The International Centre on Sexual Exploitation (ICOSE), an outgrowth of a U.S.-centric pro-censorship group, claimed victory after an hour-long virtual debate sponsored by the Cambridge Union Society, part of the UK’s Cambridge Universitybut considering that that “result” was reported by the pro-censorship group Click Off Pornography and End Abuse, there’s reason to be suspicious of the reported 75/25 outcome. The debate, whose topic was the proposition “This House Regrets Online Pornography,” pitted ICOSE’s Haley McNamaraauthor of frequent emails from its founding U.S. branch, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE)and two other anti-porn activists against prominent adult industry workers/supporters Ela Darling, founder of VRTube.xxx, and Jerry Barnett, author of Porn Panic, plus cam performer Epiphany Jonesand the horseshit began with practically the first words out of McNamara’s mouth. “Hardcore internet pornography, which is limitless in volume and extremity, is an entirely new variable in human evolution,” McNamara claimed in her opening statement. “Never before in human history have our ancestors had instant, anonymous and limitless access to high-speed pornography, let alone have previous generations been raised with this content acting as their sexual education from a young age, often before a first kiss.” Where to start? Sure, there’s a lot of online porn out there, but it’s hardly limitless (despite the fact that Pornhub admits it has 11 petabytes, or 6,976 years, of content), and it has zero to do with human evolution unless one believes the unproven claims of 19th century French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. True, the internet has provided greater access to porn, but sexual material has been around since prehistoric times, with early humans’ cave paintings depicting sexual intercourse, up through the ages, with some of the world’s finest classical authors turning out sexually-themed novels. And as for porn acting as sex ed for kids, that’s something the industry has strongly opposed, to the point where it even formed an organization, ASACP, to keep kids off adult sites. It’s hardly worthwhile to deal with McNamara’s claims individually, since most of them seem to be based on the “reams of research” conducted by various anti-porn “researchers”, the conclusions of whose studies could easily have been foretold. For example, McNamara stated, “Porn activates the part of the brain called the reward center. This triggers the release of a cocktail of chemicals that give you a buzz.” No big surprise there; people watch porn to be sexually stimulated and have orgasms, and the so-called “cocktail of chemicals” are called endorphins, dubbed “natural painkillers” which help minimize discomfortand which also get released pretty much whenever someone does or sees something pleasurable. But then McNamara continued, “One of the chemicals in that cocktail is a protein called delta phospho. Delta phospho is like a bulldozer for creating abnormal pathways in the woods of your brain, so it primes the brain to make strong mental connections between the porn being consumed and the pleasure that it creates.” Unless you’re a biologist or neurologist, good luck finding an intelligible explanation on the internet of what delta phospho does, but the image of the chemical “plowing pathways” in the brain is ludicrous on its facebut accepting her statements at face value without doing any research is exactly what McNamara wants. People who go to NCOSE’s/ICOSE’s websites are likely bowled over by the amount of “scientific” information and studies available there, and often accept their “findings” without ever looking further to see the biases of the “researchers” or the frequent “wishy-washiness” of the conclusions. But apparently the “pathways” McNamara referenced aren’t permanent, because according to her, “For some users, though of course not all, this neurological chemical activity leads to a desensitization which means that the porn they started watching doesn’t arouse them the same way over time. That desensitization then leads to escalation as we see with alcoholics or drug users; they need more quantity or higher doses to replicate the old high”by which she means that these folks start searching for rape and other violent sexual fantasies, or videos with underage participantsan “evolution” that no competent sex researcher has seen among the overwhelming majority of porn users. Sadly, the pro-adult participants in the debate had few scientific studies at hand to call onDarling noted at one point that “Prof. Neil Malamuth at the University of California carried out numerous studies examining porn and sexual violence and concluded that men who are already sexually aggressive and consume sexually aggressive pornography may be more likely to commit the sexually aggressive acts”but that’s hardly the whole of the studies done at places such as the Kinsey Institute which show how benign porn use is, and it seems likely that some members of the Cambridge Union were swayed by McNamara’s “scientific” claims. Another method of influencing a debate is to give one example of a certain behavior and state or imply that many other people behave in the same way. At one point, McNamara stated, “I recently heard of an 11-year-old boy who regularly watched pornography and then sexually abused a 4-year-old neighbor while making his younger siblings watch as if it were a pornographic film,” adding that, “Dr. Mary Ann Layden, psychotherapist at the University of Pennsylvania, states that there are two paths children take to sexually harming another child. One is prior sexual abuse that they experienced, and the other path is hardcore pornography exposure. The young boy in this recent case hadand many others have never been sexually abused but he did regularly watch porn.” But Ela Darling gave what should have been the proper follow-up to that claim: “I would ask, why is an 11-year-old in a situation where they’re allowed to access porn regularly? That is a much more dire situation to me than the fact that porn exists. There’s clearly some huge factors in the life of that child that certainly need to be examined.” And of course, the vast majority of minors who do see sexually explicit material are not harmed by it in any way. “Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to prevent children from being exposed to porn,” McNamara claimed, adding, “It’s a business making billions of dollars a year; it’s not a free speech crusade. It knows that the younger you get someone hooked on the product, the more likely they’ll have a customer for life.” Um, no. “Porn is frequently blamed for children learning bad ideas about sex, but truly, that group is not our target audience at all,” Darling responded. “If you don’t believe that we ethically do not want to make porn for children, then consider it financially: Children don’t have credit cards; they’re not consumers that we want or that we target.” Similar claims were made by the other two anti-porn debaters, journalist Jo Bartosch, who’s a director of Critical Sisters, an anti-porn group which was “formed to challenge sexism within liberal thought,” and Raquel Rosario Sanchez, a spokesperson for FiLiA, whose “vision” is of “a world free from patriarchy where all women and girls are liberated”and believe it or not, is also anti-porn! Sanchez’s speech, with some variations, can be read here. (Hint: She really doesn’t like anal.) Though Ela Darling was the last to speak, she spent her allotted 10 minutes well. Besides the statements noted above, Darling also reported that, “We have a very warm community of people who have connected through pornography, who have supported each other and think within a space where they can explore their sexual identity, their sexual desires and their sexual orientation in a safe space. I have seen in front of my eyes people grow and free themselves of preconceived notions that they thought they had to follow socially because that’s what they were told.” And as far as how the adult industry works, she noted, “The porn industry is seen as cutthroat by our opposition, but we actually are a very supportive industry that looks out for each other. I was the president of an organization called the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, where we offered resources like accounting, tax guides, financial planning and safe medical professionals to other performers. We have something called the PASS system, which was created internally by our industry that allows us to verify the STI tests which we get every two weeks of other people on set to make sure that we’re safe and protected, Pineapple Support is an organization funded by porn companies that was created to offer free therapy to people in our industry, from therapists who won’t pathologize our work and our life choices. “Pathologizing the attitudes and perspectives of people who enjoy sex differently leads to repression and harm,” she added. “In an assessment of the ‘damaged goods’ hypothesis in the Journal of Sex Research, porn performers are actually found to have higher quality of life in terms of energy, sleep, sexual satisfaction, positive feelings, body image, social support, spirituality and financial security compared to the general population. Porn performers are not the victims of these big porn companies. We are participants; we create porn. Many porn performers are pornographers in their own right; they create their own content and they thrive on it.” She also stressed that porn is fiction: “We don’t look to movies like The Fast and The Furious to teach us how to drive; we don’t look to Tarantino films to teach us how to be functional members of non-violent, racially accepting society. The Exorcist is not an entry point for Catholicism and Mad Max is not a guide through this dystopian time. It’s entertainment, just like porn. We can watch fiction and understand that it’s fiction and not a guide for life, so I don’t see why we see porn as the exception to that. Porn does not purport itself to be sex education.” Darling also spoke of the stigma that attaches to performers in adult, that mainstream society sees them as “damaged goods,” making it so that when they leave the industry, “finding a new job can be nearly impossible.” She also had a very personal plea: “Dichotomizing the whole industry as either good or bad lacks important nuance that is intellectually irresponsible to disregard. I’m not allowed to have a bad day at work. I’m not allowed to criticize or express annoyance about anything on site, because the moment I say anything against the industry, anything that could be taken out of context, my words are weaponized against me. I either have to be completely in support of every single thing in the porn industry, which I’m not, honestly, or I’m fueling anti-porn rhetoric.” Jerry Barnett, who runs the website SexAndCensorship.org, also injected some much-needed facts into the debate, with one of his main arguments being that, “Pornography is broadly beneficial to society and its users.” “Those of us old enough to remember the rise of online pornography in the 1990s will remember how much it changed the world in big and small ways,” he continued. “For example, for many gay and transgender people in conservative communities, it often provided their first access to other people like themselves. It brought sex out of sleazy dark corners and made it public for the first time in human history. It tells us that sex isn’t dirty or shameful.” Though Barnett traces the “start of the debate” to 1969, when Denmark legalized sexually explicit material and President Johnson empaneled the Lockhart Commission to study the effects of porn on society, he noted that, “The uptake of porn was driven by technology. It was the invention of video and then DVD and then the internet that broke porn out of cinemas and red light districts and brought it safely and anonymously to the masses. So for half a century, porn has been widely available, and over that time, it has become increasingly cheap and easy to access. What that means is that hundreds of millions if not billions of people have watched porn over the past few decades. … Anti-porn advocates will try to claim that somehow, this is a new phenomenon or that not enough research has been done. In fact, a vast amount of research has been done and far more is ongoing.” Barnett also outed NCOSE as having started life as “a right-wing Christian group formerly known as Morality in Media,” and noted that from them and their co-conspirators, “you hear a lot of words designed to create a sense of fear: Objectification, sexualization, pornification, porn addiction. They quote neurological pseudoscience that claims porn has the same effects on the brain as cocaine. They make unproven claims that porn might lead to erectile dysfunction, claims that are obviously designed to scare young men. You hear workers and porn performers degraded and dehumanized by the very people who claim to want to rescue them. They refer to them as prostituted women or use similar words designed to suggest that no woman in her right mind would actually want to have sex for a living. … There have always been people claiming to want to rescue sex workers, strippers and porn stars from the evil clutches of the sex industry, but notably, they never ask sex workers whether they actually want to be rescued.” All in all, adult industry members and supporters would surely benefit from looking at the Cambridge Union debate, which can be found here. Look and learn!
written by: Mark Kernes