Pornography: My Investigative Series

This article was last updated on June 18, 2022

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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 wouldn’t resolve everything but I hope that at least it provide a catalyst to dialogue.

If you don’t like the TV show, turn the channel. If you don’t like the DVD film, hit the eject button. If you don’t like the Internet video clip, close your browser. Censorship? Once you start, where do you stop? Who’s going to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable? Just an idea: If you don’t like it, don’t watch.

See my blog Pornography: What is it? where I discuss people wanting to censor Harry Potter. Yes, some Christian groups have tried to censor the books of J. K. Rowlings (Christian Censorship of Harry Potter).

How much porn is there?
On the Internet, I estimate the amount of pornographic materials to be less than 1% of all web pages. See my blog Pornography: How much is there on the Internet?

How much are people looking for porn?
In my blog Pornography: Searching for what?, I consult several top ten lists of popular search terms and use the service Google Insights to test these against various terms relating to porn searches. My conclusion is that while terms like "sex" and "porn" are popular, they are not the most popular. When I weigh them against the total of all other search terms, my assessment is that while people do look for porn, it is more of an occasional curiosity as opposed to a national obsession.

Sex Ed
Cindy Gallop (Cindy Gallop: Make Love Not Porn) talks amusingly of meeting men whose sole source of sexual information seems to have been pornographic films. I don’t know whether to laugh and call them morons or lament the state of affairs of our society.

You learned about sex from a pornographic film? That’s it? No talk with the parents? No sex ed class at school? No tuning in to Sue Johansen to learn about queefs? You’re s**ttin’ me? What happened to your parents? What happened to your school? What happened to the whole G.D. system?

Aside: If you are unfamiliar with Sue Johanson, this amazing woman who is now 80 years old has been a sex educator for years and has been awarded the Order of Canada for her work. Her delivery of information about sex and the most intimate of details of its workings are a must for anybody, a kid, a teenager or a parent trying to grapple with this touchy subject.

official web site:

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.

Suggesting that the rapist who is captured with porn in his pocket shows the correlation between porn and violence ignores the fact that correlation does not imply causation. It ignores the real antecedents to the problem: violence in childhood, abnormal upbringing, gawd only knows what which falls outside the normal parameters of proper childrearing. (See my blog Carnography: Vegetarians need not apply) It ignores that "normal" men who watch porn do not engage in violent behaviour towards women. It ignores that "normal" men watch "normal" porn about pretty much "normal" type of things. Why? Because they’re normal. 

If convicted mass murderer Ted Bundy had said that watching Bill Cosby reruns motivated his awful crimes, he would have been dismissed as a deranged sociopath. Instead, Bundy has said his pornography addiction made him do it–which many people treated as the conclusion of a thoughtful social scientist. Why?
– Dr. Marty Klein – March 1998
Why There’s No Such Thing as Sexual Addiction — And Why It Really Matters

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.

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?

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’.

Watching pornography changes your brain chemistry.
This statement is absurd. I look at porn and my dopamine system lights up. If it didn’t light up, it might mean I’m dead. If you gave me crack cocaine and my dopamine system lights up, that’s a natural result of taking the drug, it isn’t indicative of my brain chemistry being somehow permanently altered. Anybody who says this does not seem to have any unbiased double blind scientific testing of a significant sampling of all cross-sections of the general population to make any accurate conclusions about anything.

But don’t believe me; believe Rebecca Goldin, Director of Research of the Statistical Assessment Service, associate professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at George Mason University and a member of the Science Policy Committee of the American Mathematical Society who holds a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Mathematics, and a B.A., cum laude from Harvard University. In my blog Pornography: Is it an addiction? Ms. Goldin completely discredits the methodology used to arrive at this conclusion.

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."

Supply and demand
If there’s no demand, the supply will eventually go away. Somehow though, the idea is that if we take away the supply, the demand will go away. Prohibition showed that supply just goes underground because the demand doesn’t change. Why? Why doesn’t anybody look at the demand?

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.

Violence in porn
I have my theories as to why porn contains certain themes and I plan on writing about them in the future. However, I think there are very confused ideas about these themes: how much is there, how much is this niche, what is the difference between fantasy and reality, etc.

For starters, just how many "rape scenes" or scenes of violence exist? I’m not saying they don’t exist (How many mainstream films have rape scenes? Thelma & Louise, Deliverance, Straw Dogs) but I have the impression in reading some of the criticisms of porn that all porn is violent. In my experience, that isn’t true; I have never seen a "rape scene" in my entire life. Mainstream porn is about sex; yes, it’s fantasized, yes it may not be real but just about every Hollywood blockbuster certainly isn’t portraying life in a totally realistic manner. It’s a fantasy. And yes, there is some kinky stuff but once again, it’s fantasy.

All men when encountering something in the porn they did not like such as violence or group sex would fast forward to skip those parts.
CNET: New research suggests porn is overly demonized – Dec 1/2009

There are numerous examples of bad things in society like rape which must be dealt with. As Marty Klein said about Ted Bundy saying porn made him commit his crimes; there are other factors like violence in our culture and our entertainment and even in our homes that one must assume play a much larger role in the formation of these behaviours. Don’t forget that legitimate studies have found that the rate of sex crimes goes down with the increased availability of pornography in society. See my blog Pornography: Does it lead to crime? Part 2. Why the decrease in crime? Well, my take on it is that anybody who’s masturbated to pornography is going to be too pooped to commit a crime.

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?

It seems the feminist movement has different camps. Group #1 is anti-pornography (Gloria Steinem). Group #2 is for free speech but doesn’t like pornography. Group #3 is pro-sex and pro-porn believing porn has benefits for women (Wendy McElroy, Nadine Strossen). See my blog Pornography: Defended by… what!?! Feminists?

The long and short of these defenders seems to be pro-sex but anti-misogynist, anti-domination and anti-violence. Makes sense to me.

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).

Click HERE to read more from William Belle


My investigative series on a controversial topic of Pornography.

  • Statistics Laundering
    How unsubstantiated numbers are being passed around without anybody questioning their validity or verifying their authenticity.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • What is it?
    An attempt to define pornography which seems to be relatively subjective.
  • Does it lead to crime?
    Does looking at pornography lead people to commit crimes?
  • Defended by… what!?! Feminists?
    While pornography is vilified, some people defend it.
  • Who buys the most? Conservatives!
    One study examined the porn buying habits across the United States.
  • 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.
  • I’m confused
    Oprah and Dr. Phil tell me pornography is bad then Oprah turns around and tells women that watching porn is okay.
  • 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?
  • My conclusions
    I give my conclusions to the various issues raised during this 10 part investigation of pornography.
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