Pro-Con: Should pornography be illegal in the United States?

Yes (Russ Neal)

Pornography may seem to be the ultimate “victimless crime,” a private vice that should be of no interest to the government, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a form of infidelity, pornography wars against the exclusive erotic love relationship that lies at the heart of marriage. Healthy, functioning marriages and families are important to a healthy and functioning society.

Pornography acts very much like drugs using natural body hormones as the substance being abused.  As with drugs, some people can use pornography with only manageable harm while others go on to life-destroying addiction. Not all users of pornography go on to become sex criminals, but nearly all sex criminals started with and became enslaved to pornography.

The proper formation and functioning of marriages and multi-generational families is the natural basis for social order. When working properly, the natural family provides the main functions of government, displacing any need for a large and intrusive welfare-police state.  Where we see the most dysfunctional families, there we see the most expansive government.

In modern history, pornography emerged from political subversives and perverts like the Marquis de Sade, specifically as a tool of revolution against the Christian order of Western civilization. Today, the radical left continues this effort against the Christian order using the same tool.

Standing against it with the force of law is a matter of survival for our civilization and not mere prudishness.

The principal victim of pornography is boys in their early teens. It is unreasonable to expect them to have the maturity and strength of character to stand against this influence alone. Government must employ censorship to protect them, and by protecting them protect us all from pornography’s evil effects on society.

The other victim of pornography is women and young girls, not only through direct exploitation by the industry, but by reducing their value to that of sex objects in society generally. At one time, men felt duty bound to defend their sisters, wives and children from this kind of degradation and harm. The reason we no longer feel so obligated is not because of some high-minded commitment to free speech but because we are moral cowards.

In the book of Genesis we are told that, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply.” The male-female nature of mankind, and its proper ordering in terms of God’s law, is part of the “image of God” in creation.  We do violence to this image at our own peril.

Libertarians are so focused on individual freedom that they disregard the well-being of the larger community.  Since man is God’s creature, we should realize that the maximum possible degree of freedom comes when we conform to God’s moral law, both as individuals and as a community.  As a fish is made to live in water, so man is made to live in God’s law, and trying to live otherwise will be disastrous for both. You can “minimize government” by legalizing things like pornography so much that the resultant anarchy brings about the very totalitarianism you were trying to avoid.

No president, Congress or court imagined pornography to be protected under the First Amendment until the United States Supreme Court so erroneously began to rule in the 1960s.

With our eager acceptance of this ruling, we have seen the unraveling of marriage and our historic sexual norms with devastating impacts on our society. Children no longer can expect to grow up in a home with their own fathers and mothers present and many of our children are so confused about their own sexual nature they are unable to form a functioning family of their own.

We are far down the road to a collapse of our once free republic into a totalitarian dictatorship because we are unwilling to use government power to defend our families or our civilization.  It is way past time for that to change.

Russ Neal is a retired engineer who lives in Huntington Beach.

No (Sal Rodriguez)

There is no denying the widespread availability and consumption of pornography in the United States.

Nor is there denying that many people abuse pornography. Nor is there denying that, indeed, minors can access such material. These are problems worth taking seriously.

But conservative efforts to scapegoat pornography, or any vice, as the downfall of civilization are not only poorly grounded but practically futile.

I will address these in reverse.

Prohibition is impossible

Pornography, like it or not, moral or not, tasteful or not, is widespread, mass-produced and considered acceptable by tens of millions of Americans.

In 2003, Web-filtering company N2H2 estimated there were 1.3 million pornographic websites offering 260 million pages of  content. And as we all know, the internet has come along a bit in the last 20 years.

According to Gallup, 43% of Americans agreed that pornography is “morally acceptable,” up from 30% in 2011.

None of those are rational starting points for the religious right’s recent enthusiasm for prohibiting pornography. It’s not going anywhere.

Even Communist China, with its stranglehold over that country’s internet, can’t stamp it out.

In the first half of 2020, their National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications announced they took down 12,000 pornographic or other “harmful” websites.

As Masha Borak at the South China Morning Post has reported, China is the sort of country that offers its citizens “up to $86,000 to snitch on porn.” And yet it persists even in a totalitarian state with a level of control over the populace that not even the most rabid leftist in the United States would tolerate.

Now, I can imagine someone saying, “Well, OK, prohibition is a bit much. But what about restricting access?”

Louisiana, as of this year, requires adult websites to check the identification of those who access adult content. The state has established a digital ID system for this to happen.

Besides the litany of ways this could go wrong — from data leaks to people providing their ID to fraudsters — it’s 2023 and it’s not difficult for anyone to simply bypass.

One could, for example, visit a non-U.S. based website, which doesn’t need to comply with a U.S. state law, or use a virtual private network (VPN) to appear to be accessing such content from somewhere else. Done.

Again, prohibition or other efforts to significantly curtail access through the force of law are practically nonsensical.

Old, unsupported hysteria

Back in 1970, the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography,  tasked by President Lyndon Johnson to study the issue of pornography beginning in 1968, determined that, on balance, sex education, restrictions on pornographic access by minors and open discussion of sexual matters were the appropriate policy response to adult content.

They grappled with claims that exposure to pornography could lead to “crime, delinquency, sexual or nonsexual deviancy or severe emotional disturbances,” and found either no empirical support for such claims or much more powerful explanations for such problems, including “disorganized family relationships and unfavorable peer influences, are intimately related to harmful sexual behavior or adverse character development.”

Over 50 years and many technological changes later, and this more or less remains the case.

“The movement to declare pornography a public health crisis is rooted in an ideology that is antithetical to many core values of public health promotion and is a political stunt, not reflective of best available evidence,” concluded Dr. Kimberly M. Nelson and Dr. Emily F. Rothman in a paper published in 2020 in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Research suggests that there may be adverse health consequences of pornography use for some, no substantial consequences for the majority, and positive effects for others,” they noted.

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That’s hardly evidence of some societally altering media. Social conservatives, it turns out, have a bad habit of imbuing things they don’t like with far more power than they actually have.

Reactionaries in search of a scapegoat  

I understand that social conservatives look at the world today and see a world of godless chaos and sin.

But while scapegoating pornography may feel like a righteous cause, it’s ultimately a fool’s errand.

Social conservatives would be better off promoting their values — from their faiths to the merits of voluntarily abstaining from viewing pornography to urging support for traditional family structures — than seeking to use the force of government to fruitlessly impose their sense of right and wrong on others.

Sal Rodriguez can be reached at 

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