Book Review

The case against pornography by Donald E. Wildmon, Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1986. 204 pp.

The Rev. Donald Wildmon, a United Methodist minister, is executive director of the American Family Association.  He founded the National Federation for Decency in 1988, and both before and after writing this book he has been heavily involved in 1988, and both before and after writing this book he has been heavily involved in major U.S. controversies over obscenity and censorship.  The book, which includes contributions from four other writers besides himself, gives plenty of evidence of the harm done by pornography and the need for workable laws against it.

Psychological profile

Is pornography harmless? One research study cited by Wildmon revealed that 77 per cent of molesters of boys and 87 per cent of girls were mimicking the sexual behavior they had seen in pornography.

In a psychological profile of a typical rapist prepared by the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia, the researchers said, “He collected Playboy, then Penthouse magazines…and dreamed of rape. Then he slipped over the threshold of fantasy into the reality of sexual assault.” FBI interviews with 36 convicted sex killers brought out that four-fifths of them reported their biggest sexual interest was in reading pornographic materials and in compulsive masturbation.

Arthur Bishop, on death row for the sex killing of five boys aged four to thirteen, said that if pornography had not been available to him when he was young, “it is most probable that my sexual activities would not have escalated to the degree they did. I am a homosexual pedophile, convicted of murder,” he confessed, “and pornography was a determining factor in my downfall.”

Crime spree

Wildmon supplements this testimony with similar admissions from letters he has received. From a man serving life in prison after a crime spree in which he had a major part in murdering four innocent people: “I blame pornography for much of my downfall.”

From a man jailed for sodomy: “I found that magazines such as Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler worked very well for my devious seduction of young children. Also I found this same material would arouse and stimulate myself.”

From a woman who says that she was a victim of lewd cruelty by her husband: “He read nothing but Hustler and Playboy. I was subjected to forced sex along with abnormal sexual acts for the year I was with him.”

Such evidence might be termed anecdotal, but in a chapter entitled “A Psychologist’s View of Pornography,” Dr. Victor Cline of the University of Utah claims that the research in the field supports it.

Several years ago, he gave a very impressive presentation along the same lines at a Canadians for Decency conference in Toronto. He explained the mechanisms which work in the minds of those exposed to pornography. A flood of scientific research inside and outside the laboratory, he writes, has confirmed the harmful effects of exposure to obscene material.


A key point he makes is that men can be conditioned to sexual deviation: hard-core pornography can condition some male viewers into fantasies and later behavior involving aggressive acts with women. Something like twenty years of behavioral studies, he observes, links exposure to media violence with violent behavior. In many areas of the U.S., women’s groups have sprung up which are concerned about what the media are doing to them.

Women have reason to be afraid, Cline writes. Sexual anarchism, or the aggressive habit turned loose, may provide lovely daydreams, but if we have learned anything in this century it is that those who regress from civilization become ignoble beyond all toleration.

In “A Political Scientist’s View of Pornography,” Dr. Reo Christenson rebuts those who, like the American Civil Liberties Association, claim that restrictions on pornography violate the constitutional protection for freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has always permitted reasonable restrictions on this freedom – there are laws forbidding perjury, libel, and incitement to violence, making obscene telephone calls, and even advertising cigarettes on TV. Pornography, an appeal to the viscera emotions bypassing the mind, is not the sort of thing which civil rights are obliged to protect.

Moral atmosphere

Similar arguments are presented by the Rt. Rev. Richard S. Emrich, retired Episcopal Bishop of Michigan. If we have laws against polluting the air and water, he argues, shouldn’t we have laws against polluting the moral atmosphere? Why should profiteers claim a right to distribute filth? He ridicules the notion that obscenity is in the eye of the beholder. Is cruelty something purely subjective? Is dishonesty? We have an objective standard in the nature which we did not create but out of which we cannot stir.

In a chapter on the media, Wildmon himself points out how frequently television, radio, cinema and the newspapers seem to do their best to undermine family and religious values. The Hollywood Reporter, the voice of the film industry, put out a special “adult” issue containing a special section promoting pornographic films; nowhere was there a hint that moral questions were involved.

One of the striking points made by Wildmon is that it is wrong to think that Playboy and Penthouse are not particularly harmful and that attention should be concentrated on the really “hard core” material. In The Pornography Revolution, March Bell argues that Playboy is a diabolically crafted instrument for the restructuring of society: it is the popular pornography, the “soft core” variety, which has been most successful in undermining the Judeo-Christian consensus in our society. Each month such magazines assure their readers that men and women everywhere are trying new partners, places, and techniques to enhance sexual gratification. The playboy is told that only sexual satisfaction is important, and that sexual satisfaction is far less costly than marriage. “To target the Playboy plague is no diversion,” Wildmon writes. “It’s front-line combat.”

So a battle is going on between a multi-billion dollar industry and the ragged army of volunteers opposing them. Most people are wholly unaware that the conflict exists. Only as public opinion is mobilized, only as awareness grows through publications such as this book, will there be a chance of defeating the obscenity industry which does so much harm.