Pretty Sure Ross Douthat's Neckbeard Is The Real Cure For Masturbation
IN A WORLD where people have orgasms and experience sexual pleasure in varying ways based on what they, personally, are into, there is one man, one New York Times columnist, who has always bravely stood up to say "no, you're doing it wrong."
And that man is Ross Douthat.
In his latest column, wherein he continues to publish his bad opinions for reasons not understood by anyone, Douthat explores a new theory he pulled out of his ass about how conservatives losing the porn wars has led to people not having sex and only masturbating to online pornography, and that even though he likes it when people don't have sex, this means online pornography is basically the drug "soma" from Brave New World. Or something.
Even he seems to realize that this may be a little too "on-brand" for him.
There are times in any columnist's life when you worry about being too much oneself, too on-brand, too likely to summon from one's readers the equivalent of the weary line delivered by a colleague listening to J.R.R. Tolkien read aloud from his Middle-earth sagas: "Not another [expletive] elf!"
The appearance in the same week of a Politico magazine essay on how conservatives lost the culture war over pornography and an Atlantic cover story on the decline of sexual intercourse makes me concerned about this possibility — that if I weave both pieces into an argument about our culture's decadence, my readers will find it to be a little bit predictable, a little, well, too much.
But like Tolkien with his beloved elves, I'll persevere, because the articles are worth the recommendation.
Oh, for joy! Now, you would think that Ross Douthat, noted policeman of orgasms, would be thrilled by the Atlantic article, but he is not. You see, if people were having less sex because conservatives had won the porn wars, that would be a good thing, but because they didn't win, obviously something has gone very, very wrong.
Douthat admits that conservatives were wrong about the effects of pornography on the world -- that all the "social chaos" and rampant sluttery they predicted never really came to pass:
Conservatives didn't expect it because they believed that sexual liberation would inevitably lead to social chaos — that if you declared consent the only standard of sexual morality and encouraged young people to define fulfillment libidinally, you would get not only promiscuity but also a host of dire secondary consequences.[...]
But many of those grim social trends stabilized or turned around in the 1990s, and instead of turning teenage boys into rapists, the internet-enabled victory of pornographic culture had, perhaps, the opposite effect. Rates of rape and sexual violence actually fell with the spread of internet access, suggesting that the pleasures of the online realm were either a kind of substitute for sexual predation, a kind of sexual tranquilizer, or both. And that tranquilizing effect seems to extend beyond predation to the normal pursuit of sexual relationships, because some combination of Netflix, Tinder, Instagram and masturbation is crucial to the decline-of-sex story that Julian's Atlantic essay tells.
Is this a good thing? It seems like a good thing, right? Well, hold your horses on that one. Douthat is also careful to note that the sex-positive types like us were also wrong.
But liberal optimists were wrong as well — wrong to expect that the new order would bring about a clear increase in sexual fulfillment, wrong to anticipate a healthy integration of sexual desire and romantic attachment, wrong to assume that a happily egalitarian relationship between the sexes awaited once puritanism was rejected and repression cast aside.
I am not so sure we failed at that, really. It seems like we've actually been making some pretty good progress in that area. But hey, Ross Douthat read an article in The Atlantic about how people are having less sex now, so I guess we failed?
And you'd think Ross Douthat, who dies inside a little every time someone has an orgasm he doesn't approve of, would be super into the idea that people are having less sex now. But surprise, that is still wrong! Because they are masturbating. Or, as he puts it, engaging in "self-abuse."
Instead we've achieved social stability through, in part, the substitution of self-abuse for intercourse, the crowding-out of real-world interactions by virtual entertainment, and the growing alienation of the sexes from one another. [...]
This isn't the sex-positive utopia prophesied by Wilhelm Reich and Alex Comfort and eventually embraced by third-wave feminists. It's a realm of fleeting private pleasures and lasting social isolation, of social peace purchased through sterility, of virtual sex as the opiate of the otherwise sexually unsuccessful masses.
So basically what he is saying is that the conservatives lost the porn wars, that what they thought would happen didn't happen, but that they should have won them because then we'd all be having more sex now, even though that is the exact thing they didn't want to happen? I think?
According to Douthat, there was one person who was right about this, and that person was Aldous Huxley. Because online porn is soma from Brave New World, or something. And that is bad.
True, none of our pharmaceuticals quite match his "soma" — the "perfect drug," a booster calls it, with "all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol" but no hangover or religious guilt. (Our own versions are more dangerous and unevenly distributed.) But our hedonic forms of virtual reality are catching up to his pornographic "feelies" and his "Violent Passion Surrogate." ("All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences.") And on the evidence of many internet-era social indicators, they increasingly play the same tranquilizing and stabilizing roles.
SIGH. If Brave New World is evidence of anything, it is evidence that people have been fearing that the same thing is going to happen since pretty much forever. If the anti-porn crusade has taught us anything, it's that sitting around hemming and hawing about the effects something might have on society is rarely a good use of one's time. If people want to have sex with other people, they'll have sex with other people. If people want to watch porn and masturbate, they'll do that instead. As long as everything is consensual, it's really none of anyone's business, least of all Ross Douthat's.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse