It almost sounds like a bad joke. A former Playboy Playmate and a rabbi walk into a bar, and write an op-ed together for the Wall Street Journal about why pornography is morally objectionable. Except for the idea the people involved probably didn’t craft this piece within the confines of an establishment which serves alcohol, though, such is exactly the case. The unusual tag team of “actress” Pamela Anderson and religious leader/TV host/author/one-time politician Shmuley Boteach co-authored a scathing attack on an entire industry which generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue. I would link to the actual article, but as I refuse to either subscribe or log in on wsj.com, you’ll get Rolling Stone‘s article about the article instead.
So, why exactly is porn so reprehensible, according to Anderson and Boteach? To cite the work that cited the work, here are some passages which help expound their worldview:
1. “[Pornography is] a boring, wasteful and dead-end outlet for people too lazy to reap the ample rewards of healthy sexuality.”
2. “From our respective positions of rabbi-counselor and former Playboy model and actress, we have often warned about pornography’s corrosive effects on a man’s soul and on his ability to function as husband and, by extension, as father. This is a public hazard of unprecedented seriousness given how freely available, anonymously accessible and easily disseminated pornography is nowadays.”
3. “Nine percent of porn users said they had tried unsuccessfully to stop—an indication of addiction that is all the more startling when you consider that the dependency rate among people who try marijuana is the same—9 percent—and not much higher among those who try cocaine (15 percent).”
4. “Whereas drug-dependency data are mostly stable, the incidence of porn addiction will only spiral as the children now being raised in an environment of wall-to-wall, digitized sexual images become adults inured to intimacy and in need of even greater graphic stimulation. They are the crack babies of porn.”
5. “The ubiquity of porn is an outgrowth of the sexual revolution that began a half-century ago and which, with gender rights and freedoms now having been established, has arguably run its course.” Now is the time for an epochal shift in our private and public lives. Call it a ‘sensual revolution.'”
Hmm, very articulately written. Obviously, that was all Pam Anderson. Shmuley’s just riding along on her Baywatch-slow-motion-running coattails, I think we can all agree. As well-stated as Pamuley’s (that’s my portmanteau for their two names; not bad, eh?) arguments are, however, they are not above reproach or debate. Let’s take it point by point, shall we? Feel free to agree or disagree as we go along, by the by.
1. Wow. “Judge not lest ye be judged” much? I’ll get to my thoughts on the relative entertainment level of today’s pornography, but let’s first address the other contentions in this first blurb. On the notion porn is a “dead-end outlet for lazy people,” I think this a bit of an unfair characterization. Maybe social interaction is intimidating for the viewer, and he or she needs encouragement or time before trying to seek out a love interest/sexual partner. Perhaps the watcher, curious about sex but rebuffed by his or her parents, and finding Sex Ed taught by gym teachers inadequate, is looking for pointers on what goes where and how. Or possibly the beholder, while his or her significant other is away on a work assignment, is feeling lonely and is looking to blow off a little steam—if you know what I mean.
Whatever the circumstances, to say that watching porn, Internet or otherwise, is for lazy people and wasteful, seems, at best, a mischaracterization of the average consumer, and at worst, irresponsible. After all, having sex just for sex’s sake, while perfectly enjoyable, if not performed with the requisite care and safety, risks sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy, not to mention damaged friendships and hurt feelings. Anderson and Boteach appear to be making the assertion that watching porn and being in a healthy, committed relationship are mutually exclusive, but not only is this patently false, but the insinuation that, um, enjoying oneself fully to X-rated material is a wasteful sin invokes what I submit is a particularly shitty story from the Old Testament.
Our boy Shmuley alternatively refers to masturbation as onanism, a term which recalls the story of Onan from the Book of Genesis. Allow me to set the scene. Onan had an older brother named Er. Er, at some point, took a wife in Tamar. Apparently, though, ol’ Er was a bit of an asshole, which made him ripe for the smiting in the eyes of Old Testament God. So, bye-bye went Er, which left Tamar without a husband to fill her womb with little blessings. OTG, however, had a plan up His almighty sleeve. In Er’s stead, He commanded, speaking through Onan’s father, Judah, to fill in for his fallen sibling. Regardless of whether or not Tamar inspired any sense of carnal lust, Onan understandably felt conflicted by this whole arrangement. His brother just died, and now he’s just supposed to step in and get cracking? From Onan’s perspective, he probably felt like he was betraying his brother’s memory—and from the look of things, the man wasn’t exactly down with O.P.P. Ultimately, OTG commanded, but when it came time for Onan to “go in unto” his brother’s wife, he could just couldn’t bear to fulfill his appointed duty. From the King James Version:
“And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.”
Well, you can’t be fruitful and multiply by spilling it on the ground. Luckily, Old Testament God, the forgiving and all-knowing Creator He is, understood that Onan had been under a lot of stress in his time of grief, and so He gave the seed-spiller a second chance. Kidding! He slew him right then and there. Literally speaking, Onan came and went. So, what’s the moral then? Always f**k your brother’s wife? Don’t f**k with Old Testament God? Either way, I’m not sure how great of a lesson there is to be learned by this example, such that the moralizing of the Pamela Anderson-Shmuley Boteach brain trust falls a little flat in this specific instance.
2. Once again, we’ve crossed the line from the physical to the metaphysical. However much the body may appreciate pornography, the model and rabbi speak to the belief that witnessing videos of gangbangs, public exposure, threesomes, etc. is bad for the soul. Before we conjure up images of hellfire and damnation, let’s just approach this from what supposed effects this “corrosion” has on a man’s life. Because only men watch porn. Whatever. First of all, pornography is cited as a negative influence on a guy’s ability to be a good husband. I suppose this may be true, if he lusts after the women he sees on his screen and neglects his marriage bed, or mowing the lawn, or brushing his teeth, all because he can’t keep his hand out of his pants. By this token, being a father or getting to work on time or whatever priority should take precedence is decidedly more difficult. I’m not going to front like porn can’t get in the way of a person’s ability to function in the real world. In this respect, however, we might say it is no different from, for instance, gambling, and with that, far less expensive. At least if you keep to the free sites.
3. We’re already engaging in a dangerous apples-to-oranges sort of comparison when we speak of marijuana next to other substances like cocaine or heroin, because weed, while not a benign drug, does not belong in the same class as the other two, and I would argue it doesn’t nearly as much damage to lives and homes than alcohol and tobacco do. Accordingly, however appropriate or inappropriate the parallel between porn and marijuana is, there are any number of sources of addiction in our world. Some people have a problem with food. Others play too many video games or spend too much time online or on their phones. Even Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Fort Minor fame has had to cope with his unshakable “friction addiction.” Painkillers. Sex itself. Addiction is a many-headed monster, and porn addiction is just one of its faces. I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of such an addiction as much as put it in a larger context.
4. “Crack babies of porn”? Shmuley and Pam are seemingly going for some shock value with this statement. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not they are appealing too strongly to a sense of moral outrage, but again seeking to put things in their proper perspective, I don’t think porn is the sole source of questionable messages to young men and women, especially on the subject of sex. Advertising, for example, when not engaging in a rational attempt to convince us to purchase a product, preys on our appetites, and this includes sexual imagery, such as in TV spots for Carl’s Jr. and Hardees where skinny, attractive females take a bite out of an oversized burger. Obviously, I’m not saying that today’s adult entertainment is a paragon of virtue in this regard, but to point the finger at pornography when today’s teens and young adults are bombarded with messages about their appearance and their sexuality seems a bit disingenuous.
5. In principle, I agree with the idea that a shift toward eroticism and sensuality in pornographic media in the near future would be beneficial for its consumers. The only part this final blurb has me pondering is this vague comment about gender rights and freedoms being established, as if progress still doesn’t need to be made for groups divided along demographic lines. Maybe I’m thinking beyond the scope of Pamuley’s analysis here, but to the women in America fighting for equal pay, to the people of color demanding they receive equal consideration under the country’s criminal justice system, and to the LGBT community looking for its place in American society, we still have a long road ahead of ourselves on the path to making the United States inclusive for all people. Representations of Asian, black, female, gay, Latino, lesbian, and trans sexuality are but a part of this struggle, but an important part nonetheless.
If my rebuttals to Pamela Anderson and Shmuley Boteach’s philosophical waxing make it seem as if I’m all in on jerking off to today’s porn, let it be known I have my reservations to this end. For the lonely bachelor or bachelorette, I sort of feel like pornography lends itself to excitement followed by an inevitable letdown. After all, as the joke goes, with masturbation, you’re only truly screwing yourself. Still, for all the, ahem, amateur research I’ve done on the subject (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry—so, so sorry), I find a lot of the material on popular porn sites objectionable. Not objectionable enough not to frequent them, of course, but still displeasing. Some of my frustrations with this method of temporarily relieving one’s sexual frustration, in no particular order:
1. Same old scenarios: It’s the year 2016, soon to be 2017, but we haven’t really advanced in terms of storytelling in porn. Maybe this much is understandable, for much of Hollywood’s output lately is arguably uninspired, and worse yet, the films made by major studios feature people who can actually act, dance, direct, produce, sing and write. The talent bar for the adult entertainment industry is set even lower, however, with the apparent presumption these “actresses” and “actors” are getting paid to have sex on camera because they can’t do anything else—or else they would. This seeming condescension aside, I tend to feel like we can do a better job of setting the scene in today’s X-rated fare—even if the end result is two or more people wantonly boning. The majority of sexual encounters depicted in these fictional scenarios are likely to fall within one of these categories:
- Step-parent/step-child or step-sibling/step-sibling
- Teacher/student or tutor/pupil
- Doctor or nurse/patient
- Talent agent/potential client
I’m sure I’m forgetting some popular genres, too, but regardless, these role play situations have pretty much been driven into the ground. Even when some studio or some brand tries to put a fresh “spin” on the tried-and-tested formula, the same boring essence is preserved. For instance, there seems to be a rash of sites devoted to hidden camera “reality” porn starring “amateurs” (despite it not being that well concealed that the same actors and actresses are appearing in umpteen number of videos), as well as point-of-view (POV) sex that, I suppose, is supposed to make the viewer feel as if he or she is a participant. Concerning the second count, though, and maybe this is just me, but I find it hard to imagine I’d be having sex with a woman who looks like one of the top porn stars in the business—at least not without money changing hands, or her husband ready to walk in the house any second and threaten to kill me. I mean, I know it’s a fantasy and all, but even these have their limits.
2. Unrealistic female body types: I know, I know—it’s fantasy, it’s escapism. This notwithstanding, I don’t understand why certain looks and body types prevail among the upper echelons of adult entertainment. While I truly believe that porn has something for everyone—chicks with dicks, midgets, tentacle rape, urination, I could go on—a number of the divas, if you will, of the XXX world conform to one of two ideals: 1) the skinny, petite, almost pre-pubescent-looking young lady, or 2) the artificially busty “mature” woman with inflated lips to match and the high likelihood of being cast as the best friend’s hot mom or the sexy librarian. Again, maybe I’m the outlier here, but on the first count, I don’t know what’s incredibly sexy about a rail-thin girl who looks like she should still be in high school, and who has absolutely no hair, you know, down there. Meanwhile, on the second count, when a woman’s chest and other features are so obviously fake and disproportionate to the rest of her figure, it’s just a turn-off. Isn’t the real thing better? Or does size count for everything? (Ladies, wait your turn, we’ll get to that in just a bit.) Anyone?
3. The male-female attractiveness disparity: To be a successful female porn star, not only do you have to be attractive to a large swath of adoring, horny fans—men and women alike—but you have to keep yourself in good shape, and if you’re going to distinguish yourself from the other female adult entertainers in the business, you’re either going to have cultivate or possess some acting chops, or else be adventurous enough sexually that you are recognized as one of the craziest sex fiends on the market. To be a male porn star, meanwhile? Uh, you pretty much just have to have a big cock. You don’t need personality. You frankly don’t even have to be that good-looking. Yup, if you’re a man working in porn, a plus-sized wang is essentially your only qualification. As a heterosexual man confident in his sexuality, I’ll concede some male porn stars are handsome fellows. By and large, though, despite the porn industry being a woman-dominated area, much more is demanded of them than it is of their well-endowed male co-stars. Porn isn’t the only business to fall prey to this inequality of attractiveness between men and women; I personally have lost count of how many instances of “Hot Wife, Average Guy” I have seen in commercials during televised sports games. Still, there are plenty of women who watch porn, and I submit they deserve better than a few good men here and there. In other words, pornography for the female viewer should be more than a bag of 10-inch dicks.
4. Stupid porn names: Enough with the names ending in XX or XXX. No one expects you to use your real name, but this trope of the adult entertainment industry is overused and dumb. Ditto for people naming themselves after popular Hollywood stars of yesteryear. (Looking at you, James Deen.) To stress, it’s OK that you adopt a “porn name,” but at least make it seem plausible. Or at the very least, reference an awesome franchise we watched as kids.
5. The normalization of female subjugation and the promiscuity double standard: I get that for some, perhaps many, rough sex and other elements in the BDSM purview are a turn-on. Nevertheless, there are a surprising number of sites and sub-sites devoted to “hard” or “brutal” sex which appear among the top-viewed or featured videos on popular porn services on the web, and the scenarios which are concocted to justify these kinds of kinky intercourse seem to be unduly harsh on the female characters/actresses, not so much in the obvious physical sense as much as the emotional/psychological sense. The female participant, who in some cases is forced to engage short of rape, becomes a “dirty little slut” or “bitch” or “whore” who “really wants it,” with copious slapping of the face and elsewhere on her person as part of the humiliation.
Even when rough sex isn’t the assumed end result, a significant portion of the scenarios that rate among the most popular or proudly feature involve some sort of deception or manipulation of the woman-object. Give me a blow job or I’m telling our stepmother. Show me your tits and I’ll let you ride in my taxi for free. You’re a student and could really use the money—how about I f**k you while my friends watch and this random-ass dude films it? All too frequently, these desperate women are blackmailed, convinced by way of some sort of quid pro quo, or tricked into having sex with some person they don’t know, and presumably, because they allow themselves to be coerced or conned, they deserve their fate. These dumb ho’s—they’ll do anything for a dollar, especially when they see our painfully large schlongs! Those males abusing their position of power or supposedly knowing better than their targets—they’re never wrong. They’re not the whores. Boys will be boys. Life isn’t fair. F**k or be f**ked.
Even when porn sites go for a more “passionate” or “sensual” vibe to the coital exploits within, I usually find the presentation vaguely depressing. Imaginably to appeal to the intended female audience, the setting is frequently an aspirational one as far as most viewers are concerned. Nice house, fine linens, no children anywhere to be found, presumably because they are being watched by the nanny. To be fair, I suppose making love in a back alley wouldn’t be quite as attractive to the consumer/masturbator, but I can’t help but think I’m the only one who doesn’t get a little disheartened at seeing rich white people screw in a place I couldn’t conceivably afford—and I’m white. Think about how people of color, often relegated to sites uniformly calling them “exotic,” feel not seeing themselves represented thusly, or if they are, they are often the maid, or some basketball player with whom the woman secretly cheats on her husband, or some subservient practitioner of Eastern culture who meekly submits to the fetishistic desires of the domineering white man employing her. As with more mainstream forms of entertainment in television and movies, the tendency is to think in terms of stereotypes, perhaps even more so since the standards for writing these adult scenarios are lower in the porn industry, and either way, the push for diversity is weak at best.
To make matters worse, rather than labeling this material “erotic” or “romantic,” sites like Pornhub will bill it as “for women” or “female-friendly,” creating what I argue is a self-fulfilling prophecy about men and women having very different views on sex, if not irreconcilable differences on the subject. Men are all dogs who want it any way they can get it. Women are frigid creatures who generally don’t enjoy sex and must be prodded into “giving it up.” These are antiquated views on the subject of knocking boots, and yet I feel there is not enough emphasis on changing attitudes toward sex and gender roles. Though I wouldn’t say I love these passion-oriented formats in light of the aforementioned concerns, I certainly would rather watch them than ones in which the guy is choking and manhandling the girl, or another of umpteen terrible parodies of popular shows and films (is anyone really asking for a XXX American Dad movie?).
In conclusion, and bringing us back to Pam Anderson and Shmuley’s treatise on porn, I concede there are a number of things wrong with today’s pornography, including the major points already discussed, as well as—and you’ll probably scoff at what I’m saying—but not using condoms when the context warrants. If it’s the yuppie husband and wife banging in the kitchen with the stainless steel appliances and the convection stove top, sure, they’re married and hopefully not cheating on one another—though this is porn, after all, and anything is liable to happen. If it’s two people who met five minutes ago in a bathroom stall, um, maybe they should wrap it up. Impressionable minds do watch this stuff, y’know. But yes, even with its faults, I think to make a blanket statement such as “porn is for losers” unfairly demeans both the user and the industry. For starters, for any number of single people, watching adult entertainment and pleasuring themselves is their only outlet for their sexual energy. Not only that, but studies show it may be healthy for you, too, and may help you avoid certain conditions and diseases. Furthermore, there’s no demonstrative link between porn viewership and the degradation of one’s mortal soul. If gamers can play Call of Duty and not shoot up an entire building, I’m convinced men can watch XXX videos and still be a functioning member of society. I’m not saying these media can’t be bad influences, but it’s not a fait accompli, and regardless, doesn’t absolve the perpetrator of blame.
In short, I would rather young men watch porn and risk corruption, than bottle up their sexual frustration and have no idea where or what the clitoris is, let alone how they might otherwise please a flesh-and-blood female if given the chance. Today’s porn is in need of improvement, no doubt, and while I broadly support the notion of a “sensual revolution,” I think we need to move toward a more accepting and honest conversation in this country about sex in its various forms before we can truly make any progress in this regard. As rock band Garbage would have it, “sex is not the enemy,” and for that matter, neither is porn.