who must be assumed vulnerable to adverse mental health consequences unless and until proved otherwise. Although experiments to test this assumption pose potentially insurmountable ethical dilemmas, it should be possible to design studies to examine the responses of children who have been exposed to pornography in other ways, such as negligent parental storage. Such studies would require safeguards to protect the child against any further harm and a suitable control group, such as children whose parents possess pornography to which the children were not exposed. To date, the effects of exposure on young children are unknown, but it would be as imprudent to assume no negative health consequences of pornography as it would to make such an assumption about a drug that had not been properly tested. Even if the assumed harms to exposed children were the only adverse health consequences of pornography, there would be no straightforward prevention or remedy for these consequences short of reducing the quantity of pornography in circulation. And these are not the only adverse health consequences of pornography.

     

  9. The Limits of Obscenity and Child Pornography Laws in Reducing the Adverse Health Consequences of Pornography.

    The adverse health consequences of pornography are not limited to a single class of pornographic materials, though the various classes have differing health consequences. Most importantly perhaps, the adverse health consequences of pornography are not limited to materials that are legally obscene or that violate child pornography law. Thus, existing laws, even if enhanced and enforced as recommended in this report, are insufficient to prevent the adverse health consequences attributable to pornography. Obscenity law is designed to suppress the offensive, but on medical and public health grounds it would be more desirable to suppress the harmful. To the extent that the obscene and the harmful overlap, obscenity law is a powerful tool of health promotion. But if the adverse health consequences of pornography are to be minimized, strategies other than effective enforcement of obscenity law and child pornography law will be necessary. In addition to the strategies that increase the effectiveness and enforcement of existing law, the nation's health requires a creative search for countermeasures against the adverse health consequences of non-obscene, non-child pornography, which will inevitably survive law enforcement efforts directed against obscenity and against child pornography. In this search, we must inevitably come to terms with the need for appropriate sex education.

    The Commission report endorses citizen actions that could help reduce the adverse health consequences of non-obscene, non-child pornography, but the report is necessarily unclear on the nature and extent of this class of materials. This lack of clarity carries with it the risk that citizen action will be misdirected. To the extent that citizens care to base their actions against non-obscene material on its medical and public health consequences, they will do more to promote health if they insure that their efforts encompass violent and degrading images, especially sexually violent and degrading images. Unhealthy as some non-obscene pornography may be, it is not as unhealthy as detective magazine covers depicting violence toward a woman whose sexual characteristics are emphasized, horror films depicting girls or women undressing moments before the villain pounces upon them, or televised depictions of violence toward alluring, glamorous, and wanton women. Like rape itself, violent pornography is not so much about sex as about violence. It is no distortion of the language to refer to violence that is not sexually explicit as pornography. The word "pornography" derives from the Greek for the writings of prostitutes, and the life of the prostitute is as much a life of violence as it is a life of sex. If sexually stimulating materials that are nonviolent, nondegrading, and nonobscene have beneficial health consequences, the most important among them must be that they distract attention from materials that are violent and degrading.