Matt Fradd discusses “10 Myths About Pornography”

Matt Fradd discusses “10 Myths About Pornography” December 8, 2014

The Franciscan University of Steubenville puts out regular videos about various topics, such as theological debates and lectures. In this particular lecture, it features Matt Fradd, who discuses “10 Myths About Pornography”.

Here’s how you’ll know it’ll be fun – He’s a Catholic Apologist. That, an he’s a fun speaker.

Sorry – this is a long article.

I’ve paraphrased some parts of the transcription for brevity.

1) Only Men Struggle with Porn [7:55]

He says no – so stop saying that. Also, don’t psychoanalyze women who do access porn.

This one isn’t really controversial in my mind. He cites some anecdotes, but if they’re from religious backgrounds, it might not be so much that they’re “struggling”, as opposed to being convinced that they should be struggling with it.

 

2) If people didn’t have porn, they’d end up sexually repressed and neurotic  [9:25]

To me that’s like saying, if people weren’t obese, they’d be anorexic. [audience laughter] We need people as fat as physically possible. Now if someone said that to you, you’d say, “Um, hello? Isn’t there a third option? Health?”

Not a great analogy. You’ll notice, as we go along, that he seems to implying that any access of porn is automatically, or becomes automatically, an addiction. Otherwise, how is pornography  an analog to obesity?

I have some Reese’s peanut butter cups in my freezer. I enjoy one, once in awhile. I’m not obese. It’s not a dichotomy between having no peanut butter cups, or completely stuffing my face through the day. In fact, one of those “deep cup” ones can kill my apatite for hours. There are plenty of people who enjoy the occasional pornography, without going overboard.

On the other hand, a complete repression is an extreme. We’re talking about a spectrum – none | occasional | a lot | obsessive. “None”, that he’s advocating, is an extreme end. Ring up Darrel Ray, I’m sure he’d give this guy an earful.

And there is such a thing as sexual health, right? We call it “chastity”

He discusses the difference between abstinence and chastity- not having the “opportunity” for sex is not chastity.

It doesn’t tell me whether you’re a virtuous person. Chastity, on the other hand, is a virtue, like courage. Just as courage enables one to be brave in the face of fear, so chastity enables one to love in accord with his dignity. Chastity means that you are not controlled by your sexual desire. It’s beautiful. It’s liberating.

I’m not all that interested in whether this person thinks its a virtue or not. We could also declare that it’s a “virtue” to not eat candy, but we’d want a good reason for that. If there is a problem, it’s more about moderation than a complete ban. Courage isn’t always a good thing. It can sometimes lead to you making dumb mistakes – sometimes, during the fight-or-flight decision, the “flight” option is the correct one.

As for whether this is a myth – I don’t know that anyone would make an absolute claim like this. If the argument is that sexual repression harms people – yes, that much can be scientifically verified.

 

3) Masturbation is good for you [11:19]

You hear these sorts of things all the time. I’ve heard people say everything from “I’ve heard that it reduces the risk of prostate cancer” to “it cleans up the skin.” Just eat prunes and use Clearasil for goodness sake. But when someone says “masturbating is is good for you”, what they don’t mean is the act of masturbation – there’s something in the act of it – that is beneficial – it’s like “well you get the heart rate up” – you can probably do that another way.

When people say that masturbation is good for you, they (almost) always means that ejaculation is good for you, if you’re talking to men. So what? That’s hardly controversial.

What do you mean “so what?” That means it’s not a myth!

As for prostate cancer, people didn’t pluck that out of the air. There’s been several studies, although they’re inconclusive:

Ejaculation frequency and subsequent risk of prostate cancer (2004): Our results suggest that ejaculation frequency is not related to increased risk of prostate cancer.

Sexual activity and prostate cancer risk in men diagnosed at a younger age (2009). These findings could imply different mechanisms by which sexual activity is involved in the aetiology of prostate cancer at different ages. Alternatively, there is a possibility of reverse causation in explaining part of the protective effect seen for men in their 50s.

Frequent ejaculation may be linked to decreased risk of prostate cancer (2004): Frequent ejaculation is not associated with a higher risk for prostate cancer but may be linked to a decreased risk of the cancer.

He continues…

[…] Just because something is a good thing doesn’t mean that the ends justifies the means. I’ve never heard somebody say “when you ejaculate, that’s good, that’s why I’m having an affair; that’s why I’m renting a hooker” Not many people would say that, because they recognize that these things are immoral. And I would like to say that the same thing is true about masturbation.

It’s some kind of strange equivocation. I do not grant that masturbation is “immoral.” That’s silly.

“Ends justifies the means” makes sense to use as a rebuttal when there’s an actual bad action taken. You’ll notice that a lot of his arguments only make sense if one starts with the premise that masturbation/pornography is bad/wrong.

In this case, it’d be like me saying “I was hungry so I ate a sandwich“, and he says, “But the ends don’t justify the means!” … in this case, yes, they do. The means – eating – is justified as the basis for solving the problem – hunger.

He quotes C.S. Lewis [12:47]

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself…. And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.

The true exercise of imagination, in my view, is (a) To help us to understand other people (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce, art. But it has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world—e.g. picturing all I’d do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.

So we shouldn’t psychoanalyze women, but let’s psychoanalyze the shit out of men.

The problem here, apparently, is that people dare have sexual fantasies. Of course, we’re assuming that those fantasies always override reality. We’re also leaving it to the might of C.S. Lewis to whip up some dramatization of some kind of dystopian future for men who have lustful thoughts. I also have fantasies about being a star ship captain. This doesn’t hamper my ability to do my actual day job. I don’t back away from the keyboard, because of some coding error, and yell, “RED ALERT! ALL PHASER BANKS, FIRE ALL WILL!”

Why are we quoting a broadcaster/novelist, and not, say, a doctor in psychology?

Myth status: So we have some positive evidence (at least that I found) on an organic level, and we have the release of sexual tension, so we can continue with our days. Rebutting that, we have, fantasy-writer making claims.

4) Pornography is adult entertainment [14:25]

200 years ago in Great Britain, if you said “I’m going to a gentlemen’s club”, it was understood that you were going to an upper class establishment to gossip with people of your class, play parlor games, and drink whatever it is that English people drank 200 years ago. But today if you say “I’m going to a gentlemen’s club” it’s understood that you’re going to a lonely bar that smells like urinal cakes and hopelessness. There’s a big difference. And yet we call this “gentlemen’s club.” Adult bookstores – you see this defensive advertising – there’s a reason that these “adult bookstores” cover up their windows and offer back entrances. It’s not because the clientele are misunderstood revolutionaries, plotting the demise of a sexually repressed culture. It’s far simpler than that. It’s because what they’re doing is bloody wrong, and they know it’s wrong.

Let’s consider another example – skinny dipping. It’s exciting in more sexually repressed societies, because it’s “naughty”. On the other hand, some countries in Europe have standard public beaches where many people are fully nude… and few people care. How inclined would people in that society to go skinny dipping, for the sake of it, when it’s already normalized?

Just because something has a stigma, doesn’t mean that it’s actually wrong. It just means that the society at large thinks so. If I lived in a town where usage of electricity has heavily frowned upon, I might be inclined to sneak into the back door of some black-market electricity making.. place, and get myself some – not because it’s wrong, but because of the societal oppression.

Lots of people are embarrassed by their sexuality (me among them). It’s an intimate, private thing that is complicated by having to go out into public to facilitate it.

I may also be uncomfortable to buy tampons for a significant other… are tampons morally wrong, and I know it, and that’s why I’m trying to be covert about it?

Myth status: He ever quite makes the case that it’s a myth. How is it not for adults, and how is it not entertainment?

 

5) The people producing the porn are “well-rounded nymphomaniacs” [16:00]

The problem I think is that for the most part this is absolutely false.

He quotes a psychoanalyst about how female actresses have a high rate of substance abuse and personality disorder, etc, and that they have to be drunk or high in order to go to work. He proceeds to describe an anecdote where he interviews a stripper, discovers her life is in shambles, and pays back her loans for her, to get her to stop being a stripper, and then trying to get her to go to confession (she was Catholic already).

He describes some statistics about how women aren’t liberated by pornography – there’s much violence and degradation against women, etc.

This is the closest he gets to a valid point, but his conclusions are off in some wild bizarre world.

I agree – there’s much about the porn industry that needs to be cleaned up – but that’s not an intrinsic attribute of pornography.

Some movies, and some shows, like Game of Thrones (which I watch for only one reason – the plot), feature plenty of nudity, to pornographic levels. The actresses are not (as far as I know) abused or their lives in shambles. That’s because those industries are much more humane and regulated. We could have a pornography industry that treats its members with respect and benefits. That’s particularly so if the pornography is drawn/computer generated.

This is not an argument against pornography. That’s an argument against treating humans like shit. I’m all in favor of women being portrayed in a more positive light, and treated like human beings. So let’s do that.

Not all pornography has to be about spanking women, and dominating them. There’s plenty of porn that involves women just standing, sitting, or laying around. Maybe the pornographers are otherwise satisfying a market of violence against women, that says more about the desires of the culture at large, than the pornography itself. Maybe this is the symptom, and not the cause.

It’d be like arguing that we shouldn’t have industry at all, because there are places on the planet where slave labor and/or sweatshops are utilized. No, the answer is to raise the standards so that we build up a “middle class” that has rights, benefits and respect.

Or it’s like saying that “movies are bad”, because there’s some that involve treating their actors/actresses badly. He’s targeting the wrong thing.

So let’s ban movies, pornography and industry.

6) Porn is only fantasy – it doesn’t affect my life [28:10]

It’s essentially arguing that images couple with messages do not have the power to influence human behavior. If that’s true then please explain advertising to me. Suppose you had a friend who enjoyed watching racist videos … in which black people are denigrated and humiliated on set. Your friend, who’s white, just finds that funny – he enjoys it. Friend says “you shouldn’t be watching that”, and he says “it’s just fantasy.” You’d probably at least say two things – 1) No it’s not. This is going to affect the way you relate with other people. 2) Even if it doesn’t, you are wrong to find this entertaining. I think the same is true with porn.

Here’s more of the cause/effect confusion. In this scenario, it’d surprise me this friend was non-racist, watched some racist video, and became racist. Most of the time, they were racist before watching the videos, and therefore, found it acceptable to watch. If the argument is that the video causes racism, it’s not made. If it’s not, there’s no point here. At best, we have a racist friend who is acting upon his already-existing racism.

We’re all going to encounter good and bad messages in life. The risk is when we become so insular that we aren’t confronted by alternative views, and get a healthy dose and mixture of reality from different directions. The problem here isn’t that he’s watching a nasty video – it’s that he needs to become more familiar with the world – particularly black people – to get to know them, so he might not be so racist.

He discuses two studies done where quotations are taken from magazines (U.K’s version of Maxim magazine), and took quotations from convicted rapists justifying their violence against women… randomly interviewed people, and presented the quotations while withholding the source, and asked the interviewees which quotation came from which source. The people couldn’t tell the difference.

The studies are silly.

Let’s take quotes from two groups of people – one group are car aficionados who like cars and talking about cars, in a magazine. The other group are criminals convicted of grand theft auto. We’ll show these quotes to random people and see if they can tell who the quotes came from:

  1. “Oh man, I’d kill to drive that!”
  2. “I’d do anything to get my hands on a flux capacitor!”
  3.  “The rims on that Corvette are totally rad”

Since people can’t tell who the quotes came from, we can apparently conclude that being into cars means you’re more likely to be a car thief, therefore, looking at car magazines is bad.

This is coming from a guy who said, in this very video, that “actions speak louder than words” – but suddenly, that doesn’t apply here.

He cites a researcher who found that pornography harmed people’s sexual performance, because they spend so much time in unnaturally sexualized space, that they find it difficult to have sex with a real human being.

I can actually agree here. I think females are given too unrealistic of a presentation in our media and sexualizations, which raise the bar of expectations. That harms both men and women. I’d like to see that addressed. That’s not a problem with pornography, intrinsically, but with a specific current trend.

Let’s go back to the premise – “Porn is only fantasy – it doesn’t affect my life.” We could have complete CGI porn (and do!). He seems to be making some kind of genetic fallacy, or hasty generalization, where he’ll take a specific type/instance of porn, and now all of a sudden, all of pornality (I know it’s not a real word – I’m keeping it)  is the same. It’s kinda a myth… for the real people, they are actually getting it on, so it’s whether it’s fantasy or not is a complex philosophical question.

For the second part, “it doesn’t affect my life“, if anyone says that, I think they’re meaning is more “it’s doesn’t derail my life.” My deep-cup Reese’s peanut butter thing does technically affect my life. It gives me pleasure for a few minutes, in what might otherwise be a somewhat dreary day. Having that to look forward to, after a long day’s work, can help my mood – not totally, but a bit. Will my life be significantly different years down the road? Probably not.

Reading books of fiction, while fantasy, can also affect people. So can watching movies. Many Star Trek fans from TSG and the Original Series went on to be engineers and scientists to invent the things they saw in the show.

Sure, porn can affect me. It can help alleviate sexual frustration, which comes to me as a relief, so I can operate normally for the rest of the day. I consider that a positive thing.

Myth status: both premises – while they might not be myths, it doesn’t really help his case.

 

7) (No one ever says this, but everyone thinks it [he literally says that]) Porn will make me happy [32:00]

He then debunks a claim no one is making, or thinking. Apparently he’s running out of “myths”, so he’s making them up now.

Well, I was just making a case about eating that candy brightening my day, but if you listen to him in the video, that’s not what he’s getting at. He’s talking about “make me happy” as in “fulfill my life and make my entire life happy and wonderful.” That peanut butter cup doesn’t fulfill my life, or make me a happy person. It just happens to be one, of many things, throughout the day, alongside listening to some music, watching some Walking Dead, taking a hot shower – that all contribute to me being in a good mood.

It’s that daily maintenance and struggle most of us go through. Most of us, though, don’t start arguing that taking a hot shower is meant to fulfill one’s life, and we need to debunk that as a myth.

He then discusses topics, such as how we can get bored with porn, and it’ll make our marriages boring too (which goes back to #6). Fradd talks about how we use porn to try to fill in the gaps of our lives, but it ultimately leaves us feeling lonely, and become more isolated.

Ever play Skyrim? Or any single player game? How about watch a movie? Does that leave you feeling lonely afterwards? It is possible for a person to just engage in something fleeting, for the sake of enjoying it, without feeling bad about it afterwards. I have had days where I’ve played video games too much, and felt bad that I wasted my time. Then again, I’ve had rough work weeks, where I purposely went out of my way to enjoy that new game for an afternoon, and felt guilt free, because I knew it was R&R, and felt revitalized because of it. This isn’t an argument about why watching movies is bad, or playing video games is bad.

This topic is more about how one manages one life than anything else.

Notably, Fradd keeps going back to addiction, as though that’s always the outcome of pornography.

 

8) Porn isn’t addictive [36:05]

He rebuts the notion:

Porn is not a drug, therefore it cannot be an addiction. Stop calling it an addiction. You’re trivializing real addictions like methamphetamine and alcohol. While it’s true that pornography is not a drug, it’s also true that pornography illicit powerful neurotransmitters – a.k.a. brain drugs in the brain, which the brain can and does become addicted to. So the old notion that it can’t be a drug because I’m not inhaling it is hopelessly out of date, from what we now know from modern neuroscience.

He talks about a neurologist who discusses about the pain/reward centers of the brain that form addictions.

I’ve literally never heard of that argument – that because it’s not a drug, it can’t be addictive. Anything can be addictive, that has some kind of pleasure-reward. Food does, so eating food is wrong?

He continues here to confuse cause and effect. Most people have sexual drives in their teens through thirties. Maybe they’re looking at porn, not because they’re addicted, but because they’re satisfying their biological drives? Those drives that keep burning away during our biological clocks?

He seems to be making the case that, because he’s identified a causal mechanism, that this is enough to establish some kind of inevitable outcome. We have the potential to become addicted to anything with a pleasure reward, by this mechanism, yet most of us, most (if not all) of the time, can resist easily.

I know non-drug addiction. During university, I was almost thrown out, my grades were so poor, because I kept playing this computer game. There were points where I was playing 20 hours a day. I don’t drink alcohol. Beyond recognizing that I have an addictive personality, I also have some heritage of alcoholics. I worry that I’d be susceptible to it as well. I have a history of binging on some show – just watching episode after episode, keeping me up late, later than I’d like.

So I have a history of finding it difficult to say “no” to myself. You’d think I’d be a prime candidate, as a sexually frustrated younger self, for this supposed inevitable pornographic addiction. I didn’t take any action to restrict myself.

I didn’t become “addicted.” I didn’t “struggle” with it. I just viewed it, enjoyed it, and moved on.

 

Not exactly being on topic, Fradd talks about a German study that showed that porn addicts have smaller brains.

From the PubMed article:

However, one of the big issues with studies like this is that you can’t tell cause and effect. This could point to a somewhat unusual ‘chicken and egg situation’. It could be the case that men with weaker, smaller and less active areas of the brain crave greater stimulation so they are more likely to watch more porn.

In conclusion, this study does not provide any convincing evidence that viewing porn shrinks the brain, but tentatively highlights a possibility that it might.

So again, we have a causation/effect confusion – do the people have smaller brains, therefore, view more porn, or do they view more porn, and their brains shrink? Is the “problem” with pornality that it’s addictive, or do we have people who are predisposed to being addicted to pornography, and becoming so?

Myth status: He showed how it can be addictive, without establishing any degree of certainty, that one could with meth, for example… not anymore so than any other activity one might engage.

9) I can overcome this on my own [39:13]

I’ve never met anyone who’s found a significant degree of healing, whether they be man or woman, who did this on their own…

We’ve apparently totally switched from talking about porn myths, to porn addicts myths. Next up – talking about communistic pilot porn addict myths.

I was poking around the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health for articles on the rate of sexual addiction. At best, the consensus is that “sexual addiction” isn’t well studied, and we haven’t even achieved a scientific consensus on how to define it yet. (If someone knows a credible source, feel free to chime in.)

Yet Fradd talks about it as though it’s a foregone conclusion. He identified a causal mechanism for those who do suffer from an addiction, and just assumed that everyone, or most everyone, would be susceptible.

Fradd continues by discussing “accountability software” and internet filters.

The great thing about accountability software is that it changes the mentality. Once you download accountability software, it asks you to enter the email address or addresses of accountability partners, and then it’ll send them a detailed report once a week, once every two weeks, of where you’ve been.

No longer do we think, “how do we get around the filter”, we now think “well I can look at porn”, but then I have to have a very awkward conversation with grandma, or whoever.

He says the software (“Covenant Eyes”) is great because few people that he talks to want to be the type of person who looks at porn – who have to sneak away from the wife and family to get their “fix”.

There’s not much of a point here. Many people are sex positive. I don’t want to be the type of person who unnecessarily struggles with my biology because of the prudishness of society around me. I don’t want to be the type of person who was tricked into thinking that masturbation was bad, so I’ll suffer through the urges for hours on end. I don’t want to be the type of person who shies away from nudity for no particular reason.

I’m sorry, but our goals in life are not the same. You don’t get to dictate to me who I want to be.

Incidentally, later in this section, he magically switches from “recovering from pornographic addiction” to “recovering from pornography.” He really does see them as one-in-the-same.

Then, he starts pushing the “Covenant Eyes” software sales pitch intensely – “just get it!”, if you want to prevent getting addicted to porn.

The folks at Covenant Eyes are good people. I was chatting with a bloke who invented it. I said “what about those who can’t afford it?“, I mean I know it’s $8 a month – come on – but I said “what about the people who can’t afford it?“. They said, “well if they can’t afford it, we’ll give it to them.” I said, “that doesn’t sound like a very healthy marketing strategy.” He said, “we’re in it to save souls, not to make money.

So the software developers aren’t concerned about the harms, and degradation of women, etc. Their real concern is that your parallel-dimension ghost will be tortured forever by the master-parallel-dimension ghost because you, in this dimension, looked at a naked lady.

I’m going to write software that’ll block all representations of triangles on websites, because Squaretron, the Ultimate, gets angry if you see any, and will bend you into and equilateral four-sided polygon for eternity, if you do.

10) I can never be free of this [48:00]

He discusses his history of viewing porn, over the years, including his having an addiction. He infiltrated a strip club at the age of 16, and started to realize that porn was stupid, and should be free of it, and that’s hard.

Some people do struggle, and it sounds like this fellow has… but there’s a point where it’s not a question of struggling with a thing, but rather, an obsession with the struggle against it. It’d be like if I was struggling with freeing myself from seeing any advertisements. Sure, that’d be difficult, and I’ll “never be free” of advertisements in my life… but then again, that’s not really a problem, and I don’t make it an issue. I don’t have any existential crises because I saw more than 3 advertisements today.

I think it says a lot more about this guy, than pornography. Most people do manage it. Most people do consume porn, and then continue normally, and do so through their lives normally.

He just seems to come from a parallel world where pornography is some kind of infectious evil that’ll ensnare your brain at a moment’s notice.

It’s a world I do not recognize. I’m sure there are people out there who do suffer… but where Matt Fradd seems to keep going wrong, is that he’s perpetually blaming the symptom, and not the cause.

I don’t care to be “free of porn.” I don’t see it as an important topic. That doesn’t mean I’m addicted or obsessed with it. I think I’d rather live in a world where people are less sexually frustrated, and live healthier lives because they aren’t constantly trying to irrationally deny a basic biological drive. What’s more, pornography doesn’t have to lead to victimizing anyone. Wouldn’t sexual assaults be lessened if there were less sexually repressed and frustrated people? I know personally – hormones can drive one to do bizarre things. It was better when I could just… manage it.

As he put it, “Um, hello? Isn’t there a third option? Health?

 

—-

I don’t really understand his point with these “myths”. It’d be like having a list of “Myths about movies“:

  1. No animals are ever harmed in making movies.
  2. Watching movies will complete your life
  3. Watching too many movies can’t hurt you

They’re a mixture of “so what?” and, “so let’s fix that” – but he’s using them as reasons to outright bar one’s self from watching any, ever.

If many women enter the porn industry out of desperation, and loathe it, then lets fix society such that women are more empowered and have more options. Maybe cutting social services and gutting the middle class isn’t the way to go?

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