Why Pornography Matters


The results of our pornography-drenched society are in. And they’re hideous.

Pornography has disconnected men from women. It has led to less mating – after all, why date when you can get the dopamine hit of seeing bodies in various combinations at the touch of a button – and serious, society-wide sexual dysfunction (certain studies now claim that up to 30% of young men now suffer from erectile dysfunction). It has emptied wallets and souls. The average age of first pornography viewing for males is now 12. Some 73% of teens aged 13-17 have watched pornography. The brain can respond to pornography and its attendant dopamine hits much like a drug. And just like a drug, for some, higher doses may be necessary in order to achieve the original effect.

In the last few years, the question of pornography has reared its seamy head. The availability and regulation of pornography has cut across political lines: libertarians see pornography as a harmless good, a simple and disposable product that harms no one; traditional conservatives see pornography as a damaging and soul-crushing symptom of hedonistic individualism; radical leftists see pornography as a form of female empowerment, with women “finally” controlling their own sexuality; traditional liberals see pornography as exploitation of women, a form of patriarchal domination.

Oddly enough, our pornographic society is a sex-free, relationship-free society. We date less. We get married later, if at all. We have fewer children, if any. We do not form the little platoons of society – the family – necessary for its preservation. Not all of that is pornography, of course. But the utter pervasiveness of pornography isn’t a minor factor, either.

All of this was foreseeable. In 2005, at the age of 21, I wrote a book titled “Porn Generation” – a book that was widely seen by many on both Right and Left as alarmist and prudish. That descriptor – prudish – was, at the time, one of the worst slurs you could toss at someone. It meant that you were repressed, that you were a Bible thumper. That you were – gasp! – judgmental. In the book, I wrote that pornography had become absolutely mainstream, from music to television to movies to education.

That was before the era of Kim Kardashian.

Here is what I wrote:

Our culture has bred hollow young men, obsessed with self-gratification. Young women are told to act like sex objects – and enjoy it…Society told the porn generation that final moral authority rests inside each of us – and in our vanity, we listened. The mainstream acceptance of pornography has become a social fact….In the absence of community-promoted traditional standards, subjectivism reigns. Nothing is expected of anyone; everyone may make his own rules about what is best. The “live and let live” societal model is a recipe for societal disaster.

To put it mildly, I was right.

Our society has begun to figure out that the sexual mores of a morally relativistic society are destructive – that age-old ideas about monogamy and marriage and the value of heterosexual relationships, cultivated over the course of millennia, might be more valuable than the latest slogan about the joys of licentiousness. Pornography’s obvious vacuity and the damage coincident with its ubiquity is a reminder that consent is not, in fact, the highest moral value: that just because people choose to engage in an activity does not make that activity morally good or acceptable. There can be pragmatic arguments over the nature of government power necessary to reverse the pornification of our society – do we have to delegate too much power to the government in order to squash the problem? Ought it be solved at the level of social censure rather than regulation? – but there can be no question that consent alone does not morally justify pornography. In the words of British legal theorist James Fitzjames Stephen, “It is one thing…to tolerate vice so long as it is inoffensive, and quite another to give it a legal right not only to exist, but to assert itself in the face of the world as an ‘experiment in living’ as good as another, and entitled to the same protection from law.”

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The true answer to the question of pornography has been known all along: robust social institutions, as well as local regulations that make it difficult to create and obtain. We have a duty to our children to give them a society free of the scourge of pornography and its societal externalities. The Founders knew that, which is why they never considered pornography a protected class of free speech under the First Amendment. They would have scoffed at the very idea.

In “Porn Generation” I made a series of recommendations – again, recommendations snorted at, up until the point every American child had access to smut on their cell phones. Those recommendations included better parenting, of course; more church adherence; school vouchers; boycotts against products promoting social radicalism (see, e.g., Bud Light); governmental censorship where possible; cutting off funding to universities that promote obscenity. If any of them had been pursued in 2005, our society would be markedly better off in 2024.

They weren’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t pursue them now. Pornography is merely a symptom of a broader underlying ill: a society that promotes libertinism as liberty, ignoring that a meaningful life is about liberty within a rubric of morality and responsibility. Any society that promotes libertinism rather than traditional liberty is doomed to the scrap heap.

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