Part II

To Part I

Sex Imagery, Censorship

and the Law

Does Pornography Alter Attitudes?

es, there are a number of studies that suggest it does -- especially in the way women are viewed. After prolonged exposure to sexually explicit materials individuals tend to be desensitized to it, at least for short periods of time, and be more open, tolerant, and accepting of the varieties of sexual behavior.

Is this bad?

Yes, it is in the minds of those who feel that much of this type of behavior is "off limits," inappropriate, or sinful. At the same time, this desensitizing factor has been successfully used to treat individuals who have debilitating problems with sex and sexual guilt.

I t is this more relaxed "acceptance factor" that troubles many people who feel that these attitudes are not acceptable and should not be given any type of social approval. At the same time it should be noted that such restrictive views are not shared by many societies, or, for that matter, by many people in the United States.

F inally, some individuals contend that exposure to materials with strong prurient appeal makes it more difficult for individuals to respond to normal sexual stimuli. Although this effect is difficult to quantify, anecdotal evidence would seem to support this, at least for short periods of time. This issue is taken up later in this article.

Post-Internet Pornography

M ost of the studies on pornography were done before the Internet. Clearly the Internet has opened the door to far greater accessibility.

Porn Site VisitsToday there are more than 260 million pages of porn on the Internet. According to Google, this is 7% of the 3.3 billion pages on the web. Most Internet users have viewed pornography—often by accident when a site shows up in their e-mail.

Although there are more opinions than facts in this area right now, many observers feel that Internet porn has had a negative effect on relationships. At the 2003 meeting of the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers the majority of the lawyers said that Internet porn had played a significant part in divorce. However, according to a 2002 survey of more than 7,000 adults, two-thirds of the respondents who say they regularly visit porn sites report it has not affected their relationships.


T hrough the Internet sexual psychopaths are able to exploit the repressive sexual atmosphere in the United States.

Sex education that stops with "just say no," without honestly and openly addressing human sexuality in all its dimensions invites people, especially young people, to do their own exploring.

As in the case of pre-Internet pornography, it appears that people who have grown up with distorted or repressed sexual views, which, includes a significant, but decreasing segment of the U.S. population, have the most problems with pornography.

Individuals who have a positive self-concept who had parents who were not reluctant to discuss sexual issues, and who were not subjected to negative religious views about human sexuality almost never report problems. This group is most apt to  become bored or disinterested in pornography.

Snuff Films

O ne of the centerpieces of the crusade against pornography is the "snuff film," or a film in which someone supposedly gets murdered.

The problem is that the FBI has spent 30 years, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars trying to find one snuff film in the United States and has never been able to locate one. A one-million dollar reward was even offered to anyone who could locate one real stuff film.

A film entitled Snuff was released in 1976. It was widely promoted as containing a snuff scene, which (just as planned by the promoters) set off a firestorm of opposition and publicity. The film opened in Indianapolis to an audience of 12 people, almost half of which were law enforcement people trying to collect evidence to arrest the people involved.

What they discovered was a poorly faked death scene, which had simply been tacked onto an older film.  It was far less convincing than scenes we sometimes see on prime-time television.

But even after the film was exposed as a fake, numerous anti-porn groups were quickly organized, based on linking pornography with murder. Even the Meese commission, which we discussed earlier, grew out of the protest.

D oes it not represent something of a twisted morality that for the majority of Americans dramatic depictions of people killing each other is far more acceptable than depictions of people making love?

Dr. Cherry Lee

The "Porn Made Me Do It" Defense

T he latest legal effort has been to connect exposure to sexual material to sex crimes-despite the research evidence to the contrary-and then hold anyone with any responsibility for the sex materials liable for damages. "It's the porn made me do it defense which is totally inappropriate," according to Jonathan Cummings of the ACLU's Arts Censorship Project. "There is just no evidence to back it up."

Even so, due in part to a surprising alliance between some feminists and ultraconservatives, we are now seeing legal efforts to blame the media for sexual crime. This ignores the fact that for thousands of years before the invention of the printing press, movies or TV, rape, child abuse, and prostitution flourished.

It has only been relatively recently, thanks to the media, that rape has started getting the attention it deserves. In earlier days according to one historian, "Rape was unreportable because it was unremarkable."

Those who point to the "good old days" when a higher morality was supposedly embraced, need to also be reminded that in Colonial America at least one-third of births reportedly occurred out of wedlock, or within a few months of hurried marriages. And, of course, we don't need to remind anyone of the status of women in "the good old days."

Pornography and "Undesirable Types"

T he commercial pornography market is, for the most part, associated with unrespectable business types. This is not surprising, given the fact that social attitudes have pushed many consenting sexual activities into the margins of society and defined them as "illegal."

At the same time, some prestigious, mainstream U.S. corporations derive a substantial percentage of their income from marketing soft-core and hard-core pornography-although the fact is generally disguised in profit reports.

Sexual Predators

D avid Finkelhor, a criminologist at the University of New Hampshire  has studied Internet-related crime.  He reports, "There are new perils for kids, but no evidence that kids are on the whole more endangered today as a result of the Internet."

S ome people feel that the fact that we are seeing a regular stream of TV reports on the danger of sexual predators on the Internet-far exceeding what the crime would warrant-may be influenced by a need to support the anti-Internet, anti-computer attitudes of many viewers, and the fact that TV stations are losing a significant part of their younger (and most valuable) viewing audience to the Internet.

According to a 2004 study by Wolak and Finkelhor, financed by the U.S. Department of Justice, there are a number of fallacies about sexual abusers.  

 Internet Sex Crimes by Age

Age of Victims          Age of Offenders

12  1%
14  22%
16  14%
17  8%
18   1%
18-25   23%
26-39   41%
Over 40   35%

S ince many of the studies in this article were published, our society has become more sex oriented-at least in imagery. Advertising is largely sexual, and, of course we have Internet pornography, that despite efforts to curtail it, is widely accessible. According to Cal Masterson, this has made sex cerebral instead of visceral, and therein lies the problem.


An Opposing View: Cal Masterson

On Sex and Pornography

A ccording to Cal Masterson, the author of writings on spiritual sex, despite research to the contrary, pornography is harmful.

All moral issues aside, Masterson says pornography is harmful because the type of idealistic and unrealistic men and women that are shown in pornography become the fantasized, cerebral norm, which then to varying degrees can replace reality. Thus, sex can become primarily a cerebral experience and not a visceral one.


T he more I looked at pornography the greater the distance grew between my wife and me. ...It made me feel guilty I guess because  these women seemed completely uninhibited about sex, the  total opposite of my wife.

e-mail to Cal Masterson

E ven for people in a normal relationship disillusionment with a partner can develop, especially if partners have trouble with open and honest discussions about sex.

I t is difficult for any partner to compete with a fantasized partner or situation, especially one that is neither real nor realistic.

Thus, pornography and cybersex need not be considered Judeo-Christian religious issues, which, historically, have ranged all the way from accepting prostitution to condemning sex between a husband and wife.

M asterson cites one more element. He says that often divorce results after people find and meet an Internet partner whom they feel is more suitable. This generally starts with the uninhibited sexual conversations that are not possible with a spouse or partner who is more sexually inhibited.


 Summary and Conclusions

E xposure to pornography is common in the Internet age, and attempts to filter it out only seem to make it more attractive -- especially to young people who often pride themselves in being able to circumvent Internet filtering software.

T hrough the Internet sexual psychopaths are able to exploit the repressive sexual atmosphere in the United States and the dearth of responsible and unbiased sexual information.  

S tudies exist on both sides of the sexual imagery issue, and, in the final analysis there is no conclusive quantifiable research showing that nonviolent pornography is harmful to normal individuals. (Cal Masterson's observations above are not based on his personal views and not on research.)

Although we may hear of studies showing harmful effects, a close examination of procedures often reveals that the researchers are motivated by personal beliefs, and the data is tainted by presuppositions and atypical subject matter.

W hen young people discover that much of the existing research is slanted toward religious or political goals, they start distrusting all information  —  even critical information on the prevention of STIs (sexually-transmitted infections), which are now at epidemic levels.

It has not helped that even the dissemination of valid and responsible information is opposed by influential conservative groups.

W e know that the people and situations depicted in most pornography are not typical. The subjects tend to be more beautiful and handsome than average (not to mention better endowed), the situations staged and the acts shown exceed the boundaries of common sexual predispositions. More troubling, safe sex is seldom shown.

Sex education that stops with "just say no," without honestly and openly addressing human sexuality in all its dimensions, invites young people to do their own exploring. Sexual predators have admitted that it's easy to  exploit this information vacuum.

T he major concern of many social scientists today is that pornographic photos and videos do not convey realistic human feelings. The focus is on the mechanics, and the spiritual dimension of sex is missing. Of course, the same thing can be said of situations depicted in most films and TV programs.


W hat hard data exists at this point -- as opposed to the long-standing range of prejudices we bring to the subject -- suggests that most people will not suffer any long-term negative effects by looking at Internet porn.

-Gary Webb, 2001, who has won more than 30 awards for investigative journalism

F inally, there is a major fear that pornography will cause young people to disregard decades, if not centuries, of beliefs in sexual restrictions. This, of course, is a matter of personal morality, which varies with religious beliefs , times, places, and conditioning.

  • Research studies on Youth, Broadcasting, and Sex can be found here .

To Home Page

© 1996 -- 2006, All Rights Reserved