How to Downplay the Harms of Pornography, in 4 Simple Steps (by Jacob Hess, Ph.D.)


Are you – or someone you love – getting tired of all this talk about porn being so harmful?

Rather than having to worry about making serious personal or public changes, wouldn’t it be nice to stop worrying about this all together?

Thankfully, a small handful of authors have been coming up with some compelling rationales for doing just that. If you know someone ready to believe that porn is not (really) that big of a deal, here’s a 4-step formula that is proven to work:

1. Portray those with serious concerns about pornography as somewhat dangerous and obsessive.

One of your first crucial tasks is to frame those worried about porn in a way that makes them seem scary or slightly off-their-rocker. There are many ways to do this, from accusations of religious zealotry to pathological levels of fear. In a recent high profile op-ed, for instance, one author deftly paints a picture of unhinged people who see pornography as “inherently perilous to our health and happiness” and the industry behind it as “an all-powerful force that’s here to wreak havoc on our sex lives.” (1)

Nicely done! Anytime you can work in a phrase like “wreak havoc” (or “anti-porn screed”), you know you’re on the right track.

2. Assert confidently that the truest research hasn’t really backed up the idea of pornography addiction.

This is a tricky one, we know – since the vast majority of brain studies done on pornography users show clear, classic markers of addiction. Do your best to steer clear of those pesky 12 reviews of the literature as well, all of which confirm the addictive potential of pornography.

Don’t worry. You don’t need to even bring these up. As long as you are confident enough in claiming to represent “the best scientific research,” most people who read your article won’t know the difference.

Just remember to be uncompromising in insisting that “the science just isn’t there” and absolute in denying that ANY good evidence exists. Bonus points if you can connect the evidence that does exist back to those crazy people, by portraying any objectionable data as inherently biased, religiously motivated or just “based on phony science.” (2)

That’s pretty much all you need to say. Since most people accept any mention of science (especially conclusions they agree with) as authoritative, no more work is needed on this step.

On to the next one!

3. Say something to insinuate that you are not, of course, saying all porn is a good thing.

This one’s important, because you want to avoid sounding a little off-the-deep-end yourself! To reinforce a view of yourself as especially balanced, make sure to acknowledge at some point that there are potentially some problems with some kinds of pornography.

It’s up to you what you’re willing to acknowledge here. Maybe an easy admission to make is the way female porn participants end up having more mental and physical problems or that annoyingly consistent link between porn consumption and lower arousal and sexual satisfaction. If you want to be brave, you could also broach the 50 peer-reviewed studies directly linking porn use to sexual violence.

But to be cautious, it’s probably wise to just stay super general here. For instance, after trying to deconstruct many common concerns about pornography, the op-ed author Lux Alptraum went on to qualify: “None of which is to say that porn is entirely benign, or that its impact on our sex lives is only positive” (emphasis ours). She then went on to acknowledge, “There is some truth to the anti-porn claim that it negatively impacts the sexual imaginations and awareness of young people.” (3)

Did you catch how this author nicely reminded the audience that this possible area of common ground is still an “anti-porn claim” – rather than some kind of legitimate concern for people’s sexual well-being?

Now to the final step:

4. Redirect attention to something else people can embrace as the “real problem.”

If you’re going to seal the deal in convincing people that porn worries are overwrought, it’s crucial that you point to some other worry that can take its place.

We’ve found it especially helpful to say something about people in our culture today not talking enough about sex and not openly enough (and with too much shame when they do).

What’s brilliant about this concern is how it, by default, defines pornography critics as somehow fearful and closed to sex.

Never mind the dizzying rates of pornography in a sexualized society – or the relative shamelessness with which sexual topics are often treated, trust us: if you express earnest concern about a culture “where open discussion of sex is taboo,” you’ll tug at some heartstrings.

Alptraum goes on to insist that “the nature of pornography” is not the problem as much as the naïve culture around it.

Boom! And there you have it.

Porn’s not the problem. Lack of open sex talk is!

A 4-step recipe for minimizing the harm of today’s pornography. Just add water.

Who needs to worry about pornography when we can just stop pretending that it’s a problem instead?

(1) Lux Alptraum, What Americans Get Wrong About Porn, New York Times Op-Ed, June 23, 2017

(2) Martha Kempner, Pornography Is Not a ‘Public Health Crisis,’ No Matter What Utah Lawmakers Think, Rewire, Feb 12, 2016

(3) Lux Alptraum, What Americans Get Wrong About Porn, New York Times Op-Ed, June 23, 2017

Jacob Hess is the author of 14 peer-reviewed articles exploring contrasting narratives of mental health and sociopolitical issues. Jacob teaches Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and co-founded the non-profit All of Life, which created an online, mindfulness-based course called Mindweather 101 for those facing serious mental or emotional challenges and their loved ones. Jacob has also (co)authored three books: You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought, But You’re Still Wrong, Once Upon a Time…He Wasn’t Feeling It Anymore and A Third Space: Proposing Another Way Forward in the LGBT/Religious Conservative Impasse (Disagreement Practice, Treasonous Friendship & Trustworthy Rivalry in the Face of Irreconcilable Difference). His liberal-conservative dialogue work with Phil Neisser at State University of New York has been featured on This American Life and was honored by Public Conversations Project. Jacob is a partner of Living Room Conversations, the Village Square and on the board of the National Coalition of Dialogue & Deliberation.