A recent spate of articles I’ve read recently reminded me that a great deal of what I come across represents a person’s opinion and not necessarily fact. That person has not carried out a double blind test or taken a statistically meaningful sampling of test subjects or thoroughly analysed a situation with the scientific rigour of a university approved unbiased methodology. No, I’m reading a person’s opinion based on the sum total of their education and experience. But are a person’s education and their experiences enough to correctly assess whatever it is they are giving their opinion about?
Dr. Marty Klein (b 1950) is an American sex therapist, educator and public policy analyst. I am fond of quoting his saying (he got this elsewhere): “The plural of anecdote is not data.” How many times have I heard somebody state an opinion while substantiating that opinion with “I know a guy who…” I know a guy? One guy? Not ten out of a hundred guys, but one guy? “My neighbour told me the story of their cousin who…” What? Or how about all of us reading a headline in a newspaper: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner or how about Tiger Woods, Jesse James and David Duchovny?
On June 30, 2011, the web site Project Syndicate, the world’s pre-eminent source of original op-ed commentaries (About: Who we are), published an article by Naomi Wolf entitled “Is pornography driving men crazy?“. This same article was reprinted by Al Jazeera with the lead-in Could the widespread availability and consumption of pornography in recent years actually be rewiring the male brain?
Ms. Wolf’s article paints a dire portrait of men who look at pornography. In fact, as I read through the various points she makes in her article, it would seem that Ms. Wolf’s conclusion is that the state of mankind, and here I am referring to the male sex, is on the brink of some apocalyptic sexual cataclysm the results of which will leave humanity without marriage, without relationships and without progeny due to a complete inability of the penis to become erect in the company of a real woman. I also make note of these lines from her piece:
There is an increasing body of scientific evidence to support this idea…
The hypothesis among the experts…
This article contains no references. There are no footnotes. Not a single link to a supporting document or university study.
Six years ago, I wrote an essay called “The Porn Myth,” which pointed out that therapists and sexual counselors were anecdotally connecting the rise in pornography consumption among young men with an increase in impotence and premature ejaculation among the same population.
“An essay”. “anecdotally connecting”. Not a study, not a double blind test, not a university sanctioned unbiased methodology, no, an essay pointing out an anecdotal connection.
In the “The Porn Myth” by Naomi Wolf (The New York Mag – Oct 20/2003), the author makes the statement which sums up the gist of her article: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.”
From there, I read
Here is what young women tell me on college campuses…
For two decades, I have watched young women…
When I came of age in the seventies…
The young women who talk to me on campuses…
The young men talk about…
I will never forget a visit I made to Ilana, an old friend…
a conversation I had at Northwestern [with] a boy…
It occurs to me that I am not reading what one would construe as a scientific paper; I am just reading one person’s opinion. This is an opinion based on this person’s experiences. O… kay…, I say very slowly. But just how reflective of reality is this? Is the sky really falling?
Anthony Weiner. One guy. The prediction is that in the fall of 2011, the planet Earth will arrive at a population of 7 billion people. Anthony Weiner. One guy. Out of 7 billion people. Okay, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Anthony Weiner. 3 guys. Out of 7 billion people. Let me return to the list of names I wrote previously: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner plus Tiger Woods, Jesse James and David Duchovny. 6 guys. Out of 7 billion people.
Cars vs. Parachutes
In a fit of bravado, maybe male bravado, I did a tandem parachute jump last year. Before doing it (Parachuting: If God had meant me to…), I did a little research into the safety of the sport.
In the United States, there are over 3 million jumps each year and about 30 people die as a result. This works out to approximately 1 death for every 100,000 jumps. So, your chances of dying by doing a skydive are 1 in 100,000.
In comparison, 40,000 people die each year in car accidents. That works out to 1.7 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles. If we take the average person driving 10,000 miles a year, you have a 1 in 6,000 chance of dying in a car accident.
You are almost 17 times more likely to die getting in your car than by jumping out of an airplane; 1 in 100,000 versus 1 in 6,000. However the web site howstuffworks explains why we’re afraid:
- Skydiving accidents are so infrequent, they usually hit the headlines. In contrast, car accidents are so frequent, they are either not reported or we just tend to ignore them.
- Familiarity: we are familiar with cars; we drive them; nothing bad happens; we think it’s safe. It’s only when we check out the stats we may clue in to just how dangerous cars really are.
We pick up a newspaper. We read the headlines. We get a piece of information which tells us to worry about something but are we worrying about the right thing?
What’s the real problem?
On page 2 of Naomi Wolf’s article “The Porn Myth“, she writes, “The young men talk about what it is like to grow up learning about sex from porn.”
Cindy Gallop is a New York entrepreneur, author and self-professed cougar. In her book “Make Love Not Porn“, she talks about dating younger men and discovering their entire sex education has come from porn movies. Many would immediately jump to the hasty conclusion that porn is bad but Ms. Gallop points out that the issue is not porn at all. We all do it, yet we don’t talk about it. Most parents are too embarrassed to teach their children about sex and talk to them about the issues surrounding it. … Most countries around the world have not formalized and integrated sex education into the educational system and curriculum. … hardcore porn has become, be default, the sex education of today. Is it me or is that pretty sad?
What are the “real” stats?
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.
In the book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts“, two authors wrote about their study of the Internet search patterns of 650,000 users. An interview in Time Magazine with the author Ogi Ogas had a reporter asking the question, “Did you find evidence that porn is addictive?”
We looked at individual search histories for half a million people using an AOL data set [which does not identify the users]. It seems to be less than 2% of people, among the people who search for porn, who have a significantly elevated number of searches.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 4% of all drinkers have a problem. Dr. Ogas concludes that less than 2% of the users in their AOL study demonstrated a significantly elevated number of searches suggesting a possible problem such as addictive behaviour. In my posting Pornography: My conclusions, I wrote about those proposing the prohibition of sexual materials with the idea: no porn, no problem.
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.
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.
Naomi Wolf is not a scientist. In fact, any research she has done seems to be based on her personal experiences. Her conclusions are based on anecdotes. In reading other background information on the author and her work, especially the criticisms of both her conclusions and her supporting information, I can’t help thinking that as a supposed expert, Ms. Wolf may have done what I have seen many others do. They start with a theory then attempt to find “facts” to support it. The Wikipedia link in the references below has some interesting things to say about Ms. Wolf’s “methodology”.
However the most important point about this article “Is pornography driving men crazy?” is this: Ms. Wolf has no solution. She describes, she condemns, she laments but she doesn’t solve. No, she doesn’t truly solve. In her analysis, the solution is to take porn out of the picture and the problem goes away.
Prohibition did not work. Why? People like to drink. And don’t forget that only 4% of the drinkers have a problem. That means 96% of the drinkers use the product wisely and enjoy themselves. Do we bring back prohibition because of the 4%?
Ms. Wolf writes, “The young men talk about what it is like to grow up learning about sex from porn.” You’re kidding me, right? Your solution is to remove porn? First of all, that solution ain’t gunna work. It is so impractical; you can take that number right off the table immediately. Secondly, young men learn about sex from porn? Where are Mom and Dad? Where are the schools? How in heavens name did anybody arrive at a point in their life where they may be contemplating having sex and yet nobody has given them any instruction on sex, relationships, emotions and the basics of interacting not just with the opposite sex but with people in general? Are people learning how to drink by watching Hangover and Hangover II? Are people learning how to socially interact with people by watching the Expendables or a Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse movie? (Don’t get me started on violence on TV ! Carnography: Vegetarians need not apply)
Ms. Wolf is an observer and as a writer, she writes about her observations. I would suggest she is also a fearmonger who promotes her own narrow view of the world and the status of relationships between the sexes. She offers no concrete, practical solutions to any of the issues mentioned in her articles. Focusing on the obvious without looking at the underlying issues is tantamount to saying, “If we get rid of all the fire trucks, all fires will stop.”
The next time you pick up a paper and see a headline about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, Tiger Woods, Jesse James or David Duchovny, I would remind you there are another 7 billion people on the planet (minus 6) who are not in the headlines. Sky-is-falling, apocalyptic rhetoric scares the public and distorts its perception of the issues. We cannot properly address an issue if misinformation prevents us from properly assessing the issue.
Parents, how about talking to your children?
Wikipedia: Naomi Wolf
Naomi Wolf (born 12 November 1962) is an American author and political consultant. With the publication of The Beauty Myth, she became a leading spokesperson of what was later described as the third wave of the feminist movement.
my blog: Cindy Gallop: Make Love Not Porn
The New York Mag – Oct 20/2003
The Porn Myth by Naomi Wolf
The whole world, post-Internet, did become pornographized. Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by pornographic training—and this is having a huge effect on how they interact.
Al Jazerra – Jul 2/2011
Is pornography driving men crazy? by Naomi Wolf
Could the widespread availability and consumption of pornography in recent years actually be rewiring the male brain?
Project Syndicate – Jun 30/2011
Is pornography driving men crazy? by Naomi Wolf
It is hard to ignore how many highly visible men in recent years (indeed, months) have behaved
Click HERE to read more from William Belle
Article viewed at: Oye! Times at www.oyetimes.com