On Sex Work, Morality, and Truth

Pete Buttigieg is among those on the left who, in deriding Donald Trump as a “porn star president,” takes a jab at an industry in sex work that has been disproportionately stigmatized and which sees its professionals face certain risks and a lack of concern for their rights and trustworthiness. (Photo Credit: Marc Nozell/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

At a recent CNN town hall, Democratic hopeful Pete Buttigieg took specific issue with Vice President Mike Pence’s support of Donald Trump. Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana (Pence’s home state) and openly gay (ahem, not Pence’s favorite distinction), criticized Pence for his support for Trump in an apparent abandonment of his principles as a Christian. As Buttigieg put it, “How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?”

As far as the post-event dissection and sound bite accumulation went, this was Buttigieg’s quote of the night. For what it’s worth, the pointed criticism of Pence and the religious right is well taken. Prior to the rise of Trump, white evangelicals were most likely to insist on a candidate’s morality as an important quality. Now, however, they downplay Trump’s moral and other deficiencies of character, in this respect acting more white than evangelical. For some, it may be unconscious, but either way, religious conservatives see an ally in a president who appears to exemplify the so-called “prosperity gospel” and who would uphold their brand of “religious freedom.”

Mayor Buttigieg, though, is not a member of the religious right. He is a Democrat and Episcopalian whose mere sexual orientation would make him a target of conservative Christians’ scorn. His attack of Trump’s “porn star presidency” is a double-edged sword that strikes not only at Mike Pence’s hypocrisy and that of his ilk but also at adult entertainers and their choice of vocation. Within his comments are an implicit criticism of porn stars—or at least a failure to defend them. Trump is a bad person. He consorts with porn stars. By association, if you associate with him or them, you are a bad person.

The unnamed allusion to Trump’s extramarital liaison with Stephanie Clifford a.k.a. Stormy Daniels is not the first knock on the woman who alleges she slept with Trump and was paid off in advance of the 2016 presidential election for her silence. Rudy Giuliani—or the crazy person masquerading as Rudy Giuliani for the purposes of defending Donald Trump—expressed to a national audience the belief that Daniels has no credibility because she is a porn star. Translation: Stormy Daniels is a lying whore who can’t be trusted because all porn stars are lying whores. Michael Avenatti’s detractors on the right have leveled similar criticisms of Daniels’s then-lawyer on guilt-by-association principles. He represents porn stars, ipso facto, he is a lying scumbag.

Irrespective of what you think of their personalities—Avenatti, in particular, strikes me as an obnoxious attention-seeker—their choice of vocation or client shouldn’t have a bearing on their believability. As is oft said, love the sinner; hate the sin. In this instance, however, even on the left, there are those who condemn the sinner and sin. Trump is a “porn star president.” Lost in the discussion of his and Pence’s and Daniels’s and Avenatti’s morality is the more relevant issue of whether Donald Trump specifically directed a payoff to Stormy Daniels and whether that constituted a breach of campaign finance law. It shouldn’t matter whether Daniels is a porn star or prostitute or any other similar type of professional. It’s Trump’s conduct with which we should be primarily concerned.

Unfortunately, this bilateral takedown of adult entertainers and other sex workers is emblematic of our larger discomfort with sex work as a function of our discomfort with, well, sex. Sex is enjoyable. It’s the reason most of us are here, barring in vitro fertilization or the like. Talking about it, though, for many of us can be an, er, icky prospect, necessitating the use of double entendre or other euphemistic language. And showing our appreciation of its splendor? Oh, no. Especially for women, that’s not very “lady-like.” Too much sex and you risk getting branded as a “slut.” Worse yet if you’re a prostitute. Then you’re a criminal and deserve to be admonished. So much for the world’s oldest profession.

I watch porn. (Mom, if you’re reading this, apologies.) I’m not without my reservations. There are the usual complaints. The costumes tend to be tacky. Lo, the cut-rate nurse uniforms. The dialogue is often stilted. The acting is frequently subpar. And is there nothing that doesn’t get a porn parody? Who asks for a Rugrats porn parody anyway? Who finds that sexy?

Even when these things are improved upon—and I do think the production value of today’s adult entertainment is largely superior to the XXX offerings of yesteryear—there are troubling aspects of the presentation and of the industry as a whole. The plots—which often barely qualify as such and for some reason usually revolve around sex with stepfamily—can be steeped in misogyny, involving coercion or trickery of the female participant(s) as pivotal “plot” points.

Even when the content is geared to be more “female friendly,” the on-screen enjoyment is often reserved for wealthy characters who enjoy lavish accommodations on the count of being highly-paid hard-working individuals. It’s luxury porn on top of being actual porn. There are also concerns off camera about suicides of numerous high-profile stars and the ever-present worry about transmission of sexually-transmitted infections in a world where condom use is infrequent. And we haven’t yet gotten to the problem of monetization for production companies and actors/actresses alike.

So yeah, the adult entertainment industry has its issues—and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Still, I’m not sure why there seems to be such a disdain or disregard for the people involved, the type which prompts left-leaning comedians like Chelsea Handler to equate porn stars with abusers, child molesters, and Russian hackers. I get that its objectors may see porn as exploitative and the performers as lacking talent. But why the hate? Because they love sex and like getting paid for it? Even within the context of the on-film productions, there seems to be an inherent condemnation of the young women in these situations modeled on real life. These whores will do anything for money! They can’t control themselves when they see what he’s packing down there! We condemn them for their vices while absconding to our bedrooms, gratifying our pleasures. To the extent that these scenes are a reflection of us and our society is disconcerting.

Morality also appears to cloud our collective judgment when it comes to our demonization of escorts, prostitutes, et cetera and advocacy for their rights. A presumption in this regard is that the sex worker has agency over her or his circumstances—and that may be a big presumption to make. There are arguments by some feminists and others that sex work is an oppressive form of labor, especially as it relates to exploitation by “pimps.” Speaking of exploitation, there are serious concerns about human and sex trafficking that would subvert that necessary agency and constitute a serious crime. In many cases, there are quantifiable risks to the sex worker, including drug use, poverty, rape, sexually-transmitted infections, and violence.

These issues notwithstanding, the stigma of sex work lingers. As with adult entertainers, prostitutes who get involved with this line of work for the money or sex are demeaned as unskilled opportunists, and as for the risks they face, the consensus response seems to be an effective shrug of the shoulders. They chose this lifestyle. If they don’t like it, they should get an education and a real job. This comes to a head when discussing sex workers’ desire for safety and protection against burdensome regulations as well as freedom of movement, available health services, and other rights that mere status as a human being should confer. In practice, this is not always the reality.

Meera Senthilingam, a CNN Health and Wellness editor, penned an article which appeared on CNN in February concerning “what sex workers really want.” In the opinion of one sex worker interviewed for the piece, seeing as they pay the same taxes, sex workers should be afforded the same rights as other service professionals who are allowed to work from home. There is also the problem for some prostitutes when law enforcement gets involved. In places where the legality of the practice is null or vague and dependent on who solicits who, the presence of police may actually be a deterrent to would-be customers.

This assumes, by the by, that the police aren’t the ones abusing, exploiting, or harassing sex workers, and as with the agency of sex workers mentioned earlier, this is quite an assumption to make. As with any profession, there are bad actors, and for a population in sex workers already susceptible to violence and other health and safety concerns, it puts practitioners in a bind, to put it mildly. It begs the question: who will watch the watchers when it comes to safeguarding their liberties as citizens?

The above deliberations are worth talking about. Whether it’s because of a deprecating attitude regarding sex work, a discomfort in approaching such matters, or both, however, even those on the left who usually are keen on standing up for individuals’ agency over their bodies and protecting their inalienable rights appear loath to mention sex workers specifically. Chalk it up to social mores or personal morality, but in 2019, America and the world at large is evidently lagging on this topic.


You might ask why we are worried about the feelings and opinions and rights of someone like Stormy Daniels. The woman didn’t even vote, for crying out loud! What do she and her contemporaries have to contribute to the larger discussion about Donald Trump and American politics? To be honest, I’m not totally sure, but if we dismiss her as an opportunist and a slut from the jump, what chance do we have to listen and know with an open mind?

In front of an audience of 500 women or so at The Wing, a work and community space designed for women in Washington, D.C., Daniels recently said she believes Michael Cohen to be true in his testimony to lawmakers. Cohen, like Daniels, has had his credibility attacked reflexively by Republican supporters of the president, and while she may not possess a great deal of affection for the man—she referred to Cohen as “dumber than herpes”—she thinks he is honest and that, like her, he came forward because he’s tired of “being bullied” and “being called a liar and a rat.”

Sure, this is just one person’s opinion, but it comes from someone who alleges to know Trump intimately—in more than one sense of the word. In this respect, her thoughts have at least much value as a shameless defender of Trump like Sean Hannity. Instead, though, she’s a porn star to be derided alongside the president, Mike Pence, and even child molesters and wife beaters. Thanks for the insight, but we’d rather scoff at you from atop our high horses. Don’t call us; we’ll call you.

Whether it’s within the context of #MeToo or of simply acknowledging the dignity of sex workers as human beings, the left has a problematic relationship with those storytellers it considers to be problematic or unsavory. Daniels has stressed she is a not a victim with regard to #MeToo. Cohen, set to spend three years in federal prison, is sure as heck not a victim.

Through all the deals they’ve struck and monies they’ve received, this doesn’t mean they’re utterly irredeemable. And their past actions and vocations have no bearing on the veracity of what they say about Trump. To allow our social and moral misgivings to stand in the way of our better judgment is to fall prey to the same kind of prejudices that have characterized conservatism of late. You know, when its practitioners actually heed their conscience or the teachings of scripture.

“Why Should We Believe Her?” Why Not?

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Brett Kavanaugh, during his Senate confirmation hearing in 2004. He can maintain his innocence amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct while we view his accusers as credible. It’s not a zero-sum game. (Image Credit: CSPAN)

Note: This piece was written and published prior to Julie Swetnick’s allegations being made public.

As the drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court drags on, it unfortunately is difficult to say what has been the most disheartening aspect of this process. Certainly, for people who have lamented the partisan rancor of American politics in recent memory, calls to delay or speed up proceedings have done little to assuage their concerns. On a personal note, I consider anything that makes Mitch McConnell more relevant than he usually is a net loss as well, but that is for each of us to decide.

In all seriousness, though, probably the worst aspect of this whole affair is that it has dredged up so many awful attitudes on the subject of sexual assault, rape, and accountability for males in the #MeToo era. For those previously living under a rock, Kavanaugh has been accused by two women of some form of egregious sexual behavior, with Deborah Ramirez, board member and volunteer at Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence and Yale University graduate, joining Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and professor of statistics at Palo Alto University, as an accuser. Since coming out to allege Kavanaugh of trying to force himself on her as a teenager, Blasey Ford and her family have been subject to death threats and have been forced to hire private security. For his part, Kavanaugh and his family have received threats too.

Then again, maybe the pain of hearing and reading the callous disbelief of some observers is worth exposing their misguided and outmoded ways of thinking. Still, that the tenor of arguments outside the purview of Congress and Washington, D.C. echoes that of lawmakers who divide reflexively along party lines is disturbing. In reality, regardless of whether or not Kavanaugh gets the job, the believability of Blasey Ford and other survivors should not be a partisan issue.

That opinions along gender lines might similarly be divided is likewise unsettling, albeit somewhat understandable. There’s a probable generational component, too, as well as other ways by which responses may be separated. As a white cisgender male young adult, my perspective may be indicative of this identity, so feel free to keep this context in mind as you weigh my thoughts.

With that said, let’s address some of the comments one is liable to hear leading up to a prospective vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s candidacy to be a Supreme Court Justice.

“Boys will be boys.”

Ah, yes. The old “boys will be boys” line. While keeping in mind the notion that Kavanaugh was reportedly in high school when he is alleged to have made an unwanted advance on Christine Blasey, or in college when a second instance of alleged unsolicited sexual behavior occurred with Deborah Ramirez, his relative youth or hormones doesn’t excuse the way he acted—it merely provides context. Especially considering that there is no accompanying sentiment that “girls should be girls,” if young women are expected to behave as ladies, young men should be able to comport themselves as gentlemen. Particularly if they belong to the “superior” sex, and sarcastic eye-rolls are warranted in this instance.

What’s alarming to me is how I’ve heard women defend Kavanaugh’s behavior along these lines, more so on the side of supporters of the Republican Party, and yet even so. “I mean, what hot-blooded male hasn’t acted like that?” Well, I haven’t, for one, and neither have the men who make consensual sexual acts a priority. Even if we’re grading Kavanaugh personally on a curve because “things were different then,” it’s 2018 and he will be adjudicating matters according to today’s standards. Right here and now, “boys will be boys” needs to be retired.

“They were drinking/drunk.”

Right. We know that alcohol consumption can lower inhibitions. It can make us do things we wouldn’t normally do and would be wise in avoiding, such as throwing table tennis balls in plastic cups and drinking out of them regardless of where those balls have been or, say, eating at White Castle. Nevertheless, getting inebriated does not obviate an individual’s obligation to behave responsibly, nor it does comprise consent to be violated in any way. This is akin to the notion that females dressed in a certain way are “asking for it.” It’s victim-blaming, and it’s not an acceptable defense for sexual assault or rape. End of story.

The other main reason for invoking alcohol is to cast aspersions on the veracity of the accuser’s account. Deborah Ramirez was drinking at the time of the alleged incident, and as such, there are “gaps” in her memory. This notwithstanding, she maintains she is confident enough in what she does remember about Kavanaugh’s conduct and that it warrants scrutiny. That should be enough, and if what Ramirez is saying is accurate, it makes Kavanaugh’s behavior seem that much more appalling that he would try to take advantage of the situation.

“If it really happened, she/he would’ve gone to the authorities.”

Sigh. There is any number of reasons why victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or rape might be reluctant to file a police report or even tell people close to them about it. They might feel a sense of shame surrounding what happened, despite deserving no blame. They might be in denial or aim to minimize the gravity of it. They might be afraid of potential repercussions or simply fear they won’t be believed, especially if drugged or under the influence of alcohol. They already might suffer from low self-esteem and somehow think they deserve to be mistreated. They might feel a sense of helplessness or hopelessness about the situation. They might not even recognize what happened to them constitutes one of the above. Perhaps worst of all, they might already have been a victim, fundamentally altering their approach to future such situations.

In short, there’s plenty of legitimate reasons why an unsolicited sexual advance or encounter might go unreported. Noting this, we should afford victims understanding and the chance to come forward with their recollections when they are ready. Besides, this is before we get to the instances of victims who do come forward and still aren’t taken at their word.

“They’re just doing this to get their 15 minutes of fame.”

Yes—all that fame. Besides Anita Hill and famous victims of Harvey Weinstein et al., how many of these people who report an assault or rape do you know offhand? I’m guessing not many. Sure—we know Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez right now. Will we remember them 10 years down the road? Five, even?

As is their misfortune, if they are remembered by the masses, they likely won’t be known for being compassionate, intelligent, proud women with college degrees and inspired careers. They’ll instead probably be known simply as accusers, their names forever tied to the man who allegedly victimized them. Depending on the audience, they also stand to be vilified for trying to bring a “good man” down, and as noted, there’s the matter of death threats and potential professional repercussions. For the supposed benefits, these accusers have that much more to lose. Courageous? Yes. Glorious? No.

“This is all just part of a Democratic smear campaign.”

You can question the timing of these revelations and whether there is any political dimension to them. Blasey Ford and Ramirez are either registered Democrats or have donated to liberal/progressive groups, though they aver that this did not factor into their decision to come forward. At the end of the day, however, if the allegations are true, does any of this matter? So what if these accounts come to light less than two months before the midterm elections? There’s never a “good” time to disclose such inconvenient truths.

Nor does it matter that these events happened years, decades ago. Regardless of whether or not the accused can still be found guilty in a court of law, victims may still live with the pain and shame of their encounter. If left untreated, these wounds will not heal. That’s not something we should encourage in the name of political expediency.

After all, in speaking of timing and political expediency, how are we to regard Kavanaugh’s letter signed by 65 women who knew him when he attended high school and attest to his honorable behavior and treatment of women with respect? How were these women found and contacted so quickly to produce this document? And what does this prove? If we can view Blasey’s and Ramirez’s past conduct through a critical lens, we can view this attempt to sway the minds of ranking congressional members similarly. Just because Brett Kavanaugh didn’t disrespect these women doesn’t mean he didn’t hurt others.


Ever since the likes of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein were being brought down by accusers nowhere near as powerful or famous as they are, many observers have had a tough time reconciling apparently conflicting principles. One is that purported victims of sexual assault and other crimes should be believed, regardless of gender. Since women are disproportionately victims in this regard, this means implicitly believing women. The other principle is presumption of innocence. Until we know all “the facts,” Brett Kavanaugh shouldn’t be labeled a sexual predator.

While noting that this is more akin to a job interview than a trial for Kavanaugh and while the court of public opinion increasingly seems to eschew the need for a preponderance of evidence before assigning guilt, we would do well to remain open to the idea that both sides of the story could be true. Brett Kavanaugh claims he is innocent. That is his version of the truth. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez claim otherwise. That is their version of the truth. Not being in the room with them, we can’t know for sure. But without subscribing to an agenda, we can choose which of these is the best answer, so to speak. Assuming these parties testify, that is what the Senate Judicial Committee will be tasked with.

Whomever we personally believe, the important thing is that these claims be investigated. With all due respect to Kavanaugh and his family, as well as the aims of Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley, the veracity of the accusations supersedes their feelings. “Judge Kavanaugh’s reputation might suffer.” So? What of his accusers? If recent history is any indication, Kavanaugh might not receive enough votes to be confirmed, but it’s unlikely he will suffer serious adverse effects to his livelihood as a result of these proceedings.

For instance, for his supposed fall from grace, Louis C.K. was able to do a surprise comedy routine less than a year since he admitted wrongdoing. For men like him, it’s evidently a question of when he will come back, not if he should. For the women who were his victims, they can’t come back to prominence—and there’s a good chance they gave up on comedy because of how they were treated by him. For every James Franco starring in The Deuce, there’s an Ally Sheedy who cites Franco as a reason not to ask her why she left the television/film business. That sounds messed up to me.

As for McConnell and his Republican brethren, I have little to no sympathy for their wanting to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed despite multiple claims of misconduct and after refusing to hear Merrick Garland’s nomination by Barack Obama following the death of Antonin Scalia. If you want a nominee for Supreme Court Justice voted on with less controversy, you and your GOP mates should do a better job of vetting one. Pick again. We’ll wait. It’s not our problem if you can’t afford to.

In the end, those of us who believe Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and all purported victims of sexual assault until given a reason to doubt them do so because we simply have no reason to doubt them in the first place. If Brett Kavanaugh is innocent and telling the truth, he will likely be confirmed (and may be anyway, for that matter), and we lose nothing. It is those who reflexively question the accusers and hack away at their credibility that risk inexorable damage to their own. For their sake, I hope they like their odds.

On Stormy Daniels and Problematic Storytellers

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You may not like or even care about Stephanie Clifford a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, but your reaction (or non-reaction) to her alleged affair with Donald Trump, possible violations of campaign finance laws, and threats made against her person may say a lot about you. (Image Credit: CBS News

Russian prostitutes and golden showers. If there is anything about the so-called Steele dossier with which you are familiar, most likely, it’s related to these kinds of salacious details/services that Donald Trump is alleged to have solicited at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow in 2013. To be sure, there are more serious concerns to be had within the Trump-Russia dossier, ones pertaining to notions that Vladimir Putin and Russian operatives cultivated Trump as a candidate and means to disrupt Western alliances, that key members of the Trump campaign worked alongside Russian leadership to foster this relationship and to discredit Hillary Clinton, and that Trump and Co. negotiated deals which outlined a plan for Trump to lift sanctions on Russia and to remove Russian intervention in Ukraine from a list of campaign priorities in exchange for a stake in Russian oil. Very, very serious concerns.

Of course, these aspects of the dossier do not grab attention and headlines quite like lurid tales of peeing on beds as a way of thumbing one’s nose at Barack and Michelle Obama. What’s more, this scatological material and doubts raised by some critics as to the veracity of the dossier’s contents have made even those on the left who would characteristically jump at the chance to exploit such intel about Trump reluctant to do so. It is in this context that we may view the delicate relationship between those who demonize the President and his supposed affair with Stephanie Clifford, known more commonly to the world as Stormy Daniels, screenwriter, director, and pornographic actress. According to Daniels, she had a sexual encounter with Donald Trump after meeting him in 2006 when she was 27 and he was 60. Oh, and he happened to be married to Melania at this point, too.

Recently, Daniels was interviewed by Anderson Cooper for 60 Minutes, and while many of the details discussed may have been known to people who have specifically been following this story, having it unfold on national television lends itself to being talked about at the water cooler, or throughout the blogosphere or Twitterverse. Much of it, for better or worse, is entertaining. Daniels spanking Trump with a magazine with his own face on the cover. That the pair did not use a condom. Trump telling Daniels she reminded him of his daughter, Ivanka. (Creeper alert!) As with the Steele dossier, there are larger issues to be found within Stormy Daniels’ insider account, including but not limited to a $130,000 payment to Daniels facilitated by Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, associated with the alleged signing of a non-disclosure agreement to keep this affair secret less than two weeks before the 2016 election (which may be part of a campaign finance violation), as well as threats of lawsuits and physical violence against Daniels if she did not comply or violated the terms of the agreement.

Again, there are elements of this story which people on both sides of the political aisle would find disagreeable, and thus would make Stormy Daniels a strange and uncomfortable bedfellow. Certainly, Trump loyalists will question Daniels’ credibility based on notions that she is leveraging her supposed encounter with Trump for fame and money, or that she claims to have lied about the affair never happening because she felt she was under duress or otherwise forced to; Anderson Cooper alludes to these thoughts of naysayers at different points during the interview. Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, many Trump haters, though perhaps eager to discredit POTUS on matters of deficient moral fiber, are nonetheless gun-shy about invoking the words of a porn star when they may possess their own reservations about her character. There’s a separate discussion that merits having with respect to expression of sexuality in our society, especially for women, but suffice it to say that even discerning members of the left may view Daniels as a lesser-than who lacks real skill or talent, or worse yet, tantamount to a whore.

Even if we see less value than others do in Stormy Daniels’ chosen profession—though I have a number of concerns with aspects of the adult entertainment industry, I personally don’t see value in shaming sex workers, but you’re entitled to your opinion—and even if we question her motives in speaking out publicly about her affair with Donald Trump, whether or not she’s telling the truth about having sex with “the Donald” or being paid “hush money” or being threatened legally and physically is a separate issue. Jose Canseco may have cheated the game of baseball and its fans years ago by using performance-enhancing drugs, but when it came time to name names, a number of his accusations rang true. The genesis of Christopher Steele’s research into potential collusion of the Trump campaign with Russian leaders began with funding by the Clinton campaign for the sake of research, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of what Steele came back with is hogwash.

As for Daniels, her career involves people having sex on camera, and she stands to make more money as a result of being in the spotlight of late. But this has no bearing on how truthful her public statements are. Anderson Cooper—and likely scores of viewers at home—too questioned the motives of Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti. Cooper noted how, in the past, Avenatti has done opposition research of his own for Democrat Rahm Emanuel, and how this type of case is not his usual cup of tea, suggesting to some that this involvement is politically motivated. Avenatti, for his part, said he has not been involved in politics in some 20 years, and that he took the case because Daniels is “credible” and “telling the truth.” Skeptical as we may be of that assertion, if the evidence bears out that what his client says about Mr. Trump and her is accurate, who are we to judge? Unless critical evidence is being hidden or manufactured, the truth is the truth and should be recognized as such, regardless of the source.

Stormy Daniels’ account of extramarital intercourse with the man who is the putative “leader of the free world” also makes for a compelling case study against the backdrop of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. In saying this, let me stress that Daniels is not a victim of sexual assault or other misconduct here, nor is she claiming to be; in the interview, Daniels was explicit about the idea the sex was consensual. If there’s any fault-finding to be done here regarding what transpired back in 2006, it’s on the side of morality, and that’s on the individual voter to decide how much (or little) he or she cares about what Donald Trump did before he was ruining the country as President. Still, it’s not as if Trump has been free of genuine allegations of unwanted advances and other impropriety along the lines of #MeToo and Time’s Up. Hell, the man was caught on tape boasting of his ability to exploit his status to cop a feel. That he is a philanderer doesn’t automatically make him a predator, but it doesn’t help recover his character either.

Yet more to the point, the uneasiness that bringing up Stormy Daniels’ name promotes—both among those who defend Donald Trump and those who want to see Congress vote to give him the ol’ heave-ho—intersects with concerns about defending “imperfect” accusers that existed long before advocates of victims’ rights were tweeting their outrage about systemic oppression. Should we value Daniels’ concerns about her image and about what really happened concerning the NDA less because she is an adult entertainer, thereby engaging in another form of “slut shaming?” Does the notion she accepted the $130,000 invalidate those concerns completely? Does her reluctance to bring threats made against her to the police also work to undermine her arguments? On top of all this, even if Daniels were a victim, would the public be putting her lower than, say, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, one of Harvey Weinstein’s more recent victims (from 2015) and a key figure in his downfall, in their continuum of esteem simply because she (Daniels) is a sex worker?

These are seemingly problematic questions even for purported liberals and feminists, making it that much harder for women who tell their stories to find advocates when tabloids and other publications go out of their way to cast aspersions on their character. Battilana Gutierrez’s reward for shedding light on Weinstein’s misdeeds was a slew of negative press about her and her apparent blacklisting in terms of modeling gigs. Kathleen Parker, a nationally-syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, pulled no punches in her negative assessment of Daniels, underscoring the fact she is not a victim and that she could’ve resisted the advances of a man to whom she had no attraction, suggesting she is no more than an attention-seeker “whose principal purpose is to facilitate her audience’s onanistic gratifications,” and asking, point blank, “Who cares about Stephanie Clifford, really?” Jeez Laweez, Ms. Parker. She is a human being, after all.


Even if you, the reader, are not as brutal as Kathleen Parker in your condemnation of Stormy Daniels or as dismissive of the whole affair with Donald Trump, you might very well share her sentiment of “Who cares?” Particularly if we are subjecting this case to the “whatabout-ism” that evidently plagues today’s politics and political analysis, the encounter occurred 12 years ago—before Trump was President of the United States—and thus meriting a distinction from the antics of someone like Bill Clinton. By this token, it’s old news, and plus, nobody got hurt. Daniels got her money and is getting mainstream attention. Everyone wins, right? Besides, it’s not like this is apt to damage Trump in any substantial way. After all, for some of us, it’s pretty hard to like him any less than we already do, if we’re thinking ahead to 2020. Nor will this episode lead to his impeachment, even though that is a “careful what you wish for” scenario given that Mike “Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1699” Pence is next in line.

Even the business of Michael Cohen facilitating a hush money payment to Daniels and potentially violating campaign finance laws is likely considered weak sauce to many. On the campaign finance side, as serious as the implications are for this scenario (recall the close proximity of Cohen’s payment to Election Day) and topic undermining democracy, election financing is not a sexy topic. Not when the fate of Dreamers remains uncertain or when people like Stephon Clark are getting shot 20 times by police or when high schoolers have to become activists on gun law reform because previous generations have failed to do their part. There are so many issues facing our country and our world today, and election laws, assuming we are even familiar with them or understand them, aren’t the attention-grabber that they could or perhaps even should be, another aspect of the political process about which to throw up our hands and “wish” we could change.

As for CBS’s decision to make the Stormy Daniels story its feature presentation on 60 Minutes, the network and the show’s producers are being criticized in their own right for their seeming opportunism. Sure, they may have delved into consideration of campaign finance law and possible infractions therein, but as some would have it, what they were peddling was, ahem, trumped-up smut that appealed to a lower common denominator. Stephen Galloway, executive editor for The Hollywood Reporter, indicates as much in a response piece to the Daniels interview’s airing:

Landing an interview with the porn star was a terrific scoop for Anderson Cooper, but it further lowered an already low bar on broadcast and cable. It was the kind of thing once reserved for the tabloids, until the dividing line between tabloid and mainstream vanished with the Monica Lewinsky scandal that came to light exactly a quarter-century ago.

Twenty-five years since the media indulged in an orgy of Lewinsky coverage, nothing’s changed for the better. The sordid and the squalid are still given priority over anything that might shape actual lives.

Sure, 60 Minutes tricked up its interview with talk of campaign finance and the legal risks to President Trump, just like all the news media that have been breathless in Daniels’ pursuit; but deep down, its producers knew we were looking for smut. We were eager for dirt, anxious to glean any detail of licks and tickles and bites. We wanted the licentious, the kind that Standards and Practices probably would never have permitted on the air.

There’s nothing wrong with that — to a degree. But in giving Daniels and her peers so much attention, TV is leaving no room for anything else. Switch on the evening news and you barely get a glimpse of the important events around the world. Turn on cable and it’s even worse: an endless recycling of the same three or four stories, with nary a sop to Brexit or the UN or the refugee crisis that’s upending nation states and devastating millions of lives.

Severe lack of confidence in the media, including cable news, has been brewing for some time now, and for what Galloway’s comments are worth, this TMZ-worthy fodder probably won’t help. Worse yet, Trump supporters probably see this story as further evidence of bias against Donald Trump and a deliberate attempt by the “liberal left” to take down the President. Such a reactionary attitude is reminiscent of the quip that it’s not paranoia if everyone is truly out to get you, but I’ll leave it up for you to decide whether or not CBS is merely trying to get a rise out of its viewers or is interested in pursuing legitimate news.

Going back to the subject of morality, what may be of greatest value with respect to the Stormy Daniels affair is any additional strain this puts on evangelicals and other Christians who contort themselves to defend “Two Corinthians” Trump despite his “lapses” and, while we’re keeping it 100, his ignorance of the Good Book itself. Christians, by and large, went hard for Trump in spite of his adultery, his less-than-fervent commitment to a “love thy neighbor” outlook, and his petty name-calling leading up to the 2016 election. To some, this is just another indication that many ultra-conservative Christians are hypocrites, the likes of whom are standing behind Trump because he defends their positions on abortion, “religious liberty,” and other matters of heightened importance to them.

Then again, it may be simply in the Christian spirit to forgive one for his or her trespasses. Of course, it would help this theory if Trump were to actually admit he has “sinned,” and not only does Trump refuse to acknowledge he had sexual relations with Daniels, but he apparently has commented that he doesn’t even find her attractive. This seems highly dubious, as anyone with a pulse seems more like his speed, but again, you can believe what you choose to believe.

Whether or not you care about whether or not Donald Trump cheated on Melanie with a porn star and later paid her off/threatened her is one thing, but why you care or don’t care is another. Discussions about how we regard Stormy Daniels and sex workers in general, how much importance we place on getting money out of politics, and whether morality matters in today’s politics are all worth having. For all the time spent watching what is captured through a camera’s lens, we should be turning the lens around and seeing what our own reactions say about us.

To view this post as it appears on Citizen Truth, click here. Citizen Truth is an independent and alternative media organization dedicated to finding the truth, ending the left-right paradigm and widening the scope of viewpoints represented in media and our daily conversations. For more on CT, please visit citizentruth.org.

Harvey Weinstein, Sexual Harassment, and Our Patriarchal Capitalist Society

not-so-fine_weinstein
In light of the mountain of allegations against him, Harvey Weinstein seems all but guilty of sexual impropriety involving actresses and other women in his life. However, Weinstein is just one of countless predators who have victimized women across professions, and women’s rights are still regularly under attack, suggesting his antics are just the tip of the iceberg. (Photo Credit: PA Images)

The ongoing scandal concerning film producer Harvey Weinstein as a decades-old serial sexual predator is a mind-boggling one. Not merely because of Weinstein’s high profile, mind you—if anything, that would seem to make it more likely, in that film producers and other men in positions of power have leveraged or have tried to leverage their stature over women for centuries and longer. The growing list of names of women who have come forward to tell their tales of horrifying, demeaning encounters, and potentially criminal ones at that, with Weinstein, meanwhile, is alarming. For us, the average media consumers, regarding the breadth of the scandal both in terms of the number of women alleged to have been victimized by Harvey Weinstein and the period over which his alleged offenses transpired, the obvious question is: how is this all just coming to light? How did the press and other parties involved not know about Weinstein’s misdeeds? As I’m sure many of us realize, much of Weinstein’s abusive behavior probably was known, just not talked about. Money and influence afford the holder many things in our society, and discretion is among the most valued of them, particularly those up to no good.

As tends to be the case, there will be those commenting on the Harvey Weinstein situation who see the mounting allegations against the disgraced now-former studio executive as something of a “witch hunt” or who otherwise would question the veracity of the statements made by these women after the fact. First of all, we would be naïve to think that more of these incidents weren’t reported to authorities. Whether or not these accounts could or even would be prosecuted at the time, though, is another story. Furthermore, whereas some allegations of rape or sexual assault by women against a more famous male individual might be seen as a “money grab”—which doesn’t mean that these claims should necessarily be dismissed in either the Court of Public Opinion or the judicial system, mind you—what apparent need is there for stars like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow to come forward? Money? Fame? These actresses don’t need either. Likely the worst you could say of these women is that they’re promoting some feminist agenda, and that arguably is not just advisable, but necessary with the likes of President Pussygrabber in the Oval Office as perhaps an unsettling sign of present-day attitudes toward women.

Outside of the realm of Hollywood, many—if not most—women are apt to know a “Harvey Weinstein” in their lives, likely one in a past or current workplace, at that. This is to say that the allegations against Weinstein are not some sort of isolated incident, but indicative of a corporate and patriarchal culture that marginalizes women and is built on their commodification and subjugation. Belen Fernandez, for one, writing for Al Jazeera English, urges readers to “face it: we have an epidemic of sexual harassment.” As Fernandez insists, the Harvey Weinstein scandal (Weinstein-gate?) is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to instances of males in a position of power intimidating women physically or professionally as a means of trying to coerce them into behavior they almost certainly would object to under different circumstances. Going back to the milieu of the film and television industries, Fernandez invokes the anecdotal observations of Molly Ringwald, who wrote about her own experiences with sexual harassment in a piece entitled “All the Other Harvey Weinsteins” for The New Yorker. Here is Ringwald’s critical ending passage alluded to in the Al Jazeera piece:

I could go on about other instances in which I have felt demeaned or exploited, but I fear it would get very repetitive. Then again, that’s part of the point. I never talked about these things publicly because, as a woman, it has always felt like I may as well have been talking about the weather. Stories like these have never been taken seriously. Women are shamed, told they are uptight, nasty, bitter, can’t take a joke, are too sensitive. And the men? Well, if they’re lucky, they might get elected President.

My hope is that Hollywood makes itself an example and decides to enact real change, change that would allow women of all ages and ethnicities the freedom to tell their stories—to write them and direct them and trust that people care. I hope that young women will one day no longer feel that they have to work twice as hard for less money and recognition, backward and in heels. It’s time. Women have resounded their cri de coeur. Listen.

It’s perhaps strange looking at the problem of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood from an historic perspective, wondering how tropes like the infamous “casting couch” came to be. Then again, perhaps not. As Belen Fernandez outlines, sexual harassment is a problem irrespective of industry or academic pursuit. Citing numerous studies both recent and comparatively antiquated, Fernandez underscores how even in the STEM fields, for example, instances of reported sexual harassment are “alarmingly widespread,” as they are in the medical field or medical studies. Anita Hill, herself once a subject of scrutiny for her high-profile accusation of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas, goes as far as to report 45% of employees in the United States are targets of sexual harassment, the majority of them sadly and unsurprisingly female. (As Fernandez mentions, possibly somewhat wryly, Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice despite Hill’s accusations, evidence that “justice” on this front merits qualification.) And then there’s the U.S. military, which, if you’ve been paying attention to the news in the slightest over the years, you understand serves as a metaphorical hotbed for sexual harassment and sexual assault. Fernandez points to the fact a record number of sexual assault cases were reported in 2016 among our Armed Forces. While the Pentagon regards this as proof the system works, those of us not speaking on behalf of the nation’s military are left to be skeptical, if not patently incredulous. Indeed, this area is one of any number of areas by which the United States military forces merit more scrutiny—and not less, as the White House would insist.

As Belen Fernandez and others see it, all of the above is symptomatic of a larger societal structure that values moneyed white males above all others. It is a patriarchy, moreover, that has not only subjugated women, but has subjugated other groups which more readily value women as equals, namely Native Americans. Fernandez, in particular, cites the work of the late, great Howard Zinn in informing this view. From the article, and by proxy, A People’s History of the United States:

Earlier societies—in America and elsewhere—in which property was held in common and families were extensive and complicated, with aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers all living together, seemed to treat women more as equals than did the white societies that later overran them, bring “civilisation” and private property.

Those references to “civilization” and “private property” are a cue for Fernandez to wax philosophical about the corporatized nature of America. As she sees this matter, since capitalism is primed to divide and exploit people, a significant culture change will need to be effected before this sexual harassment “epidemic” is cured:

Given that capitalism itself has no place for human equality—predicated as it is on divisions between exploiters and exploited—it seems that the current question of how to fix the sexual harassment epidemic in the U.S. will require some extensive out-of-the-box thinking. Enough with the patriarchy. It’s time to get civilised.

The answer, or at least a good start, would be empowering women to seek leadership roles and lead by example, thereby inspiring women across generations and industries to seek their own opportunities to lead and help change a culture so often defined by the metaphor of the “glass ceiling.” Then again, the durability of this repressive culture is such that while the fight for equality and to curb sexual harassment in the workplace is a worthy one, such achievements are easier said than accomplished. Extending the conversation to matters of access to abortion and contraceptives, child care, and spaces safe from emotional, physical, and sexual violence, too, this fight is one that will certainly take time and effort to wage.


In the dawning of the magnitude of Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds, use of the #MeToo hashtag by victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence to share their experiences has exploded, and this much is not to be undersold. Some see the revelations about Weinstein as a potential watershed moment, that recognition of the unspeakable treatment of women at the hands of men, particularly those close to the women affected, as well as the power of female voices, is beginning to occur. To be sure, it would seem that we have made progress in this area, and specifically concerning the exposure of high-profile sexual predators, the fairly recent downfalls of Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly, to name a few, suggest the bad behavior of their ilk eventually will catch up to them. As heartening as these shows of strength are, however, and while the visibility of females’ victimization is important, when, say, someone like Donald Trump in this day and age can brag about taking advantage of women and otherwise berate or demean them en route to the presidency speaks volumes about how much more is needed on the road to real progress.

Jia Tolentino, staff writer for The New Yorker, explores the weight of the burden faced by female victims of sexual harassment and assault alongside the deeply-ingrained systemic sexism inherent across American institutions. Her insights begin with recalling the incident that led to the revelations in news media about Harvey Weinstein’s character: that of Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who reported to the NYPD Special Victims Unit back in 2015 about being unwillingly groped by Weinstein and later wore a wire in a sting operation of sorts that produced disturbing audio in the vein of Pres. Trump’s off-handed “pussygrabber” comments from his taped conversation with Billy Bush, then of Access Hollywood fame, circa 2005.

Battilana Gutierrez, for her trouble, has had her character questioned if not assassinated by the likes of the New York Post and the Daily Mail—no great beacons of journalism, mind you, but widely circulated and salacious enough to warrant reading. This is no strange occurrence in the world of reporting sexual crimes, whether in the world of producing million-dollar films or the supposedly safe spaces of college and university campuses across the country. Especially when someone of prominence like Harvey Weinstein is accused of sexual impropriety, there is a tendency to call the history of the accuser into question, yet another iteration of the time-honored practice of slut-shaming. Realistically, though, anything beyond the facts of the case at hand involving Weinstein and Battilana Gutierrez is superfluous. Whether she’s a saint or the “she-devil” the tabloids make her out to be, the merits of the available evidence are what matter. Besides, are we supposed to throw out the allegations of every woman who has pointed a finger at Weinstein? After a certain point, trying to prove the contrary seemingly borders on the absurd.

This is not the point of Tolentino’s exercise, however. Beyond the individual complications that surround a woman’s reputation and threaten her very professional livelihood, Tolentino’s concern is the welfare of all women, and despite the goodwill created by #MeToo and the apparent increased accountability for predators like Harvey Weinstein, there is room for concern, if not outright trepidation. Tolentino writes:

Nevertheless, the hunger for and possibility of solidarity among women beckons. In the past week, women have been posting their experiences of assault and harassment on social media with the hashtag #MeToo. We might listen to and lament the horrific stories being shared, and also wonder: Whom, exactly, are we reminding that women are treated as second class? Meanwhile, symbolic advancement often obscures real losses. The recent cultural gains of popular feminism were won just when male politicians were rolling back reproductive rights across the country. The overdue rush of sympathy for women’s ordinary encumbrances comes shortly after the Department of Education reversed Obama-era guidelines on college sexual-assault investigations, and Congress allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program to expire. On October 3rd, the House passed a ban on abortion after twenty weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that “virtually all” Republicans in the Senate support the legislation.

Being heard is one kind of power, and being free is another. We have undervalued women’s speech for so long that we run the risk of overburdening it. Speech, right now, is just the flag that marks the battle. The gains won by women are limited to those who can demand them. Individual takedowns and #MeToo stories will likely affect the workings of circles that pay lip service to the cause of gender equality, but they do not yet threaten the structural impunity of powerful men as a group.

To put Jia Tolentino’s assertions another way, it is one thing to have a voice and to preach to the proverbial choir, but quite another to have the power to bring about positive change. And this doesn’t even address the unique challenges faced by different segments of the female population, whether based on age, race, sexual orientation, or other identifying characteristic. Systemic bias is not something that can be overcome overnight thanks to a hashtag campaign; in fact, activist Tarana Davis had the idea to create a grassroots “Me Too” movement back in 2006, before Alyssa Milano and her Tweets even broached the subject, illustrating just how difficult it can be to sustain the momentum needed for meaningful and substantive progress. When influence is concentrated in the hands of a few males at the top of the patriarchal hierarchy, penetrating the associated power disparity is essential to achieving authentic gender equality.


The term “toxic masculinity” is used to describe the kind of social environment that not only is created by the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, but aids and abets them, as well as perpetuates the conditions by which future generations will breed new sexists and sexual predators. Wikipedia defines toxic masculinity as such:

The concept of toxic masculinity is used in the social sciences to describe traditional norms of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such “toxic” masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions.

Conformity with certain traits viewed as traditionally male, such as misogyny, homophobia, and violence, can be considered “toxic” due to harmful effects on others in society, while related traits, including self-reliance and the stifling of emotions, are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse. Other traditionally masculine traits such as devotion to work, pride in excelling at sports, and providing for one’s family, are not considered to be toxic.

Some may argue this definition is too expansive or vague, but nonetheless, it is apparent from this conceptual understanding that there are issues beyond just Harvey Weinstein, or sexual violence for that matter. On one hand, basic human decency tells us that the unfair treatment of women is wrong and the institutions that lead to their systemic oppression must be reformed, if not dismantled. On the other hand, meanwhile, various societal cues only reinforce the value attributed to the domineering “alpha” male. Seemingly every month, a new hyper-masculine superhero movie is in theaters, in which our male protagonist conquers evil, saves the day, and gets the girl, and in which he could give f**k-all about his feelings, the treatment of women, or the structural integrity of surrounding buildings. Is this the ideal of manhood? With leaders like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in place around the world, you get the sense that many of us, male and female, believe this is so. For those of us without a suit of armor or a high office, where does that leave us in the grand scheme of things?

Jia Tolentino, in her closing remarks, hits the nail on the head regarding from where recognition of the scope of the problems in the forms of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation will need to come for Western culture to realize substantive gains:

This type of problem always narrows to an unavoidable point. The exploitation of power does not stop once we consolidate the narrative of exploitation. A genuine challenge to the hierarchy of power will have to come from those who have it.

As with the Black Lives Matter/blue lives matter/all lives matter dynamic, while we seek not to discount the energy, passion, and importance of grassroots activist movements, from all sides, there must be an understanding that this is a human issue above being a black or female or [INSERT QUALIFIER HERE] issue. On both counts, Tolentino points to lines being drawn in a “predictable” manner, thus requiring men everywhere to be as courageous in defense of (and like) the more vocal women they know, on top of the untold numbers of female (and male) victims of harassment and assault suffering in silence. Belen Fernandez, too, believes it’s time for us to get civilized. Amen to that, sister.

An Intellectual Treatise on the Finer Points of Porn and Masturbation

4th Annual Champions Of Jewish Values International Awards Gala
Shmuley Boteach and Pamela Anderson believe porn is a waste of time, money and energy, as well as detrimental to a man’s well-being. But while porn has its issues, it doesn’t merit a blanket condemnation based primarily on moral or spiritual values. (Photo Credit: Steve Mack/Getty Images)

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.


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James Deen, you are no James Dean. (Photo Credit: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

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
  • Boss/employee
  • 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.