Kate Wilder asks the taboo question

Kate Wilder, like myself, is a blogger. Unlike me, her rating on Alexa shows her to be fairly popular in cyberspace. Like me, she writes under a pseudonym.

From her About:

Kate Wilder is the nom de plume of a middle-aged (yeah, so what?) divorced Northern California mom who blogs about parenting, work, friendships, dating, exes and midlife sex. With humor.

Unlike me, she’s divorced. I’m not. Yet.

She recently posted an article entitled, "Can you masturbate too much?" in which she speaks of a personal experience that got her thinking about this issue. Winding her way through the question, she discussed some of her ideas about the subject while referencing an article from CNN Health called "How porn is changing our sex lives" (Jan 20/2011). Kate ends her article by asking some questions to her readers:

  • Is porn a big problem in your relationships?
  • Are men masturbating too much?
  • Are women?
  • Would you rather watch porn and jack off, or have a willing naked person in bed with you?
  • Have you ever been bored and impatient during sex?
I read over the 14 comments and discovered a range of opinions from porn being bad to "who cares?" I was going to add my own salient quip to the fourteen but the more I mulled over how to word my pithy rejoinder, the more I felt the space reserved for a comment was insufficient to properly do justice to the question and the myriad of auxiliary issues. Hence, here I am proposing a prodigious pontificating of my personal point of view.

Pornography: An investigation
I spent the month of October 2010 examining "pornography" and wrote a series of articles covering the various issues surrounding it. After spending an entire month on it writing 22,000 words, I arrived at some conclusions I’d like to share. My "executive summary" reads:

I will not pretend to have exhaustively covered this topic. However, I hope to generate a rethinking of the subject and a more objective discussion of what turns out to be not about pornography but about our sexuality. There are myths; there is misinformation; there are prejudices; there are political agendas which would set out to win at any cost including hiding the truth and twisting the facts. We as a society, as a culture are very uncomfortable about sex. We are attracted by it; we are confused by it and our lack of knowledge about it means we often just try to avoid it. Nevertheless, we are not going to escape it. Not only are we surrounded by it; it is actually part of us. It is time we faced our demons head on.

I give my conclusions to the various issues raised during this 10 part investigation of pornography.

  • Porn causes evil? Legitimate studies have found that as the availability of porn in society goes up, the rate of sex related crimes comes down.
  • Who buys the most porn? Conservatives.
  • People tell personal stories “I know a guy…”, “I heard of a family…” and pass it off as scientific evidence. The plural of anecdote is not data.
  • What’s the real problem? We are all so hung up about sex, we can’t talk about it. Because we can’t talk about, we don’t deal with it and hide it. A sad state of affairs. The real problem isn’t so much pornography, it is our own sexuality.

My Conclusions

Wading through the myriad of detail, quotes from experts, conclusions from studies, etc. can be quite daunting. I certainly found it so. Consequently, I tried to sum up everything I found out in a single article, my conclusions. Here is some of what I found out.

Sonja: Sex without love is an empty experience.
Boris: Yes, but as empty experiences go, it is one of the best.
– Woody Allen, Love and Death (1975)

I started out to write about pornography but have realised I’m actually writing about sexuality, our sexuality. We are a confused species. Our society has, we collectively have demonized sex. We have an unbelievable number of hang-ups about it which prevent us from even talking about it. Therein lies the rub as the saying goes. If we can’t talk about it, how do we deal with it? If we can’t deal with it, how do we solve our issues with it?

In the 10 parts, I covered various aspects of pornography by quoting various experts in the field, all without giving an opinion. Here, to conclude I am going to give one as to sum up how I feel about this most contentious of issues. It won’t resolve everything but I hope that at least it will provide a catalyst to dialogue.

No porn, no problems
Alcoholics go to Alcoholics Anonymous. Drug addicts go to Narcotics Anonymous. Compulsive gamblers go to Gamblers Anonymous. Is everybody who takes a drink an alcoholic? No. Is everybody who takes a toke a drug addict? No. Is anybody who lays down a bet a compulsive gambler? No. I think you can see where I’m going with this. Anecdotal cases of men wrapped up in Internet porn and ignoring their wives is indicative of men who have a problem, a personal problem. Let’s not bring back prohibition to deal with one man’s problem. 

World Health Organisation: Global Status Report on Alcohol – 2004
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are about 2 billion people worldwide who consume alcoholic beverages and 76.3 million with diagnosable alcohol use disorders.

The current total world population (2010) is 6.8 billion but in 2004 it was around 6.4 billion. So, in 2004, 31% of all people consumed alcohol. 4% of the drinkers had a problem or 1% of the total. It stands to reason that some people who watch pornography would have a problem but I return to the idea of nobody is proposing to outlaw alcohol.

The so called facts
There are statistics being tossed around which if not being just outright lies, are being completely misinterpreted. It is quite evident that special interest groups with their own agenda are playing fast and loose with the numbers in order to back up conclusions they have made without the rigor of scientific method. 

Facts are not decided by how many people believe them. Truth is not determined by how loudly it is shouted.
– sign at the Rally to Restore Sanity, October 30, 2010, Washington DC

In my blog Pornography: Statistics Laundering I write about an investigative reporter for the Washington Post who tells how a U.S. politician says that child pornography is a $20 billion a year business. This is repeated by the New York Times. The reporter traces the number to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children which got its numbers from the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. which got its numbers from an advocacy group called End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes which got its numbers from the FBI who say they never said that. The reporter says he never did find out where this number came from.

In this April 2007 article titled Is pornography addictive? the author states, "Now there are an estimated 420 million adult web pages online." I think all of us would be duly impressed by such a number; it seems like a lot; in fact, it seems like a mountain. However, in my blog Pornography: How much is there on the Internet? I discovered the estimated size of the Internet is 24 billion pages. 420 million is merely 1.75% of the total however in my own experiments outlined in my blog; I estimated the amount of adult material to be less than 1% with 1% equal to 240 million. It is interesting that the number 420 million comes with no references so I can’t verify it. When my own calculations come out quite differently, I have to doubt the legitimacy of this estimate.

It is this sort of presentation of statistics which I find very misleading. Anybody would say 420 million is a large number, a large scary number but in the context of the entire Internet, it is not just small; it is insignificant. My conclusion is that people are presenting numbers and deliberately leaving out other numbers to portray the situation not as a minor problem but as a catastrophe of Biblical proportions. In reality, the sky is not falling.

Anecdotes
People back up their arguments with stories of "I know a guy…", "I know of a family…". How can isolated cases be construed as proper statistical look at a problem? We all admit there is a problem with alcoholism but nobody is going to bring back prohibition; nobody is going to impose a solution on the many because of the problem of the few.

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data."
– Dr. Marty Klein
People who feel victimized by porn: Let’s give them sympathy, not a Congressional hearing
August 8, 2005

We are so prudish
We are so hung up about sex. We are so embarrassed about it that we can’t even bring ourselves to talk about it without nervously giggling. Is it any wonder that as a group we are so confused about an aspect of our lives which is so normal? God gave us all a wonderful gift. Are we ever going to figure it out so we can enjoy this gift free of guilt, shame and embarrassment?

Addiction
I cover the question of sex being an addiction in my blog Pornography: Is it an addiction?. One of the so called experts, a Dr. Patrick Carnes who is apparently a "sex addict" himself, has said, “If you’re spending over 14 hours a week – or two hours a day – doing something sexual or quasi-sexual, like cruising the Internet for porn or cruising the streets looking for a particular type of prostitute, you’re in the addictive range.”

That’s a lot of time. In fact, that is so much time I would wonder if there isn’t something else in the mix like an obsessive compulsive disorder. That’s certainly a lot more spare time than I have to devote to sex. On the other hand, I spend 2 hours each day related to food: finding it, waiting for it to be prepared (restaurant) and eating it. I spend sometimes 4 or 5 hours a day on the Internet researching, writing and blogging. I spend up to 8 or 10 hours each work day on a computer at my job. I’m just sayin’.

Are there problems?
Of course, no doubt about it. For example, male subject Fred spends all day watching porn and ignores his wife. Okay, let’s change a word: male subject Fred spends all day drinking and ignores his wife. Yes, there’s a problem but is anybody suggesting we bring back prohibition? If male subject Fred is doing anything all day and ignoring his wife, I would say the problem is with Fred, not the activity per se.

Within the past week, I saw a headline about an ex-pastor convicted of stealing $83,000 from his church to pay for his porn habit. Just skip the porn stuff and look at the facts. He stole. That’s wrong. He spent $83,000 on something, a thing, a single activity. What are you, nuts? If you spent $83,000 on knitting wool I’d classify you as obsessive compulsive never mind porn.

I personally have not purchased a piece of porn in 20 years. But if I did, what would be normal? A monthly subscription to Playboy? I have read stories of people… guys maxing out their credit cards buying porn. Never mind the porn, if you maxed out your credit card buying anything, I’d say you have a severe problem in dealing with your finances. That’s another problem.

If you loved me you wouldn’t watch pornography
True story. Years ago I went out with a woman for a number of years. We never discussed masturbation which I would say in retrospect was indicative of our relationship not being that open and honest but one day I admitted to doing this periodically. She was upset. Her take on this was that my masturbation was depriving her of sex we could be having together, never mind that we only saw one another on the weekends. What?

Countess: You are a great lover!
Boris: I practice a lot when I’m alone.
– Woody Allen, Love and Death (1975)

Different studies have found that masturbation is frequent in humans. Alfred Kinsey’s 1950’s studies on US population have shown that 92% of men and 62% of women have masturbated during their lifespan.] Similar results have been found in a 2007 British national probability survey. It was found that, between individuals aged 16 to 44, 95% of men and 71% of women masturbated at some point in their lives. 73% of men and 37% of women reported masturbating in the four weeks before their interview, while 53% of men and 18% of women reported masturbating in the previous seven days.
Wikipedia: Masturbation: Frequency, age, and sex

Chart: The Kinsey Institute: masturbation

When Do People Use It?
Assuming that the majority of porn users do not get carried away in the search for porn’s rewards or incentives (sexual excitement, sexual gratification), what determines exactly when they use it? Most people who use porn use it only every so often. Sometimes people seek out porn simply because it feels good to be in a state of sexual excitement. Sometimes they use it to be entertained, or to be distracted from work or other activities. More often than perhaps assumed, people don’t use it because it feels good, but because it makes them feel better; a subtle distinction.

Why People Use Porn
by Erick Janssen, Ph.D., Associate Scientist at the Kinsey Institute
Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University

Masturbation is a perversion
I have seen conservative, religious fundamentalist organisations who offer to help with "sex addiction" by making me stop masturbating… altogether. I’m sorry, I don’t even want to touch this one. Sex is only with your wife, in a bed with the lights off strictly for the purposes of procreation? What happened to fun?

In my blog Pornography: Who buys the most? Conservatives! I cover a study which reveals that the "conservative" states of the U.S. purchase more pornography than the liberal states. Utah is listed as having the highest rate of porn purchases in the country.

Benjamin Edelman, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts who is the author of the study explained the "conservative" results of his study by saying, "One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you’re told you can’t have this, then you want it more."

Porn is a progressive vice
I am sure you could come up with examples which support this idea but I would return to it being anecdotal as opposed to scientific.

Mary Anne Layden, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, was one of the witnesses at the Senate hearing on pornography addiction… One of the key features of addiction, she says, is the development of a tolerance to the addictive substance…" sex with kids, sex with animals, sex involving feces," she says. "At some point they often cross over."

For me, this idea is a bunch of B.S. I first looked at porn, a copy of Playboy, when I was 14 years old. That was 44 years ago. Since then I have not "progressed" as this woman would suggest. Pedophilia? Beastiality? Coprophilia? Good gawd woman, are you sick? This is a perfect example of the hysteria surrounding this entire question. This so called expert has no clinical study, no empirical data to support her statement and nothing, absolutely nothing in my experience even remotely corresponds to her ideas. If her "theories" were remotely true, every man who ever looked at Playboy and that would be what? 99% of all men? would be running around doing gawd only knows what vile things.

The word pornography has an inherit bad meaning
The word itself is now so imbued with a negative connotation, the mere use of the word evokes the same visceral reaction as if one uses the N word or the S word (sl*t). (see my blog Sex: I’m a man and you’re a…)

To avoid contentiousness, some theorists prefer a neutral term such as sexual materials over the charged word pornography.
– The definition of pornography by Joseph W. Slade
PBS: Frontline: American Porn

The very word pornography, with its negative connotation, imposes impediments to an open-minded and objective investigation. Every member of the group [those working on the Meese Report] brought suitcases full of prior bias, including previous personal exposure, religious, ethical, social, and even professional beliefs. To some a discussion of pornography raises concerns of sincerely and deeply felt moral imperatives; to others it is a feminist issue of violence against women; and to still others, it is a lightning rod attracting debates about First Amendment guarantees with the threat of censorship seen as the overriding danger.

– Statement of Dr. Judith Becker and Ellen Levine (members of the commission)
The Meese Report (1986) see my blog Pornography: Does it lead to crime?

What do you think if I say a somebody is looking at a erotica? Now what do you think if I say that somebody is looking at pornography? I am certain that just the use of the word "pornography" would immediately conjure up the image of something bad. 

Sex is dirty
It’s dirty; it’s disgusting. Anybody who masturbates is a pervert. Anybody who gets sexually excited is weak. Anybody who looks anything closely resembling sexually explicit materials deserves to be locked up as a criminal.

Who said that? Be honest, those are the messages stuck in my mind and I firmly believe they are stuck in all our minds. The very fact that the word pornography is impregnated with a sense of the negative goes a long way of confirming this.

The mixed message
In my blog Pornography: I’m confused, I give examples of the messages being broadcast by Oprah Winfrey, probably one of most watched television personalities in America. Her message and the message of Dr. Phil, her discovery and frequent guest, is that porn is bad, very bad, really bad. Yet, the same Oprah is seen in video clips with one Dr. Laura Berman who tells a female viewer that watching porn is okay and normal. On Oprah’s web site various journalists talk favourably of watching pornography and one Violet Blue reviews pornographic movies while promoting sex and a healthy sex life. Oprah herself states the statistic that one third of all people who look at pornography are female.

I’m sorry, I’m confused. On the one hand porn is bad and on the other hand it’s okay. What the heck?

The real problem?
We can’t talk about sex. We are all scared to death about revealing ourselves, revealing our sexual side. I’d say we are all taught to hide our sexuality; certainly we have countless examples of how people have gotten and can easily get into all sorts of trouble about sex. See my blog Sex: Still Dirty After All These Years. In my blog Carnography: Vegetarians need not apply I talk about how our system of censorship allows untold amounts of violence on television even to our children but we freak out if Janet Jackson has a wardrobe malfunction. I don’t mind my kids watching a murder but a bare nipple may scar them for life?

I’m just as guilty as everybody else when it comes to being open and honest. What reaction am I going to get if I reveal a personal part of me? Will it be, "tell me more" or "let’s discuss" or will it be a freak out with "Eew, that’s disgusting"? Yes, I’m hesitant. Yes, I’m uncomfortable. Yes, I’m apprehensive, no, sometimes I’m actually scared. I have a lifetime of experiences both direct (my own experiences) and indirect (those around me, in the newspapers, on television) which have reinforced the idea that silence is golden; do not talk about certain things under penalty of ridicule, being ostracised or even criminal prosecution. Do we need a frank discussion? You bet! However, I’m apprehensive; you’re apprehensive; we’re all apprehensive if not scared and that is a big hurdle to get over.

At the heart of it all, this series is more about our sexuality than pornography.

Pornography grabs us and doesn’t let go. Whether we’re revolted or enticed, shocked or titillated, these are flip sides of the same response: an intense, visceral engagement with what pornography has to say. And pornography has quite a lot to say.

Pornography should interest us, because it’s intensely and relentlessly about us. It involves the roots of our culture and the deepest corners of the self. It’s not just friction and naked bodies: pornography has eloquence. It has meaning, it has ideas. It even has redeeming ideas. So why all the distress?

Perhaps it’s that buried under all the nervous stereotypes of pimply teenagers, furtive perverts in raincoats, and anti-social compulsively masturbating misfits, is a sneaking recognition that pornography isn’t just an individual predilection: pornography is central to our culture. It’s not just its immense popularity — although estimates put its sales at over eleven billion dollars a year. It’s that pornography is revealing. It exposes the culture to itself. Pornography, it might be argued, is the royal road to the cultural psyche (as for Freud, dreams were the route to the unconscious).

– The eloquence of pornography
by Laura Kipnis, Professor of media studies, Northwestern University. 
This is an edited excerpt from her book Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (Duke Univ. Press).

******************
Coming back to the article, Kat quotes in her blog posting.

CNN Health – Jan 20/2011
"How porn is changing our sex lives" by Ian Kerner

I glance through the article and note a number of statements:

  1. Porn is the equivalent of professional wrestling: phony and superficial. It’s like subsisting on a junk-food diet of Gummi bears and Gatorade when you could be having a gourmet meal.
  2. By my estimate, men are masturbating 50 to 500% more than they would normally without Internet porn. So if a guy normally masturbated once a day, he might now be doing it two or three times a day. If he masturbated three times a week, he might now be getting graphic with his graphics 15 times a week.
  3. …a syndrome I’ve dubbed Sexual Attention Deficit Disorder. Just as people with real ADD tend to be easily distracted, guys with SADD have become so accustomed to the high levels of visual novelty and stimulation that Internet porn provides that they’re unable to focus on real sex with a real woman.
  4. …masturbation is a healthy activity. When couples are in good relationships, they actually tend to masturbate more than when they’re not. Masturbation is not something people do just because we’re “not getting any”—it’s something we do because it’s human and healthy.
  5. …in a healthy relationship, there’s nothing wrong with porn, either. And when couples share porn together, it can make them even more excited about sex with each other and be a strong bonding experience.
After all the research I did back in October, a few points come to mind:
  1. Junk food bad, gourmet food good. Hmmm, sometimes I like a Big Mac. Is that bad?
    Porn (and masturbation) bad, partnered sex good. Hmmm.
  2. "By my estimate…". I’m sorry; I see absolutely no documented evidence, studies or statistics to clarify in any way what that statement could possibly mean. My research uncovered example after example of so called "experts" making some pronouncement which comes across as the de facto truth when in reality, what they are saying can in no way be supported by scientific evidence.
    Besides, if a therapist spends all of his time talking with people who have problems, would he naturally start assuming everybody has a problem?
  3. I agree. But I worry about the fog of "It’s all of nothing". If I smoke a marijuana cigarette, I’m going to become a heroine junkie. Oh yes, there are heroine addicts; I don’t deny that. But I also know there are lots of people
  4. Masturbation not bad. As a solo activity? Or only with your partner?
    All of the discussion is about men masturbating to porn by themselves. It’s curious that I never found anything negative about women doing this. In fact, Oprah and some of her guests like Dr. Laura Berman or Violet Blue promote the use of porn by women. Yes, as a solo activity. I find that one to be a curious message. Should I interpret this as meaning that women are more repressed and need to do this to get in touch with themselves while we guys are just so damn open we’re more at risk of abusing our going solo? I guess. Beats me.
  5. The key? Open and honest communication with your partner?
Final Word
Thanks to Kate for raising an interesting question. It sparked my interest in the research I did and reminded me of one important conclusion of said work: we as a society are really, really hung up about sex.

Ian Kerner brought up a very important point in his article. The problem in any relationship is not porn per se. It is when one person is doing something which does not include the partner. Now I’m sure we all have activities that each do separately. My wife likes to curl and I’m sorry, the game just doesn’t interest me. But sex is a different kettle of fish as it is an important part of a love life and a love life is to be shared.

That’s the hard part, sharing sex. We are brought up directly or indirectly to hide anything related to sex. We get into a relation; we get married and somehow any reticence we have is supposed to magically disappear. Tough? You bet. Almost impossible. I just hope I can get better at it. Maybe next time.

Click HERE to read more from William Belle

References

Ian Kerner
CNN lists Ian Kerner as being a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author. On his own web site, I find in his About:
Ian is certified to counsel by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) and is a Diplomate in Sex Therapy of the American Board of Sexology. Ian is also a professional member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health and The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSIS). To ask Ian a sex and relationships question, visit the Ask Ian page.

Ian is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brandeis University, and also holds degrees from New York University and the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists. Ian is a former Thomas J. Watson Fellow and recipient of the Erwin J. Haberle Award in Clinical Sexology.

Pornography: An investigation
My conclusions
I give my conclusions to the various issues raised during this 10 part investigation of pornography.

  • Porn causes evil? Legitimate studies have found that as the availability of porn in society goes up, the rate of sex related crimes comes down.
  • Who buys the most porn? Conservatives.
  • People tell personal stories “I know a guy…”, “I heard of a family…” and pass it off as scientific evidence. The plural of anecdote is not data.
  • What’s the real problem? We are all so hung up about sex, we can’t talk about it. Because we can’t talk about, we don’t deal with it and hide it. A sad state of affairs. The real problem isn’t so much pornography, it is our own sexuality.
  1. Statistics Laundering
    How unsubstantiated numbers are being passed around without anybody questioning their validity or verifying their authenticity.
  2. How much is there?
    How much porn is there on the Internet? People are bandying about all sorts of "estimates" without any verifiable sources so I come up with my own methodology to provide an estimate which can be recreated.
  3. Searching for what?
    How much people are searching for porn on the Internet? You can only find estimates which come without sources. I set out, using the service Google Insights to create a verifiable means of answering this question.
  4. What is it?
    An attempt to define pornography which seems to be relatively subjective.
  5. Does it lead to crime?
    Does looking at pornography lead people to commit crimes?
  6. Defended by… what!?! Feminists?
    While pornography is vilified, some people defend it.
  7. Who buys the most? Conservatives!
    One study examined the porn buying habits across the United States.
  8. Does it lead to crime? Part 2
    This emphasizes what was brought out in part 1: an increase in the availability of pornography in society is matched by a decrease in sex related crimes.
  9. I’m confused
    Oprah and Dr. Phil tell me pornography is bad then Oprah turns around and tells women that watching porn is okay.
  10. Is it an addiction?
    Can watching porn become an addiction? Can one be classified as a "sex addict"? Does watching porn lead to changes in brain chemistry?
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