The new “public health crisis” strategy for opposing porn

The “public health crisis” (PHC) strategy is a new strategy the anti-porn movement is using to try and get more people on board. This strategy involves framing pornography as a public health issue since it causes addiction and low self-esteem, ruins relationships, and increases the incidence of sexual assault. This is a strategy that can appeal to a wide variety of people with varied politics, and, most importantly, it appeals more to men than did previous anti-porn strategies. Men have always adamantly opposed anti-pornography initiatives on the basis that banning images of women being raped violates men’s right to free speech and self-expression. The PHC strategy is much less threatening to men than the unabridged radical feminist position, because it presents pornography as simply an addiction that one shouldn’t fall into due to potential negative personal health and relationship issues, rather than presenting it as male violence against women and a cornerstone of women’s oppression. It also presents men as victims of the porn industry, which works as a strategy because men only care about victims of an exploitative industry if those victims are male. Although the PHC approach will surely get more people on board with criticizing porn, which has its merits, it’s a watered down strategy. It helps a few more people to realize that porn is harmful but without challenging men’s institutional power to objectify women, which means that the industry won’t take much of a hit.

One of the men who is publicly opposing porn from a personal health and addiction perspective (but not a feminist perspective) is Alexander Rhodes. He is a former porn addict who founded the No Fap support group, which is an online resource with its own website and a Reddit forum, and it provides judgment-free support for men trying to get over their addiction. I have written about the No Fap subreddit before here, because they link occasionally to anti-porn posts on my blog and so I see the link in my stats. The issue I had when I wrote that post, and still have now, is that No Fap doesn’t take any moral position against porn. It merely provides support to men who are struggling with addiction and erectile dysfunction while completely ignoring the fact that porn primarily harms women. (For more information on that, please read Pornography: Men Possessing Women by Andrea Dworkin.) Every once in a while I get a few more blog hits from the No Fap subreddit, and I always check to see what was posted. Invariably some guy has read one of my anti-porn posts and is surprised to find out that porn is actually a lot more harmful than he realized, and he posts the link to help inspire his No Fap buddies to keep staying away from porn. The other users react the same way every time. They dismiss me as an anti-sex prude who hates sex workers and insist that there is no moral problem with pornography, it’s just not something they should keep doing several times a day.

Alexander Rhodes spoke to a reporter for the New York Times for an article called Internet Porn Nearly Ruined His Life. Now He Wants to Help. (FYI by “help,” he means “help men.”) Even though pornography is a global epidemic of violence perpetrated by men against primarily women and girls, this guy is all about how it affected him and men like him.

According to the article, Mr. Rhodes first encountered pornography by accident at age 11, when he clicked on an ad that led to an image that he says depicted rape. That rape must have been very titillating for him, because he became addicted to porn and was masturbating to it up to 14 times a day. The reason he stopped wasn’t because he finally developed a conscience and realized that it’s wrong to masturbate to images of rape, but because he was unable to have relationships with women. He had erectile dysfunction and could only maintain an erection by thinking about porn. As usual, men only care about their own dicks. Porn wasn’t a problem for him until his boner was negatively affected. Although he still does not give any fucks about the epidemic of violence against women and girls, he believes that he is “uniquely qualified to help humanity” due to the business he is starting to help men recover from excessive masturbation.

To be fair, he does briefly mention women in his article.

“I knew it was bad for me,” he said. “But I also realized it was bad for women I was involved with, and that was the moment that I said: ‘I need to leave this thing behind. It is completely distorting my sexuality to the point where it could actually be harmful or at least not enjoyable for other people who I am involved with.'”

It’s like he is dimly aware that when you masturbate to rape multiple times a day for many years, you start to act like a rapist in bed. (Or turn into an actual rapist.) What else would he mean by “it’s distorting my sexuality to the point where it could be harmful to people I’m involved with”? I wonder what his first two girlfriends would say if they were interviewed.

Even though Rhodes has not taken any moral position against porn, his efforts to protect the health of his erection by not watching it have angered lots of porn enthusiasts.

“People have tried — and failed — to hack the site’s servers, and its forums have been bombarded with pornographic images, he said. His father received pornography in the mail, Mr. Rhodes said, and he himself has gotten death threats.”

Despite decades of anti-porn activism by feminists, men still completely lose their shit when anyone threatens their right to access images and videos of men raping women. As of now, nothing women have said or done has ever gotten men to care about the harm they inflict on us.

Ten years ago now, I too was a porn user who quit. My anti-porn resource was not No Fap, but radical feminist blogs. Feminists actually point out that women are groomed and coerced into the porn industry, that they are not fully aware of what they’re getting into when they enter the industry, and that they are not in control over what happens while they’re on the set. We also point out how men are posting “revenge porn” all the time, so it’s impossible to tell if amateur porn was uploaded by willing exhibitionists or by ex-boyfriends whose girlfriends did not consent to the uploading. The bottom line being that when you look at porn you are very likely looking at either a rape, or a sex act that may have been consensual at the time but that the woman did not intend for strangers on the Internet to see. You have no way of knowing if what you are watching is consensual, and we know that in many cases it’s not. This explanation and reasoning should be enough to make anyone quit porn, but unfortunately many people, particularly men, simply don’t care.

This guy Rhodes acknowledged in his New York Times article that the first porn he saw was a rape. How was that not a deal-breaker, and how does that not motivate him to take a moral stand against porn now? To acknowledge that porn depicts rape and then claim not to have a moral issue with it is to put your misogyny in full display.

So now we have an anti-porn movement that’s based on an “addiction” and “public health” approach, because it doesn’t risk alienating guys like this who are giving up porn, however selfish their reasons may be. As per usual, if we were to go full radical feminist and state publicly that pornography is male violence against women and that pornographers are violating women’s human rights, we would get the full onslaught of male violence and backlash against us—death threats, rape threats, temper tantrums with lots of shouting about “feminazis” and “censorship” and “anti-sex prudes,” and ultimately, a failed movement because men would shut it down.

Gail Dines is one of the world’s leading anti-porn campaigners. Although she has a solid radical feminist and anti-capitalist analysis of porn, which she brilliantly explains in her book and her lectures, she uses the “public health crisis” strategy when doing large-scale public advocacy. There’s a good reason for this—she wouldn’t have a movement otherwise. A recent article written by her and Robert Jensen praises the Republican Party for naming porn as a public health crisis in their platform. They appeal to Liberals to take the same stance, focusing on the fact that porn ruins relationships and sex and it causes sexual aggression.

Their article concludes:

“Defining porn as a public health crisis is long overdue, and the next step is for politicians of all parties to find the courage to take on the billion-dollar industries—not only the pornography producers but the cable companies, hotels, and web sites involved in distribution. To advance a truly progressive policy, we need a movement of parents, educators, youth, child advocates, health professionals, and activists that reclaims the next generation’s rights to a sexuality that is free of violence and degradation. Anything short of this represents an abdication by adults of our obligations to our kids.”

Technically, I agree with the statements in the article. For example, we do need comprehensive sex education that talks about healthy sexuality and enthusiastic consent, and we do need to challenge the businesses that profit from porn. The thing is though, we need more than that. It’s not enough just to teach people that porn presents an unhealthy version of sexuality. We need to completely eliminate men’s ability to abuse women. That certainly means that they should not be allowed to film sexual abuse and then sell it as public entertainment. No matter how much education people get, if men still have the power to use the bodies of women and girls as they see fit, then porn will still exist. Men should understand that it’s wrong to lure young, impressionable women and teens into an exploitative industry with false promises of easy money and glamour and fame. They should understand that it’s wrong to abuse women, and that abuse is still abuse even if the victim is financially compensated for the harm. They should understand that the proper response to seeing graphic evidence of sexual abuse is to report it to police and to push for convictions for abusers, not to masturbate to it. It should be completely unthinkable to either produce, sell or consume pornography, on the basis that women and girls are fully human persons and violence against us is unacceptable.

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18 thoughts on “The new “public health crisis” strategy for opposing porn

  1. Male violence is the worst public health problem. Porn is just a facet of it. But yeah, going anti-porn because it messes up the abusers is a weak stance. They’ll just work on figuring out ways to use porn that don’t mess them up. I don’t think that’s possible, but it won’t stop ’em from trying.

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  2. It sort of does challenge them institutionally though. Its more a social issue that this kind of activist fails to hold men accountable, stemming from a cultural belief in women’s inferiority and men’s impunity to women’s time, bodies and labour. Laws mean nothing though without them being enforced and due to women’s social standing I doubt a lot of these laws will be.

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  3. I think too many people still associate “moral” stances with Puritanism. If a radical feminist comes out against porn, she’s lumped in with the religious right which isn’t “hip” or “cool” or “progressive.” Opposing the sex industry is seen as anachronistic. Like many things in our society, everything is opposite: up is down, men are women, the sex industry is liberating for women. I don’t know where I was going with this but I’m definitely frustrated. Thanks for your analysis!

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  4. i’ve been reading your blog regularly for a while now, and like your no-nonsense approach to the things you talk about. while most people fighting for “liberation” make concessions in order to make their message more palatable, you prefer to stick to the bedrock of your principles because you know that is the only approach that can achieve the ultimate outcome you want.

    i read your original “no fap” piece at the time, and i agree with it all the way. but i’m curious your thoughts on something related to some other things you have said about women who perform in porn, or go onto sex work, and the like. you often criticize “sex-positive” people, who embrace sex work and pornography as legitimate forms of “expression” and business practice, for characterizing the women who participate as “choosers choosing choices”. the idea being that if a woman finds herself in such a position to be selling herself and her sexuality for profit, she has made a decision that led to that point, and as anything that sells is A-OK under capitalism, one cannot criticize the pornographers and brothel owners for accepting the conscious participation of women who enter the industry “willfully”. so if i understand your meaning, you are suggesting that these women, being “victims of circumstance”, cannot be said to be acting completely of their own volition when they are a) reared in a society that sexualizes, and teaches them to sexualize, their bodies from a very young age, b) taught that their self-worth is limited to their sexuality and ability to perform that sexuality, c) their sexuality is predominantly for men’s use and entertainment, not their own expression or fulfillment, d) in many cases born into less-than-ideal circumstances that necessitate them to use the aforementioned facts as a means of supporting themselves. in a phrase, they are “between a rock and a hard place”, and so their decision to participate in porn or sex work could hardly be called a voluntary choice.

    however, as someone who openly hates men, you seem to greatly disdain any movement or indication that would minimize men’s own agency in abusing women. at least, it seems clear that that’s why you have reservations about the “PHC” view against porn. i cannot oppose that–thanks to your blog i read jensen’s “getting off” and believe that porn and sex work should be openly decried for what they are, and that is men raping and abusing women for profit and entertainment. however, i think, as dines seems to recognize, that the PHC anti-porn movement touches on something important too–we are all “victims of circumstance” in a very real sense, and it isn’t clear to what extent that ANYBODY is actually a “chooser choosing choices”, but is actually just a product of the (often twisted) world around them. i don’t think anybody would dispute that the current state of affairs makes much more egregious victims out of women and girls than it does of men, and has for millennia, but in order to alleviate that situation, isn’t it really vital to bear in mind the sheer suggestibility of the human psyche? that a boy at 11 years old, still quite young by any standard, could view porn and not IMMEDIATELY recognize it as abusive material should be quite indicative of how deeply ingrained these values (or lack thereof) are.

    i’m not sure what i’m saying, because i agree with you, and if i was a woman, i would hate men too. and it isn’t as though rapists shouldn’t be punished, and perpetrators of evil be held accountable, whether or not they are just “products of their environment”. but my concern is that this problem may never really be solved until capitalism is just outright destroyed (something i know you advocate), or until such time that we are very calculated about raising our men. and unfortunately it is still the same old men raising their sons, so all we can do in the short term is make laws against these sorts of things. but it wouldn’t do much to change the culture in the short term.

    maybe just general thoughts on this? sorry it’s a bit disorganized.

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    • Yeah, men are groomed for porn and they’re taught to dominate women from a young age. Gail Dines actually has a whole chapter in her book about how boys are groomed. I don’t believe that men are born evil, I believe they are socialized in a male supremacist culture and since they’re at the top of the food chain they aren’t willing to look critically at how they benefit and step down. I think if we change the culture then a lot of this could be avoided. Men such as yourself who are pro-feminist could do activism around pointing out how pornographers are grooming boys into being abusers and you could publicly object to that grooming. Because it isn’t fair to boys either to shape them into bad lovers via porn when they deserve models of healthy relationships to emulate.

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  5. The next time someone tries to tell me that hating men in general is “irrational”, I will tell them that most men would rather quit watching porn because it harms their erections than because it harms women.
    If we needed any proof that men hate women, there it is.

    The PHC strategy probably is a good one? Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is still good, is it?
    Though this will not solve the underlying problem, so not sure how efficient it is, long-term. Men might find a way to consume porn that does not harm their erections, and then everything will be back to “normal”.
    Taking a break from watching the dehumanization of women, the misogynist propaganda that is porn, might enable some men to learn how to feel empathy for women, so that they don’t want to go back if/when the way to protect the erection is found, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

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    • It’s a good strategy in the sense that it’s the one that will allow us to accomplish something. If we tried to be more militant, we wouldn’t accomplish as much because of the environment we’re in. Gail Dines is really accomplishing a lot, probably more than anyone else is, and that’s because she is very professional and chooses her strategies wisely. Anyone who actually reads her book or listens to her lectures will get the full feminist analysis, and approaching people in an accessible way will hopefully work better in inspiring them to read further, as opposed to just starting off by yelling at them.
      I don’t mean to come across here as completely hating the PHC strategy—what I wanted to do is discuss why this is the strategy that’s going to work best and what that means for the movement. (i.e. that we’re forced to water down our message in order to get anyone to listen, even though it’s obvious that pornography is a crisis.)

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  6. So mens’ porn industry is a ‘public health issue?’ Sure it is for the boys because the boys want to continue viewing filmed male sexual violence against women and girls and at the same time continue to have their dicks operate on male demand!!

    Herstory tells us in case we forget – that whenever men claim ‘it is a public health issue/moral issue’ then as usual men will continue to maintain their systemic male oppression over all women and girls. Mens’ pimp industry advocates successfully promoted the lie that ‘mens’ pimp industry isn’t systemic male sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls. Instead it is merely a ‘job for people because these people are enacting their empowerment and choice!’ No need to state the ones being sexually preyed on by the male buyers are women and girls. Instead mens’ pimp industry advocates have claimed ‘let’s pretend we have passed laws protecting prostituted women from those rare male sexual predators who subject the women they have bought to sadistic male sexual violence! This ensures our mens’ pimp industry remains in place and is not criminalised.’ Neither should we real Feminists forget that the UK in the 19th century passed male created women-hating laws whereby prostituted women were arrested by male police officers and forced to undergo sadistic medical examination because prostituted women were transmitting STDs to the ‘poor boys (sic) who were enacting their male choice and agency to buy females in order to rape them!’ The boys in political power claimed these laws were necessary because too many males were being infected by prostituted women with STDs and therefore the prostituted women needed to be medically controlled!

    Then there is the issue of intimate male terrorism perpetrated against women and their children. There aren’t any male terrorists within the home – just poor little adult boys who suffer from anger management issues; are unemployed; in debt; experience alcohol addiction; or even have mummy issues because their mummies didn’t love them sufficiently! Sol these poor adult boys mustn’t be held accountable for their male choice to enact male oppression over their female sexual property but instead be cossetted and told ‘you’re not to blame ‘cos you are suffering from anger management or your mummy didn’t love you sufficiently!’

    Pandemic male sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls is the fault of those pesky women and girls who continue to enact their fake (sic) female sex right to venture out into males’ public spaces! So mens’ response is – this is a public health issue – bombard the women and girls with messages they must be 24/7 responsible for their safety because mens’ police forces are too busy investigating real crimes such as men having their cars stolen; property stolen etc.! This is why the boys constantly tell us women that we supposedly cause male sexual predators to prey on us because we don’t have our magical crystal ball with us 24/7 telling us when and if another ‘rare male sexual predator is about to subject us to male sexual violence!’ If only we women didn’t provoke those poor boys then male sexual violence against us females would be non-existent!

    End result – male violence against women and girls doesn’t exit because the male perpetrators are victims too and men as usual are profiting financially by creating worthless programmes such as anger management; porn addiction counselling and of course telling prostituted women – ‘don’t worry there’s a panic button in your room so if the male sexual predator (male buyer) attempts to commit violence against you – just press the button and nothing will happen!!’

    So ‘public health issue?’ Bah yet more malespeak language because as usual the boys mustn’t be held accountable for perpetuating systemic institutional; collective and individual male oppression over us females because our sex is female!

    Remember appeasing the boys never works – challenging the boys works which is why the boys work so hard at attempting to silence us Radical Feminists but the boys will never succeed in silencing all Radical Feminists who tell the truth – which is male violence against women and girls is how males maintain their socio-political power over all women and girls!

    Finally ‘abuse’ is the latest malespeak term now widely being used because this term mitigates/hides precisely what numerous mundane males are routinely inflicting on women and girls. Once upon a time decades ago – real Feminists stood up and publicly declared ‘male violence against women and girls is “real male violence against women and girls – not abuse; not a disagreement; not an argument but real male violence!” But once again men’s malestream media has successfully promoted that nauseating term ‘abuse’ because the definition can and is interpreted as ‘merely verbal disagreement between two individuals of equal power and status!

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