Freedom from porn


It started out innocuously enough. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was responding to a late-night e-mail from a blogger critical of his company's tight control over which applications, or "apps," are sold for use with its iPads and iPhones

Jobs answered that Apple's standards are meant to liberate consumers, giving them "freedom from programs that steal your private data," "freedom from programs that trash your battery" and "freedom from porn."

Those first two freedoms might be welcome in today's tech jungle. But judging from the shock and outrage that erupted in response to Jobs' offhand swipe at pornography, that last one apparently is not.

Beginning with the response from Jobs' interlocutor – who objected that "Porn is just fine!" – the Apple CEO has found himself on the receiving end of a tidal wave of fury from online peeping toms offended by his refusal to enable their habit. They have denounced him as a puritanical zealot and iron-fisted censor who is "imposing his morality" on America by opting out of the virtual skin trade.

Never mind that today's online pornography enthusiasts are free to take Jobs' advice and buy other products that make their vice easier to indulge. Or that anyone with an Internet browser on his iPhone or iPad can access pornography online anyway.

The backlash against Jobs is not about access. It's about indignation at anyone who dares to criticize America's addiction to online smut.

Panning or banning pornography once was considered good business. Today, it's increasingly seen as commercial suicide. Even the most anodyne comments – like Jobs' response to the blogger that "you might care more about porn when you have kids" – are treated as toxic in our consumer culture, which thrives on convincing us that our dirty little habits don't hurt anyone else.

A growing body of research is springing up to refute that feel-good claim. Reports such as the Witherspoon Institute's recently published dossier on "The Social Costs of Pornography," compiled by Mary Anne Layden and Mary Eberstadt, marshal scholarly research across disciplines to show how America's $13-billion-a-year pornography habit impacts everyone involved.

Pornography's costs range from the psychological damage and health risks incurred by "performers" trapped in the skin trade to the broken marriages and sexual dysfunctions suffered by adults who participate in it vicariously, and the general coarsening of a society that treats sex as a spectator sport and women's bodies as just another consumer item.

Most alarming is the harm Jobs mentioned, to children for whom once difficult-to-find X-rated images now are only a click away. A 2009 study of children's online activity by Symantec Corporation found that "sex" and "porn" were among the top five most popular search terms used by children under 18, with "porn" as the fourth most-popular search term used by children age 7 and younger.

In a society where pornography is so pervasive, it's intimidating to face the truth about how it endangers our children, destabilizes our families and distorts our views of sex and one another.

A good Internet filter can thwart some of those searches. But outside the home, where the ranks of pornography addicts are growing, other porn-related threats to child welfare loom.

One is the well-documented tendency of habitual pornography users to move from soft-core images to more deviant and hard-core material including, in some cases, child pornography. That's troubling, given that a 2007 Federal Bureau of Prisons study of men convicted of using child pornography found that 85 percent of them said they had committed acts of sexual abuse against minors. Those numbers suggest a stronger link between seeing and doing than pornography's defenders care to admit.

In a society where pornography is so pervasive, it's intimidating to face the truth about how it endangers our children, destabilizes our families and distorts our views of sex and one another. It's easier to shout down the occasional unexpected criticism of pornography than to ponder its validity and change behavior accordingly.

Aficionados of online smut can holler all they want about the alleged Puritanism and moral authoritarianism of pornography critics like Jobs. The more they bellow, the more they sound like petulant schoolchildren trying to drown out the one voice that bothers them most: the whisper of a conscience that suggests their harmless little habit is not so harmless after all.



Colleen Carroll Campbell. "Freedom from porn." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (May 27, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.


Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and former presidential speechwriter. Author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell writes a weekly op-ed column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, blogs on religion and politics for The New York Times and The Washington Post, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television and radio show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network. Her website is here.

Copyright © 2010 Colleen Carroll Campbell

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