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Promoting Intimacy and Other-Centered Sexuality


Internet Porn Not for Rapists.

In a study that asked convicted rapists the reasons behind their crimes, the respondents answered: "I was drunk," "I was horny," and "I didn't do it."

Not one said, "Porn made me do it."

I thought the notion that viewing porn turns you into a rapist went out with Katherine McKinnon, but with Internet porn as accessible as milk at your corner store (except you don't even have to leave your house for it), that old argument is enjoying new life.

I have serious problems with people's ongoing fear that the Internet is this big bad place full of pedophiles, perverts and porn. There are plenty of pedophiles, perverts and porn online, of course, but the fear that the Internet can potentially turn us all into rapists and porn addicts is misguided. Harmful, even. Fear and sex is never a good combination - unless you're into that as a kink - and this kind of thinking too often leads to paranoia, censorship, ignorance and, ultimately, an unhealthy attitude about sexuality.

How refreshing, then, to hear an old white-guy academic tell us that four (unsupervised) hours at the mall is probably more dangerous for your kids than the Internet.

In a presentation on Internet porn at this year's Guelph sexuality conference, William A. Fisher, a professor in the department of psychology as well as in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Western Ontario, reported that his own kids mostly get grossed out when porn pops up while they're on MSN.

As for influencing criminal behaviour, Fisher refers to Judith Becker, Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona, who has studied juvenile rapists extensively. Becker doesn't believe porn contributes to their actions, or that kids growing up with more porn online are being affected. "I don't think the Internet is the powerful socializer we think," says Becker.

Part of the problem is that we're still suffering the hangover from earlier fear-mongering reports like the 1986 Meese Commission, which was set in motion by Ronald Reagan and which basically consolidated and published the opinions of a bunch of anti-porn people without any scientific backing.

I mean, consider this conclusion: "Finding a link between aggressive behavior towards women and sexual violence, whether lawful or unlawful, requires assumptions not found exclusively in the experimental evidence. We see no reason, however, not to make these assumptions... that are plainly justified by our own common sense."

Uh, yeah. Solid stuff.

Unfortunately, according to Fisher, conflicting scientific studies that indicate porn has little or no social harm - like the 10-volume 1970 Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography or, in Canada, The Fraser Committee of Porn and Prostitution (1985) - are largely ignored.

But we're certainly not the first generation to produce and consume erotic images. Heck, the earliest bone carvings and cave drawings were sexually explicit, says Fisher. And technology always drives, or is driven by, erotic imagery.

Yes, Internet porn is unique in that it's cheap, accessible to anyone of any age (and available anonymously!), and can be tailored to suit your needs.

But, despite a prevalent "monkey see, monkey do" attitude when it comes to men and porn, any therapist can tell you it takes a hell of a lot more than simply showing someone a few pictures to change their behaviour. "Even monkeys have a brain," Fisher says.

To prove this point, as part of The Effects of Internet Sexually Explicit Materials study (1997), researchers put men in a room with a computer set up with Internet "bookmarks" - some were sex-related, some were not - and left the men to surf for one-and-a-half hours. The researchers found no change in these men's attitudes to rape, nor a tendency to see women as subservient.

Okay, not the most earth-shattering proof but certainly worth considering. Also worth considering: From 1995 to 1999, when Internet use was increasing rapidly, reports of sexual assault actually declined in Canada.

So perhaps we've got this all wrong?

Sure, I still have issues with existing porn - aesthetically, a lot of it is disappointing and most of the sexual scripts are annoying and insulting to women (and to men for that matter). But censoring it isn't the way to go. "[Censorship] is an anti-democratic model, ineffective, and encourages anti-sex," agrees Fisher.

But this doesn't mean we can't improve how porn is accessed and absorbed.

One of Fisher's graduate students, Cory Isaacs, has developed a unique pilot project to this end called Peggy's Porn Guide, which I quite like. Viewers watch explicit porn clips, then Peggy comes on and reviews what they've seen in an effort to educate men about porn and to give them more realistic ideas about sex.

For example, after watching a hot girl/girl scene, Peggy asks: "How likely is it a woman would agree to have sex with another women if her male partner asked her?" along with a follow-up question, "How likely are you to have sex with another man if your female partner asked you to?"

Clever, isn't it?

As for concerns about the compulsive use of Internet porn and the ways in which it could wreak havoc on a relationship (if one of you is into this stuff and the other is not), Fisher concludes that that's got more to do with the relationship than with online porn.

"He retreats to porn or retreats to the pub or watching sports on TV. What's the difference?"

Article shared with full credit and no commercial purpose under the fair use educational provisions of the U.S. Copyright Law and International treaties.   


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