Vice Squad
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
 
Internet Porn: Costs, Benefits, and Self-Control


It has come to my attention that pornography is available over
the Internet! And not just my attention, believe it or not. The
cover story for the October 20 issue of New York magazine concerns
cyberporn, with an accompanying essay from Naomi Wolf.

In regulating traditional pornography, the standard three and one-third
vice concerns
(kids; addicts; externalities; harms to non-addicted
consumers and producers themselves) have been front and center, though
addiction has not received much of the attention. With cyberporn, kids
have been the focus of most US regulatory attempts. (I am referring here
to underage access to adult pornography -- child pornography is another
matter entirely.) But relative to traditional pornography, the ease of
access and variety of cyberporn augments the possibility for addiction,
while generally lowering access costs (including embarrassment) and hence
magnifying the overall availability of porn. In the words of the cover
story, "...the mass consumption of cyberporn has slyly moved from the
pathetic stereotypes (fugitive perverts, frustrated husbands) into the
potent mainstream (young professionals, perhaps your boyfriend)."

The cover story suggests a few of the potential harms from cyberporn:
(1) compulsive consumption by men, possibly to the detriment of
their real-world relationships and to their careers; (2) pressure on
women to perform like porn stars for their boyfriends; and (3) disinterest
by men in non-virtual women. There is a quick mention by a psychologist
of some of the benefits of pornography, in stimulating men with low sex
drives and in helping some couples. A few of the men interviewed for the
article also speak positively of the consumption benefits.

The excellent Naomi Wolf essay explores the theme that the flood of
pornography lessens male interest in real women, and makes it hard for
non-virtual women to compete: "Today, real naked women are just bad porn."
They try to compete, however, but tolerance develops: "Pornography is
addictive; the baseline gets ratcheted up."

As with other potentially addictive goods, some measure of self-control
is required, and finding it will make you better off, as Wolf notes:

"The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not
a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might
want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if
you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in:
Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity."

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