Recap: Federal Hearing on Adult Entertainment

WASHINGTON — Political pundit of all things pornographic Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., chaired his third federal hearing on adult entertainment Thursday, bringing in everyone from self-proclaimed “experts” in sexual dysfunction to lawyers schooled in the diverse and complicated laws that regulate the sex industry in this country.

And for the third consecutive time, no one from within the adult entertainment industry was invited to attend.

“I think most Americans agree and know that pornography is bad,” Brownback said during his opening statements at the hearing. “They know that it involves exploitive images of men and women, and that it is morally repugnant and offensive.”

The problem, Brownback continued, is that most Americans are unaware of how devastatingly harmful pornography can be, both to its users as well as to the families of those “addicted.”

To prove his point, Brownback brought in a number of panelists during the 90-minute discussion who almost unilaterally blasted pornography’s emotional and physical effects, including Jill Manning, a Utah-based marriage and family therapist and doctoral student at Mormon-operated Brigham Young University.

“This is not just a simple, benign form of expression, but rather a potentially addictive substance,” said Manning. “People watch a movie, read a book, listen to music, but they masturbate to pornography. In that difference, you have a different stimulation to the brain.”

And apparently that’s a bad thing.

“There have been some experts who have argued that [masturbation], in and of itself, overrides informed consent when encountering this material,” Manning said, going as far as to suggest that the act of self-gratification, which activates 14 neurotransmitters in the brain, causes loss of judgment, compounds miscommunication between the sexes and increases the risk of divorce.

Pamela Paul, author of “Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families,” supported Manning’s divorce claims during her own presentation. Paul said self-gratification removes a spouse from having to satisfy their partner.

“If they go to their wives, well, just practically speaking, they have to make sure they have done all of the chores around the house they were supposed to do,” said Paul, in what seems to have been a G-rated reference to foreplay. “They need to have a half-an-hour conversation about what they did that day.”

In other words, according to Paul, what might take an hour and a half in the real world takes only five minutes in cyberspace.

And apparently that’s a bad thing too.

At length the panelists continued, from Richard Whidden, executive director and senior counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families in Fairfax, Va., lamenting the dangerous effects pornography has on children, to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who compared adult content to fast food and cigarettes.

“America is more sex-ridden than any country in world history,” said Hatch, quoting a study nearly three decades old. “Today, as we enter the holiday season, obtaining the catalog of certain clothing companies [should] require a photo I.D.”

What Brownback intends to do with this hearings from a legal standpoint is still unclear, though he has hinted at several laws that could have devastating effects on the industry, if only from a monetary standpoint, including one that would support civil suits brought on by families against porn producers for the alleged harm their material has caused.

The notion of such a law elicited concern from Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the only other senator at the hearing.

“The subject of this hearing suggests that we may be faced with proposals that go well beyond what Congress can constitutionally undertake,” he said.

Rodney Smolla, the dean of the University of Richmond School of Law, also cautioned Brownback’s attempts to extend existing laws, especially in the area of obscenity statutes. Smolla told the panel that the Supreme Court has made clear, time and again, that pornography is entitled to First Amendment protection unless it is declared obscene, something Smolla said is exceedingly difficult to do because there is not enough “social will” to go after the industry.

“What about public health?” responded Brownback. “Are we getting to the point of evidence where a court would be willing to say [pornography] is enormously harmful?”

“My simple answer,” said Smolla, “is no.”