Judith Reisman, pornography and the gay moth myth
Pornography really seems to attract the quacks. I’ve heard people blaming it for all sorts of social ills, but Judith Reisman and Donald L Hilton Jr between them have taken the usual pearl-clutching terror in a direction I’d never have imagined anyone would consider – they say pornography causes homosexuality.
Honestly, it’s hard to know how to respond to anything so totally bizarre, and I find myself caught between serious and flippant responses. The snarky part of my brain wants to say that this explains why there’s so much demand for lesbian porn (or, you know, so I’ve heard *ahem*), but anyone who views the argument as having any basis in fact might be so cognitively challenged that they’d take my sarcastic putdown as a statement of genuine agreement.
I want to deliver a firm factual rebuttal, but I fear that any hint of taking the claim seriously would be giving it too much credit. Nevertheless, I’ve been giggling about this since I heard it, so I’m going to try to have a bit of an each way bet and cover both angles as best I can.
Reisman is well-known, even notorious, for her belief in “erototoxins”, a harmful mix of chemicals that she believes flood the brain in response to pornography. She offers no evidence for these erototoxins, nor does she offer any explanation of how they can be triggered by pornography, but not by any form of what she would consider legitimate sexual arousal. It’s classic ideological pseudoscience.
The homosexuality thing appears to be new from her, and it’s not clear how much she agrees with it, given that her own comment, stripped of Hilton’s quotes, could conceivably be read as saying nothing about homosexuality. Nevertheless, she quotes his claims with clear approval, even if her main angle seems to be addiction and desensitisation.
Working from the extended Right Wing Watch quotes from Reisman’s article (partly because they snip out some irrelevant preaching and partly to avoid giving the nutty WorldNetDaily any more hits than I have to), her argument (if you can call it that) appears to centre on Gypsy Moths and a study from 1967 which she interprets as support for her view. It very obviously isn’t.
Read this quote and see if you can see what’s wrong:
In 1869 gypsy moths, imported to create an American silk industry, instead decimated our deciduous trees – oaks, maples and elms – and devastated our forests for the next 150 years. In the ’60s scientists found male moths mate with the female “by following her scent,” her “pheromone.”
A 1967 paper, “Insect population control by the use of sex pheromones to inhibit orientation between the sexes,” reported that scientists permeated the moth’s environment with strong, artificial female moth pheromone “This … scent overpowered the normal females ability to attract the male, and the confused males were unable to find the females.”
So, our trees got saved by what could be called olfactory moth pornography, a heavy-duty phony scent that unmanned male orientation to create an impotent moth population.
I’d say the problem’s obvious, but that would assume that there’s only one. Most transparently, the study (the abstract of which is here) deals with a species that find their mates by following a pheromone scent. Already, applicability to humans is limited. And even from this selective description, it’s apparent that the moths saw no change in their sexuality, but the males were unable to find the females which they were seeking.
It could be called olfactory moth pornography, just as I could call Judith Reisman a porn actress. Both would have equal validity, i.e. none at all. Whatever anyone would like to be the case, Humpty Dumptyisms are no way to determine the truth. At this point, I think it’s fair to say the claim has nothing to recommend it.
So what if it was actually true? I have a nasty habit of trying to examine even the most ridiculous claims with a scientific approach, and this has been occupying my thoughts. If watching pornography has this effect, imagine how much more extreme it would be if you were participating in it. Anyone who’d had any sort of career in porn would be gay.
And given the easy availability of porn, doesn’t the existence of a non-trivial number of straight adult men conclusively disprove the claim? I’m imagining a world in which women can easily tell that a man’s gay – “He seemed nice, and I thought he was interested, but he must be gay – he’s got a PC.”
But maybe not – there are some very heteronormative assumptions in this, apart from the usual obsession with male homosexuality but not lesbianism. I’ve been assuming straight porn, but if straight porn turns you gay, shouldn’t gay porn turn you straight? Will fundies and conservatives suddenly be stocking up on gay porn (even more than usual), for use in “ex-gay” conversion therapies? There are so many things we don’t know.
Maybe more research is required. Any volunteers?