Start, if you would, with Oliver Willis:

Americans love their porn. It's timeless, instant, and recession proof. Pornography is the basis for a multibillion dollar industry that services the sexual desires and needs of thousands. Pornography is the catalyst of technology, from the much-documented triumph of the VHS format over Betamax, to the modern expansion of DVDs and the Internet.

This fits in with Penn Jillette's legendary observation, "Shopping, sex and shopping for sex propel all new technology," though I don't see the connection to Beta vs. VHS, unless one is prepared to argue that six hours of grainy porn is superior to 4.5 hours of less-grainy porn, an argument with which I'm not likely to agree.

Porn, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, which makes legal definitions of pornography rather graphic themselves. If anything that has the potential to cause sexual arousal in anyone were to be defined as porn — well, for all I know, there may be people who get off watching Mister Rogers. Then there's that irritating First Amendment. The Supreme Court has ruled generally that "obscene" material may be barred, but the definition of "obscene" is as fluid as the "community standards" upon which it rests.

And then there's the question of whether it's bad for you. Two Presidential commissions were convened on the matter. The first, under Nixon, decided that it wasn't, whereupon Nixon disavowed the findings; in an effort to avoid similar results, the second commission, under Reagan, was packed with antiporn activists. The one thing common to both of these studies is that while they couldn't demonstrate persuasively that porn was inherently bad — more specifically, they couldn't show a conclusive link between access to porn and sex-related crimes — they couldn't give it a clean bill of health either: there were, and are, legitimate instances of people who simply cannot handle the stuff.

Most of us, however, are not particularly pathological, in which case the question becomes: Is there, then, a slippery slope? Is there a point beyond which Joe and/or Susan Sixpack will become so engrossed in synthetic representations of sex, that the real thing becomes a poor substitute? Susanna Cornett thinks there is:

If you immerse yourself in that type of "on demand" environment, it's going to be difficult to adjust to the realities of a real, long-term relationship with a real live partner. And I think this is true of men and women, although I think it would be more of a problem for men.

How many women are going to feel the center of their man's life — as she should in a solid relationship — if whenever she's tired, or works late, or just isn't in the mood, her guy says, "Hey, baby, no prob, I'll just fire up Virtual Vicky. Be back in a bit." I'm not thinking that's going to be conducive to true intimacy. And how many men would have no problem if their partners were just as happy, if not more so, with a hot pink realistic vibe and streaming video?

She's right, I think, but I also think that with our cultural emphasis on instant gratification, this sort of thing would happen even without computerized courtesans and dishwasher-safe battery-operated boyfriends. Actual relationships are a hell of a lot of work, a fact that won't go away no matter how many tools we own or how many shortcuts we know.

For myself, I admit to having comparatively little experience with commercial pornography. (Yes, I do own a pornograph. So do you, probably.) What I have seen generally didn't offend me, didn't drive me off the edge of the slope, didn't cause me to forget about Real Life: mostly, it bored me. These people, their faces blurry and their crotches carefully detailed, didn't seem to be enjoying themselves in the slightest. To them, it's evidently just a paycheck. And fool that I am, I persist in thinking that if it's not enjoyable, why do it?

Yeah, I know: "So how come you're still at that same crummy job?" But that's a tale for another time.

Later that same day: While not part of the dustbury.com log, this file is referenced therein, and comments are taken at this link.

The Vent

#320
8 December 2002

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