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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 21.3 > Skeptical of the Porn Skeptics

Skeptical of the Porn Skeptics

A Response to Zimbardo & Wilson

PHILIP ZIMBARDO AND GARY Wilson have outlined the many ways that they believe “porn is messing with your manhood.” I personally know Phil Zimbardo to be a compassionate and energetic man who is generally positive about sexuality (I don’t know his coauthor Gary Wilson). And everyone knows that Dr. Zimbardo is a world-famous social scientist. But in my opinion this article is short on facts that are reliable and relevant. Before we get to that, however, we do agree on several things. Yes, a majority of adolescent American males look at pornography. Yes, some of them report sexual difficulties. And yes, some of them report a compulsive quality to their attachment to porn viewing. Finally, there’s plenty to be concerned about when an entire generation of young men get a substantial amount of their sex education from Internet porn.

However, Zimbardo and Wilson hypothesize effects of porn that science does not support empirically. They describe epidemics that really affect only a small number of people; they blame these alleged epidemics on neurological processes that haven’t really been shown to exist; and they stitch together a few isolated studies to conclude that porn viewing is undermining a generation’s ability to relate to real sex.

One of the key foundations of Zimbardo and Wilson’s article is that high school and college students report a lack of “normal” sexual functioning. They cite studies of young guys reporting “low sexual desire” and “erection difficulties,” who blame their “condition” on porn. But obsession with “normal” sex is a hallmark of adolescence and young adulthood.1 Exactly what baseline are these 17-year-olds using to decide that their desire isn’t “normal”? Which 19-year-old actually understands enough about sexuality to gauge how much his peers desire sex, how much they enjoy it, how reliable their erections are, and how often they have sex?2

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About Skeptic

INTERNET PORNOGRAPHY SPECIAL SECTION: IS PORNOGRAPHY BAD FOR YOU?; How Porn Is Messing with Your Manhood; Skeptical of Porn Skeptics; Hazards of Herbal Medicine: Lessons from Aristolochia; What is Sexual Orientation?; Did a Teenager Discover an Ancient Mayan City on Google Earth?; Paleo Diets and Utopian Dreams; Does AA Work? Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-Step Programs, and What We Really Know About Substance Abuse Treatment; The Clash of Eschatologies: The Role of End-Times Thinking in World History; Nightmares from the Id: The Neurophysiology of Anomalous Psychological Experiences; Terror Attacks that Never Were; Electromagnetic Fields and Parental Panics: A Case Study in How Science Can Bring Comfort; REVIEWS: Who Invented Science?; Science and the Creation of the Modern Mind; Heaven Is Not For Real; When Scientific American Put Psychics to the Test; JUNIOR SKEPTIC: MammothMysteries! Part One. The Hidden History of Mammoths and Mastodons
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