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Sarah Aschenbrenner/the Gauntlet

Carnal Knowledge: Gonna have to face it, you're addicted to porn

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The Campus Crusade for Christ attempted to tackle the heavy moral issue of pornography last week by inviting self-declared recovering sex addict Michael Leahy to speak on the subject. The lecture hall was packed with students unsure of what, exactly, they were about to partake in. The posters advertising the event gave nothing away, simply stating the title of Leahy's presentation, "Porn Nation," along with the date, time and location. Many students who had come expecting a titillating show and discussion about the industry were surprised to instead hear about Leahy's personal struggle with an insatiable hunger for pornography in various forms. Not surprisingly, Leahy's presentation concluded with how discovering Christ finally enabled him to exorcise his inner demons. Exiting the lecture theater, it was impossible not to overhear students' negative comments about Leahy's evangelical urgings.

When I asked what, specifically, one student was unimpressed with, he responded, "I felt as though I had been tricked into a sermon, I enjoyed the discussion, but I would have liked to have known it would be religious."

Leahy's presentation was based upon an emotional appeal, recounting his personal struggles instead of building solid objective arguments to demonize the porn industry.

The most interesting parts of his presentation were the figures about women's growing interest in pornography. Leahy claims 40 million people visit Internet porn sites daily and of that figure, women make up approximately one-third. According to Leahy, the porn industry has seen the most recent growth thanks to women and couples.

Author and ardent sex-positive feminist Wendy McElroy argues that in many cases pornography benefits women and thus could be the reason for the increase in female traffic on porn sites. McElroy views pornography as providing information in a new medium, rather than through textbooks or discussion. It offers the emotional information that comes only from experiencing something directly or vicariously, providing women with a sense of how it would "feel" to do something. Pornography gives women information about masturbation as it seems to come less naturally to women than to men and it is not uncommon for women to reach adulthood without knowing how to fully pleasure themselves. McElroy also advocates for the use of pornography within relationships, as it can be a way of opening up greater communication on the topic of sex. She reminds those who plead for censorship that banning Margaret Sanger for using the words 'syphilis' and 'gonorrhea' is no different, in principle, than banning the so-called obscenities today.

"This is old whine in new battles," McElroy says. "The issue at stake in the pornography debate is nothing less than the age-old conflict between individual freedom and social control."

While McElroy makes a compelling and reasoned case for the role of pornography in our society, it is also important to consider the message Campus Crusade for Christ attempted to convey in presenting the event. Leahy's lecture was a compelling tale of addiction. He used pornography excessively to achieve a desired physical effect and then became dependent on it. Religious arguments aside, it is still important to consider Leahy's advice--get to the root of what may be an unhealthy obsession with pornography, as dependency and mere desire are easily confused.

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