An Interview with Dr. Judith A. Reisman

Judith Reisman
Reproduced with Permission

Just a brief glance at Dr. Judith Reisman's curriculum vitae is enough to make you wonder what you've been doing your whole life. The author of four books (her fifth is on its way), a guest lecturer at more colleges and universities than most of us can even name, and the source of testimony before so many governmental hearings, committees, commissions, and task forces that you'd swear she was the last expert witness - of any kind - on the planet, Reisman also publishes regularly in the journals of at least seven different academic disciplines and has been cited in over 25 scholarly and popular books. Oh, and did I mention? - she was also once a writer for the Captain Kangaroo television show.

So how come you've never heard of her? Well, it just so happens that Reisman is the foremost authority on the negative effects of pornography, and this is something that the porn industry would rather you knew nothing about. Indeed, for some thirty years now, she has devoted her life to demonstrating - through irrefutable scientific evidence - that pornographic images actually alter the chemical structure of the human brain, and not in a good way. Moreover, she has proven beyond question (and to anyone who cares in the least) that pornography can be as addictive as crack cocaine and is a key contributor to rape, incest, pedophilia, and other forms of sexual assault. Is it any wonder that Playboy magazine accused her of "propagating a new witch-hunt mentality"?

And that's the problem. Pornography generates $12 billion a year and is indispensable both to the field of sexology (any Dr. Ruth fans out there?) and to the profits of pharmaceutical companies, billion-dollar industries in their own right. To attack porn is thus to attack a whole sex-industrial complex, the nearly infinite power and resources of which can make bad buzz disappear in a hurry, not to mention the brave souls who generate it. Of course, none of this changes the truth of Reisman's claims, nor has it prevented that truth from being heard repeatedly by our legislators (now if only they would actually listen to it). But what the porn industry has managed to do is keep Reisman out of the public imagination, obscuring her findings with the same relentless PR machine that transformed pornography into a mainstream amusement.

With that in mind, we asked Dr. Reisman to give us the naked truth about pornography - to explain in plain language what porn does to us, and why, consequently, it should not be protected under the First Amendment.

How do pornographic images affect us?

There are four scientific disciplines to which we can appeal for an answer to this question. The first is the field of "proxemics." Proxemics tells us that the way we use space is critical to our survival. People don't take off their clothing in the middle of the street; they don't display themselves to strangers. And the reason they don't is that they can be killed or raped or put into the insane asylum. We don't display our intimate behaviors to strangers because strangers are not trustworthy. When photographs display a person in this way, whether in Playboy or another magazine, some percentage of the millions of people who see these photographs will want to do harm to the person displayed. Nudity should only be displayed in close intimate spaces with either a beloved or a doctor. An organism becomes extremely vulnerable whenever it displays private-space behavior in the public forum. And so one way that pornography affects us is by obliterating the private/public distinction that's designed to protect us from harm.

Pornography elicits an antagonistic response?

Oh, definitely. If we look at the scientific discipline of "ethology," which is the study of animal behavior, we see that the nude display of females in pornography pretends to the male viewer that the female is in estrus - in heat - educing a sort of primitive aggressiveness in men. No human females actually go into estrus; only female animals present such mating signals. But pornography approximates estrus in order to elicit the mating instincts of males. The pupil dilation, the open eyes, the open mouth, the presentation of buttocks: these are all mating signals; they indicate to the male that the female is soliciting him. Now if you believe in evolution, you are between a rock and a hard place on this one because the male who sees the female soliciting him in this way must respond. He has a normal male appropriative response to the soliciting female.

But the female in this case is just a picture.

Wrong. The male has had a physiological response to the centerfold that confirms her reality. The problem is that he is designed to procreate now. So either he will find someone else with whom to procreate - someone who may or may not share this desire - or he's going to be angry. Actually, he's going to be angry regardless because whomever he finds will not be the same as the one who solicited him. And at whom does he become angry? Does he get angry at the guy who took the photograph? Does he get angry at Hugh Hefner? No, of course not; he gets angry at Female. Female is the one who solicited; Female is the one who did not do what she promised. That's why pornographic images are called "provocative." We do not provoke to love; we provoke to lust or anger. We provoke to an arousal state that is hostile.

The First Amendment "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or of abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Well, according to the field of neuropsychology, the brain has both excitatory and inhibitory transmitters, located in the right and left hemispheres of the brain, respectively, and the pornographic image triggers the former at the expense of the latter. Indeed, we now know that sexual imagery is more powerful and more indelible to the brain than even fear-inducing imagery. Pornography thus causes our inhibitory transmitters to shut down, allowing the right brain, which is responsible for our emotional reflexes (lust, fear, shame, etc.), to override the logical left-brain activities that maintain control - homeostasis - in the body. This disrupts the entire process of human cognition and health. In fact, what we are looking at are erototoxins restructuring the human brain. The brain actually changes to accommodate the stimuli it experiences.

This brings us to the fourth scientific discipline involved in the study of pornography's effects: psychopharmacology. Erototoxic materials trigger testosterone and endorphins. We actually get a high from sexual arousal. The big problem with this is that things that are vile and associated with sex become, over time, more arousing than things that are loving

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