A sex researcher and a former porn star explain why banning porn would be a bad idea.

Let's talk about porn! While we still can, at least.

To get you in the mood, here is an old white man in a suit.

Jeff Sessions at his confirmation hearing. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.


That's Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, who said during his confirmation hearing he'd rigorously enforce and enhance America's obscenity laws. (Funny, no mention of the fact that Trump himself actually appeared in more than a few adult films.)

This is far from the first time the issue has come up.

In April, the state of Utah passed a resolution declaring pornography "addictive," "harmful," and a "public health crisis." In December, South Carolina began considering an amendment that would force electronics manufacturers to install porn-blocking software on new internet-accessing devices in the state.

Primarily GOP lawmakers cite a litany of reasons for the anti-porn push: child sex trafficking, violent behavior in men, and crumbling marriages, to name a few.

But these reasons are mostly bogus, and the attack on porn should concern all of us, and not just because it infringes on free speech and/or what we do when we have the house to ourselves. Even if adult entertainment isn't really your thing (it's OK, you don't have to yell it from the mountaintops if it is), here's why you ought to be paying close attention to this battle.

1. Anti-porn arguments are dangerously anti-science.

The anti-porn movement makes a number of scary-sounding claims: Men who watch porn will fall out of love with their partners; it causes them to lash out violently at women; it destroys the innocent, malleable minds of young people who view it.

The only problem is, most of this stuff is (probably) untrue.

Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist who specializes in human sexuality, says the majority of respected science reports viewing porn can have a positive, or at least a neutral, effect on a person. That hasn't stopped opponents from twisting, ignoring, or even nearly fabricating results to say otherwise.

Nicole Prause. Photo by Neal Preston, used with permission.

This. Is. A. Huge Deal. We're seeing the same exact same thing in a lot of other, arguably more important areas — we're still arguing about whether global warming is a real thing. And we're still ignoring all the science that says vaccines don't cause autism.

When bad science influences policy, of any kind, we all suffer.

That's not to say there are no problems with pornography, Prause says. Many people do consume it more than they'd like to, though she adds that the science stops short of calling it addictive. Watching porn isn't a particularly great way for young people to learn about sex and can lead to a lot of anxiety or unrealistic expectations.

But declaring pornography a "public health crisis" is irresponsible, and ignoring the science that says otherwise sets a dangerous precedent.

2. Attacks on porn are often attacks on the LGBTQ community.

There's been a lot of talk about simply "enforcing existing obscenity laws," which doesn't sound so bad. After all, there's nothing illegal about most porn featuring consenting adults, right?

Actually, within the law, the Supreme Court (and Trump's likely extremely conservative appointments) has a lot of leeway to decide what is considered obscene and, therefore, legal.

Kitty Stryker, a writer and former adult actress, put it this way, "One of the first things to go in that kind of censorship is not heterosexual porn. It's queer porn, gay porn, porn with trans people in it, porn with interracial relationships."

Photo by Kitty Stryker, used with permission.

In 2001, a lawyer named Paul Cambria created some guidelines for porn producers to follow when they were worried about crackdown from the Bush administration. In addition to advising them to steer clear of a number of hardcore acts, the "Cambria List" also advises against gay, lesbian, trans, and inter-racial scenes. (Warning, the full list is extremely NSFW.)

That's right, pornography featuring anyone other than straight white people is considered to be extra, super-duper obscene. Surprise!

We've made a lot of progress in showing gay, bisexual, and trans relationships in the media, but can you remember, say, Mitch and Cam from "Modern Family" ever sharing more than a small peck on the lips? Can you imagine them ever getting anything resembling a make-out or sex scene?

We have a long way to go yet in that area, and while porn isn't perfect, it's at least a place for LGBTQ young people to see that there's nothing wrong with their sexual desires.

3. The anti-porn movement is often carried out in the name of feminism. Many would argue the opposite is true.

Feminist author and leading anti-porn activist Gail Dines writes, "The more porn images filter into mainstream culture, the more girls and women are stripped of full human status and reduced to sex objects. This has a terrible effect on girls' sexual identity because it robs them of their own sexual desire."

Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images.

But maybe this isn't so much a problem with pornography as it is one with our entire culture.

After all, actress Evan Rachel Wood famously skewered the MPAA for censoring a scene from one of her films that featured a woman receiving oral sex. Meanwhile, guys getting blowjobs in Hollywood movies is pretty much standard procedure.

Say what you will about the sultry looks and the over-the-top moaning that's synonymous with porn films, but at least they're not afraid to show female pleasure.

Stodgy lawmakers deciding that those things are degrading, and that women need to be rescued from them, doesn't sound very feminist to Stryker.

"If you allow women to realize they can have pleasure from sex," she says, "they are much less controllable."

4. They say banning porn is about fighting sex trafficking, but conflating the two just makes things worse.

Human trafficking is bad — finally, something we can agree on!

But experts say propagating the myth that porn and sex work are totally overrun with people being held against their will (they're not, at least in America) makes it that much harder for people who truly need help to get it.

Yet, it continues to happen.

Experts say propagating the myth that porn and sex work are totally overrun with people being held against their will makes it that much harder for people who truly need help to get it.

Experts also say decriminalization and transparency are the keys to improving working conditions in the sex trade, not banishing it to a dark hole and pretending it doesn't exist. Amnesty International, one of the largest international human rights organizations in the world, argues that laws prohibiting the sex trade in any way usually do more harm than good.

5. A lot of the same people who want to ban porn also want to ban abortion and outlaw same-sex marriage.

Fight the New Drug, a leading anti-porn awareness group, offers a whole host of alleged scientific evidence that porn is harmful, but many of the studies it cites come from the Witherspoon Institute, a research body co-founded by Robert George, who's also the founder of the National Organization for Marriage. (Take a wild guess what they do.)

Sessions, our likely soon-to-be attorney general, has a long and very troubling anti-gay record. Bill Chumley, the South Carolina congressman and co-sponsor of the anti-porn Human Trafficking Prevention Act, has also sponsored bills to ban abortion after 20 weeks.

These are the people who, despite a lot of cleverly worded health and safety language, want to legislate the morality of watching porn. We'd all be wise to think carefully before, for lack of a better term, getting in bed with them.

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