iStock/Getty Images
Great America

Ban Porn? Yes.
But Be Clear-Eyed About It

Never mind the libertarians. Our Founders wrote the First Amendment to protect offensive views—not to protect the peddling of smut to kids.


- December 12th, 2019
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Many conservatives want to ban pornography, an idea outrageous to libertarians.

If you’ve spent any time on social media over the last week, you would’ve seen conservatives fiercely debating the topic. Anti-porn social conservatives say the obscene material is evil and must be kept away from children. Libertarians say it’s free expression and people should just be better parents.

The argument stems from four Republican lawmakers asking the Department of Justice to prosecute pornographers under already-existing obscenity laws. These laws have existed on the books for years and have been used against pornographers before. President Trump himself pledged to use existing laws against pornographers in 2016. 

The letter to the Justice Department notes pornography’s connection to social ills such as human trafficking and addiction. This move by lawmakers follows several state legislatures declaring porn a public health crisis.

Libertarians were horrified by the letter and said a free society requires us to allow pornography. If you don’t like porn, don’t watch it. Social conservatives and nationalists cheered on the proposal and hoped Congress would go further and completely ban porn.

The social conservatives are in the right here. Porn is an odious practice and a public-health menace. It’s proven to harm the mental and physical well-being of viewers. It destroys a person’s brain and has been linked to erectile dysfunction and other physical maladies. Human trafficking and sexually transmitted diseases are common elements within the porn industry. 

Conservatives need to remember that porn addiction is not a cause of social dysfunction, but an effect of it.

Worst of all, young kids can access the most hardcore varieties of porn right from their phones. It’s a problem and the government should work to restrict access to it, if not ban it outright.

Conservatives would do well to consider two points before going all-in on a porn ban, however.

Slippery Slope to a “Hate Speech” Ban?

For one, many of the same anti-porn arguments could be repurposed to argue for banning “hate speech.” Liberals constantly tell us that hate speech harms people (certain speech is akin to phyiscal violence)  and isn’t safe for children. It somehow damages minds and is a public health hazard, too. 

Most readers know that’s silly, in part because “hate speech” is such an elastic and ill-defined concept. Yet those arguments are more likely to be found in the mainstream media than the case for restricting pornography.

And It doesn’t take much of an imagination to foresee lawmakers interpreting any change to obscenity laws as a way to regulate political speech they deem “hateful.” The elite care far more about supposedly offensive political views than they fret over offensive pornography.

If new obscenity laws were to be instituted, odds are Democrats would demand that hate speech be considered “obscene.” It’s unlikely they would support a straight porn ban—many progressives want to legalize sex work and are not keen on any restrictions on sex.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in 2018 called for an alliance with feminists to ban porn. That might have been viable in the 1980s, when Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon were riding high. But many feminists today are pro-porn (so long as it’s “ethical” and “empowering”). If Douthat’s suggestion somehow worked out, then it’s almost certain social conservatives would be backed into a corner on a hate speech ban. 

Feminists today care far more about “sexist” and hateful speech than they do about pornography and its harms. Alliances require compromises and deals; would conservatives think this trade is a worthy one?

It is something to consider if anti-porn advocates demand tougher laws than those that already exist. The current laws are narrowly focused and would not cover “hate speech.” The congressional letter poses no threat to legitimate free speech, regardless of what irate libertarians may tell you.

Distinguishing Causes from Effects

The other thing conservatives need to remember is that porn addiction is not a cause of social dysfunction, but an effect of it. People didn’t suddenly turn away from friends, romantic partners, and their communities because of porn. They turn to porn due to the lack of these attachments. 

Atomization and loneliness are facts of modern America. One-in-five young people say they have no friends and one third say they feel lonely. More than half of young people say they don’t have a significant other. Church attendance is in steep decline and hardly any young people belong to community organizations.

Meanwhile, we’re glued to our computers and smartphones, experiencing the world through the digital sphere. It’s not shocking that many people become ensnared in porn addiction. It’s far easier to find porn than a friend, much less genuine love. There’s no social mechanism or organization to tell individuals it’s wrong to indulge in porn, or at least none that young people respect. 

Porn addiction is like our opioid problem. Middle Americans have turned to drugs in the absence of stable employment, frayed families, and degraded social structures. Opioids didn’t cause rural towns to decline—they merely serve as the poisonous balm to the forgotten man. Porn serves the same purpose to the atomized young person.

A porn ban would not erase the anomie that led to the problem in the first place. Porn users won’t suddenly start going to church, meet a nice girl, and raise upstanding Christian families. A ban only treats the side effect of anomie, not the cause.

Regulating Public Poison

That still doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support efforts to curb porn access. We still punish opioid dealers even though they aren’t the underlying cause of Middle America’s problems. We don’t allow poison to harm American lives and communities. 

Porn is a poison and we must restrict it. A generation raised on easy access to hardcore pornography is not something that should invoke pride in any American. Congress should use the existing laws on the books to achieve this goal and not be misdirected by liberals toward suppressing so-called hate speech.

Our Founders wrote the First Amendment to protect offensive views—not to protect the peddling of smut to kids.

Get our
daily email

Our top articles every day

© Copyright 2012 - 2019 | All Rights Reserved