It’s good to know that worker health and safety advocates are looking out for porn industry actors. A Los Angeles county law that requires actors in X-rated films to wear condoms was promoted by the Aids Healthcare Foundation and its president Michael Weinstein hoped that, in the case of a further appeal by Vivid Entertainment, which lost a challenge in the lower courts, that the courts would “rule once again in favor of worker safety.” In other words, the issue is one of health and safety regulations essentially, and obscenity is for all intents and purposes irrelevant. There are limits to the First Amendment of course, but they are being pushed and stretched and broken with each passing decade, under the banner of “community standards.” The Miller test from the Supreme Courts’ 1973 case seems quaint today: “the average person, applying community standards, would find the work as a whole appeals to the prurient interest.” Give me a break. The porn industry exists because it caters to the prurient interest. The second part that assures the work does not depict offensive acts against state laws still carries weight but the third clause that the work lacks serious artistic, as well as literary, political, and scientific value is laughable. You rent, buy, or download porn for prurient reasons. There is no other value, nor is there intended to be.

But the overwhelming preoccupation with preserving free speech trumps all when it comes to porn. Even laws that attempt to defend children from the horrors of child pornography have to ensure they do not offend the free-speech absolutists: as in Ashcroft vs The Free Speech Coalition, which invalidated the Child Pornography Prevention Act, because it allowed prohibition of child pornography that did not depict an actual child. Think about it. For it to be prohibited you must have a small child, defenseless and under the power of very sick adults in some sort of sexual situation or a depiction of such a situation. An absolutist defender of all forms of free speech is an idiot and a dangerous idiot. Society’s wisdom should consist in choosing where to defend free expression and where to censure. We do so with hate crimes, with discrimination in its many guises, and with defamation, with far too much concern on the latter. But when it comes to pornography, the defenders of absolute free speech see themselves as knights-errant in a Manichean struggle of well, absolutes. But they are mistaken, delirious in their self-appointed struggle. Placing limits on pornography does not mean the Taliban is around the corner in Los Angeles or Nevada, or Texas or New Jersey, or any state. It means a considered choice by society, made through the legal system, to place limits on something that can be both degrading and dangerous. I suspect the founding fathers would recoil at how the legal machinery they set in motion has arrived at rulings like Ashcroft vs. The Free Speech Coalition. But we have no choice but to use and turn that machinery towards something more just, more protective of families and children and to keep clear limits on X-rated entertainment for consenting adults. Because it never stops at consenting adults. Within the industry, and within society at large, porn is, in the words of Martin Amis, an attack on love and a repudiation of the significance of sex. The industry exploits women, drug use is a problem, and AIDS can and does infect the participants. And that’s just in the adult world. Daddy on the laptop viewing hard core porn. Young teens using the language of pornography, both physical and verbal. And worse. There is no liberation, no freedom from Victorian constraints, only instant gratification and alienation from real, nurturing relationships, and degradation in small and large degrees. Someday we will have justices that realize and advocate this.