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Home / Articles / · Archive / News & Columns /  Pulled Into Porn
News & Columns

Pulled Into Porn

Is it freedom of expression or erotic addiction?

By Carolyn Campbell
Posted // June 11,2007 - Pulled

Randy Spencer never became addicted to pornography, even after studying porn?almost daily—for seven months. When he first heard about the Movie Buffs pornography case, he was relieved that defendant Larry Peterman had private counsel. As a Utah County public defender, Spencer casually stated to associates that he’d rather quit his job than represent Peterman and be exposed to pornography.


But two years later, Spencer had a change of perspective after Peterman was left bankrupt when his first trial ended in a hung jury. Spencer was appointed as Peterman’s public defender. “I had significant reservations. After looking into the case, I decided that notwithstanding my moral feelings, there was substantial infringement of First Amendment rights, and the Constitution needed to be defended.”


Describing his mandatory exposure to pornography, he says, “I found myself having somewhat of a mental challenge, which I approached with a lot of spiritual reflection and consultation with my religious leaders. I certainly did not want to like pornography, become addicted to it, or allow it to create images in my mind which would never leave.”


He says he was able—to a significant degree—to compartmentalize his observations of the material which were necessary for work, and not have it affect the rest of his life. “I would be lying if I said I was not affected in any way.” In the four years since the case ended he says, “I can honestly say I’ve never looked at pornography for my own self-gratification. In fairness, though, it’s something I’ve worked hard at, because I was very concerned from the beginning.”


As a married Mormon man and father of two, Spencer was determined not to relax his standards and values. “Neither my wife nor I were happy about me being exposed to pornography, but I did have tremendous support to stay on the straight and narrow. My preference would be that there not be pornography, but I discovered from a legal and constitutional perspective that it isn’t appropriate for me to force others to believe what I do morally.”


So how did his pornography exposure affect him? “Now, after completing the case and studying the legal standard, I find myself watching regular TV shows, magazines such as People and Sports Illustrated, and non-R- rated movies to see how far the material pushes the envelope of pornography and what could be considered illegal.”


Despite his work-related requirement to view pornography, Spencer is far from alone in his observations and concerns. Pornography is taking up a bigger place in our national debate. The question is, why? Is it because the Internet makes it more accessible? Is it because cable TV brings it into our homes? Is pornography going mainstream? Those who want it banned say pornography is heinous and leads to serious problems. Others say freedom of speech protects it, whether or not it has any redeeming value.


Andrew McCullough, board member of the ACLU-Utah and candidate for Utah County Attorney, feels that the First Amendment declarations of freedom of speech and of the press and similar freedoms of expression are inviolate. He contends that installing a state porn czar is a terrible waste of $150,000 in taxpayers’ money. He doesn’t have a problem with a group such as Women for Decency or a church group saying it doesn’t like pornography, but argues that government involvement is inappropriate.


Regarding the possibility of pornography addiction, McCullough says, “Lots of people have so-called addictive personalities. I worry sometimes that I might be called a workaholic. My sister calls periodically to tell me to get a life. Am I subject to addiction? Perhaps. But who can say I can’t work long hours if I want to? It’s my addiction and not someone else’s problem or concern.”


The computer age has brought us all kinds of new addictions, he explains. “Lots of people have an addiction to the Internet and to computers in general. There are kids playing computer games and people spending six hours in chat rooms. I’m not sure that Internet pornography is any different from the rest of it. If you can’t get away from looking at dirty pictures, see a doctor and say, ‘I’ve got a problem.’”


What exactly is pornography? Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the depiction of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement.” The etymological root of the word means “writings about prostitutes.” Even the U.S. Supreme Court has trouble defining it. Laura Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, says in her book, Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, that pornography is a form of political theater, a comment on today’s culture. “Transgression is no simple thing: it’s a precisely calculated intellectual endeavor. It means knowing the culture inside out, discerning its secret shames and grubby secrets and how to best humiliate it. A culture’s pornography becomes, in effect, a precise map of that culture’s borders: pornography begins at the edge of the culture’s decorum.”


Kipnis explains that pornography is best understood as a form of cultural expression. “It is a fictional, fantastical, even allegorical realm; it neither reflects the real world, nor is it some hypnotizing call to action. The world of pornography is mythological and hyperbolic, peopled by fictional characters. It doesn’t and never will exist. But what it does do is to insist on a sanctioned space for fantasy. And this is the basis of so much of the controversy it engenders, because pornography has a talent for making its particular fantasies look like dangerous, socially destabilizing things.”


Pornography comes in as many varieties as the human sexual impulse and is protected by the First Amendment, unless it meets the definition for illegal obscenity. There is no legal definition for hard-core and soft-core, although soft-core porn is a term typically used to refer to the type of pictures found in Playboy magazine, featuring women posing nude, while traditional hard-core porn features individuals, couples and groups engaged in highly explicit sexual poses or acts, says Mark Kastleman, Salt Lake City-based author of The Drug of The New Millennium—Internet Pornography: The Science of How Pornography Radically Alters The Human Brain and Body .


In 1973, in Miller v. California, the Supreme Court established the “three-pronged test” for obscenity, which still applies today. The case concerned bookseller Marvin Miller’s conviction under California obscenity laws for distributing illustrated books of a sexual nature. In the Miller case, the high court’s decision stated that obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment and that such speech may be regulated by the state under certain circumstances. In order to meet the definition of obscene material articulated in the case, three conditions must be met: whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.


The court also determined that a jury may measure “the essentially factual issues of prurient appeal and patent offensiveness by the standard that prevails in the forum community, and need not employ a national standard.” This establishes a role for the community in making decisions about obscene material.


The Supreme Court has held that indecent expression—in contrast with “obscenity”—is entitled to some constitutional protection, but that indecency in some media (broadcasting, cable and telephone) may be regulated. In its 1978 decision in Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica, the high court ruled that the government could require radio and television stations to air “indecent” material only during those hours when children would be unlikely listeners or viewers. Broadcast indecency was defined as: “language that describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities or organs.”


This vague concept continues to baffle both the public and the courts. Are we going to ban Seventeen magazine right along with Penthouse, as Gayle Ruzicka suggests? And what about art? Robert Mapplethorpe caused a stir when some conservatives saw his photos as pornographic. Mapplethorpe was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Conservatives argued that taxpayers were subsidizing pornography.


What does the increase in pornography mean to the culture? Is it addictive and can it take us to hell, as some suggest? Kastleman believes that pornography acts like a drug in the human brain and the viewer looks for harder and harder images to achieve the same “drug high.” “This explains the explosive growth of hard-core porn and the diminishing aspects of soft-core images. It is difficult to track the growth of kiddie porn on the Internet because it is illegal and not promoted and advertised through open channels. However, a recent FBI sting operation on only one kiddie porn site produced a list of over 9,000 individuals involved across the United States,” says Kastleman.


A man we shall call James agrees that pornography is addictive. He distinctly recalls the night his beautiful, live-in girlfriend lay waiting in his bed. Yet she fell asleep as minutes—and then hours—passed without him climbing under the covers to join her. She didn’t know James couldn’t make himself turn off the computer for the night. As time slid by, he continued to access one pornographic image after another. “I kept downloading pictures, still wanting to get one more fix. There are endless pornography sites on the Internet—everything from child porn to sadomasochism to bondage,” says James. “You can’t look at it all. Each site links to 50 others. And when you think you’ve seen everything, the next week, 20 new sites pop up.”


His girlfriend, with whom he says he’d been having great sex for a year, awoke at 3 a.m. and heard noises from the computer. “What are you doing?” she called out. She followed the source of the sounds and caught James masturbating while looking at a pornographic picture on the computer screen. “When pornography on the Internet is more appealing than your live girlfriend, it’s pretty sick,” says James.


The incident prompted him to join Sexaholics Anonymous. It also ended his relationship with his girlfriend. “She knew I needed help and had magazines in the past, but the Internet set me to a new level of addiction. It’s a problem for a lot of guys. There are computers in every home and every office.”


James is far from alone in Utah as one who says he is addicted to pornography. There are Sexaholics Anonymous meetings nearly every night of the week in Utah cities. Two years ago, a man we shall call Rick, another SA member, founded SA for LDS, geared specifically for Mormons. He says, “I think the community SA meetings are very healthy and I still go to them sometimes. Our only difference is that we allow people to discuss their LDS problems—such as being excommunicated and not being able to go to the temple.”


He explains that while community SA meeting attendees discuss their “higher power” and make reference to their “ecclesiastical leaders,” SA for LDS attendees refer to their Heavenly Father and their bishop. Since he established the group two years ago, there are now 100 members in four groups, with newcomers arriving weekly. “Every one of those 100 members has had a problem with Internet pornography,” says Rick.


The World Wide Web makes it amazingly easy for thousands of Utah men—and women—to access porn from their computers at home, says Kastleman. He says that much pornography on the Internet is extremely hard-core and often features images of male domination and rape. He adds that Internet pornography addiction is a growing problem for hundreds of Utah families who struggle with the effects of sexual compulsion and addiction.


Pornography opponents say the Internet has greatly accelerated the availability of actual porn. Kastleman notes that Internet porn is on the rise because of what he terms “the three As”—anonymity, affordability and accessibility. “Much of what’s on the Internet is ‘teaser sites’ saying, ‘sample this.’ There’s enough free material to keep an addict busy for months at the push of a button,” says Kastleman. “All the barriers—of not wanting to be caught, not wanting to be seen—have been removed.”


Kastleman’s research indicates that nationwide, 40 million adults visit Internet porn sites, and up to 1,000 new sites are registered daily. Pornography ranks number one in Internet sales with $3 billion in sales projected for 2003. “Numbers have risen in line with the use of the Internet itself,” says Kastleman.


“Pornography makes deviant acts seem normal,” says Kastleman. “Children don’t have the understanding or experience to sort out what pornographic images mean. With hard-core images instantly available to any child on the Internet, exposure is causing confusion, trauma and the twisting of healthy sexuality in children. This sets children up for serious problems in later relationships and marriages.”


Most are in agreement that pornography involving children is harmful to those children. Amy Fielding, former “Utah Young Mother of the Year,” formed a nonprofit organization, Stand for Decency, through which students, athletes and citizens hold a March Against Pornography at the State Capitol Building. She says that pornography is like “turning on a light switch” of a child’s sexual awareness before he or she can cope emotionally. She further believes that pornography plays a major role in the molestation of children, as it is used to stimulate the perpetrator, break down the inhibitions of the child and act as an instruction manual to show the child what to do.


But the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that virtual kiddie porn, that is to say, pornography that depicts images of adults having sex with children, is not illegal as long as real children aren’t involved. The court struck down the Child Pornography Protection Act, a 1996 law sponsored by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, barring not only child pornography in the true sense of the form, but also sexually explicit material that “appear[s] to be a minor” or that is promoted in a way that “conveys the impression” that it depicts a minor.


The Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade organization which publishes the monthly magazine, Adult Video News, considers the morning of April 16, 2002—the day the law was struck down—as a defining one for First Amendment rights. The drive to strike down the Child Pornography Protection Act was spearheaded by the Free Speech Coalition, according to an interview with its executive director, William Lyon, in Adult Video News. “Somebody from an eastern newspaper called and said that we had won, and I went into a total state of shock,” recalls Lyon. “I actually questioned the guy as to what he meant by ‘winning,’ because we thought that we might win a point, but not the whole thing. We were really pleased.”


Kastleman argues that the freedom to produce pornography is actually a “money” issue rather than a “First Amendment” issue. “Pornographers prosper financially by stealing personal freedom from others.” He adds that the more “addicts they can create, the more money they make.” In 1999, Forbes Magazine cited $56 billion dollars in pornography-related sales for the year. Kastleman asks, “How many pornographers would be touting themselves as champions of the First Amendment if there was no money in the distribution of pornography?”


In February 2001, Utah became the first (and only) state to create the position of a porn czar, whose actual title is Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman. Some of the duties that the Legislature assigned to the porn czar include: providing citizens with advice and information on options for obscenity complaints; remedies for addressing pornography; the dangers of obscenity and pornography; assisting local prosecutors if requested; providing expert advice on strengthening local ordinances; and drafting a comprehensive moral nuisance law and model ordinance to discourage obscenity and pornography.


Since her appointment, Porn Czar Paula Houston also worked on House Bill 143, the Unsolicited Sexually Explicit E-mail act, passed in the 2002 Utah Legislature. “This bill allows people who receive sexually explicit spam to sue the sender and also collect attorney fees,” says Paul Murphy, director of communications for the Utah Attorney General’s Office. A second bill Houston worked on, H.B. 236, the Indecent Public Display Amendments, modified the criminal code regarding indecent public displays by defining material which does not have serious value for minors. “This bill would prohibit prosecution of a teacher who showed a statue of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ or Rodin’s ‘The Kiss,’ for example,” says Murphy. “We took a lot of heat from some conservative folks regarding this bill.”


Houston’s 2001 annual report says she handled 1,400 citizen complaints that year, including 1,080 relating to porn spam and 94 concerning the Internet. In a brochure published by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Houston advises parents to talk with their children about online dangers including sexual victimization, spend time with children exposing positive sites and teaching them responsible use of the Internet, station computers with the Internet in the family areas rather than in the child’s bedroom, randomly check children’s e-mail and never give them a credit card number.


Houston’s duties have expanded this year. In March 2002, when the Attorney General’s Office was reviewing its own budget with an eye toward budget cuts, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff revisited Houston’s duties, adding that she would also prosecute child pornography cases and “traveler” cases, in which adults arrange on the Internet to have sexual relations with children. Along with the other two bills, she also drafted a comprehensive moral nuisance law that has yet to be passed.


McCullough’s opinion is that with tremendously increased communications abilities, the Utah community has expanded, and that Salt Lake and Provo aren’t really different from anywhere else. What is available in New York is available in Provo with the push of a few buttons. “We really can’t say we are an insular society,” he says. “In looking at the records of the hotels that have the adult movies, records of the Movie Buffs trial and other places, our standards do appear to be the same as those across the nation. Rental rates are as high or higher. We really can’t say, ‘We don’t do that in Provo.’”


He adds, “We haven’t obviously gotten to the point where the Supreme Court will look at it a second time following Miller v. California. We haven’t said that morals have gone down the tubes, but global society has changed things to the point where you can’t have a community standard here that is different from a city 40 miles away.”


But the two forces—First Amendment rights versus anti-pornography—still disagree strongly here in the Utah. It’s conceivable we will have unrestricted pornography—or no pornography at all—in the future.

 
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