The Real Price of Porn



WRAP Week panel discusses economic, social, and spiritual implications of pornography

Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP), in conjunction with other campus organizations, hosted the inaugural White Ribbon Against Pornography (WRAP) Week on campus last week. An international campaign, WRAP Week aims to raise awareness about the harms of pornography and advocate policies to stem its widespread effects. Co-sponsors, among others, included the Gender Relations Center, Campus Ministry, the Center for Ethics and Culture, and the Irish Rover.

On Wednesday of the awareness week, three professors participated in the panel “Uncensored: The Real Price of Pornography.” Associate Professor of Economics Kirk Doran, Fritz Duda Family Chair of Law Margaret Brinig, and Director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Timothy O’Malley shared insights about the damaging impact of pornography.

To begin the panel, Doran described statistics associated with the porn industry to highlight its power and effects. Comparing pornography to smoking, he stated that even though a “gold standard medical trial” has never been conducted to prove the harmful effects of either practice, both show correlations with harmful circumstances—which in the case of smoking has led to a “societal consensus” against the practice. Citing a paper to which he contributed, Doran stated, “Among those who were married, those who watched pornographic films were more likely to be divorced, more likely to have had an extra-marital affair, and actually report lower levels of overall happiness—not just happiness in their relationships.”

Doran referred the audience to several online resources, such as the General Social Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, and Pew Internet in American Life Project, that can provide further insight about the correlative effects of pornography. Based on a series of calculations that can be drawn from this data, he said, it can be estimated that about 3.3 million people in America are paying for Internet porn, generating as many as 2.5 billion dollars per year for the industry. He added that those numbers do not even acknowledge the 80-90 percent of viewers who access pornography for free.

In terms of regulating the practice, Doran concluded that measures must go beyond the legal sphere. He advocated an approach that “involve[s] an awareness campaign and a transformation of behaviors on an integral person-to-person level, in a way that’s even more focused on individual transformation in the hope of changing your own life than the anti-smoking campaign.”

Next, Brinig identified links between pornography and violence. She commented on the widespread disrespect and violence toward women in modern society, citing both episodes in the presidential campaign and in her own experiences. She then described a study by economist George Loewenstein, who found that men who viewed pornographic films were less able to identify in a survey “when women [were] in fact saying no to … sexual advances.” Brinig also argued that in the porn industry, “One of the changes in the way that it’s been marketed to people has been its increasing tendency to be associated with violence.”

Brinig continued by citing a book by radical feminist Catharine MacKinnon, with whom she said she does not agree on every level but does find her argument against pornography compelling. MacKinnon worked to pass a law in Indiana prohibiting pornography on the grounds that it is, according to the law’s wording, “the graphic, sexually-exploited subordination of women.” The law, though passed in 1985, said Brining, “was struck down by the Seventh Circuit … because it was felt to quelch people’s rights to freedom of speech and of the press.” Brinig concurred with MacKinnon that “pornography and obscenity is a way of demeaning women … that it’s harmful in women’s feeling about themselves … and clearly to the men who consume it.”

Building upon the previous speakers’ comments, O’Malley also mentioned the noticeable link between “the viewing of pornography … [and] forms of sexual activity among college students that are relatively abusive to women.” At the same time, he also noted that pornography is, in a sense, “ever ancient, ever new.” Even dating back to the Roman Empire, for example, violence, sex, and infidelity have been commonly interrelated practices.

O’Malley observed the trail of sexual violence throughout human history and emphasized that “porn has always been about violence,” but he also pointed out why pornography today poses a particular problem. “The power of the image has always been powerful,” he said, but “the problem with our own era is the ubiquity of the image that’s now become part of our own … existence. Whereas once the phantasms of our imagination would attract us, we no longer need these phantasms.”

To combat the power and damages of pornography, O’Malley pointed to the “patristic maxim that ‘like heals like’ and therefore ‘desire heals desire’… We need a rightly ordered desire to heal the radically disordered desire.” He suggested that this redirection be brought about through “a new series of images that can increase the desire of the human being most of all toward the good, toward authentic love.”

In the question-and-answer session, the panelists agreed that when dating someone who struggles with pornography, it would be effective to have a serious conversation about the matter, share how one feels impacted by the other’s usage of it, and actively seek assistance.

Sophia Buono is a junior PLS major and ESS minor. Her favorite movies include A Few Good Men, The King’s Speech, and Up. Contact Sophia at sbuono@nd.edu.

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