Shmuley Boteach and Pamela Anderson have co-authored an article about pornography in the Wall Street Journal. It starts by decrying the “devastation of porn addiction” and ends by saying that “porn is for losers.”
Boteach is a Rabbi who has spent years telling people that sex should be restricted to committed, loving relationships. He says that masturbation is harmful, as it undermines the monopoly that marriage should have on sex, and therefore undermines people’s motivation to get or stay married. What a ghastly diss of marriage.
Anderson has spent half her career taking off most of her clothes, and half her career taking off all her clothes. Now we shouldn’t judge people’s opinions based solely on their past behavior. But she appeared in Playboy (for the 14th time) only 10 months ago, and posted a nude photo of herself on Instagram just last week. Apparently she only opposes porn that she’s not in.
So this odd couple—the anti-masturbation crusader and the still-stripping professional titillator—write an article warning of the terrifying dangers of porn addiction. They insult some 60-80 million American porn consumers, insisting that they all compromise themselves as parents and spouses. Given that most porn consumers walk the streets each day and go home each evening in completely unremarkable fashion, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could think that porn inevitably damages everyone who looks at it, or simply lives in a society that tolerates it.
Ironically, Boteach and Anderson leave out a legitimate complaint about porn—that it presents a vision of sexuality that isn’t entirely realistic. It shows unusual bodies in unusual situations doing unusual things. Of course, if people had proper sex education, and were encouraged to communicate about sex effectively, they would deal with porn’s fictions the same way they deal with other media fictions—like cooking shows, Stephen King novels, and Mel Gibson’s films.
But people like Boteach and Anderson are very much part of the problem that they don’t discuss: they also present unrealistic visions of sexuality.
Teaching that sex has an inherent “meaning” or “purpose” independent of circumstances or the people doing it is harmful. Teaching that masturbation betrays one’s partner (or one’s God) is shame-inducing. Teaching that adults who use porn put their kids at risk of permanent damage is horribly manipulative.
And where exactly does Anderson get the cojones to condemn porn in any form? If you meticulously titillate viewers—including millions of adolescent boys—then keeping a few inches of cloth on your breasts and crotch doesn’t make you better, or your work more wholesome, than a naked porn actress on the internet pleasing several actors at once. Whether nude or bikinied, Anderson was so good at portraying sexual fantasies (and still, apparently, is), that she became rich and famous doing it. So one of the most famous porn actresses in the history of the world is warning us against the “other” kind of porn. It’s a phony distinction. I won’t say she’s a hypocrite but…well actually, I think I will.
It’s troubling that the Wall Street Journal would give its powerful platform to people who are biased and obviously conflicted about the very subject on which they opine. The WSJ should have said “Disclaimer: Boteach is against masturbation, and Anderson still undresses and titillates for money.” It’s dishonest that these authors didn’t include this information. It’s like an oil company consultant writing about oil stocks. Would the WSJ publish that guy’s opinion without noting his relevant background?
As for their warnings about porn addiction, nonsense. Let me remind you about real addiction, involving substances like heroin, Oxycontin, or alcohol. If you’re addicted to such a substance, your body’s ability to metabolize it is compromised (which does indeed affect your judgment about using it). Take away the substance from the addict and s/he vomits, shakes violently, suffers night sweats and nightmares, and may even hallucinate.
Take away porn from habitual, even self-destructive users, and there’s no such reaction. If they continue to masturbate without porn, they just get a little crabby. If they stop masturbating too (as required by many porn addiction “treatment” programs), they get really cranky. You would too if you gave up masturbation for a year.
Addiction? No one who has ever seen real addiction withdrawal would confuse it with being really cranky. Porn addiction? There’s no such thing. There’s loneliness, there’s depression, there’s anger and fear. There are situations in which people withdraw sexually because of chronic conflict or long-term emotional wounds. There are couples who have lost interest in each other sexually.
After 36 years as a sex therapist and marriage counselor, I can tell you this: no one ever leaves a vibrant, satisfying sexual relationship for masturbation to porn. But for people who are suspicious about sexuality, or who have a political agenda around sex or gender, consuming porn can never be a harmless or understandable activity. It can never be just one more thing that normal people do (perhaps imperfectly) in a normal life.
People who demonize or mistrust sexuality shouldn’t be telling the rest of us what to be scared of. And they shouldn’t look down on others simply because they disapprove of their sexual expression. Especially not if they’re professionally committed to being compassionate, or if they’ve made a huge amount of money tantalizing a generation of “losers.”