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Front Page » May 16, 2002 » Opinion » Quelling controversy of pornography
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Quelling controversy of pornography


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By PAUL MERO
Sutherland Institute

The root meaning of pornography is "the writing of prostitutes." The writings today comprise the commercial sex industry, from magazines to videos to strip clubs to Internet sites. The definition could also include mainstream commercial attempts to use sex to sell products.

Civil libertarian concerns about free speech, sexual freedom, and privacy issues may dominate the popular debate of pornography. But the concerns are not at the core of the controversy.

The real controversy is primarily generated by the corporate desire to sell sex for money, conflicting with the societal desire to protect families from moral degradation. Neutralize the clash and the controversy should begin to subside.

We should first decide as a people whether we truly believe the axiom "the family is the fundamental unit of society." If we affirm the axiom, then we should have no problem passing laws intended to protect marriages and familial relations from the destructive influences of the commercial sex industry.

To affirm this axiom is not to diminish the importance of individual rights under the law or undo crucial aspects of American jurisprudence that should never be undone regarding individuals and crimes. But affirmation does preclude the primacy of the individual as the fundamental unit of society, a belief held inviolate by civil libertarians.

To affirm the family axiom under the law would not rid society of free speech, privacy or sexual freedom. People could still write dirty words to each other and share dirty pictures with each other under private consensual arrangements.

To affirm the axiom in regard to commercial sex simply means that the free market would be subordinate to society's desire to protect its families. Essential public virtue that encourages, cherishes and protects families would be of higher social value than preferential private morality that focuses only on the base sexual desires of individuals.

Laws against prostitution are an example of how we legally subordinate personal sexual desires to public virtue. The example leads us to understand how we might quell the controversy of pornography.

Pornography is always sexual in nature and it is usually for sale. The latter quality is exactly why pornography usually would not exist if it could not be sold for money.

Have you ever wondered why prostitution is unlawful in nearly all jurisdictions throughout the nation, but pornography is legal?

There is no substantive social or commercial difference between the sale of sex for money and the sale of a picture of sex for money. In both cases, sex is sold for money.

Pornographers measure commercial success in dollars, not in the number of images they produce. The latter statistic, now numbering annually more than 700 million video rentals alone, is trotted out by promoters in the sex industry to convince us that the vast majority of Americans, at least secretly, view pornography.

But can anyone seriously believe that pornographers do what they do, on the scale they do it, altruistically for pleasure seekers or for the love of the First Amendment?

Money drives the sex industry and its legion of attorneys, not the evils of censorship or the artistic beauty of the naked form.

To quell the controversy of pornography, we should treat the writing of prostitutes just as we do the acts of prostitutes.

If money is exchanged for sex, whether in the flesh, on Kodak paper or through a web browser, the act is illegal. Consenting adults may share freely all of the dirty pictures they want of consenting adults. If they charge money for it, they have broken the law.

Prosecuting pornography effectively in the Internet age is challenging, but not insurmountable. No defender of freedom wants to see the Internet regulated. Even so, no serious defender of freedom will ever condone criminal activity wherever it exists.

If we favor laws prohibiting prostitution in the back alleys and on the highways of America, why then would we hold commercial sex on the Internet to any higher standard? Are its megabyte back alleys and superhighways leading into our homes any more sacred than those of concrete leading down Main Street?

These are serious questions that deserve public airing. Taking the money out of sex would begin to quell the controversy of pornography. In this way, civil libertarians can have freedom of speech and individual - though not commercial - privacy and so, too, can families be more protected from the plague of commercial sex.

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