Good Men in Penthouse: Tom Matlack misses the mark

One of the things I missed while I was away was news that the Good Men Project (producers of the excellent Good Men book and ancillary products) had signed a deal to have extended excerpts from the book appear in Penthouse Magazine.

Tom Matlack, the founder and director of the Good Man Project (GMP), explained his decision to work with Penthouse in this post yesterday. Tom begins by noting that GMP has heard from many irate and disappointed supporters as a result of the decision to work with the iconic porn magazine. He goes on to offer a few paragraphs in which he reiterates that the GMP isn’t about judging, or setting standards, including this stunner.

Here’s the thing: I am not good enough to tell you how to be good. I firmly believe that “goodness” is like faith—I shouldn’t tell you what yours should look like, and you shouldn’t tell me what mine should look like.

I read that yesterday in Dulles Airport, and again this morning. The more often I read those two sentences, the more viscerally I disagree with Matlack here, a man whose work I respect. Faith and Goodness, he suggests, are ultimately subjective. We are no better at discerning goodness than we are at proving the doctrine of transubstantiation. Virtue and decency (which are, after all, close synonyms for goodness) are matters of taste and belief, or so he argues.

But Matlack knows better. What would Matlack do with a fellow who says, “I am a good man because I used to rape other women but now I only rape my wife”? Is the founder of the Good Men Project really signing on to adolescent relativism, the sort familiar to every parent of a fourteen year-old who thinks the worst crime in the world is “to judge”?

As philosophers and theologians and ethicists will all tell ya, there’s a difference between condemning and judging. To judge is to say “I don’t like what you’re doing, and here’s why.” To condemn is to say “I hate what you did and I don’t want to have anything to do with you again.” The former maintains a relationship; the latter severs it. On the developmental journey from blind obedience to reflexive relativism to sensible discernment, most folks learn the difference between judging and condemning. But Matlack, perhaps deliberately, fudges that distinction. And that’s a huge mistake, particularly for an organization whose very identity focuses on building up “goodness” among American men.

I understand why Matlack would want the GMP in Penthouse. He wants, as he makes clear, to reach men “where they are.” He wants to make it clear that GMP isn’t censorious or prudish. “Hey guys,” he seems to be saying, “we’re so committed to starting a conversation with you about goodness that we’ll come wherever you, uh, come.” It’s savvy from a marketing perspective, and the appeal is obvious: a great many men will encounter the Good Men Project through the pages of Penthouse who might otherwise have never heard of it. Some may read the excerpts from the book and be moved to reflect on their own lives, perhaps making positive changes as a consequence. That’s a powerful argument for striking this Faustian bargain with the pornographers.

But mainstream pornography in this country has a long history of seeking legitimation by striking these deals with artists and writers. Playboy magazine started it more than half a century ago, featuring top notch writers whose work, both fiction and non, appeared alongside their airbrushed pictorials. Hustler Magazine followed suit in the late 1970s, positioning itself as a voice for political as well as sexual libertarianism and famously featuring articles by the likes of Noam Chomsky.

Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt knew damn well that few people pick up Playboy or Hustler for the articles, even if the quality of those written pieces is objectively outstanding. Hefner and Flynt wanted serious writers in their pages because they needed the cultural figleaf that those writers could provide. Not only could the articles help in obscenity trials (proving that the magazines had redeeming cultural value), they played a vital role in shifting pornography from the margins to the mainstream. The work of writers like Norman Mailer and Alex Haley and Noam Chomsky became weapons to be used against anti-pornography feminists in particular. When feminists pointed out the sexism in these magazines, the defenders of porn responded, “You’re trying to censor ideas as well as images!” Who, after all, would want to stand against the author of Roots or one of the greatest (and most progressive) political theorists and linguists of our time?

The pornographers gained enormous social cachet by creating the pretense that their magazines came with intellectual heft. They also helped play a key part in normalizing the sexual objectification of women as one male activity among many. With their articles about sports and politics, travel and music, wine and cars, Playboy and Penthouse sent the unmistakable message that middle-aged men masturbating to pictures of waxed and airbrushed teenagers was as harmless an activity as following college football, or taking an interest in Argentine Malbecs. And as a feminist and as a man, I don’t think that’s a good message. I don’t think the slick commodification of mostly blonde young women barely out of adolescence is remotely compatible with what it means to be a good corporate citizen. (It’s worth noting that even the feminist defenders of pornography rarely have much that is kind to say about magazines like Penthouse.)

Can good men use pornography, including porn like Penthouse? Of course. Good people are still people, still flawed. But the fact that good people do it doesn’t make it good; good parents lose their tempers with their kids, but they don’t insist that the loss of temper is somehow virtuous. Without condemning men and women who find value in pornography, we can still ask important questions about the message porn sends about society, about sexuality, about empathy. We can be brave enough to suggest that the kind of pornography that Penthouse represents is often a barrier to empathy for many men. We can say that the magazine’s narrow vision of what “sexy” is (mostly very young, mostly very thin, frequently surgically enhanced, usually hairless) does real harm to men’s understanding of women and women’s understanding of themselves. We can even say that the harm it does makes it, well, “not good.”

I’m sorry to say that I think the harm that will come from associating the Good Men Project with Penthouse magazine far outweighs the potential good. Though I am confident that the decision to work with the pornographers was made after much thought and reflection, it seems clear to me that the costs outweigh the benefits substantially. It’s not just losing credibility with feminists and their allies, though that matters. It’s Matlack’s insistence that “good” is so difficult to define that Penthouse’s worldview can be included under the “goodness” umbrella. And given what we know about the cost to all of us of women’s objectification and of men’s not-infrequent enslavement by mainstream pornography’s painfully narrow vision of what sex is and ought to be, I think it’s a colossal mistake to give legitimacy and intellectual respectability to a magazine that does what Penthouse does.

We can love men, Tom, and call them to account. Love is about more than acceptance of another’s behavior; it’s about loving them enough to challenge them to do better, to take on a new understanding of what it means to be good, to be kind, to be fully human.

With great respect, Tom, you and your project have missed the mark here.

30 thoughts on “Good Men in Penthouse: Tom Matlack misses the mark

  1. Hugo we may disagree on this point, but I find myself thankful for this discussion. You are one of the guiding lights that I look to in order to make sure that I am on the right track (or not). Thank you for this very thoughtful response.

  2. Thanks, Tom. We can acknowledge each other’s goodness and call each other out when we think the other has crossed a line that ought not to have been crossed. As with you and me, so with all men and women.

  3. I wish more people understood that judging behavior as wrong or harmful and being a bitter, mean human being are not one and the same.

  4. I can totally agree with Hugo here on this post… everything he has said are the same issues that cross my mind. I’m not so sure if this is good or bad…I guess it depends on how far gone you believe the men reading these magazines are…I’m sure some men feel that they wish they could stop viewing this material…but just don’t know how maybe that’s what Tom was thinking, and I have sympathy for that view…but what about the men who just don’t want to stop…They may not further investigate the issue and figure hey porn is “good” look at these people who support it, but then again if they aren’t interested in change in the first place ANY justification will do… Damn these catch-22 situations!!!

  5. Hugo,

    or should I rather say “Robbespierre”? Did you ever read/see Georg Büchner’s Danton’s Death? If not, you should.

    There is only one real measure for goodness, and that is the categorical imperative. Alas, its practical applications are, sadly, inherently relative, as we all suffer from bounded rationality.

    “Virtue and decency (which are, after all, close synonyms for goodness) are matters of taste and belief, or so he argues.”

    What is a “close synonym”, btw? But even accepting that term, both virtue and decency are most certainly matters of taste and belief if they go beyond the categorical imperative, and they logically have to, in the real world. And that’s when they, not too rarely, a mere euphemism for social norms, with or without guillotine to back up the “terror of virtue”. Think stonings for adultery… considered virtuous in some parts of the world.

    YOUR goodness may not include Penthouse, but what do you have to back up your view of a moral absolute with respect to pornography? Your belief system. Not an argument that any reasonable good-willing person would logically have to accept. How is that not an implicit acceptance of Tom’s statement about the relativity of goodness. But while he is accepting that he cannot dictate the contents of good for everyone – and that may be you – you still believe you can.

    Now I believe in debating the contents of different notions of virtue to approach the theoretical ideal explained by Kant. Ut’s the essence of politics. But if you make a priori statements about the admissibility of other people’s value systems, those statements need to be based on an axiomatic structure that is accepted by everyone. Otherwise all you have to say about virtue will necessarily be relative.

  6. @ Wiley: “I wish more people understood that judging behavior as wrong or harmful and being a bitter, mean human being are not one and the same.” I am beginning to suspect that being a bitter, mean human being is just fun for some people. I don’t really care all that much about calling others to be better, they derive pleasure out of pointing out other people’s failures. Contempt, for them, is a delicacy.

    I parked unusually badly last night, and had a note on my windshield this morning that Rush Limbaugh might find harsh. My critic did not know or care that I had made the rather insignificant error in a very dark parking lot trying to squeeze into a spot next to a Hummer, after midnight on an exhausting day. The person was not pointing out my mistake and asking me to do better next time. It was a personal attack, despite the fact that I could not possibly have known my critic. S/he assumed that this one mistake was, obviously, an indicator of my character.

    When some people read anti-pornography arguments, they hear personal attacks, even where none is intended. To someone raised by people like my anonymous parking critic, I would imagine that “pornography is demeaning to women” sounds an awful lot like “you hate women and are a scum-sucking son of a donkey-lover because you watch porn” And frankly, some people who criticize those who engage in porn mean exactly that.

  7. Next to last sentance in the first paragraph should have read, “I don’t really think they care all that much…”

  8. While I do not fully disagree with Hugo’s argument I think the point about ‘Reaching men where they are’ is deeply undervalued.

    All too often in the field of humanitarian work, academia, non-profit work in general fails on impact. We want to do good, so we assume we are doing good. However, all to often we preach to the choir because the choir is an attentive audience – We worry more about legitimacy and loose focus on the end result.

    Currently I work on gender issues in Africa where social norms/stigmas of gender and a vicious circle of poverty cause unspeakable and complex injustices to women and hold back societies as a whole. This is not entirely different to any power dynamic in any country – just in scale. Despite the enormity of the problem and a renewed focus on the issue many organizations still only talk to women – but what impact does that have only speaking to the converted (so to speak)??

    Changing behaviours let alone opinions is a long uphill battle that requires varied interventions – over a long time – with key thought leaders (even the ones hard to like) – and marketing angle/value add statement MUCH strong than ‘you should change cause it is the nice thing to do’.

    I like this blog because it focuses on common sense approaches to feminism that are approachable and reach far beyond academic exercies. However if more than the usual suspects are to be introduced I applaud efforts in the class room, in the courtroom, on the streets, in the church, prime time tv, etc… I especially applaud feminists who boldly go where no feminists have gone before!!

    Let’s adapt messages, methods and modes of delivery not based on what we thing is right – but what works!

  9. both virtue and decency are most certainly matters of taste and belief if they go beyond the categorical imperative, and they logically have to,

    That’s some really bad Kantianism right there. It’s kind of a caricature of a particularly stark version of Kantian ethics. It logically possible (indeed, plausible) that ‘virtue’ and ‘decency’ could be valued as vehicles–useful tools–to move one’s behavior closer to adherence with the categorical imperative. Just because the basic nature and structure of the categorical imperative can be explained through a thought experiment didn’t mean that we can always figure out the right thing to do with that same simple thought experiment. We’ll need shortcuts, heuristics, and guides. It’s perfectly reasonable to interpret some conceptions of virtue and decency in that light.

    But more centrally, it seems pretty clear that Hugo’s case against pornography has a hefty component of utilitarianism (broadly conceived) to it. There’s a variety of potentially productive grounds from which his arguments could be contested, but responding to a utilitarian argument by stomping your feet about how your interlocutor isn’t being a perfect Kantian is akin to getting upset that, say, an argument about Christian theology completely ignores reincarnation.

  10. Hugo, are you really arguing that Penthouse is trying to seek legitimacy by publishing excerpts from GMP?

  11. Yes, I think that that’s part and parcel of a marketing strategy for a particular kind of porn (the man’s magazine that could be sold openly in 7-11) since Hefner first hit on it more than five decades ago.

    People don’t buy Penthouse to read the articles. But I suspect that they feel more comfortable buying Penthouse because the articles provide a legitimate alternate explanation to the often-embarrassing desire of seeking out masturbation material.

    And I think it’s a mistake to participate in that legitimation of the kind of porn that Penthouse represents. If there is authentically feminist porn, and I think we all agree that there probably is, then Penthouse surely ain’t it.

  12. Hugo,

    “People don’t buy Penthouse to read the articles. But I suspect that they feel more comfortable buying Penthouse because the articles provide a legitimate alternate explanation to the often-embarrassing desire of seeking out masturbation material.”

    yeah, right. You know what’s the *real* problem here? People, men in this case, apparently believing they need a justification to look for sexual pleaure, and you know why they believe that? Because there are people who believe that what they do *is* wrong. Whether these people believe that it’s wrong becase they waste sperm or that it’s wrong because it allegedly distracts their sexual energy from someone else or because they believe they are hurting an abstract oppressed sex class. Bottom line, the problem here is not the pople who are looking for material to get aroused, the problem is people telling them that looking at arousing pictures and gratifying themselves is a moral and/or social problem.

    In this case, Hugo, I’m sorry to say, you are part of the oppressive coalition.

  13. Why don’t you see it as harming women who aren’t in porn? It was very hurtful that my husband looked at porn behind my back. My husband sees masturbation as healthy, and sexual pleasure as healthy, drew correlations HIMSELF about how his attentions were drawn away from me when viewing porn, and I don’t think he thought about hurting anyone in his viewing habits, yet he still sees it as harmful, at least in our relationship..he doesn’t condemn his friends for looking at it, but he does inform them of the issues it caused him… I think a lot of people don’t know that they can live without porn in their lives…I don’t understand the male mind in the idea that men need visual stimuli…I just don’t get it, no matter what biological hard-wired explanations you give it will never register…I consider myself to be visual I notice attractiveness, I can and do get turned on by visual stimuli… but it’s not the sole way I find pleasure, or even the main way… but touch…I can tell so much from someone’s touch…the way a person touches me I can just tell, and by the looks of some of the porn I’ve seen, that touch conveys anger thinly veiled by erotic loss of control…which to me screams scary…

  14. SamSeaborn, as a thought experiment, do you have a problem with child pornography? If so, do you have a problem with pornography that is computer generated to depict small kids having sex, but no actual children were harmed in its production?

    I’m not asking about the law. I’m asking about having a moral problem with it, or think it worthy of opprobrium.

    Shame may be worthless, but guilt isn’t. As John Bradshaw said, shame says “I’m a bad person”; guilt says “I did a bad thing”. There’s a huge distinction there between identity and action. I think in certain instances guilt can be tremendously productive and clarifying.

    Penthouse’s vision of human sexuality is, I think, clearly damaging in its narrowness and its rigidity. I think it’s okay to say that it’s wrong to use it (while supporting, as I do, the right of people to buy it and produce it as long as consenting adults are used. I’m a liberal, not a radical, on censorship laws.)

  15. Hugo,

    ok, Voltaire ;). I’m certainly not arguing to exempt sexual desire from moral justification. And I think that one can have this debate –

    “Penthouse’s vision of human sexuality is, I think, clearly damaging in its narrowness and its rigidity.”

    – and that it, in itself, would be possibly valuable. But this would require a social backdrop of sex positivity, of *consensual* pleasure itself being considerd a positive social force. But while that may have been the case when the radical feminists were forming their thoughts in the 60s and 70s, today’s approach to sexuality is one that is, post-liberated and most certainly hypocritical.

    You’re enganging in second level optimization but that is a discourse that is harmful with respect to getting to the first level, the level at which this debate would be valuable. Do you see what I mean? You cannot have a debate about specifics if there is a general understanding that sexuality, and male sexuality in particular, is *not* a positive thing, but something that needs to be contained, controlled and checked for its potentially harmful nature.

    You may not think that Larry Flynt is a feminist ally. But I do.

  16. I don’t have a problem with male sexuality. I have a problem with what mainstream pornographic culture (and indeed, most of American “Guy Culture”) does to shape and direct and ultimately distort male sexuality.

  17. Kristina,

    I assume your last reply was to me – first, I didn’t say people *have* or even should to watch porn. I didn’t say people *have* to look at visual stimuli to be aroused, just that they should not feel ashamed if they do. And the whole discourse is about just that. Shaming.

    “but it’s not the sole way I find pleasure, or even the main way… but touch…I can tell so much from someone’s touch…the way a person touches me I can just tell, ”

    Yeah, “teamwork” is usually preferable. Interestingly, in my experience, it is mostly women who will say that they occasionally prefer masturbation to sex with another person.

    “and by the looks of some of the porn I’ve seen, that touch conveys anger thinly veiled by erotic loss of control…which to me screams scary…””

    Sorry, I don’t understand this.

  18. “I didn’t say people *have* to look at visual stimuli to be aroused, just that they should not feel ashamed if they do. And the whole discourse is about just that. Shaming.”

    I absolutely agree, but there are times that I will unknowingly shame someone just by sharing my pain in an experience I had in a non-confrontational manner…I try to avoid shaming someone at all costs because the nature of addiction feeds off of shame..there’s only so much I can do and if I’m trying my best to avoid shaming someone yet they still feel shame…where is it coming from?

    I’m not much of a porn aficionado but I went through several brief periods where I just tried to be okay with porn..if I relate to someone through touch and I see what I feel to be a dangerous touch even if it’s just on screen and I see someone else enjoying that touch being conveyed when I can plainly see the anger or lack of emotion I link that with a person (the porn viewer) who is unaware of the obvious pain I see…and how will that person be able to relate to me, who “speaks” with touch? It’s like speaking different languages I speak touch someone else may speak visual how would I reconcile the two if no matter how hard I try I just can’t speak visual? Most people try to get away from porn… I tried so hard to get into it… I beat myself up over it, I suffered a deep depression because I wasn’t like all the other girls that could just accept it…I always thought what the hell is wrong with me… am I that much of a selfish person? I’ve eventually come to a point where I may not accept it in my life, but I know that shaming is not healthy for the porn user…I’ve been through that with my husband, and as much as it hurt me having to put myself who was going through all this pain into a position to take care of my husband’s pain, it was worth it… we were able to grow together as a couple.

  19. Hugo,

    “I don’t have a problem with male sexuality. I have a problem with what mainstream pornographic culture (and indeed, most of American “Guy Culture”) does to shape and direct and ultimately distort male sexuality.”

    Well, ok. Maybe it’s time to be positive – maybe you should start saying what kind of male sexuality, what kind of expressions of male sexuality you LIKE instead of usually saying what you don’t like. And what exactly the “Penthouse vision of human sexuality” is, because, well, knowing that a lesbian woman who’s the girlfriend of a female friend is most happily working for Playboy, editorial side, not as a model, I don’t think there is as much of an integrated worldview as you may think there is, except for the realities of a company trying to make money to feed people working there as well as paying for the capital they use.


    I think it’s great you sorted that out among yourselves – that’s, I believe, exactly the right level to work on this.

  20. Hugo, I am pretty new to this blog so first, let me just state upfront that (a) I like this blog very much and I agree with you most of the time; and(b) I haven’t read each and every one of your posts so I could be wrong here and if I am, please correct me wherever I am wrong.

    I am slightly familiar with the Good Men Project and I support Tom’s decision. Besides the fact that I am satisfied with the whole “meeting men where they are” and etc., I see nothing inherently wrong with pornography. As a result, I have no objection if Tom wants to allow the publication to use his articles.

    I have to say I agree with SamSeaborn’s comments here on how you view this decision and I can’t help but notice that his question::

    “What do you have to back up your view of a moral absolute with respect to pornography?”

    went unanswered by you.

    Obviously, your opinion on this matter is, as Sam pointed out, shaped by “your belief system” and not one “that any reasonable good-willing person would logically have to accept.” Also, I think your views are shaped more by your religious beliefs towards sex rather than your feminist priciples.

    Porn, is not degrading or oppressive in itself. If two consenting adults choose to disrobe, have sex on camera, and earn money for it’s distribution, where is the moral breach here? Likewise, if a man, or woman, chooses to consume porn in order to stimulate him or herself, again, where is the moral breach?

    Can porn be abused? Absolutely. Can it be used to oppress? Absolutely. But does that mean we should use a broad brush to paint the entire art/business as degrading or oppressive? I don’t think so.

    If the women featured in those videos (or on the internet) made the decision to participate in this industry without coercion or manipulation, who is being exploited? It’s a job like any other job. Anything any person produces that’s of value to another will be profitable to the other. If that’s how we define exploitation, then we’re all being exploited in one manner or another.

    If your view about porn is based solely on how some people use it, I don’t think you can arrive at a such a broad conclusion that porn “is degrading to women.” A hammer is just a hammer. It can used to build a house or kill a man. Just because one might choose to utilize this tool to do harm doesn’t mean that we should condemn hammers. Likewise, porn is a tool, and it’s not the tool or medium itself that’s oppressing or degrading women, it may be a few men who are ab/using it(consciously or unconsciously) to further a sexist agenda.

    Also, with respect to “distorting male sexuality” I think you need to give guys more credit. I think most men are able to distinguish between the often exaggerated body parts of porn stars versus that of “real” women. But like Sam, I wonder what exactly do you mean by “distorting male sexuality”?

    I cannot help but think that you are using your faith to impose your views on sexuality on others and couching your theory (in this respect) in feminism and I don’t see anything inherently anti-feminist in producing or consuming porn. I hope this isn’t the case because that comes off as disingenuous and perhaps even a bit manipulative.

    But again, I could be wrong and I’m willing to hear you out here.


  21. Hugo,

    Also, please define or give an example of what “authentically feminist porn” is or looks like.

    And to your thought experiment::

    I think that morally, child porn is bad/wrong because in order to produce it, a child would have to be involved in a sexual act. Whether that child is involved with an adult or another child, it’s wrong because a child cannot consent to sex since they don’t have the mental state to do so. Nothing inherently wrong with sex obviously, but the moral issue comes into play when any of the participants is exploited or deprived of his/her choice. Since a child can’t choose (technically), yes, I think that child pornography is wrong and immoral.

    Now, if someone generated something in which children were involved in sexual intercourse, I would be indifferent to it. Whatever types of images a person needs to arouse themselves sexually is personal and subjective in nature. Who am I to judge what’s wrong or right with respect to something so personal (that’s not harming anyone else)? So, no, I don’t see anything immoral about it. I will admit, however, that if someone told me that they needed this type of sexual stimulation, it would probably creep me out and I would assume that this person may have mental issue and I would not want to associate with someone like this. But that’s wholly impertinent to the moral question. Aside from being gross or disturbing, I can’t think of any moral or social breach in this scenario.


  22. I personally can’t accept porn or that my hubby would watch it…Maybe it’s that when I was at an impressionable age, I heard about other guys my age looking at it, and was curious about the ha-bub…I did find it, and came to the conclusion at that young age that this is what guys enjoy…it’s not like it was hard at my age to find a mag, or to find the time to escape my parents to view it. I mean I heard it was a fantasy, but honestly how can fantasy be harmless if it’s not what you on some level desire??? The desire is either in the physical sense of what the woman looks like, or the desire to have someone at your disposal sexually (I find it hard to believe it’s a tool to facilitate orgasm in a physical sense, the mental affects the physical and that could be how it facilitates it)…both of which are dehumanizing and selfish (there could be other options I’m not aware of). I’m not saying that people can’t keep reality separate from fantasy, but I am saying it could become problematic if you indulge too much and become upset that your fantasy something that you desire on some level isn’t coming to fruition. It’s not just harmful to others, it’s potentially harmful to the viewer…it’s actually quite like Christian values in the sense that you are denying your desires (mental desires that can’t be physically fulfilled, perhaps because of social taboos), and the physical act of masturbation is just a facade of satisfaction, because the satisfaction doesn’t rest in the physical..but in the mental realm…it’s just masking the real issue in my opinion.

    Definition of fantasy: “An imagined event or sequence of mental images, such as a daydream, usually fulfilling a wish or psychological need.”

    I don’t think that the definition of this word and the use of fantasy as marketing of porn is coincidence…and how empty is a fulfilled wish when the party you are imagining isn’t there, or the acts not being committed…if it was a wish that wasn’t degrading it is possible that someone in real life would be willing to do it without coercion or exploitation, if the problem lies in a social disorder of the person having the fantasy then porn is masking the real problem of bad social skills…not healthy.. if it has to do with the person feeling bad about their appearances, porn is masking the problem (self-esteem)… I think porn masks a psychological need by people trying to fulfill a perceived physical need, and while the curiosity of sex may be considered healthy or even the desire of sex…the issue still remains that if porn is a fantasy there is something deeper than that physical need that is being masked by temporary physical enjoyment. I think honestly if you say that porn is just fulfilling a physical need then you are indeed able to separate physical from emotional then it sounds suspiciously similar to depersonalization disorder.
    Again…this is not a personal attack on anyone who views porn, so I hope everyone here would know better than to think that or take it that way…I have no desire to take away anyone’s right to view porn…but I would like to discuss how it could be inadvertently affecting the viewer, or people in the viewer’s lives.

    But this is just my opinion… and my musings…is there a moral absolute??? I can’t say that, and I don’t think Hugo is either.

  23. Robin, when you come to someone’s blog and demand explanations, it is sometimes helpful to see if they have categories in their archives.

    Lo, it is so:

    Trust me, my opposition to porn is not primarily rooted in my faith, but in my feminism and in my conviction that the pursuit of everlasting sexual novelty (even visually) is corrosive to all of our relationships. But my archive will have plenty to answer your questions.

  24. Thanks for the link Hugo. I’m actually quite familiar with those pieces and I not only read them before, but i re-read them just now, and maybe i missed it, but was the moral question answered? If not, maybe you could reiterate them here (not demanding, asking nicely)?

  25. Hugo, by the way, i don’t expect you to endorse porn as i’m sure your religious and, i guess, feminist, principles won’t allow it. I get that.

    However, back to the original post, your disapproval of Tom’s decision didn’t just take a feminist stance–a stance which i disagree with and i think is based more in assumptions and anecdotal evidence and based on prior readings, it’s obvious that we won’t agree or find any common ground on that issue, so i won’t bother–but a moral one. I’m trying to locate the moral breach inherent in producing and consuming porn (at least according to you) for a better understanding of why you object to Tom’s decision.

  26. I think the moral breach lies in what I’ve called elsewhere porn’s role in promoting dissatisfaction with monogamous relationship. You’re familiar with the notion of planned obsolescence? Porn is, in my view (a view somewhat borne out by research) a cause of dissatisfaction with a single partner rather than a response to a pre-extant frustration. It purports to be a solution to a problem that it in fact played a vital role in creating.

    I also think that there is something immoral about the focus on one particular tye of beauty within Penthouse, a focus that makes the magazine like that much more “morally defective” than porn that is less narrow in its fascination with barely legal youngsters with unnatural measurements.

    Believe me, I have much the same hostility towards Vogue magazine for not dissimilar reasons!

  27. @Kristina,

    Do you know the book Love and Pornography? Your husband may want to let your married friends know about it, if the husband is a porn user/abuser.

  28. Thanks for responding Hugo.

    But, ok, let me get this straight. You object to porn (or only certain types of porn, in this case, Penthouse) because::

    (1) it contributes to “promoting dissatisfaction within monogamous relationships”; and
    (2) it focuses “on one particular type of beauty” namely the type where the women are “barely legal” and have “unnatural measurements.”

    I don’t agree with the first one at all and the second one is, to me, merely specializing and capitalizing on a niche that perhaps many wo/men have responded to positively (with their dollars).

    But, assuming that
    (1) the first was proven to be true (all the time); and
    (2) the second was/is a legitimate gripe shared by all;


    (3) ignoring any of all of the possible positive effects/attributes of porn

    lets say, for the sake of argument, that your reasons are accepted by all as legitimate objections to porn. Does that make it immoral?

    I guess I don’t have a problem with you characterizing porn as distasteful, or repulsive, or oppressive. After all, that would be your opinion, to which you are certainly entitled. However, I have a problem with you condemning porn (this type or any type) as immoral. Immoral based on what universally accepted principle? It seems you have a pretty broad definition of the term “moral” and if we’re going to be calling anything “right/wrong” “good/bad” “moral/immoral”, wouldn’t there have to be some agreed upon standard here? What I think I hear you saying is, “it’s immoral because the side-effects are unpleasant” and this is not enough, in my opinion, to call something immoral. I think immorality requires intent and I don’t think you can prove that these corporations intend to do what you claim they are doing.

    Now, again, for argument’s sake, let’s say that we all agree that (this brand of) porn production is immoral. Don’t you think that this is a pretty heavy burden to place on a private corporation, especially one in a (supposed) free enterprise system? Because ultimately, you’re saying that private corporations should undertake to not only preserve the public’s morals, but to never do/make anything which could potentially corrupt the public’s morals either. Don’t you think that preserving our morals is our own personal responsibility?

    You see, I don’t see anything INHERENTLY wrong with producing/consuming porn, but I realize that people could potentially abuse it or use it irresponsibly. Does that mean we should condemn any person/entity which produces any material which could potentially corrupt us morally?

    As I mentioned previously, I like this blog (a lot actually and I quote from it often), but on this one, I can’t agree.

  29. Thank you Julian, I will see about that book…Things are much better now, and much healthier, but it would be a great book to read and keep as my sons get older too!

  30. Pingback: “Onward”: a last note on leaving the Good Men Project | Hugo Schwyzer

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