Forget Jobs, War and a Government Shutdown: The U.S. Senate Focuses On Porn

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I have been to a lot of U.S. Senate hearings, and I can tell you without a doubt that the best U.S. Senate hearings are the ones where U.S. Senators talk about masturbation. Better than war. Better than taxation. Better than Supreme Court confirmation fights. Senate hearings about masturbation easily top the rest.

Back in 2005, then-Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, held a hearing for the Senate’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, for which he gathered a terrific panel of masturbation and pornography experts. One of them, a graduate student from Brigham Young University, argued that pornography amounted to a “potentially addictive substance,” like a drug. She said the self-stimulative effect on the brain of a porn-induced orgasm could override “informed consent when encountering this material.” At the same hearing, Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, compared pornography, and the behavior it arouses, to secondhand smoke and high-fat foods, saying porn was a “problem of harm, not an issue of taste.” No one fell asleep.

I mention all this for a reason. The U.S. Senate is wading back into the masturbation issue.  As Josh Gerstein reports, a group of 42 Senators have just sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting more obscenity prosecutions of pornography. The letter refers Holder to a website, www.pornographyharms.com, which is filled with masturbation research with headlines like “Mirror Neurons Control Hard-Ons?” The lead article on the site right now likens self-pleasure to the use of cocaine, heroin and alcohol.

Cocaine, opioids, alcohol, and other drugs subvert, or hijack, these pleasure systems, and cause the brain to think a drug high is necessary to survive. Evidence is now strong that natural rewards such as food and sex affect the reward systems in the same way drugs affect them, thus the current interest in ‘natural addiction.’ Addiction, whether to cocaine, food, or sex occurs when these activities cease to contribute to a state of homeostasis, and instead cause adverse consequences.

Of course, the U.S. Constitution contains no clauses defining the power of Congress to legislate limits on the ability of citizens to touch their own bodies with their own bodies. But there are clear obscenity laws, which limit the ability of the anyone to produce something that meets the following conditions, as described in 1973 by Chief Justice Warren Burger:

The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

In recent years, however, this standard has not produced a lot of guilty convictions in federal court. The convictions that do come tend to concern pornography that involves extreme acts that few Americans would find arousing. That means that the vast majority of pornography, if produced by consenting adults and consumed by adults, is beyond the reach of the Senate, even if it can lead to arousal, orgasm and the resulting chemical effects in the brain that are described in detail on pornographyharms.com.

The 42 authors of the recent letter to Holder, including California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, whose state produces most of America’s smut, express concerns about pornography that go beyond “illegal obscenity,” noting for instance that pornography addiction is a concern among psychiatrists and that it can disrupt families. This suggests that even if Holder begins a new round of pornography obscenity trials, the U.S. Senate will remain concerned about the issue. And that means more U.S. Senate hearings about masturbation. So keep your eyes on the Senate docket.

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