Women Who Stray

Notes on the history and current practice of female infidelity

Watch out women, Porno will steal your soul!

Fear mongers claim that women porn-watchers are at risk of rape.

Fear mongers claim that this woman will get raped because she likes to watch porn.

Now, women are being told that their use of erotica and pornography is increasingly tainted by the dangerous scourge of pornography addiction. In this recent article at the Washington Times,  some of the worst lies and half-truths about sex addiction surface again, now in an article that seems calculated to drive women to fear their sexuality, and fear the dangerous effects of a dirty "pop-up" picture on the Internet.

The article cites sociology and women's studies professor, Mary Ann Layden, who makes some wildly unsubstantiated claims: "The more pornography women use, the more likely they are to be victims of non-consensual sex." Wow, this is a staggering statement, and a frightening insight into the rebirth of the "blame the victim" argument against rape. How, exactly, could this work? A woman gets too into pornography, and stops being very selective in her social and sexual activities, and ends up getting raped? Excuse me? This is an awful statement. So a female victim testifying against her assailant is going to be asked about that time she downloaded a dirty movie to watch? And that has what to do with the immoral, narcissistic, selfish and angry acts of the man who violated her rights? The only way this has any kernel of truth is that highly sexual women are more likely to report use of pornography. Highly sexual women are also likely to report greater numbers of partners, and somewhat higher risk of an incident of sexual abuse or rape, possibly as a result of situations of date rape. But it's not the pornography, and it's not even the women's sexuality. It's the act of a person who violates the rights of another. 

This is just more of the anti-sex version of feminism, suggesting that the only way women can be safe from men is to keep their sexuality locked up tight as a drum in that neat little box society gives women. Sorry, it didn't work for Pandora. It won't work today.


Layden goes on to say: "The earlier the male starts using pornography, the more likely they are to be the perpetrators of non-consensual sex." Also a staggering misstatement of large amounts of research, all of which were unable, despite strong moral and political intent, to find ANY link between pornography use and male violence against women. Layden is just parroting those ludicrous claims made by Ted Bundy to that epitome of careful research, James Dobson, that pornography use made him do it, and that children should be protected from pornography. Absolutely no careful research truly supports these claims. In fact, in countries and regions where pornography is readily available, there are actually lower rates of rape and child sexual abuse.

The article goes on with its wild allegations and mishmash of untestable theories and bad research. It suggests that pornography addiction is created through an object-relations process, whereby a person ejaculating to pornography (so you're okay so long as you don't actually come?) creates an unshakeable link between sexual desire and explicit images. It also suggests that exposure to pornography at an early age somehow alters one's brain development, creating a porn-addicted brain. (At least the commercials could be recycled - "This is your brain, this is your brain on porn - crack of the egg, sizzle, sizzle...")

The Meese Commission's report, and their struggle to separate the morality of sexuality, from the science of sexual research serves as a warning sign for the decades since. The dialogue about sexual research and pornography's effects has become as convoluted and polarized as the Supreme Court's view of obscenity - "I may not be able to define it, but I know when I see it." Just because science and research doesn't show that pornography is dangerous, doesn't mean it isn't. The arguments against pornography are moralistic and value-driven arguments. That doesn't mean they're wrong, or even that I necessarily disagree with them. But, moral arguments "should" remain in the realms of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts." When moral arguments attempt to step into the world of scientific and medical predictions, they inevitably weaken themselves, and confuse the issues. When moral arguments attempt to drive scientific research to support the morality, they result in junk science, research which is invalid and unreliable.

A prime example of this is in the work of Judith Reisman. Judith Reisman is one of the leading opponents of pornography, who argues that pornography exposure releases "erototoxins" into the body, chemicals which alter and damage the mind, and the sexuality of a pornography viewer. Reisman's research to support the biological evidence behind her alleged erototoxins has been nonexistent, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that viewing pornography releases any unique neurochemicals into the body. Reisman has an advanced degree in communications, and a long history of provocative speeches, where she alleges that homosexuals are the greatest danger to society, that Jews are behind the availability of abortions, and that those whose brains are "rotted" by pornography should have no protected First Amendments rights.  An interesting contradiction in Reisman's theories lie in her own research activities. She acknowledges that in conducting her research, she's viewed many types and examples of pornography. But her brain and rights to Free Speech are somehow still intact?

Certainly, many of those who perpetrate rape today have been exposed to pornography, and may even use pornography on a regular basis. But many times more of the individuals who have seen or use pornography, never commit a sexual crime, just as many, many individuals own a gun (just as I do), but never commit a gun-related crime.

Since the advent of the Internet, and easy access to sexual imagery, teen pregnancy rates are dropping, nationwide by as much as 33%. Teen sexual activity itself is dropping, by 7%, while teen use of condoms has increased by 16%. Abortion rates are half what they were in 1990, and rates of sexually transmitted disease are half to 75% less than they were (syphilis and gonorrhea). For more on this, read this wonderful blog by journalist Michael Castleman.

Is pornography addictive for men or women? No more so than any other pleasurable activity. Use of pornography triggers the release of neurochemicals into the brain, the neurochemicals that relate to sexual activity, that cause the physiological arousal responses of lubrication, erection, flushing and increased heart rate. Pleasurable neurochemicals like oxytocin and dopamine are released into the brain. These are all the ways our bodies work, to get us to do things that serve our bodies, and our species. We get similar bursts of "happy" neurochemicals when we accomplish something difficult, like climbing a mountain, getting a new car, or killing an animal to provide dinner for our families. The things that feel good are things that through history, our species survived by the success of these activities. Why does sex feel good? So that we do it, as often as possible, to spread our genes and preserve the human race. Labeling the functions of our normal neurochemical activity and sexual desires as pathological or addictive is just moralism. Not therapy. And most definitely not science. Claiming that women are being raped as a result of their use of pornography is just fear-mongering.

(Note - I was contacted by Professor Layden, who felt that this column, and the article I cited, were less than supportive of her work. Those that know Professor Layden's original research may illuminate me if her actual research is at odds with the quotes she gave the Times.)

David J. Ley, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author of Insatiable Wives, Women Who Stray and The Men Who Love Them, available from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

more...

Subscribe to Women Who Stray

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.