Not “myths,” but lies.
Katie Couric recently embarrassed herself during an interview with psychologist David Ley about pornography. When he calmly described to her what a range of scientific studies say about porn’s effects on behavior and our brain—that it’s minimal—Couric raised her voice, rolled her eyes, and said she was sick of science. “Can’t we use some common sense here?”
Actually, no. Common sense clearly tells us that the Earth is flat. Want some science with that, Ma’am?
In contrast, Couric believed the fact-less, emotional rantings of her other guest—because they fit Couric’s existing beliefs. Like all morning TV hosts, her job is to say bland things, not to think. At least Couric didn’t lie; she’s just uninterested in facts.
Some people do lie. Here are some popular lies about sex that are easy to believe because they make “common sense”—and because some people are making a lot of money and maintaining large support bases promoting these lies.
* LIE: Porn causes rape
In 2000, broadband brought porn into almost every home in America. Result: the rate of sexual violence decreased. And each year since then, as Americans consume more porn, the rate of sexual violence has continued to decrease. (Source: FBI & U.S. Department of Justice.)
Too much rape in America? Absolutely, positively, without question. A consequence of people watching porn? Obviously, clearly, not.
* LIE: Abortion leads to depression, breast cancer, or infertility
Anti-choice activists claim that women who get abortions fall apart, both physically and mentally. They don’t. Most feel they made the right decision (source: University of California study); rates of depression are the same as in the general population (source: U.S. Surgeon General); rates of breast cancer are the same as in the general population (source: American Cancer Society.).
Thirty-five states require a woman getting an abortion to listen to a lecture about what a mistake she’s making (no lectures are required for heart transplants or brain surgery). Many of these lectures are filled with lies; for example, South Dakota requires doctors to tell patients that having an abortion will lead to an “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide”—based on a single, completely discredited study.
* LIE: Consumers of adult porn eventually desire child porn
This one is simple: Assuming you don’t already watch child porn, exactly what images of adult sexuality could you watch—no matter how taboo—that would make you search for pictures of adults having sex with children? The answer for you is almost certainly “none.” And that’s how it is for pretty much everyone.
There are people—actually, a very small percent of the population—who want to see child porn. They look for it, they find it, they consume it. Very few of them want to look at adult porn.
And porn companies? They make tons of money creating and selling a legal product. None of them is so stupid as to create a product that isn’t just illegal, it’s radioactive. And so porn companies are the last ones to encourage people to watch child porn. They want you watching adult porn, and they’re pretty good at promoting it.
* LIE: Condoms aren’t reliable
The abstinence-only sex ed crowd, the sex-will-kill-you morality crowd, the contraception-is-against-god’s-will crowd all agree: they’ll do anything to keep you away from condoms.
They’ll even lie about how poorly condoms work. James Dobson, head of the powerful “morality” group Focus on the Family, even famously said: “If the public can be convinced that condoms offer nearly certain protection from pregnancies & STDs, [proponents] can argue that the only thing holding people back from free sexual expression is outdated, irrelevant religious restrictions.”
But plenty of people lie about condoms. In 2003 the Vatican stirred international controversy with its false claim that the HIV virus can pass through condoms. (source: America’s War On Sex)
Do condoms work? When used consistently, the effectiveness rate is 98%. (source: Guttmacher Institute.) They’re a modern miracle available in every town in America.
* LIE: Strip clubs are centers of crime
Dozens of cities across the country have banned strip clubs or limited their operation. This is more or less unconstitutional unless legislatures do one of two things: prove that strip clubs are a public health or safety problem, or declare that there’s an emergency.
No city has been able to prove, with data from its own police department, that strip clubs attract more crime than other similar entertainment venues. And so the country is littered with emergency ordinances declaring that strip clubs present problems–without demonstrating them. Similarly, when states like Texas and Illinois single out strip clubs for taxes that don’t apply to any other form of entertainment, they never demonstrate any actual problems.
Ignorant legislators pontificate about family values, self-labelled feminists claim that clubs objectify women (so do the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, but who’s criminalizing that?), and rape crisis centers greedily line up to collect their share of the booty, but no one offers actual data.
That’s because it doesn’t exist.
* * *
Who’s spreading these lies?
Some are people who mean well, trying to make the world a better place. They just don’t know the science, or don’t care about it. Some are lazy journalists—they repeat “facts” they’ve heard (e.g., 1 in 5 American women are raped, the average kid starts looking at porn at age 8, most porn actresses were molested as children, etc.) without checking.
Other people who lie about sex, however, are activists (often religious zealots) who deliberately manipulate the public through category creep. They create phony statistics by, for example, including unwanted kissing in “sexual assault.” Or including all prostitutes as “victims of sex trafficking.”
When you hear about how sex ruins lives, beware. Not of the sex, but of those promoting the latest moral panic about it.