So…Stephen Fry. He’s made a regrettable set of remarks about “growing up” and not feeling sorry for oneself after abuse, which I can imagine he doesn’t even believe (or does he? Good god…). However, I can’t help but think his real issue isn’t with the longterm effects of abuse, which I bet he would be willing to concede, but the importance of freedom of speech.
I have a similar issue with regard to pornography. We have amassed study after study indicating that pornography leads to greater violence against women. In a Washington Post article, Gail Dynes writes, “A recent meta-analysis of 22 studies between 1978 and 2014 from seven different countries concluded that pornography consumption is associated with an increased likelihood of committing acts of verbal or physical sexual aggression, regardless of age. A 2010 meta-analysis of several studies found ‘an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women.’”
You may want to dismiss the studies but I suspect that the porn industry will be busy trying to do that, so let’s let them take the trouble first.
Meanwhile I find it easy to accept that pornography is bad for us. It certainly upsets me–all the damned time. But does that mean we should make it illegal? Refuse to allow it expression at all? I can’t see that working at a practical level. And I don’t think that is the right route.
Pornography has grown enormously since the internet. A Huffington Post headline announced in 2013 that “Porn Sites Get More Visitors Each Month Than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter Combined,” and one of the largest free porn sites in the world, YouPorn, streamed six times the bandwidth of Hulu in 2013.” (Gail Dines, 2016)
It seems that availability of pornography has only created a bigger market for it. A bigger and younger market. Would banning it make that market larger or smaller? And is it right to ban a form of expression?
Stephen Fry is worried that the sensitivities of those who have been abused will whittle away at freedom of speech. Well, it’s a legitimate concern if someone is talking about banning Macbeth (which nobody is). But the real issue about freedom of speech is not Stephen Fry or his nineteenth century remarks about sex abuse being nothing more than “your uncle touching you in that nasty place”. It is the one in which pornography is central. If we now know through meta-analyses that porngraphy harms both the person watching and women generally and that it insides hatred, are we obligated to stop it? Does pornography constitute an abuse of freedom of speech?
My suspicion is that while it is an abuse of freedom of speech, making it illegal isn’t going to help us. We somehow have to evolve to such a level that the idea of engaging in pornography does not interest us. Like the way I feel about bullfighting. Or dog fighting. It’s not just “No thank you” but “NO! Are you out of your mind?”
The trouble is that the stuff is addictive, and this is what I mean when I saw that watching pornography harms the viewer. It appears to be the American Psychiastric Associations’s conviction that anything between consenting adults is absolutely fine and therefore pornography is fine. There can be no problem with it because everyone is consenting.They believe this so strongly that you’d think it was a religious tenet of being a psychologist. At the same time, there is increasing evidence that pornography is as addictive as a drug, and here I am not quoting “Fight The New Drug” campaigners, but medical journals.
An article in Medicaldaily.com states that changes in the brains of viewers of pornography are “similar to those seen in cocaine addicts, who develop abnormalities in areas, such as the nucleus accumbens and striatum, which are responsible for learning, memory, pleasure, and reward” the long arm of the APA seems almost visible. Weirdly, the article also defends pornography as being important for couples (really? for couples?) to “explore their erotic desires” as though pornography defines sex, itself.
The article ignores the truth here, which is that every year freshman boys have to be informed that not only is the pornography they watched during their high school years not something they try should emulate in real life, but that it might land them in jail should try try to do so. In other words, pornography isn’t sex at all, but a highly stylized, often violent representation of sex that does distorts human sexuality while attempting to define it. And it is this defining quality that worries me most. When did all this violence become part of normal sex? I regularly get junk Twitter followers and email with pornographic images and come-ons like “What would you like to do to my 18-year old body?” Do you think that came from pornogrpahy? I’m guessing it did because there’s a link…
The same article that cites tests proving pornography is addictive claims that pornography increases libido. Increasing libido seems wholly unnecessary in the vast number of watchers (pornography is watched most often by men between 18-24, though I suspect they are just saying they are eighteen). And I notice the article ignores one eventual result of watching pornography, which is erectile dysfunction and “sexual anorexia”, which is a complicated intimacy disorder.
So. What are we left with? Clearly, I am anti-porn. But I am not anti-freedom of speech. I see the potential harm in leaving the free market at work in the world of pornography and I see the harm in interfering with it. There will be more harms I could not have anticipated no matter what direction we go (and of course, nobody is talking about interfering with the availability of pornography, as far as I can tell, though I could understand that as a defensible undertaking).
I have seen the awful result of the US government’s “war on drugs” and have read the history of the rise of underground crime as a result of banning alcohol, then drugs. Do I think we can ban pornography? No. Even though it has been proven to damage women. Even though it is nothing more than prostitution that has been filmed. Even though it is anything but a turn-on to me, personally, and I find it incredibly upsetting. The stuff traumatizes me, but I still wouldn’t want it banned.
If Stephen Fry had taken the time to explain why he didn’t want a media ban on certain words (“rape” was one of them, apparently) instead of insulting every person who has ever suffered child sex abuse, he might have suffered a little less backlash. He might have said, “Look, I know people suffer from this stuff, but we have to protect freedom of speech.” Or perhaps he would have listened to the very good Radio 4 discussion on “no-platforming” and free speech and learned how one argues the subject more effectively.
I’m not even sure pornography is “speech” or “expression.” It’s nothing that I like, but I am more worried about interfering with its expression than enduring its consequences. For now, anyway.