Race/Gender

At what point, if any, does viewing porn morph into infidelity?

In an article in the October Atlantic, Ross Douthat raises the age-old question, Is Pornography Adultery? He cites sex columnist Dan Savage addressing women:

Tearful discussions about your insecurities or your feminist principles will not stop a man from looking at porn. That’s why the best advice for straight women is. … If you don’t want to be with someone who looks at porn. . . get a woman, get a dog, or get a blind guy. … telling women that the porn “problem” can be resolved through good communication, couples counseling, or a chat with your pastor is neither helpful nor realistic.

But Douthat writes:

This isn’t to say the distinction between hiring a prostitute and shelling out for online porn doesn’t matter. … But if you approach infidelity as a continuum of betrayal rather than an either/or proposition, then the Internet era has ratcheted the experience of pornography much closer to adultery than I suspect most porn users would like to admit. [Emphasis added.]

Read Douthat’s insightful article for why he believes that. Meanwhile, the argument can be dragged out ad infinitum. It’s possible to buy Savage’s viewpoint, but still be troubled by how much time and money are spent respectively with and for porn.

While one’s reflex is to claim that it’s up to the individual to decide, that’s kind of a cop-out. Our readers are asked to help decide with their comments whether a line should be drawn and at what point.

Specifically. . .
1. Do you agree with my distinction (that the more time and money porn incurs, the closer the viewer hews to infidelity)?
2. How much is too much: a. time spent b. money spent — viewing Internet porn?

Categories: Race/Gender, Sex

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12 replies »

  1. I do not think it is useful to condemn/demonize things by equating them with things they are not. If you want to criticize a thing do so in terms of the consequences of that thing. In this context the use of porn is like the use of alcohol; that is it can be used with no harmful consequence or it can be abused with many harmful consequences.

  2. Here is my take on the problem with internet porn:

    “back in the day” if I had a Playboy Magazine, I kept it hidden in my room because it was like gold to a teenage boy. That’s why it was taboo to EVER throw away porn. Why else did a kid have a four-year-old magazine? But you kept it becuase it was all you had. Access was the limiting factor.

    Now it’s out there, easy to get to (believe me, I have a 13 year old son, my how the tables have turned). But not only is there access, but the content gets progressively worse. No longer contained, it’s now like the mathematical ray: it goes on forever in one direction- that being nasty. But there is no “nastiest picture on the internet” it doesn’t exist.

    Unfortunately, however, the the technology does exists for young Magellans like my son to embark on quests of adventure, seeking out the limits of nasty.

    I’m not saying all porn is bad, I’m just saying it’s a slippery and much steeper slope than before.

  3. Sorry, just realized I didn’t really answet the questions posed:

    Porn isn’t bad- secrets are bad. If porn is a secret it’s unhealthy, at leat to some degree.

    The more you spend secretly, the worse it is. Anytime porn diverts your time or money away from family matters, it’s a real problem.

  4. I’m no expert here, but I would argue that it’s getting harder and harder to be faithful. Not that it’s harder not to engage in extracurricular sex – that’s probably about what it’s always been – but that the definition of fidelity has ramped up quite a bit. The “continuum” argument here is part of it, and to that add concepts like “emotional infidelity” – that you can cheat on your spouse or SO by having emotional relationships with other people that betray what is owed exclusively to your partner.

    I wonder if they’re having these kinds of debates in Europe?

  5. I’d say pornography becomes adultery when you start ignoring the needs of your spouse in favor of looking at it. That’s a strrange definition, I know, but I’ve never liked ‘slippery slope’ measurements. As you go down them eventually you end up with things like “Looking at an attractive man/woman for longer than it takes to not run him/her over and knock him/her on his/her ass is .1 of an affair!” (Damn English and it’s lack of singular androgynous pronouns!)
    Well, and what Bob said. When you’re hiding it, you’ve got a problem.

    Oh, and women look at porn too. Probably not the same stuff we do, but they look.

  6. Well, J beat me to it. Not only do women watch and read porn, they write and produce it, too. And argue about what it is, and if it’s ethical, and if it’s empowering or not… Douthal is about twenty years behind in terms of his reference to feminist thought.

    And J’s definition of infidelity is standard practice in the world of “unconventional” relationships, where the terms of “faithfulness” have to be determined case by case.

  7. “I wonder if they’re having these kinds of debates in Europe?”

    No, Dr. S., they laugh at us instead.

    “. . . emotional relationships with other people that betray what is owed exclusively to your partner.”

    In the U.S., having a friendship with someone of the opposite sex that’s ever-so-slightly (or more) charged can start to make a guy uncomfortable vis a vis his wife.

    Married women may be more comfortable conducting friendships with opposite sex. But they’re sometimes obtuse to the effect they’re having on the guy.

  8. But they’re sometimes obtuse to the effect they’re having on the guy.

    *biting my tongue to avoid betraying the sisterhood*

  9. As in all forms of ‘infidelity,’ I refer to my house rules. The rubric I’d apply here is: “Anytime two people in a relationship are discussing problems created by a third person, they are avoiding their problem.” In this case, the ‘third person’ is a thing which is even more absurd.

  10. We’ve only been practicing what we currently call “love” and “fidelity” since the 12th century or so. On the other hand, we’ve been behaving like monkeys for several million years. It’s hard to lay a cultural template over “natural” behavior. And of course, America is one of the most uptight places on the planet…from top to bottom. We fear the monkey and his business; we fear being led into temptation. We are mostly defined (broadly) by our fear.

    Still, i agree that the secret is where the trouble is…though the secret is also a major factor in the level of titillation.

  11. I sometimes wonder about the long-term ramifications (pardon the pun) of those women in particular that do the porn. This stuff is all over the Internet, and it’s not going away.

    They may have some awkward “‘splainin’ to do” when their future fiancees, teenage sons/daughters or grandkids start going online.

    I’m not sure they’ve thought this through.

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