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A passionate defence of porn and sex work, but no real new insight
on 26 August 2013
This book is a vigorous and heartfelt liberal defence of pornography and sex work against those who want to ban or severely limit them. I felt rather frustrated reading the book and at first I couldn't put my finger on why (beyond the fact that it is written in a very slangy tabloid press style, which I don't appreciate - the book seems to have been written very quickly).
On reflection, I think my problem is that most of the book is attacking very easy targets (shoddy and unprofessional research, and deliberate misuse of such research by politicians with their own agenda). Magnanti takes the standard liberal line that anybody wanting to ban or restrict something has a burden of proof to show beyond doubt that it is harmful and that there is no other way to remove the harm other than banning it. Most of the claims that porn and sex work stimulate crime and other negative effects depend on anecdotal evidence or studies with tiny samples, sometimes with misrepresented results. So, she doesn't feel obliged to show that pornography sex work etc have any benefits, she feels she only needs to show that their opponents have failed to prove any negative effects. The closest she comes to showing benefits is the correlation between the increased prevalence of porn and a fall in sex crime rates (though she correctly warns us to avoid the correlation=causation fallacy, it does seem to show that porn does not stimulate crime).
The book left me frustrated because it didn't even set out to prove anything one way or the other ; it just set out to show that the existing evidence does not justify any ban on sex work or porn. The big debate at the moment is the fact that internet porn seems to be becoming de facto sex education for teenagers, and how this influences them, before they have even had sex themselves. The kinds of sex acts depicted in porn tend to be much more often rough and dominating sex (often including anal sex and oral ejaculation) than romantic gentle sex. How does this affect teenagers coming to sex for the first time ? Magnanti's answer seems to be "no definitive proof of harm = no problem". Sure, she agrees that more research is necessary, but the book doesn't really shed much light on an important debate. I expected a rather deeper contribution than just slagging off the other side's poor research, and I was disappointed there.