The idea that pornography and a casual sexual culture are at the root of sexual assault is a crude misapplication of blame that, when pinned to the #MeToo movement, belittles the struggles of those who have been assaulted. The simple expectation that people shouldn’t abuse other people should stand on its own, but some would rather attempt to pin it on a supposed social disease: One that can be cured only through the adoption of a conservative sexual culture.
Pornography is an item that is often looked at in a similar way to violent video games — as a social ill that negatively affects impressionable youth and dehumanizes victims of serious crimes. However, this viewpoint only looks at pornographic or violent content at face value, ignoring how people truly interact with it. Some feel that pornography offers them economic mobility and control over their own labor, causing feminist scholars to study the potential benefits of the industry for those who produce it. Of course, there are plenty of ways in which the pornography industry can be exploitative of women, but we should be advocating for laws that protect workers in such environments rather than demonize the industry as a whole. On the consumer side, pornography can be a useful tool for becoming more comfortable with your own sexuality, offering exposure to more diverse sexual encounters than the typical heterosexual half-censored romps seen in mainstream TV and movies. Even in regards to crime and abuse, there are studies that indicate no real connection between increased access to pornography and sexual assault.
The supposed negative effects of pornography assume that consumption of it occurs in a vacuum. That is, that people who watch pornography are not exposed to any other social structures that increase awareness of human dignity. This is plainly false. Even though pornography has the potential to give young people an unrealistic expectation of what sexual experiences are like, the real crime would be neglecting to provide proper sex education which ensures that people know that what they see on the internet is not always realistic. In the same way that we train children not to hurt each other despite depictions of violence in media, we can easily educate our society’s youth of healthy sexual practices that teach the value of empathy and human decency towards your partner.
Casual sex does not have to be devoid of emotion. As one of our very own opinion columnists wrote a few weeks ago, “It’s a different subset of human sexual experience, but it’s still a human experience.” The physicality of sexual experiences does not have to be entirely separated from emotion and care for your partner in that moment. Just because two people who engage in sex aren’t interested in seeing each other in the long term does not mean they have dehumanized each other as a “means to an end.” On the contrary, they can explore their personal desires while learning about what they are and are not compatible with, an action that does not have to disregard the other person’s needs and desires.
As a confirmed Catholic myself, I know the Church frowns upon such acts as consumption of pornography and casual sex, and I will be the first to admit that the Bible didn’t exactly promote those practices. But I also know that my faith teaches respect and consideration for how our actions affect others. My faith exists to help set moral standards that people should follow no matter what they may see on TV or on the internet. To hold pornography and casual sex as examples of social degradation, especially in regards to the #MeToo movement, is obscenely simplistic. Blaming these practices for the sexual assault of women and men in our country takes the blame away from the monsters who participated in such unacceptable crimes. Blame those who knew it was happening and looked the other way. Blame those who shame victims for speaking out about their abuse. But most of all, blame the assailants themselves for thinking it was okay to treat other human beings like sexual objects. I think we can expect people not to do that, no matter what kinds of media they are consuming.