Self-editor’s note: My apologies for the font size glitch. Writing time and energy permitting, I’ll try to fix it. It may be an Open Office-Wordpress interface problem, or it may be that Open Office is a bullshit program for anything other than plain vanilla square-ass Latin characters. Lord have mercy, it is a fucking pain in the ass.

For all I know, you might also be addicted to Robert Palmer turkeys. If so, that’s unfortunate. That said, Dateline NBC agrees with Dr. Palmer that you’re addicted—nay, that America is addicted to love if there’s even a chance that Friday night will be slow. You wouldn’t want Keith Morrison to go a week without an overwrought love triangle murder story in the pipeline, now would you? Without that narcotizing fare to narrate, what would he ever do with his deathly voice, or with his skeletal face?

In any event, don’t worry. The First Amendment protects shitty music, too. It also protects pornography, at least after a fashion. Oops, that was a mistake, wasn’t it? Could the founders have ever intended to grant free speech protections to peddlers of smut rather than have them flogged on the town square for their indecency? How could good Christians like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson have ever imagined construing free speech so broadly?

To quote a much better musician, and I’m probably putting my credibility through the Mouli Grater right now by calling him that, “the point is probably moot.” Whether Rick Springfield knows it or not, the courts have construed the First Amendment to protect smut, with some limitations. Potter Stewart knew it when he saw it, but most of his colleagues in recent decades have held that banning indecency is a slope as slippery as a naked Joel Osteen covered in shea butter.

Now, that’s what I call an indecent proposition! But as I wrote, the First Amendment protects my right to disseminate such rubbish, or at least I think it does, as well as Osteen’s right to peddle even lower sorts of indecency on the public airwaves. In any event, that lamprey isn’t bunking with Blago yet. Chuck Grassley might want to know that he requires a tighter grip than Benny Hinn did and that it might be a good idea to bring along a towel. He’s a tough one to wrangle into the Congressional woodshed.

Speaking of wood, or things that might give individuals of dubious taste wood, imagine not just Joel Osteen naked and covered in shea butter, but also James Carville, equally naked and equally buttered up, duking it out with the reverend in a Beaumont wrestling ring. Yup, that there’s some man stuff.

What the hell, do they actually do that in the South? I dunno, maybe if they’re drunk enough. Keep in mind that some of them are known to stick an arm down the mouth of a live catfish. It’s not something they keep quiet about, either, like a televangelist would if he were meeting a teenager at the Rodeway Inn for an afternoon of crank and buggery. “Noodling,” so help me, is considered the most honorable way to catch catfish.

Crabs, too. Nah, I shouldn’t have gone that low. This has been a mighty sick sidebar, to be sure, but the Texas Rangers don’t have shit on me because this here is political speech. I’m not so much insinuating that two public figures of low character have kinky sex tastes involving public displays of “gymnastic” activity as I am using crude sexual imagery to insinuate that the same public figures are of general moral turpitude. (I think turpitude is one of the degreasers that they use after the match, but don’t quote me on it.) Look at it this way: a literary fantasy about a fictional president committing incest might be verboten, but an accusation that one’s opponent in a presidential race has committed incest is not. At least that was how John Adams saw it.

Amazingly, some of the sexual proclivities that are considered normal in the United States are even worse than our Southern boys in the ring. Much worse. Stay tuned.

It would be a lot easier to control this rot without the Internet. It wouldn’t have such deep penetration (teehee!) if porn were a samizdat affair. How would anyone but the literati be able to secure it if it had to be passed furtively in the subway, like so many internal memos from a KGB mole to a CIA field officer?

How about bookstores? It was an easier answer than you thought. Probably either in the “Art” secton or the “French” section. Or the “French Art” section. Those dirty old French masters really liked their chubby chicks.

Hey, I don’t mind Rubenesque, either. A friend of mine, Lady Kentfield, herself a thin but ripped girl who I think reciprocated my crush on her, once ran me through a list of female classmates in our biology lab, including herself, so that I could rank them on a scale of one to ten for hotness. She offered an opinion on a number of the girls, too. After I ranked one of the girls either an eleven or a twelve, she exclaimed, “Wow, you really are a fatty chaser!” There was no denying that. “Fat-bottom girls, you make the rockin’ world go round!” As I pointed out to Lady Kentfield, though, this Christine O’Donnell-grade hottie wasn’t just chubby, but hella shapely. To put it politely, I’m less taken with the amorphous.

To understand the distribution of pornography in the dark ages before AOL, imagine a used bookstore riddled with crevices—the Victorians were great at crevices—and an owner of dubious repute at the front. Now, imagine the pleased parents of a fifteen-year-old discussing their son’s intellectual bent: “My, that Jean-Claude really is a bookworm!” If you want some extra period flourishes, move the bookstore to New York City, throw in a Comstock raid, and make the owner an Italian so that the white people have a reason to hate him.

It’s a great civics lesson for the kids. It’s also a great lesson in how to be resourceful, kind of like learning how to use a telephone book or a card catalog, but for dirty pictures. These are practical skills that we should try to preserve in case the electricity goes out.

This rubbish has been out there all along. At least a lot of it has, and the really newfangled stuff is weird enough that you probably don’t want a thing to do with it anyway. Because the Internet brings huge audiences into a single place, it encourages hyperspecialization. This is useful for, say, rural Manitobans who are interested in Chilean politics or tropical disease epidemiology. For the porn enthusiast, it’s frankly just a quagmire of Japanese women covered in human feces. All sorts of gnarliness worms its way in because there’s no gatekeeper and the nastiest are the loudest. The weirdness and literally nasty shit that only a tiny minority of the audience is interested in seeing forces its way to center stage. Or maybe the audience’s sexual interests really are that fucked up. All I can say is that mine aren’t. In a lot of ways, you’re better off thumbing through the photo archives in the back room of a secondhand bookseller for pictures of smiling strumpets lifting their hoop skirts in the Bois du Boulogne.

The question, especially for neurotic or overbearing parents, is how to keep people away from this stuff. We’ll do anything to protect the children, expansively defined.

In the old days, it was relatively simple: “No, Jack, you may not go to the Bowery!” These days, it seems, the Bowery comes to us, not to mention the Tenderloin and the fountain at the Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. To be polite about it, it ain’t the Trevi.

Physical space made it possible, at least in theory, to keep one’s children from venturing into scenes out of Jim Croce’s discography. There is no physical space on the Internet. The same computer that I use to screw around on political sites can be used by Alien Uncle to look for motorcycles while his mother is dying downstairs and then freeze while he’s looking at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. (When he called Musician Cousin into the office for tech support that time, the grunts were less enigmatic and more embarrassed than usual. On the other hand, Alien Uncle didn’t show any embarrassment when he followed the pastor’s sister around the house like a puppy dog during the death vigil. He’s like that around single women, enough so that his home pastors have counseled him not to do that. That’s like telling him not to waste his money on home electronics.)

Parental controls and filtering software are the usual answers to these problems. They screen out the Japanese scat play and pictures of dumb-looking women preparing to receive cocks that will tickle their diaphragms (the San Fernando Valley has Photoshop, so I’m skeptical), but they also screen out completely legitimate content that teenagers have compelling reasons to read, such as unbiased sexual health information. Combined with the bullshit sex ed curricula that religious zealots have forced on many public school districts, the results are venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Homegirl gets the clap because she doesn’t understand epidemiology and has been lied to at school about the effectiveness of condoms, and she gets pregnant because she doesn’t know that she’s ovulating and homeboy doesn’t know how to properly wrap his junk.

It’s appalling that it’s even necessary to discuss the merits of this sort of ignorance as a basis for public health and family policy. It’s total lunacy. The information in question would be gladly provided by any reputable physician or nurse for the asking during an exam. One of the reasons that married women give birth to so few unwanted babies despite being sexually active is that they tend to have ready access to OB/GYN’s, who rarely have the gall to bullshit them about their reproductive biology and will get into deep shit trouble if they do. Even Lloyd’s of London wouldn’t offer malpractice insurance to a physician known to peddle religious quackery in the guise of medicine, especially in a place as litigious as the United States. The risk is that high. The result is that educated women in particular use all the tools available to prevent unwanted pregnancies, sometimes including abortion as a failsafe, so that they—and society—aren’t saddled with children that they aren’t prepared to raise. Meanwhile, less educated women and teenage girls end up carrying unwanted babies to term as a matter of course in large part because they don’t understand sex, having been misled about it.

How, then, do you control teenage sexuality? You don’t exactly. It can usually be channeled into more edifying forms and circumstances, but the notion of effectively suppressing it is as foolish as the notion of keeping the Mississippi River from ever flooding again. To judge from the public rhetoric, the average American parent has the monumental self-regard of the Army Corps of Engineers. When it comes to sex, the helicopter parenting is definitely worse in flyover country. That’s where you’ll find purity pledges, purity rings, shelves full of books counseling purity, and, if you’re up for an evening of dancing, Biblical parenting and deeply disturbing Freudian psychology, purity balls.

I dare say that’s some creepy-ass shit that Chris Hansen would enjoy. He might also enjoy knocking up one of the local girls and giving her a dose of the clap, two traditions that are observed much more consistently, but of course accidentally, in those parts of the country than in the parts less prone to sanctimonious thundering about “purity.”

Hey, if abstinence is good enough for Levi and Bristol, it’s good enough for me.

You have to figure that teenagers, being hormally charged, will go to great lengths to find outlets for their sexuality. Until fairly recently, that outlet was very often early marriage. This made more sense in a subsistence society in which people routinely died of old age in their thirties. These days, people who get married just past puberty have a lot longer to discover that maybe they married badly, and more free time in which to discover serious incompatibilities suggesting that they should have waited until they were older. Maybe if your father was Grandma’s friend Lord Carroll, Chief of the Franks and Elector of Frankfurt, marrying at the age of sixteen was a good way to get the hell out of the house. Lord Carroll was rather abrasive to those of us who weren’t old ladies, but most Palo Alto girls didn’t have fathers like him. I could go on about reasons not to combine one’s wedding with one’s quinceanera, but I’ll just say that it’s not the smartest long-range planning. On the other hand, if you need to get married to satisfy some legal or cultural community standard pertinent to your fucking each other, getting hitched might make some sense, particularly if you have access to a divorce when you need one. The institution of marriage will be degraded in precisely that fashion in a society that is that anal about illicit sex.

Expecting ten or fifteen years of total continence from people who have reached reproductive maturity is idiotic. This is where porn becomes important. If early marriage is off the table (if you aren’t a hardscrabble cracker, a died-in-the-wool Bible-thumping throwback, or Lord Carroll’s daughter, it probably is), maybe you could fool around with other people in more of a casual way, which tends to involve less fighting than a serious relationship, anyway. Nah, never mind that. It’ll cause a moral panic among parents who are worried about the corruption of their precious children. (The kids are worried about corruption, too: they’ve been out looking for it, but it’s nowhere to be found. Hopefully it’s okay.) In many households, even committed boyfriend-girlfriend relationships are considered no excuse for hanky-panky.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that the parents know that teenagers will be teenagers and have managed to beat it into their impulsive brains to be themselves safely. How can the teens know that the slutty girls at school are slutty in reality and not just in the fertile imaginations of the boys they’ve spurned? Do they want to risk the minefield of repression, guilt and recrimination with sexually conflicted professing Christians? That repression might give them the extra boost they need to be great in the sack, but it’ll also give them the extra boost they need to be sloppy hot messes afterwards. (That’s what she said.)

It’s high school, or maybe even middle school (baby, you’ve got to slow down). The signal-to-noise ratio tends to be pretty low when there’s so little adult supervision. The stories about slutty MILFs among your classmate’s parents are probably a Jayson Blair-grade fantasy, especially given who’s telling the tales. The stories about the real catches dating only college boys are more plausible. These are the nerdy girls you’d really like to date, hang out with more often, or whatever you might call it, and in your more thoughtful moments you realize that they’re the ones you should be trying to lay because they give you the time of day more often than the hotter, more glamorous girls, because you’ve already clicked with them in moments when they aren’t annoyed by your immaturity and impulsiveness, so a roll in the hay with them would be more than just animalistic rutting; but alas, they seem to have called the adults’ hour and seceded from the rest of the student body. The real action takes place at evening and weekend dinner parties to which you’re never invited, for reasons that really aren’t too difficult to grasp. It makes sense that some of those girls would date only boys who are older, better read, more thoughtful and more sexually experienced, but also not blatantly trying to get into their pants this very minute. College boys have the added advantage of running in different social circles, where gossip is likelier to die a quick, merciful death because no one else knows who the hell these high school girls are, and there’s probably less interest in chronicling the slatternly in the first place because those who might avail themselves of this knowledge find it less edifying than they did in their callower days.

I could run my mouth about this, and I already have, but many high school students find it hard to get a date; the examples that I mentioned may be pedantic, but they’re certainly relevant. This isn’t the best developmental situation. The critics of porn are right that it can distort the viewer’s relationships with other real people. The answer, it seems, should be for lonely or sexually frustrated porn viewers to find their way into meaningful relationships with other people. If they’re interested in the opposite sex, they should be hanging out with members of the opposite sex. (If they’re gay boys, they’re almost certainly hanging out with members of the opposite sex, and probably getting offers to be set up with the one other gay guy from two counties over that one of the girls at school knows from church camp.) By hanging out, I don’t mean to exclude letting it all hang out. If the friends/dates/friends-with-benefits aren’t totally crude and insensitive, they’ll have a sense of the give-and-take needed to discern when it’s appropriate to make a sexual overture; if one party doesn’t have this sense, a faux pas with a female friend, hopefully a patient one, might be a good learning experience. (I patriarchally gendered that last sentence on purpose. Let’s face it: it’s usually we fellas who get overly eager with the ladies. Usually, but not always, and the exceptions can be fucking hilarious.)

The I’m-worth-waiting-for crowd will have a shit fit reading this, but let’s get real. Which seems like a more fruitful tack for becoming comfortable in interactions, sexual or otherwise, with members of the opposite sex: fooling around with a real, live member of the opposite sex, or beating off to X-Hamster, Cosmo or a dime store romance novel? The purity crowd will insist that the kiddos should find accountability partners, pray more fervently, and spend more time in the Word, but they’re trying to fence the wind, and public health statistics show that that’s a fool’s errand.

If you want to get well and truly biblical about it, in biblical times the womenfolk among these kids would be married and pregnant by now, probably by a much older husband. This raises an intriguing possibility for the youngster who isn’t ready for marriage but would like to gain some experience and confidence in the meantime: might a fling with a adult make sense? That’s right, damn felony sex laws. I don’t effusively praise the backwards parts of the South very often, but I’ll come right out and say that a low, across-the-board age of consent of, say,14, makes eminently good sense. If you’ve gone through puberty and are on the prowl to screw anything that moves, there’s no good reason to be restricted to a narrow cohort of your peers, who are likelier than not immature doofuses.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that we retain a prohibition on sexual relationships between teachers and their students, in the tradition of military bans on fraternization. Should a teacher who is on mutually agreeable, friendly terms with a student be barred from setting the student up with a colleague at another school, or with a friend from the neighborhood? If we’re worried about the adult being in a position of authority over the minor, such an arrangement would minimize, and likely eliminate, abuses of authority by introducing the parties to one another on equal terms in an entirely social setting. If we’re worried about influence-peddling on account of inadequate boundaries protecting teachers, we should focus on corrupt and meddlesome administrators and helicopter parents who hover over teachers like the LAPD aviation division over OJ Simpson’s house. And if we’re worried about people getting into ill-advised relationships with dubious interpersonal dynamics, how the hell is that any different from the millions of bad relationships that people have with their peers, who are often manifestly fucked up in the head?

Notwithstanding the laws, relationships like these can have real advantages, one being that they tend to keep the partners’ social circles separate, avoiding a shitload of drama from officious morons with too much time on their hands. This is a healthier social arrangement than everybody constantly butting into everyone else’s business because they’re all friends or relatives. (With respect to Kentuckians, I repeat myself, and that’s one meme that will never get old. “Down home, where they know ya by name and they treatcha like family….”) Sure, these relationships can be volatile, but so can any relationship, and if we’re worried about the emotional stability of our dear, fragile children, why in the fucking hell do we maintain public schools? It’s almost beyond parody to argue that we must keep our high school students free of romantic and sexual entanglements with adults because they might be treated cruelly.

The really sick thing is that many sex scolds use the alleged emotional fragility of teenagers as an excuse to keep them in masochistically repressed environments. They aren’t worried about the kiddos being emotionally manipulated and abused, because they see such abuse as a method of moral formation, and thus a duty of the godly parent. What freaks them out is the possibility of adolescents exploring their own sexuality, not to mention their private beliefs, interests and aspirations, with other people on equally and mutually agreeable terms beyond the supervision of family, school and church. They’re scared that the result will be well-adjusted, confident, independent-minded young adults with no interest in being lorded over by repressed scolds. Much of this interest in the protection of “children” is a red herring used by people who don’t give a damn about the emotional wellbeing of teenagers to impose social control mechanisms.

So, once again we have come full circle and been brought back to porn. If horny teenagers may not fuck their high school sweethearts, or have flings with older adults, no matter how edifying, or sneak into the greenbelt to play stinky-finger with the neighborhood girls, all they’re left with is pornography. Some simulacrum of sex is their last resort. Plenty of sexually active people use porn, too, and as you may have guessed by now, the pay-per-view services do Land Office business in flyover country (for one thing, apparently a lot of married couples in the heartland watch dirty movies together as part of their foreplay), but a lot of the market for porn is horny, single teenagers.

It figures. Those who wax most eloquent about a thing and pay the most rapt attention to it are usually the ones who have the least of it. Hence the Newman Club, which is best described not as a religious organization but as a religious front for the telling of graphic sex stories in mixed company. As a matter of principle I have nothing against such an endeavor, but it’s a bit disturbing to see what gems crystallize out of the supersaturated solution of repression and neurosis in which some Newman Club regulars scrupulously live.

Lady Kentfield sometimes talked to me about the same subjects, and more: her period, her bowel movements, her miscarriage, her sex drive, her crappy experiences on the pill, her refusal to use an IUD again after her first one got dislodged. That last story was disturbing, but only in a dear-God-that’s-a-medical-crisis sense; ladies, you don’t want that to happen to you, because it’s like a tampon string that just might cause sepsis if you pull on it. The important thing about these stories was that Lady Kentfield wasn’t repressed or neurotic. Listening to her was a lot healthier than listening to a story at church about how we discovered that we were fertile on our wedding night, but we prayed about it and decided to consummate our marriage that night, just that one night, and leave it in God’s hands, and then we discovered that it was an ectopic pregnancy in the right Fallopian tube.

I kind of wish I had made that last story up. The fact that I didn’t just might be evidence of a misspent youth.

Porn is disproportionately viewed by teenagers for the same reason that Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous had better ratings in West Adams than in Pacific Palisades. Would you want to watch an amateurishly edited TV show with disjointed videography and narration if it were about your neighbor’s house? Might you be more inclined to watch it if it were a bit of escapism from your drab life in the ass end of the Westside? Exactly. Teenagers watching porn is no more cause for a moral panic than workaday types watching real estate porn.

Actually, Lifestyles was cause for a programming panic, but it wasn’t the only one. Wheel of Fortune? Fuck my life.

But like Salt-n-Pepa, we’re talking about sex, so you’d better buckle up and get ready for a full-blown moral panic. This one is fixing to shake your ass like United 967. By the time that creaky, big white bird lands heavy in Denver, all you’ll want to do is reel through the concourses, shell-shocked, in search of a Big Gulp White Russian. Or get a rental car and gun it for Colorado Springs so that you can buy some more purity books by closing time.

In a single paragraph I’ve managed to give marketing ideas to 7-Eleven and to the self-described “Christian” publishing industry. The profane and the sacred, the coarse and the more subtly coarse. This may be vulgar and pedantic, but it’s no accident. If you think that 7-Eleven is a bottomfeeding operation, you’re right. I’ve spent enough time in those joints to know that fattening my ass with Spicy Bites (if I don’t want to know the ingredients, you certainly don’t), Bon Appetit danishes and iced coffee isn’t the real gravy train for the franchisees. The real gravy train is selling cigarettes, shitty beer and lotto tickets to the unwashed. As bottomfeeding operations go, however, 7-Eleven does less than the “Christian” publishing industry to corrupt public policy and clinical standards for psychologists. Both are lucrative rackets, but only one encourages the electorate to make private, consensual sex a matter for bottom feeders in prosecutors’ offices, the criminal courts and the counseling industry to try to punish.

As Fred Reed says, the better should be preferable to the worse. In this case, barring the introduction of a Big Gulp White Russian to obliterate those railroad right-of-way layabouts who prefer tall boys to handles, 7-Eleven is the better.

(Come to think of it, I have one paramount request of 7-Eleven: please include two free Arizona iced teas, and definitely access to a garden hose by the door to the stock room, with the purchase of a White Russian. One of the best dates I’ve ever had, if it can be properly called that, involved serial White Russians at the Alibi. I enjoy getting drunk on White Russians, especially if my friend Baywatch is present, but I don’t enjoy the inevitable dehydration.

Thank you. And thank heaven….)

For many religious publishing houses, sexual guilt is money in the bank. They have under their sway a highly organized market numbering in the tens of millions. Their target audience is horny as hell but either without a licit sexual outlet or married but sexually unsatisfied. They have both market segments under their thumb: the ones who can’t fuck because they aren’t married, and the ones who don’t fuck because they’re all too married indeed. To be fair, there’s a large segment of Christian self-help literature offering good faith advice for very serious interpersonal problems having little or nothing to do with sex, but that doesn’t excuse the “purity” rubbish any more than the Law and Order franchises absolve NBC for The Biggest Loser or airing Billy Graham crusade classics absolves TBN for airing Joel Osteen. If you’re going to peddle rot, you need to take responsibility for peddling rot.

The usual problems with “purity” literature are twofold. First, it blames sexual impulses for social dysfunction that has precious little, if anything, to do with sexuality. Second, it encourages people who would otherwise be comfortable with their own sexuality to become neurotic and repressed, which invariably results in some of these people resentfully lashing out at the sexually unashamed. This is a recipe for emotionally and spiritually unstable people who are obsessed with sex to project their hypocritical, Manichean obsessions onto others who are more stable and better adjusted.

At worst, the targets of this projection are impressionable or timid enough to be talked into adopting, or at least professing, the same disordered view of their own sexuality. At best, the targets are ballsy enough to tell the “purity” hucksters to shut up, and rightly so. Their wares are often seedy and indecent, and a sane, well-adjusted person will welcome the more strident offerings as warmly as he will welcome a millstone around the neck. Really, there isn’t a hell of a lot of difference between the former and the latter.

In case you really are too obtuse to tell, let me spell it out: what I have described is an unhealthy and badly disordered situation.

Let’s take a step back. One of the things that Christianity usually gets right is its framing of sexuality in a holistic context more profound, nuanced and elevated than mere animalistic rutting. If this isn’t the secret to good sex, it’s a lot closer than whatever iteration Cosmo is peddling this month of 432 ways that his dingdong will make your vajayjay go wowza, and OMG that one time my tampon flooded when I was getting a massage, it was, like, totally embarrassing. The secular press generally takes a mechanistic, soulless approach to sex, often alongside celebrations of incredibly immature squeamishness. Girlfriend: if he’s comfortable having you get naked so that he can rub shea butter all over your thighs but resorts to awkward euphemisms to tell you that you’re spotting on your legs, he’s a man-child.

If he’s comfortable rubbing down Messrs. Carville and Osteen in that fashion: respect. That’s a job that I’m not man enough to do under current market conditions. Nor is it the only revolting job that the free market induces people, probably desperate or dubious ones, to fill for a premium. I guess it’s better than trying out for Jackass.

But let’s get off that slippery slope, especially if our aforementioned Southern-fried friends are slipping around on it. As Howie Day so beautifully sings, “we finally find, you and I….” Eww, that’s gnarly. But as I said, the Christian press doesn’t pander to the mechanistic sort of raunch that is prevalent in the secular press. This is a fairly substantial achievement, since it’s a lot easier, and hence cheaper, to promote the superficial at the expense of the profound, the foolish at the expense of the wise, the crass at the expense of the transcendent.

Now, for the problems with the usual Christian approach. The Christian sexual ideal is exacting to the point of being otherworldly. This goes for the Catholic ideal and traditional Protestant ideals alike. All of these set as the standard one man and one woman sealed in lifelong monogamy. In a sense, it’s too holistic. It’s certainly too idealistic, even utopian, to be consistently feasible. This results in the clergy commonly treating the laity as round pegs that need to be pounded into square holes. (That’s what she said. I think.) There is no way to set an ideal so exacting and not have huge numbers of people fall short of it.

This gets really hairy when the clergy refuse to meet anyone halfway on matters of sexuality because they regard compromise as a concession to the Devil. Many insist that half-measures between wanton promiscuity and marital monogamy are, to use a hackneyed evangelical turn of phrase, stumbling blocks set up by the Enemy. Monogamous premarital sex, cheating on but staying with one’s spouse, friends-with-benefits arrangements entered into thoughtfully with consideration for the interpersonal dynamics at play—these are often regarded not as evidence of the parties having strived for the ideal and being receptive to fuller engagement with the ideal, but as simple wickedness.

As I mentioned, it’s Manichean. As a result, all sorts of deviations from the Christian sexual norm, many of them quite minor by any objective assessment, are blown out of proportion until they’re regarded as major, likely marriage-wrecking, dysfunction. For my non-Catholic and especially my non-evangelical readers, I should clarify that the marriages allegedly under threat aren’t just actual marriages into which real, live spouses have already entered, but prospective marriages into which currently single people will presumably enter someday in the future. In a sense, this is just an abundance of caution, but it’s also pretty clearly a social control mechanism. Religious leaders in sexually repressed congregations spend a lot of time exhorting horny teens and twenty-somethings to remain pure for theoretical spouses whom they probably have yet to even meet. As I know from personal experience, it’s as good a way as any to justify an underwhelming dating and sex life, a situation that might not be readily improved in any event but that almost certainly won’t be improved by circling the wagons with a bunch of neurotics. It’s much better to date a physically effusive cuddle slut who doesn’t talk about sex a whole lot but engages in and solicits a shitload of bad touch, and you can bet your ass I didn’t make that example up.

If your theoretical future spouse isn’t bothered by your porn habit, maybe your real, current spouse is, and if your real spouse isn’t bothered, maybe some busybodies at church are. I have a close relationship with a couple who have spoken at length at their church about their “struggle” with “sex addiction.” Although they have been quite candid about their experiences, I’m hesitant to describe them even using my customary pseudonyms because I would not want to be publicly associated in any remotely identifiable way with anything so seedy, even if I had exposed myself (ha!) to public ridicule by touting my own “struggle” with porn as a way of showing other men that they, too, can kick their porn “addiction” by joining the “Men’s Freedom Group.” I have a gut feeling that naming this couple would somehow play into their agenda to ensnare fundamentally healthy, well-adjusted men (and occasional women) into their pet twelve-step program just because they look at porn.

Also, my gratuitous references to the likes of Michael Jackson and Kentucky incest (and it shall always be a Kentucky tradition in these pages, unless it shall perchance also be a West Virginia or Adirondack tradition) masks a deep-seated sense of decency and discretion that comes to the surface from time to time. Hearing this couple tell their church congregation about how hubby’s porn consumption had nearly ruined their marriage stirred this sense of propriety within me. They had publicly wallowed in a sort of coarseness that I just couldn’t brook, a coarseness that I intuitively knew was best addressed by ignoring its practitioners. It was the sort of thing that would embarrass normal people, but this couple, otherwise well-adjusted in almost every regard that I can think of, embraced it, coarsening the tone at their church. In a weird way, I figure that their ilk will eventually shut up if they lose their audience, so I don’t want to do anything, however indirect, to add to that audience.

Their testimony (great vocab word for those looking to mix it up with evangelicals, by the way) in a nutshell was this: hubby started looking at a shitload of porn, which interfered with their intimacy as a couple, caused him to waste time and money, and made wifey fear for their future; hubby prayed about it and was convicted (another great vocab word) of his sin, and he joined a twelve-step group for sex addicts, which he now led and strongly encouraged any men with their own porn problem to join.

No thanks. That way lies the Twilight Zone.

I have no way to know what all has gone wrong in their marriage over the years, but my gut feeling is that they put a sexual gloss on marital problems that were of a nonsexual nature because that was what the peddlers of sex addiction bollocks encouraged. I also have a gut feeling that they exaggerated the severity of their marital discord at the behest of the sex addiction hucksters. If they didn’t, their stoicism and discretion around third parties verged on the heroic. Either they were superb actors or their marriage wasn’t as bad as they made it out to be for narrative purposes to spice up their testimony.

This is, it seems, a disturbingly common behavior in evangelical circles. During the 2008 Republican presidential primary season, it was earnestly suggested that Mike Huckabee needed his weight loss narrative to relate to voters because otherwise he had always had his shit together, a personal history that would fall flat for Republican primary voters. I hate to say it, but this analysis rings true. There is a deeply disordered voting bloc that encourages its presidential candidates to have a history of instability; witness George W. Bush, John McCain and Newt Gingrich.

In addition to their melodramatic tale of struggle and redemption, the formerly porn-addled husband threw in some specious statistics to stoke a suitable moral panic. I’ve already discussed his statistic about pornography being most prevalent among teenagers, or, as he put it, “children.” He also noted that organized crime and terrorists are getting into the porn business. Well, you don’t say! By that reasoning, conscientious Americans should boycott pizzerias, gas stations and anything that was transported by truck, since these sectors of the economy have historically been infiltrated by the mob. (One question that he didn’t answer: Where’s Jimmy?)

Porn isn’t the stuff of a well-examined life, but neither is the YouTube cat video section. That isn’t why the sex addiction crowd is worked up into a high dudgeon. These people are neurotic, repressed, and lashing out at the rest of us. Their meddlesome bullshit should die a quiet death in utter obscurity.

Of course, this crowd and its allies inevitably argue that porn is sapping the country’s energy, that we’re too busy as a nation beating our meat to tend to more pressing matters. Eh, maybe, but it’s not as serious as it sounds, or as remediable. The more erudite and less repressed allies of the sex addiction hucksters suggest that if Johnny weren’t so busy whacking off to leaked photos of Scarlett Johansson, he would have finished his calculus homework by now and would be hammering through his o-chem stoichiometry problems like John Henry through the granite of North Georgia because he’s really hoping to start reading Homer in the original Greek before dinner.

It’s a nice thought, and a great script bit if the Intercollegiate Studies Institute ever decides to do a stage adaptation of Leave It to Beaver. It’s also purest fantasy, as refined as Charlie Sheen’s cocaine. Come on, now. Maybe we aren’t as anti-intellectual as a country as Richard Hofstadter argued, but we aren’t making a concerted effort to cultivate a life of the mind, either. The hardcore evangelical circles certainly aren’t doing that; if they were, they wouldn’t circumscribe their reading lists so severely.

Hell, even Scarlett Johansson isn’t hot and bothered about Johnny beating off to her nudie pics. Nay, I should rephrase that: especially Scarlett Johansson, because she’s the sort of well-adjusted adult whose leadership should be sought out on matters of sexual policy. She doesn’t regret the pictures because she regards their theft and leaking as a straightforward infringement of intellectual property. This is entirely too healthy a view for America’s sex scolds.

And what would Johnny actually be doing if he weren’t looking at a buck naked ScarJo? Statistically speaking, he wouldn’t be making time to read Homer. More likely, he’d be watching Homer, the grotesque cartoon version, that is. Worse, he might well be watching a Chris Hansen predator trap, Reverend Dimmesdale for the modern age but without the ultimate introspection. Or maybe he would be on the family computer with mom and sis, browsing sex offender registries for shits and giggles.

As I said, ScarJo is too healthy for her country.

Or maybe, if Johnny has more sense and maturity than his family will concede, he’ll be down in the greenbelt, playing stinky finger with one of the neighborhood girls. If he really has some sense, he’ll be fooling around with one of the smart girls. He’ll stop chasing after the glamorous girls and catering to their gossip. He’ll go for one of the nerds.

They’re usually better at calculus.