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Between the Bookends: Pro-Life on Porn

Last week I had the pleasure to meet pro-life columnist and colleague from the Center for Morality in Public Life, Catherine Palmer. I admire the fresh perspective Catherine brings to the issues and consider her latest article in Ethika Politika to be a provocative addition to the pro-life movement. Here’s Catherine:

Between the Bookends: Pro-Life on Porn
by Catherine Palmer

I’ve been thinking for some time now that pornography is an issue that ought to be addressed within the pro-life community. But I wasn’t sure why. On the surface, it appears that beginning and end of life issues are what we need to be talking about; and, certainly, they are. But if being comprehensively pro-life means supporting life at every stage — from conception to natural death — it seems there’s an awful lot of life between those two bookends that we need to be concerned about. How are we defending the equally massive dignity of people who are 4, or 12, or 31, or 67?

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest predators of the middle-aged person’s dignity is the porn industry. Pornography, though a seemingly “private” issue, actually has tremendous public ramifications. It contributes exceptionally to the overall diminishing of human dignity that we see reflected in our movies, our books, our TV shows, our radio stations, and even our laws. It is poisonous to marriages, toxic to families, and detrimental to society. And it is becoming more rampant and widespread every year.

Senator Sam Brownback has gathered some staggering statistics on the issue. He found that 72 million people visit Internet porn sites each year. One in five children, ages 10 to 17, has received a sexual solicitation online. Nine out of ten children, ages 8 to 16 with Internet access, have visited porn sites, usually while working on homework. The founder of the Center for Online Addiction reports that 65% of people who visit their site do so due to marital problems caused by cyber pornography[1]. And 2.5 billion emails every day are pornographic in nature[2].

If one doubts that porn’s ramifications seep into all aspects of society, perhaps he should consider a study by Dr. Mary Anne Layden, Co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Layden reports that:

70% of hits on Internet sex sites occur between 9 and 5 on business computers. Research also indicates, and my clinical experience supports, that 40% of sex addicts will lose their spouse, 58% will suffer financial losses, and 27% to 40% will lose their job or profession.[3]

If we really think porn has no adverse influence on our lives, we are sorely kidding ourselves.

But Layden’s statistics, in particular, struck me for another reason. Remember, she found that the vast majority of all porn viewing happens between 9 and 5 on business computers. This immediately confirmed what I — and likely most of us — would imagine to be true: namely, that people seek to ogle porn in private.

But why the secrecy? Aren’t 72 million other people looking at it, too? Is there really a need for the shame and embarrassment?

No woman ever stepped off a Planned Parenthood table excited to proclaim to the world that she has just had an abortion. And no pornography user ever comes home to his wife and kids ready to share the news that he spent the last 2 hours looking at airbrushed pictures of naked women.

Why?

Because we have a natural human capacity — call it a conscience — to know the difference between right and wrong. And try as we might to convince ourselves otherwise, we know that like procuring an abortion, using pornography is not a behavior to be proud of.

So we begin to try to make ourselves feel better. More specifically, we begin to justify. In the same way that a mother dehumanizes the fetus to justify killing him, the porn user dehumanizes the model to justify lusting after her (or him).

The mere concept of dehumanization ought to be enough to make us shudder, as this has been the radical idea responsible for the tragedies of Nazi Germany, for lynching in the South, and for the Rwandan Genocide.

Whenever a certain group of people is dubbed with a less-than-human status, they are made vulnerable to attack and destruction. This is as true in 2010 for the porn star and the fetus in America as it was in 1935 for the Jew in Germany or in 1955 for the Black in Tennessee. At their core, these issues — all human rights abuses — are intrinsically and intricately linked to the dignity of the human person, and for that reason ought to be the pro-lifer’s business.

If we do not make efforts to purge America of pornography, more than our jobs, our finances, and even our marriages will be at risk; our very dignity will be threatened.

Dehumanization anywhere is a peril to human dignity everywhere. As feminist Catharine MacKinnon put it:

When pornography is […] normal, a whole population of men is primed to dehumanize women and to enjoy inflicting assault sexually […] Pornography is the perfect preparation — motivator and instruction manual in one — for […] sexual atrocities.

I’m afraid sexual atrocities — momentous as they are on their own — are not all we have to worry about if pornography continues to batter the people between the bookends.

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