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Pornographic Excuse

In a world with diminishing excuses, the taboo of pornography still works.



More than any other human function or interaction, our society has proven itself at a perpetual loss when dealing with sex.

People can make all manner of jokes regarding war, murder and the destruction of the human body, but the mere mention of sex in the workplace can unleash a lawsuit. We tolerate all manner of physical violence and torture in our popular and even political culture via movies like Hostel and real-life atrocities like Abu Ghraib, but save our outrage instead for the sight of Janet Jackson’s nipple.

No decent person would say there shouldn’t be boundaries around the topic of sex. Civilization, a word that gets lost in talk of “culture,” depends upon them, even as lots of people skirt around them. Look at this paper’s “vice ads” toward the back pages for needed proof. The puritans of society have their place, but I’ve always suspected they lose sleep at night thinking that their more libidinous neighbors might be having more fun. Nothing breeds righteous moralizing like jealousy.

And any honest person will admit this much: In proportion to how it occupies our thoughts almost daily, sex is the most disproportionately discussed topic on the face of the earth. So it is that no other human emotion is subject to so much confusion and abuse.

Craig Roger Gregerson, the alleged kidnapper and murderer of 5-year-old Destiny Norton, took that confusion and abuse one execrable step further when he said recently that his addiction to pornography got him where he is today, sitting in the only place with walls thick enough to protect him from the loathing and enmity of an entire community'a jail cell.

“I can tell you this,” he told a local TV reporter, “I have now become a strong advocate against pornography. I do apologize to the public, and everyone else who’s been involved in what happened.”

Knowing full well no one’s interested in an apology, he went for broke and manufactured a lame excuse. His was a pathetic attempt at kicking culpability away from his own feet toward some less culpable target, that social bugaboo we call “pornography.” And now he’s an advocate against it, to boot. In the context of one dead 5-year-old child, a silver lining like that doesn’t come more tragic, or meager.

But, boy oh boy, did Gregerson’s words ever prick up the ears of puritanical crusaders. “See? There’s a direct link between sex crimes and pornography.” And out come the studies, followed by loads of books. The most famous comes perhaps from Judith Reisman, author of The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography. “It’s not that pornography acts like a drug. It is a drug,” is her rallying cry. And there’s an amazing array of titles dedicated to helping men recover from porn addiction, The Skinner Box Effect: Sexual Addiction & Online Pornography and Secret Sins of the Heart among them.

But what else is new? Herodotus, the “father of history,” recorded scenes of group sex in his travels hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Temptation is as old as humanity. Could we substitute the word “pornography” in Reisman’s rallying cry with the words “food,” “money” or “prime real-estate holdings”? Mounds of court records detailing white-collar crime schemes and this country’s billion-dollar diet industry prove we can. Yet few people blame money itself for crime, and plenty of people lose weight once they learn the hard art and science of discipline. Yet certain people still impose a blanket cause-and-effect mechanism on human sexual urges. And that’s because we … cannot … discuss … sex.

Sure, we can expose ourselves to sexual images in fashion catalogs and even the occasional billboard, as if sex were a product of some sort. If we’re immature, we can giggle at it. We can even vilify pornography, as there are definitely types of pornography worth vilifying. But because we cannot discuss certain sexual topics openly and seriously, we see it as this mysterious force that somehow has the power to make us do things, even horrible things, unaware. Gregerson’s alibi is really nothing new. Serial killer Ted Bundy, the night before he was to be executed, used the same escape route in a television interview with evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson when he said pornography shaped and molded him into “behavior too terrible to describe.”

Complete hogwash, of course. Whether by fate or choice, serial killers like Bundy are more aligned with animals, not civilized people who act according to their own free will, then take responsibility for those acts.

It’s not hard to cut through the scientific debate, either. An article by researchers Malamuth, Addision and Koss titled “Pornography and sexual aggression: Are these reliable effects and can we understand them?” in the 2000 issue of Annual Review of Sex Research parsed it this way: “High pornography use is not necessarily indicative of high risk for sexual aggression,” but, “if a person has relatively aggressive sexual inclinations resulting from various personal and/or cultural factors, some pornography exposure may activate and reinforce associated coercive tendencies and behaviors.”

In other words, as Socrates advised, “Know thyself.”

A much more constructive route to ending the tragedy of sexual crimes, and sexual crimes against children in particular, might rest in a recent German experiment launched last year offering free medical treatment to pedophiles before they feel inclined to strike. The campaign has resulted in 70 men registering for treatment, but involves an ad campaign that would probably prove a hard sell in the United States. “Do you love children more than you want to?” the campaign asks. “You are not responsible for your sexual fantasies, but you are responsible for your sexual behavior.”

Alas, some of us much prefer the excuse that “porn made me do it.”