JUDGE NOT?

More Americans find porn acceptable, so fewer politicians try to stop it

The adult-film star Stormy Daniels is normalizing porn.
The adult-film star Stormy Daniels is normalizing porn.
Image: AP/Charles Sykes
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Pornography is not a big political issue in the US these days. Though porn is easier to access than ever, and more people are watching it, you don’t hear much from elected officials about regulating the industry.

It wasn’t always so. In a recent article for Politico, Tim Alberta describes the retreat of US politicians, particularly Republicans, from the fight against pornography. In the 1970s, suppressing the availability of porn was a top priority for many conservatives. The movement, led by the Moral Majority, a Christian-right political organization founded by the Baptist minister Jerry Falwell, was successful in bringing pornography to the fore as a political issue. Christian conservatives were a key constituency for US president Ronald Reagan, and in 1985, he held a Presidential Commission on Pornography. Reagan once told the porn industry that its “days are numbered.”

Its days were not numbered. Though conservative groups continued to battle against porn in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, today, top porn sites receive billions of visitors every day, and about 70% of 18-24 year-olds watch porn at least once a month.

So with Republicans in power in Washington DC, and porn on the rise, why have we heard so little about it? Alberta suggests that, in part, it might be a result of those quickly changing attitudes. Data from a Gallup survey, conducted annually since 2011, shows that the share of people who find pornography “morally acceptable” rose from just 30% of Americans in 2011 to 43% in 2018.

By comparison, attitudes about the death penalty and abortion have barely budged over the past two decades. Many cultural conservatives now see regulating pornography as a lost cause and their time better spent on social issues where the tide isn’t against them, according to Alberta’s reporting.

Another possibility for the lack of anti-porn advocacy is that Donald Trump, a president supported by most on the Christian right, has a long history with sexually explicit material. Trump used to frequently attend parties at the Playboy Mansion, had an alleged affair with the porn actress Stormy Daniels, and even once made a cameo in a pornographic film. It might seem a little rich to have Trump leading the charge against an industry to which he is so attached.