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    Class action

    Walter Olson reports at Overlawyered that a new frontier in save-people-from-themselves-ism is being explored. This from one of the Guardian articles he links to:

    According to Dr Judith Reisman, pornography affects the physical structure of your brain turning you into a porno-zombie. Porn, she says, is an “erototoxin”, producing an addictive “drug cocktail” of testosterone, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin with a measurable organic effect on the brain.

    Some of us might consider this a good thing. Not Reisman: erototoxins aren’t about pleasure, they’re a “fear-sex-shame-and-anger stimulant”. Reisman’s paper on the subject The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography Restructuring Brain, Mind & Memory & Subverting Freedom of Speech has helped make her the darling of the anti-pornography crusade, and in November last year she presented her erototoxin theory to the US senate.

    [Reisman and her fellow researcher] foresee two possible outcomes: if they can demonstrate that porn physically “damages” the brain, that might open the floodgates for “big tobacco”-style lawsuits against porn publishers and distributors; second, and more insidiously, if porn can be shown to “subvert cognition” and affect the parts of the brain involved in reasoning and speech, then “these toxic media should be legally outlawed, as is all other toxic waste, and eliminated from our societal structure”.

    Not being addicted to porn, I still have enough imagination to be stoked at the mere mention of a cocktail of testosterone, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. Where’s that glass of iced water? [gulpsigh] Okay.

    Toxic waste is outlawed? Oh, excuse me–“legally outlawed”? I thought you just couldn’t leave it lying around, not that it was illegal. Olson also links to this post at Nobody’s Business:

    Indefatigable at 70, Reisman continues her crusade against “the sexindustrial complex” mostly by trying to prove the existence of those elusive “erototoxins.” Right now, only she knows what those are — she coined the word herself, and it seems it has yet to make it into anyone else’s medical vocabulary. In fact, though she consistently identifies herself as “Dr. Reisman,” that title refers to a degree in communication, not to any expert medical knowledge. (This echoes her fondness for reminding people that her maiden name, Gelernter, is German for “learned one.” Indeed.)

    Cheese and crackers, what a 24-karat quack. Of course, in a world after world-renowned agricultural chemist Meryl Streep’s 1989 lecture to Congress about Alar, I supposed it’s not a big shock that Reisman has given testimony before the US Senate about the neurological effects of pornography.

    What’s so annoying here is that there are real issues to be addressed. We expect teenagers to grow through adolescence to strike out on their own and choose their own life partners, often without much assistance from family and community elders. What does it mean to have recordings of live, impersonal sex acts cheaply and readily available when they reach adulthood (if not before)? I don’t hold with the hard anti-porn line that pornography “causes” sexual dysfunction, and I’m against its criminalization. It’s also patently untrue that you can’t consume porn without spiralling helplessly into addiction. But you can’t evade questions about social effects just by pointing out that there’s no inherent shame in nakedness or sex; what you’re exposed to does affect your attitude.

    On the other hand–give me a break! The sex impulse doesn’t obliterate free will. With all her blather about subverting freedom of speech, Reisman sounds exactly like the MacKinnon-Dworkin axis of feminism, with its line about how the power of the patriarchy means no woman in our society can ever give authentic “uncompromised” sexual consent. Another case of extremes meeting in the anti-pornography crusade.

    3 Responses to “Class action”

    1. Naughty says:

      Well, I have a serious problem with pornography and I can tell you there’s nothing funny about it. I’ve successfully quit alcohol and cigarettes — two pretty addictive substances. I’ve never had much luck giving up porn. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that it’s an actual, physical addiction.

      And her comment that porn is a “fear-sex-shame-and-anger stimulant” seems to gibe with my experience.

    2. susannac says:

      I’m not a supporter of porn at all, but I’m sure you already know where I stand on that. What caught my interest – and really, this is the first time it occurred to me – is what the MacKinnon-Dworkin axis would say about homosexual relationships, which seem to have the same dynamics generally as heterosexual relationships, at least in terms of consent vs control. Are male homosexuals exempt from the domination dynamic of patriarchy because they’re all male, and thus equally patriarchical in their enculturation? Ostensibily they would meet on common ground. Are lesbians exempt from it because they’re all women, and thus (one would assume) not subject to same traditional control models that render male-female relationships irredeemable? As I said, from my (admittedly neither extensive nor academically analytical) observation and reading, it doesn’t seem that the interpersonal dynamics of homosexual relationships are that different from hetersexual ones, emotionally speaking. And it seems that if homosexual relationships are, in that respect, similar to heterosexual relationships, doesn’t that seriously injure their argument about the “inherently” flawed male/female dynamic?

      Not that their argument isn’t seriously flawed on a number of levels. I’m just intrigued by the corners these people paint themselves into, with seeming obliviousness to that fact.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:


      I’m sorry to hear that. Please don’t take it as dismissive if I point out that drink, cigarettes, blackjack, plastic surgery, and Cherry Garcia are also hang-ups for some people. The problems are real; I recognize that and wish you the best in overcoming yours. But that doesn’t mean that such problems are caused by a universal neuro-chemical effect that can then conveniently be legally designated a harm. Nor does it mean that people who are capable of using discretion when partaking of booze or porn should have their choices curtailed to protect people with too little self-control. I have no problem with real, rigorous research into the possible damaging effects of pornography (or anything else); I have a problem with cheap opportunism in argument.


      I think MacKinnon and Dworkin tended to glide over discussions of homosexuality. I haven’t read one of their books since college, but in general, they appeared to accept the support of anti-porn gays (mostly lesbians) and oppose pro-porn gays (I have no idea whether they’re mostly gay men, but I think it’s say to say that most gay men are against outlawing porn). They didn’t seem to talk much about the dynamics in our relationships, though it could be that they did so in pieces I didn’t read.

      I suppose–I can only guess–that what the MacKinnonites would say in response to you is that even if, in a homosexual relationship, one partner has more emotional power than the other, that doesn’t matter as much because the larger society isn’t enforcing the inequality; but that wouldn’t (according to them) vitiate the argument that the patriarchy subjugates women overall.

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