As everyone knows, porn is big business. To cite just one example, ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, recently approved the creation of an .xxx top-level domain. ICM Registry, a company that plans to sell the new domain names, says it already has more than 110,000 pre-reservations, and expects to make over $200 million annually from selling them.
But strangely enough, it’s not just godless sinners who are turning a profit off porn. Believe it or not, Christian conservatives have gotten into the game – not to produce or sell porn, of course, but to sell cures for porn. And to judge by the number of groups that are doing this, it’s big business for them too.
Of course, ridiculous claims about the health effects of masturbation, homosexuality, and non-monogamy – ranging from hairy palms to insanity and death – have been a longstanding part of religious puritanism. So have pseudoscientific “cures” for human sexuality, from corn flakes to clitoridectomies. In that respect, these modern snake-oil sellers are just perpetuating a long, if ignoble, tradition. But two things set them apart from their predecessors.
First is their insistence that the free and open expression of sexuality is harmful, now that we have ample evidence proving that claim false. Same-sex marriage is a reality in several U.S. states and other countries in the world, and those places have experienced none of the dire consequences that religious fundamentalists predicted. Meanwhile, states that exclusively teach abstinence-only sex ed continue to have far higher rates of teen pregnancy, divorce and STDs than states that teach a comprehensive approach including contraception.
Second, and more importantly, is the fundamental dishonesty of their approach. Puritanical crusaders of past eras, whatever else we can say about them, were straightforward and clear in their objective: they thought sex outside a very narrow range of limitations was evil and wanted to stop people from doing it (see also).
By contrast, today’s anti-porn preachers, probably recognizing that this would no longer fly, take a subtler approach. Most of them claim to only be treating pornography addiction – a real problem, albeit not as common as they claim it is. But once they get you in the door, their real agenda becomes clear: to promote an archaic, shame-based view of human sexuality which excludes all forms of sexual expression except the very narrow, restrictive ones grudgingly permitted by fundamentalists, for obvious practical reasons. You can notice it in this article from the Times, profiling one such group: it calls itself “Victory Over Porn Addiction”, but teaches its members to abstain from all forms of non-procreative sex, including sexual fantasies and masturbation.
These deceptive tactics are used by religious proselytizers across the board. Consider the “crisis pregnancy centers” which don’t offer abortions, but which string pregnant women along as long as possible to keep them from recognizing that, all the while bombarding them with religious propaganda; or the religious conservatives who claim to only be opposing abortion, when their actual agenda includes the banning of all forms of birth control.
This isn’t to say that mainstream pornography and free sexual expression is always healthy, of course. As Greta Christina points out, there’s plenty about porn that deserves a legitimate critique – in its own way, it promotes a conception of sexuality every bit as shallow and harmful. But the fundamentalist solution – restoring archaic, constricting gender roles; promoting ignorance, shame, and secrecy – is not the answer. If anything, it feeds the attitudes that cause sexuality in society to express itself in harmful ways.