Book Review of The Social Costs of Pornography – The Witherspoon Institute
If you want to understand the social science perspective about the harm of pornography, this is the place to start. Twenty-two leading scholars were invited to share their insight and discuss the impact of more than a decade of Internet pornography on society at Princeton University in 2008. The Social Costs of Pornography is a three-part resource documenting the presentations, conclusions, and recommendations from this Witherspoon Institute conference.
At first I wasn’t sure if these three sources were all repeating the same information, but depending on what you are looking for, they each serve a different purpose.
The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations is a short, organized review of the conclusions of the meeting. Each of the 8 findings are supported by 4-6 pages of research stats and commentary. You can download it at no cost or order a copy. If you just want a summary, this will be all you need. You will also want this book if you are using the other resources, as it contains unique info.
The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers, edited by James R. Stoner and Donna M. Hughes, is the full text of twelve papers. It is organized in three parts: evidence of harm, the moral perspective, and dilemmas of law and policy. The papers are diverse, well-founded, and insightful. If you would like a deeper understanding of the issue, you will find a lot of food for thought here. I appreciated the variety of perspectives in one book.
The Social Costs of Pornography: A Consultation is a 6 hour video of the presentations at the consultation. This is the next best thing to actually being there, and would be a great way to share information with a group.
Great Quotes from the Scholars of The Social Costs of Pornography
I used a lot of highlighter while reading A Collection of Papers, and it sits on a near-by shelf for reference. Here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you an idea of what you will find:
“Sex, in pornography, is a commercialized product, devoid of emotion, stripped of humanity, an essentially empty experience” (Pamela Paul, author of Pornified and Editor of the New York Times Book Review, p. 4).
“The addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor. Not all addictions are to drugs or alcohol. . . All addicts show a loss of control of the activity, compulsively seek it out despite negative consequences, develop tolerance so that they need higher and higher levels of stimulations for satisfaction, and experience withdrawal if they can’t consummate the addictive act” (Norman Doidge, MD, p. 33).
Mary Anne Layden, PhD writes how pornography spreads permission-giving beliefs that justify sexually deviant behavior (p. 67).
Commenting on a teen girl’s shirt emblazoned with “Future Porn Star”, Dr. Jill C. Manning asks, “What motivates a young woman to advertise such a statement? . . . Who is she hoping it will offend, attract, or . . . arouse? . . . If it is a joke, how and when did working in the sex industry become funny, as opposed to desperate or oppressed?” (p. 69).
Pornography users may avoid real relationships and “take refuge in fantasy objects” that cannot threaten, embarrass, or reject them. “Everything is cold, bleak, objective, and also free of cost and personal risk”. However, in reality “they risk the loss of love, in a world where only love brings happiness” (Roger Scruton, p. 124-125).
That statement by British scholar Roger Scruton struck me as the core reason underlying the harm of pornography. His thought led to this personal statement which hangs over my desk to remind me why I stay involved in this cause:
Everyone who is touched by pornography in any way experiences a loss of love in a world where only love brings happiness.
Today it takes audacity to speak up on this issue because we have come to the point where it is counter-culture to call pornography damaging and abusive, especially in academic circles. These scholars have done a great service by raising a warning voice of what they see happening from their professional viewpoint.