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Men, Women, and Internet Porn

(About a 4 minute read)

I am old enough to have known a time — long before the internet — when porn was something you could get hold of only by being man enough to face a real human in order to lay your sweaty hands on it.  A store clerk, or at least now and then, a postal carrier.

Well, I concede you didn’t really have to be fully a man to get it.  In an earlier post on this blog, “How to Get Away with Buying a Playboy, Circa 1970“,  I confessed to how I would buy porn long before I  — much to my mother’s surprise — actually turned into a man.

Continue reading “Men, Women, and Internet Porn”

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Testosterone, Sex, and Intimacy in the Age of Porn

(About a 13 minute read)

Why do heterosexual men seem disinterested in helping a lady along?  — Kacey

A lack of sexual satisfaction is more common in women than in men.  By all accounts, there are many reasons why that’s so:

  • Busy schedules can turn sex into just another task or chore.
  • Discontent with their bodies can leave women not feeling sexy.
  • Women’s reluctance or even their unwillingness to ask for what they want in bed can mean their partners don’t meet their needs.
  • Sex lives can be too predictable and thus boring.
  • Health issues can cause a whole variety of problems.
  • Stress can impact both the quality and ability to orgasm.
  • A woman’s socio-economic status can influence her sexual satisfaction (the higher the status, the better).
  • A history of sexual abuse can negatively impact sexual satisfaction.
  • Sexual guilt can also negatively impact satisfaction.
  • And additional reasons not listed here.

In doing the research for the above list, I noticed that none of the sources I used mention what to most of us might be obvious: A woman’s partner could be “unhelpful” in bed.  “You’re on your own, babe.  I’ve got mine, you get yours!”  It seems just a wee bit possible that might leave the lady a mite less than blissfully satisfied.

I have no idea what percentage of men are incompetent lovers (nor, for that matter, what percentage of women are the same),  It could be high or low.  Like most folks, however, I’ve heard the horror stories.  To give but one example, a wife emailed me a while back asking how she could communicate to her husband the fact that 15 minutes of intercourse without much at all in the way of foreplay just wasn’t doing it for her. In their 11 years of marriage, she hadn’t once moved him to depart from his routine.  Worse, he’d taken to leaving her soon after his completion, often with the departing words, “I’m going to get out of your way now so you can have some privacy while finishing yourself off.”  Paradoxically, she told me her husband was otherwise a decent man to her.

The strange thing to me about the stories I hear is that their horrors often enough seem so unnecessary.  Granting there are exceptions — difficult partners, poor health, work stress, much too much blog reading, taking Sunstone’s sex advice, and all that, but it usually isn’t hard to pleasure a woman; we are not talking rocket science or Olympic gymnastics here.  So we might ask why is it some decent men who ought not to be incompetent at sex, actually are incompetent?

Naturally, we can’t get into all the possible reasons in a mere blog post, so we’ll need to be picky.  I’m guessing you will find one of the more interesting reasons to be the role that testosterone can sometimes play in a man’s sexual incompetence.  Besides, it’s always fun to blame testosterone for everything!

Theresa L. Crenshaw is a medical doctor and sex therapist who in her book, The Alchemy of Love and Lust, discusses the sexuality of men and women during the different decades of our lives.  She notes that men and women in their 40s tend to experience much greater sexual and emotional compatibility in large part due the man’s naturally decreasing levels of testosterone.

Of course, testosterone is most famous as the hormone that produces horniness in both men and women.  Everyone agrees that men have much higher levels of testosterone than women, although I am not aware of any genuine consensus among scientists yet as to how much higher.  I’ve heard several estimates, however, and the one thing they all agree on is that male levels are much higher.  As in multiples higher.

Several decades ago, as well as I can recall now, a group of researchers wondered what would happen to women who were injected with peak male levels of the Big-T.   And so they did it.  The women, of course, were volunteers but were not told that they were being injected with testosterone.  Instead, they were told, “vitamins”.  Once injected, they were asked to spend the next half hour writing down their thoughts and feelings about sex — whatever came into their heads.

The women all but put the male authors of porn to shame.  They produced raw, graphic, sexually explicit streams of consciousness that were notable for being dominated by vivid images of naked men and their body parts.  Moreover, their writings seemed to reduce the men they wrote about to sex objects, or at least near to.  Furthermore, they wrote “eloquently” of their sudden, new-found feelings of intense horniness.   In short, the women’s thoughts and feelings were like those of young men whose testosterone levels are peaking, perhaps exceptionally high.

Comparatively few people know about the effects testosterone has on men other than to produce horniness.  For instance, many people have — or have noticed — the tendency of men to roll away in bed from their partners shortly after having had sex.  Far fewer people are aware that the cause of the behavior is ascribed to testosterone by at least some scientists.

But testosterone can play a much greater roll in how men treat women than just by rolling away in bed.  One of the foremost researchers into the effects of testosterone on men’s thoughts and feelings was James McBride Dabbs.

Dabbs found that high testosterone men can be driven to compete with and dominate others.  At its worse, this can involve brute force, violence, and fighting behavior of all kinds.  But even when that was not the case, Dabbs noted that high-T males can be “rough and callous”, their more tender feelings apparently “blunted” by the hormone.  Summarizing a few of Dabbs’ findings, Leon Seltzer has written:

…they [the high-T males] tend not to be particularly concerned about–or, for that matter, interested in–the feelings of others. And unmoderated feelings such as lust, resentment, or rage can easily preempt the softer feelings of love, compassion, or forgiveness.

Seltzer goes on to specifically address the problems high-T males (and their partners!) can face in dealing with intimate relationships:

I’d like to expand a bit on some of the points I made earlier about how high-testosterone males have difficulty treating the opposite sex with the consideration and respect they deserve. Insufficiently sensitive to a girl’s or woman’s feelings, they also struggle with simply appreciating these feelings. And so, among other things, they typically don’t function particularly well in marriages. In fact, the statistics available on this topic indicate that they’re more likely to divorce and–indeed–less likely to marry in the first place.

Additionally, having such a strong need for dominance virtually guarantees that their marriages will be problematic. Overall, they’re less satisfied in their marriage (as compared to lower-T males). And their difficulty accepting their mates as true (and non-competitive) equals assures a degree of conflict hardly compatible with the best unions. Here Dabbs cites the work of marital theorist John Gottman–perhaps the world’s pre-eminent authority on what makes intimate relationships work–by noting his findings that egalitarian marriages are the most successful. High-T males, with their propensity to dominate (and even pick fights–whether they be for fun or blood), hardly fit the picture of Gottman’s ideal husband, ready and willing to share power and control.

Although we have been talking here of an extreme — i.e. high-T males — it should be noted that even low-T males might echo, albeit more faintly, the behaviors of their high-T brothers. That’s to say, some effects of testosterone can be at least somewhat problematic for all men and, by extension, their partners.

When Kacey first suggested to me a week or so ago that I write a blog post on “Why do heterosexual men seem disinterested in helping a lady along?“, I thought of a number of possible reasons for it.  Culture, for instance, surely would be a huge part of any comprehensive answer to her question.  (I wrote a wee bit about the role of culture in an earlier post, “The Three Key Sex Acts that Cause Female Orgasms, According to Science”. )  But I think no comprehensive answer to Karina’s question is possible without mentioning the Big-T.

So, what can be done to ameliorate the negative effects of testosterone?  Well, we could encourage all women and girls to turn cynical and bitter about male sexuality, constantly snipe, whine, and moan about it, and ultimately refuse to have sex with males.  Ordinarily, that’s how I’d solve the problem, but I sense this time that might be a bad idea, if only for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.

I think the sane choice is education.  I have heard that currently, the public school sex education courses are generally in a deplorable state in America.  So I think they should be put back on their feet, and then expanded to cover not only the mechanics of sex and contraception, but also the psychology of our sexuality, very much including the effects of testosterone, and what to do about those effects.

I think I should mention here that I know of an educator, Dr. Karen Rayne, who conducts classes and seminars in sexuality, and who addresses some of these issues both in her classes and seminars, and in the books she has authored.  Dr. Rayne is top notch in her field.  You might want to contact her if you or your group happen to be in need of a seminar, etc.  Or if you want expert advice on how and what to say to your son or daughter about sex, romance, relationships and so forth.  Dealing with children and adolescent sexuality is her specialty.  (Full Disclosure:  I’m a huge fan of hers, she’s helped me out at times with my blog by arranging to have posts reprinted in online magazines, and I’ve had a crush on her for years.)

Now, I think internet porn factors into all of this as well.  Another renowned expert in human sexuality, Dr. Robert Weiss, was once asked, “What is the most common issue you see with today’s generation when it comes to relationships and sex?”  In response, Weiss pointed squarely to internet porn:

The most common negative issue I see with young people is a lack of understanding about how to build intimacy, trust and healthy sex.

This means that adolescents and young adults, because of their extensive exposure to internet porn, and sex without relationships (see Tinder) seems to be leading to untested expectations about what a partner should and should not deliver sexually and when. To put it simply, pre-digital age, if you wanted to get laid, and you weren’t going to pay for it, you had to be romantic, you had to have the charm and social skills to make someone feel safe and comfortable enough to want to be sexual.

Today, that skill set is no longer required [to get laid], but it is required to build romance, sexual intimacy and love. So I see heterosexual young men struggling with the idea that sex in real life should be like porn, and all the expectations that come with that.

I see heterosexual young women…with their new freedoms and openness to sex without relationships…. But also feelings of obligation and inferiority around sex with men who use porn as their standard.

I think the key to understanding the impact internet porn is having on the sex lives of men is to grasp that it is providing the model for what sex should be — especially for young men, who do not yet have more or less firm notions about what sex should be.

Another thing porn seems to be implicated in is the creation of a certain newfangled sexual dysfunction characterized by experiencing real people as less interesting than porn.  Weiss again:

When people become adapted to hyper stimulation (internet porn, webcam sex) that level of intensity becomes their expectation and norm. Therefore meeting with a real, live person just isn’t that interesting. This seems to be a different population than the sex addicts that I have treated for the last 30 years as it is a problem that seems to develop in adolescents and young adults rather than related to very early trauma.

There are quite a few other problems associated with internet porn, including more kinds of sexual dysfunctions, such as erectile dysfunction, anorgamsia, low sexual desire, delayed ejaculation and lower brain activation to sexual images.  Add to that the fact that some porn — not all, but some (e.g. rape porn) — seems to be associated with increased sexual aggression in men who heavily view it.

I have not fully answered here Karina’s question, but have instead stuck to the impact of just two factors, testosterone and porn.  I would submit that their impact on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of men is enormous.  For one thing, they are found everywhere.  Testosterone because it’s in all our bodies, and porn because it is available via the internet, so their influence is ubiquitous.  An interesting question to me is whether education will ever be enough to ameliorate the negative effects of those things.   I’m not so sure it will be enough.  But what do you think is the best way to deal with  these realities?  Your views are welcomed!

Abuse, Alienation, Authenticity, Bad Ideas, Equality, Erotic Love, Feminism, Freedom, Ideologies, Love, Mature Love, Morals, Nature, New Love, Oppression, Pornography, Relationships, Romantic Love, Sexuality, Society, Values

Should We Accept Each Other’s Sexuality?

Like most Americans, I believe human sexuality is in profound need of a good editing.  It is not at all “clearly written”, so to speak.  For every rule, there are exceptions.  Too many of them.  And then the exceptions have exceptions.  If human sexuality were a website, it would look like one of those appalling sites full of randomly capitalized words in ten fonts and four colors.  The sites that are alive in vivid self-contradictions while claiming to reveal cosmic truths. The ones that dare you — just dare you — to retain your sanity while reading them.  Those sites.

For instance: I once READ A BOOK that said we humans are unlike most other species of primates in that we prefer to have sex in private. But I ONCE HAD A FRIEND WHO LIKED TO HAVE SEX IN SEMI-PUBLIC PLACES WHERE THERE WAS A CHANCE WE WOULD GET CAUGHT.  In that respect, she contradicted what some scientists believe is SOMETHING OF AN INSTINCT IN HUMANS: our desire for privacy in sexual matters.

To me, one of the more confusing areas of human sexuality are the similarities and differences between male and female sexualities.  Especially when you get into such questions as how sexually compatible we are.  You can grossly simplify the issue by saying things like, “Just as a penis fits a vagina, male sexuality is different from, but psychologically compatible with, female sexuality and vice versa.”  There seems to be some truth to that, but overall, the analogy is imperfect.

It’s imperfect because there seem to be ways in which men and women are not so much compatible with each other as they are in competition with each other.  For instance, there is considerable evidence that both men and women evolved to cheat on their partners.  And there is also evidence that some of us are genetically more predispositioned to cheat than others of us.  (At the same time, it seems likely that some of us might be genetically inclined to stay loyal to our partners.)  The upshot is, we are not always compatible: The analogy that we fit each other as smoothly as a penis fits a vagina is imperfect.

A lot of men would love to edit women’s sexuality to make it more compatible with their own.  And the favor is certainly returned, for a lot of women would love to do the same to men.

Sometimes you detect a whiff of moral expectation when listening to how someone describes what he or she believes the other sex should be like.  I know someone who not only wishes women were ready to drop their pants at a moment’s notice, but he often enough comes across as morally upset that they don’t.  Similarly, anyone who has read the 300 plus responses to my post, “Why Do Men Look At Teen Nudity“, knows there are a lot of women who are morally outraged by the fact older men are often enough sexually attracted to  naked teens.

In a sense, there might be something charmingly naive in all of that.  Perhaps, those of us who want women to drop their pants for strangers and near-strangers think, on some level, that women will benefit from casual sex as much as we ourselves do.  And perhaps those of us who want men to focus more on a woman’s mental and emotional maturity than on her body are assuming, on some level, that men will be better off if they do.  Moral indignation sometimes — although not always — presupposes that the folks you are indignant at would have their lives improved if they took your advice.

In my experience, moral indignation is the last refuge of hope, and hope itself is the fuel of illusion.  Hope encourages us to persevere in our beliefs even when those beliefs bear little or no relationship to reality.  The more I hope my cheating partner will not leave me, the more likely I am to be surprised when she does.  I knew a man whose wife told him she was cheating on him, yet he still couldn’t believe her.  When she got pregnant by the other man, he went for years believing the child was his before he finally recognized it was not.

The hope that women will frequently drop their drawers for quick alley-sex prevents deep resignation to the fact that they most likely will not. And without that resignation, there can be no real acceptance of women as they are.  Again, the hope that men will no longer be attracted to naked teens prevents deep resignation followed by acceptance of men as they are.  And though everything we witness in life may contradict our hopes, our moral indignation is too often sufficient by itself to keep our hopes alive.

Quite often, men and women want more to meddle in each others sexualities than they want to accept each others sexualities.  And a lot of times, when that happens, it’s been the women who have taken the greatest hit.  So far as I know, women — almost everywhere in the world —  have their sexualities restricted and oppressed to a far greater extent than men.  And while those oppressions are almost always couched in the language of,  “it’s for your own good”, those oppressions tend to serve the interests of men more than the interests of women.

So, do you think men and women are on the whole better off from all the meddling they do in each others sexualities?  Should accepting each other as we are really be our goal here?  If so, are there important exceptions — times when we should not accept someone’s sexuality?  What do you think?

Abuse, Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Art, Child Sexuality, Children, Emotional Abuse, Late Night Thoughts, Pornography, Psychological Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Sexuality, Sexualization, Society, Values

A Rant About Underage Pornography

Yesterday, I received an email that turned my stomach.  It came from someone, let’s call her “M”, who seems to favor child pornography, and she has written to me the sleaziest email I’ve yet seen.

Sleazy, because she advocates — she actually advocates — what she pretends are the “rights” of underage adolescents to pose for pornographic works.

It’s been hours since first reading her email and I’m still feeling sick from it.  I feel like I need a shower.  Among other things, I believe her values are dishonorable, twisted, and dangerous to children and adolescents.

This “M” apparently misread two or three blog posts in which I’ve defended adolescent nudity in non-pornographic art.  Then, based only on her gross misreadings of my posts, she has jumped to the conclusion I am — like her — in favor of underage pornography.

It seems telling to me those posts were heavily commented on, yet only one or two of the commentators were, like her, mentally incapable of distinguishing between non-pornography and pornography.

I reckon I’m gettin angry now.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing because I don’t know where that anger will go or what I can do with it that’s constructive.  It is an ugly fact of life the world has many predators who exploit children and adolescents — and in every society I know of, we do far too little to stop it.

Now, I am not at this moment just talking about underage pornography.  The list of how children and adolescents are systematically exploited, abused, and violated is a very long one.  Some of those ways — many of them, in fact — are perfectly legal, perfectly acceptable by most social standards, and utterly wrong.  For instance: Only a very few societies, such as Sweden, ban advertising to children.  Which is to say, only a very few societies see anything fundamentally wrong in systematically exploiting young people through manipulative advertising for no greater purpose than mere economic gain.  I think it is shameful how many ways our societies exploit children and adolescents.

Far worse than confusing children’s values with advertising, however, is the sexual exploitation of youth.  And youth are sexually exploited in a number of ways, from child prostitution and rape to the sexualization of eight year olds.  The problem is not trivial.  In today’s world, it’s epidemic.

I am no prude.  I understand children and adolescents have a sexuality.  I do not believe their sexuality should be repressed.  I am not even opposed to affirming it in an age appropriate fashion through art.  But pornography is another matter.  Pornography is not about truthfully depicting the puppy love a nine year old has for her favorite rock star; the first confused stirrings of puberty; the longing of older adolescents for sexual validation; or any of that.  It is instead about demeaning its models, reducing them to nothing more than sexual beings, and quite frequently it’s about imposing on its models a sexuality that is pure adult fantasy and in no way true to them.

“M’s” email to me was full of sickening bullshit about how children and adolescents have a right to consent to their exploitation, about how internet predators are not genuine predators, about how age of consent laws “infantilize” teens, and even about how middle school children should be encouraged to take nude photos of themselves to send to their friends.  All of which makes me suspicious this “M” is an utterly deluded and self-serving pedophile.  Most likely, not even a woman, but a man masquerading as a woman.

It’s taken me over four hours to write this brief post.  I write a sentence in anger, erase it, start again, toning it down.  I guess there are two aspects of this that anger me the most.  First, that kids are exploited in so many ways.  Second, that we do so little that is wise to protect them.  It ought not be like that.

I don’t know what else I can do at the moment but rant about it.  I’m frustrated.

Abuse, Adolescence, Children, Culture, Emotional Abuse, Physical Abuse, Politics, Pornography, Psychological Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Sexualization, Society

Combating Child Porn is Necessary but Risky

Yesterday, New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that three of the world’s largest internet service providers (ISPs) have agreed to block internet access to child pornography and eliminate it from their servers.

The companies Verizon, Sprint, and Time Warner Cable will cut off all internet access to Usenet newsgroups that spread child pornography; they will deny access to websites that host child porn; and they will fund an effort to purge their own servers of the stuff.

The move is especially significant because it represents a new strategy in law enforcement. Traditionally, agents target child porn producers and their customers. But this move targets the ISPs — the distribution channels.

While the FBI’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces have “traced child porn to 650,000 computers” they can investigate “less than 2 percent of the offenders” because of “manpower and funding” shortages. The provisions of Mr. Cuomo’s deal will take effect not only in New York State, but through out the country, and promise to be an economical way of shutting down child porn.

Mr. Cuomo had to do some arm-twisting to bring about the deal with Verizon, Sprint, and Time Warner Cable. According to the New York Times:

The agreements resulted from an eight-month investigation and sting operation in which undercover agents from Mr. Cuomo’s office, posing as subscribers, complained to Internet providers that they were allowing child pornography to proliferate online, despite customer service agreements that discouraged such activity. Verizon, for example, warns its users that they risk losing their service if they transmit or disseminate sexually exploitative images of children.

After the companies ignored the investigators’ complaints, the attorney general’s office surfaced, threatening charges of fraud and deceptive business practices. The companies agreed to cooperate and began weeks of negotiations.

Mr. Cuomo is currently negotiating with other ISPs to reach similar agreements.

According to officials from the attorney general’s office, this new strategy is unlikely to entirely eliminate online child pornography, but it has the potential of making it extremely difficult to find it.

My initial reaction to the news today was cautiously mixed. On the one hand, I want the initiative to work. One the other hand, I wondered, like Heather Green of BusinessWeek, where it might lead. In a representative democracy, he or she who controls the flow of information potentially controls the democracy. Moreover, it’s not as if the recent news of illegal government wiretaps is wonderfully reassuring. But I’ll put all that aside for a moment to discuss the problem of child porn.

It seems in some significant ways, adult pornography and child pornography are two separate beasts.

So far as I can gather, adult porn is a bit like alcohol in that it doesn’t seem to have many bad effects — and actually might be beneficial — when used in moderation, but it can be harmful when used excessively. Child porn, on the other hand, seems to be toxic from the start. That is, however, my own conclusion and while some scientists agree with me, others don’t.

Studies in Denmark, the United States, and Japan have suggested that legalizing adult porn reduces the rate of sexual assaults in a society. On the other hand, there seem to be reasons for believing that child porn increases sexual assaults on children. Consider these findings:

  • According to the Mayo Clinic, studies and case reports indicate that 30% to 80% of individuals who viewed child pornography and 76% of individuals who were arrested for Internet child pornography had molested a child.
  • A study conducted by psychologists at the Federal Bureau of Prisons has concluded that “many Internet child pornography offenders may be undetected child molesters”, finding a slightly higher percentage of molesters among child pornography offenders than the Mayo Clinic study
  • According to the National District Attorneys Association, “In light of the documented link between individuals who view child pornography and individuals who actually molest children, each child pornography case should be viewed as a red flag to the possibility of actual child molestation.”
  • The NCH has noted that “Many pedophiles acknowledge that exposure to child abuse images fuels their sexual fantasies and plays an important part in leading them to commit hands-on sexual offenses against children.”

Thus, there seems to be strong evidence for claiming that viewing child pornography increases the odds someone will abuse a child.

Yet, even if there were no relationship at all between viewing child porn and abusing children, it would still be the case that children are abused in the production of child porn. According to Wikipedia, “The United States Department of Justice estimates that pornographers have recorded the abuse of more than one million children in the United States alone.” And from the same source, “There is an increasing trend towards younger victims and greater brutality; according to Flint Waters, an investigator with the federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. ‘These guys are raping infants and toddlers. You can hear the child crying, pleading for help in the video. It is horrendous.'”

As you might expect, the effects on children can be devastating: “The impact on the child victim who is exploited to produce pornography is often serious. Children can experience a myriad of symptoms including physical symptoms and illnesses, emotional withdrawal, anti-social behaviour, mood-swings, depression, fear and anxiety.” I have heard from creditable sources over the years that those symptoms can continue long into adulthood.

So, the way I see it, viewing child porn most likely causes at least some people to abuse children. But even if it didn’t, there is no reasonable doubt children are abused in the creation of child porn. Consequently, it it seems to me that it is in the interests of the children — and nearly all the rest of us too — that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s strategy of targeting the internet service providers works. Presumably, the harder it is to get hold of child porn, the fewer children will be abused. Moreover, a society that cannot protect its children is hardly a society worth living in.

Yet, things are never simple in the real world.

Thus, there have been such injustices as the New Jersey grandmother who was in 2000 charged with endangering the welfare of a child after taking pictures of her 4 and 6 year old granddaughters naked. More recently, a 13 year old girl and a 16 year old boy had sex, and, despite that the 13 year old told the boy she was the same age as him, the boy was arrested, charged and convicted of lascivious acts with a child, a class D felony. In another case, a 16 year old girl sent a 17 year old boy two explicit photos of her naked, which eventually resulted in the boy being charged with two felonies: possession of child pornography and sexual exploitation of a child under 18 years of age.

This is not a country that often has the discipline to refrain from sexual hysteria, and I fully expect this new strategy of law enforcement will eventually lead to absurdities.  So, I think safeguards should be put in place now to ameliorate the inevitable problems that will otherwise occur.  For instance, I would like to see some assurance this new strategy isn’t going to lead to the prosecution of every teen who sends her boyfriend cheesy nude photos of herself.  It’s dumb enough that teens do that these days: It would be much worse if they were prosecuted for it.

Perhaps much more importantly, however, is the threat this kind of cooperation between government and internet service providers could eventually be expanded in such a way that it leads to shutting down freedom of speech on the internet.

Today the ISPs are merely searching for porn.  But who is to say that tomorrow they won’t be searching for political opponents of whatever administration is in power.  I wish I lived in a country where such illegal activities were unheard of, but I don’t.  The recent news the US government has engaged in illegal wiretaps was all the more disturbing because little or nothing was done about it even after the truth came out.

I think the problem of child porn is serious enough to warrant we try Mr. Cuomo’s new strategy of dealing with it.  But I am leery of that strategy being abused both because of the sexual hysteria in this country and because of the natural tendency of governments to eventually use whatever tools are available to them to repress political dissent.  I would like to see some safeguards put in place now to prevent abuses of the new system, rather than later, after a world of injustices have been committed.

In our society, he or she who controls the information, potentially controls the country.  The stakes here are very high.


Child Pornography: An International Perspective

Does Blocking Child Porn Put Pressure on ISPs to Block Music?

ISPs Block Access to Child Porn

Net Providers to Block Sites with Child Sex

Netting Child Pornography

Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Art, Child Sexuality, Children, Family, Pornography, Sexuality, Sexualization, Society

The Sexualization of Children and Adolescents

You never know when someone is going to wire a fig leaf to Michelangelo’s statue of David.

The statue, after all, depicts a mere adolescent, and folks are sometimes quite touchy about child and adolescent nudity, as events in the UK and Australia demonstrate. There seems to be a bit of hysteria, not limited to any one country, that equates mere child and adolescent nudity with the sexualization of children and adolescents. Such hysteria threatens to undermine realistic efforts to deal with the problem of sexualization.

The sexualization of children and adolescents seems to be increasing. A report released just over a year ago by the American Psychological Association found:

Virtually every media form studied provides ample evidence of the sexualization of women, including television, music videos, music lyrics, movies, magazines, sports media, video games, the Internet, and advertising….

In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person). In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized.These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate.

The sexualization of youth has consequences. Those consequences are further reaching than many of us might suspect. From the same report:

Psychology offers several theories to explain how the sexualization of girls and women could influence girls’ well-being. Ample evidence testing these theories indicates that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality, and attitudes and beliefs.

Sexualization seems to cause girls to perform at lower levels in cognitive tasks such as solving mathematical problems. It undermines “confidence in and comfort with one’s own body, leading to a host of negative emotional consequences, such as shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust.” It has been linked to “eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression”. It is associated with sexual problems, such as a decreased use of condoms, diminished sexual assertiveness, and “unrealistic and/or negative expectations concerning sexuality” that may lead to problems with sex during adulthood. And it changes girls beliefs and attitudes about femininity and sexuality, leading them to tolerate — and even endorse — sexual stereotypes that depict women as sexual objects.

The report of the American Psychological Association (APA) was based on some 300 separate studies of sexualization. While anything is possible in science, it’s findings seem unlikely to be overturned any time soon.

Not long ago, a person who should have known better cited the APA report to me as evidence that Annie Leibovitz’s portrait of Miley Cyrus did Cyrus harm by sexualizing her. I find that miss-characterization of the report appalling. So far as I can see, the Leibovitz photo depicted a sexuality typical of 15 year old girls, such as Cyrus, and did not, therefore, indulge in sexualizing her. When we confuse any and all depictions of child or adolescent sexuality with sexualization, we are flirting with hysteria.

Moreover, the APA report makes clear it is not concerned with depictions of sexuality that are true to a child’s age or mental and emotional development. The APA report defines sexualization as any of four things. Sexualization occurs when:

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

In none of these conditions is it stated that sexualization occurs whenever a child or adolescent is merely depicted as having a sexuality appropriate to their mental and emotional development. Indeed, in my opinion, it just as much perverts and harms a child or adolescent to insist she have no sexuality at all as it does to insist she have a sexuality far too advanced for her.

Our sexuality is not everything. We are not entirely defined by it, nor can we be reduced to it and nothing else. Our sexuality is, however, an extremely important part of us since so much of our behavior is informed and influenced by it. We get into trouble whenever we embrace a sexuality that is inappropriate for us. An eight year old dressed like an 18 year old. An 18 year old admonished to be just as sexy and sexually confident as a 35 year old. Or anyone of any age told to deny their sexuality. These are all commonplace ways we are told to adopt a sexuality inappropriate for us.

Society needs to combat the sexualization of children and adolescents. Since so much of the sexualization is carried by the various media, one way to combat the problem might be to develop media literacy programs. Media literacy programs could help kids to understand and think critically about the messages they are getting. I doubt that such programs in themselves will be enough, but I think they are a start.

The sexualization of youth must be combated. But human nature being what it is, a great many people are at any one given time misguided, prone to fix the faucet when the water heater is broken. At least that’s how it seems to me. We have an increasing problem with the sexualization of youth in our societies. But is it really possible to fix such a problem by banning nudity, or by banning truthful, non-pornographic depictions of human sexuality?


Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls

Abuse, Art, Pornography, Sexuality

Erotic Art vs. Pornography

I think of erotic art and porn as being two different but similar things.

To me, porn is something that reduces its subject to no more than his or her sexuality. In doing that it degrades the person in much the same way that reducing anyone to just one thing degrades them.

For instance: If you reduce a person to no more than the fact they are Black, Jewish, Mormon, a particular nationality, or a member of this or that political party, then in some sense you are degrading them. Likewise, if you reduce a person to no more than his or her sexuality you are degrading them.

Yet, I think erotic art is distinct from porn in the sense that erotic art, as I use the term, reveals someone’s sexuality without entirely reducing them to their sexuality, just as you can acknowledge someone’s race without entirely reducing them to their race.

It interests me that those who would reduce people to just one thing also — perhaps almost invariably — distort that one aspect of them. So, for instance, when the Nazis reduced Jews to “just Jews” they also characterized Jews in unrealistic and lying ways. Again, when the KKK reduces Blacks to “just Blacks” they also lie about what it means to be Black. And when the porn industry reduces a man or woman to just their sexuality, it almost invariably ascribes to them an unrealistic sexuality.

Those two things so often go hand in hand: First, reducing someone to just one aspect of themselves, and second distorting what that aspect means.

I don’t think it can be denied that the human tendency to reduce others to no more than one thing and then distort that thing is a cause of much misery in this world.

Having said all that, I would much rather put up with porn — or even racism, etc. — than with censorship. I think the proper way to take on such evils is through debate in the free market of ideas, rather than through government censorship.

Am I onto something here, or should I drink some more coffee this morning, wake up, and try again?

See also Chanson’s essay on porn — which inspired this one.