Pamela Anderson: Porn Made Anthony Weiner Sext

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Photo: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

You didn’t have to be a genius to know that the latest sad episode in the Anthony Weiner scandal-parade would generate some half-baked opinions. Whenever this sort of public, morally outrageous disgrace takes place, people like to use it to hammer home whatever point they’ve been trying to make all along. See what I’ve been saying? they type feverishly. Society is totally screwed and this proves it!

For a particularly silly example, take this column entitled “Take the Pledge: No More Indulging Porn” in The Wall Street Journal co-authored by Rabbi Schmuley Boteach and Pamela Anderson (yes, that Pamela Anderson). Try Incognito Mode if you hit a paywall.

Let’s start with the very first sentence: “If anyone still had doubts about the addictive dangers of pornography, Anthony Weiner should have put paid to them with his repeated, self-sabotaging sexting.” Wait, what? Sexting and looking at porn are different activities. They’re overlapping, sure, but they’re not the same thing, and people do them for different reasons. Lots of people do one but not the other. Weiner sexted a lot — it isn’t even clear how porn even comes into this, except in the sense that both activities can get people sexually excited.

Logically, you can’t just say “Weiner sexted ‘cuz porn’” and assume it’s true. No matter — Boteach and Anderson forge on, laying out their alarmed position on the matter:

From our respective positions of rabbi-counselor and former Playboy model and actress, we have often warned about pornography’s corrosive effects on a man’s soul and on his ability to function as husband and, by extension, as father. This is a public hazard of unprecedented seriousness given how freely available, anonymously accessible and easily disseminated pornography is nowadays.

Put another way, we are a guinea-pig generation for an experiment in mass debasement that few of us would have ever consented to, and whose full nefarious impact may not be known for years. How many families will suffer? How many marriages will implode? How many talented men will scrap their most important relationships and careers for a brief onanistic thrill? How many children will propel, warp-speed, into the dark side of adult sexuality by forced exposure to their fathers’ profanations?

A good sign that people are engaged in moral-panic thinking rather than clear thinking is when they suggest that an activity plenty of normal, well-adjusted people engage in will lead to an apocalypse of catastrophic outcomes. Sure, Boteach and Anderson are just raising questions here — “We’re not saying porn will cause a bunch of marriages to implode, but what if it does?” But where’s the evidence?

To make their case that the pornification of America should terrify us, Boteach and Anderson start laying out some statistics from the American Psychological Association: “porn consumption rates are between 50% and 99% among men and 30% to 86% among women.” People seem to really enjoy porn — Boteach and Anderson describe these numbers as “terrifying.”

Of course, online porn has exploded during exactly the period various bad outcomes often blamed on it have been on the decline. Take rape, for example — thankfully, there has been a decades-long decline. Or divorce: The rate at which married couples split up fell by about a quarter between 2000 and 2014. Was there any other decade-and-a-half span in human history when more people suddenly were granted access to huge amounts of porn? None of this proves porn doesn’t lead to societally damaging outcomes, of course — maybe those declines would have been steeper if it weren’t for all the smut out there — but it makes it harder to understand what we should be panicking about. One paper from 2008 even suggested that easier access to porn could be reducing sexual assault.

Boteach and Anderson don’t cite any of these numbers, possibly because they are so damaging to their case. Instead, they take a different, strange tack: “Nine percent of porn users said they had tried unsuccessfully to stop—an indication of addiction that is all the more startling when you consider that the dependency rate among people who try marijuana is the same—9%—and not much higher among those who try cocaine (15%), according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.”

I’m so confused. Is 9 percent a lot? It certainly doesn’t sound like a lot. And since marijuana is not a particularly addictive drug, the fact that similar numbers of porn and marijuana users have trouble stopping would suggest that … porn isn’t particularly addictive. (Side note: As Maia Szalavitz often points out, many drugs are a lot less addictive than our drug-panicking country thinks they are — that can help explain why the cocaine rate isn’t that far off from the marijuana one.)

This is one of those wonderful, magical chameleon statistics that is used to gin up fear whatever its value is. Well, I guess technically if the rate had been zero or 2 percent, it would have been tough for Boteach and Anderson to trot it out. But obviously, if the rate were 50 percent or 60 percent, their argument would be “Men are in the grips of a horrendous porn addiction from which they feel unable to escape.” Instead, it’s 9 percent — but that’s still bad!

Plus, it’s totally going to skyrocket: “[I]t is a fair guess that whereas drug-dependency data are mostly stable, the incidence of porn addiction will only spiral as the children now being raised in an environment of wall-to-wall, digitized sexual images become adults inured to intimacy and in need of even greater graphic stimulation. They are the crack babies of porn.” This is yet another argument completely untethered from any of those pesky specifics about how human beings actually use porn. The authors are also exhibiting a rather startling lack of faith in humanity as a species: For millennia, despite wars and disease and poverty and disaster, humans around the world have, for the most part, successfully raised infants to at least know how to love and care for those who are close to them. But now that there’s internet porn everywhere, babies will become “inured to intimacy”? This is not a claim anyone should take seriously.

Boteach and Anderson conclude their column with a call to action: “Simply put, we must educate ourselves and our children to understand that porn is for losers—a boring, wasteful and dead-end outlet for people too lazy to reap the ample rewards of healthy sexuality.” I’d tweak that just a little bit: We must educate ourselves and our children to understand that hysterical moral panic is for losers — a fearmongering, wasteful, and dead-end outlet for people too lazy to inquire in an intellectually honest manner about human life and behavior.